Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Coming to terms with sadism -

Coming to terms with sadism -

One of the byproducts of the Khmer Rouge era is a large amount of emotional collateral damage.

It's complicated.

Cambodian Art Emerges, NY Times, Dec 29, 2010

Published: December 29, 2010
Slowly but surely, Cambodia's visual art scene has come out from behind the shadow of the Pol Pot era.
Gradually is the word.  

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cambodia, Khmer Rouge: Former Khmer Rouge stronghold struggles with history -

Cambodia, Khmer Rouge: Former Khmer Rouge stronghold struggles with history -

As the ghost of the Khmer Rouge's Killing Fields becomes a part of the curriculum, you wonder how the people are going to process the information. Having been to Cambodia, it seems to be a country in a state of recovery. Part of this is related to the influence of its next door neighbor, Vietnam.

To this date, there seems to be a feeling of distrust for the Vietnamese, but the problem also is that without the Vietnamese going to war against the Khmer Rouge and basically occupying the country, the killing fields probably were going to continue even more. This is sort of a mixed package.

Additionally, the bombings by America served to help set up the Khmer Rouge in the first place.

After the bombings, basically it secured the legitimacy of the Khmer Rouge as potential saviors against the secret bombings by the US.  For each political decision, often there are unforeseen consequences.

The only way it would end would be the invasion by Vietnam.  In many ways, the Vietnamese are still very present in the country.  

Cambodia is still recovering.  I had a discussion with one of my colleagues who is Cambodian.  He flat out told me that he has no desire to go to Cambodia.  Even today, there are land mines and other problems.  For example, at the NagaWorld Hotel/Casino, Cambodians are not allowed to go there.  It is full of Chinese and Vietnamese gamblers.  When you go to Cambodia, it is remarkably beautiful, but it has ghosts that are constantly haunting the country.

Vann Molyvann: Cambodia's forgotten architect -

Vann Molyvann: Cambodia's forgotten architect -

As the country slowly recovers from the ravages of the Khmer Rouge and various wars, it seems that they are forgetting or dismantling some of Cambodia's best kept secrets.

This is a question that always comes up in terms of progress.  How much of the past do you want to give up?  How much of the past is expendable?  In Los Angeles, we are barely getting an idea about historical architecture.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Community colleges not preparing California's future workforce, study says -

Community colleges not preparing California's future workforce, study says -

When you begin to compare the California Higher Education system with say Vietnam's or Cambodia's or even Thailand's, there are obvious differences.

At a lecture in Vietnam, it was noted that only about 30% of the high school graduates get into a college.  You have to score a certain score to get into college, period.  There is a form of pre-screening of students in Asia.  This is why their graduation rates are very high.  In the USA, you can crawl out of high school and enroll into a community college if you were a major pot head, screw up or even undocumented but also without an adequate education from the home country.  What the study doesn't account is that we have an open access system.  We may not be getting the best student, immediately.  The pass rate then isn't surprising.

You could improve the pass rate if you insert a Vietnamese style system.   In fact, their JCs are still closed in terms of access.  You have to score a certain percentage in order to be accepted.  This sort of violates the spirit of the grand educational plan that was the cornerstone of California public higher education system.  In many ways, our system is more open than many of the educational systems in Asia.

The graduation rate in our system is a challenge, that universities in Asia do not face.  In this sense, I think we have to be more innovative in terms of instruction than others. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Clinton in Cambodia, Nov 2010

Published: November 1, 2010
On a visit to Phnom Penh, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that trials were necessary for Cambodia to “confront its past.”

Even today, there are still discussions about whether or not the trials should continue.  Prime Minister Hun Sen seems to want to stop it after getting the big fish.  The speculations on closing the UN Human Rights office in Cambodia is rather disturbing. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

PHOTOS: A family's differing views on Vietnam's past -

PHOTOS: A family's differing views on Vietnam's past -

Go to the link to see Brian's story.

Someone once asked me, "Why don't you move there?"

Interesting question.

Well, there are a few good reasons. The Thanh Nien News listed about 20 reasons to move there.  The LA Times says that Vietnam is the perfect place to ride out the Great Recession.  Vietnam has its attractions.  The NY Times had a number of fun things to do in 36 hours.   CNN has a page about exploring Hanoi.  The very fact that the celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern love the country doesn't help much.

Earlier in my postings, I discussed the notion of "going bamboo,' which is a term more associated with Bali and Indonesia than with Vietnam.  Essentially, it means giving up life in the West and moving to a South East Asian country.  Most people move to Thailand, as it was the most developed, until the political troubles started to hurt the country.  (Ironically, life goes on in Bangkok.  You have to remind people that there is security situation there.)

Let's be clear.  Vietnam is a Communist country.  There are limits, and potentially moving to Vietnam is not as easy as you might think.  It does have its attractions.

1.  It's different.
2.  It's different.
3.  It's different.

Unlike Los Angeles, Vietnam is naturally green.  Like Thailand, it's not just green, but shades of green.  From the shimmering sea of Ha Long Bay to the mountains near Hue, you see translucent hues of color.  Interspersed in between the ever present rice paddies fields, old houses and shop houses with signs that beckon you to enter for a little Vietnamese coffee, women in the classic Vietnamese hats are selling bread, sweets and snacks. Scooter dodging becomes a skill that is now almost instinctual.

When you are in a city like Hanoi, you realize how young the good ole US of A really is.  Hanoi just celebrated their 1000 year anniversary.  In Hanoi, you can still live in a place that is a couple hundred years old, and you can basically get lost in the fabric of the city.  When I was there, I made it a point to wander the Old Quarter, in which the streets were organized into commercial zones.  One street sold food.  Another street sold fabrics.  Commerce is occurring, but there are no food police, no regulations, and random acts of capitalism.

For everything you gain, perhaps a sort of freedom in Vietnam that is not possible in Los Angeles, some things may be lost like trading down for a spotty power grid.  Things are not exactly convenient in the sense of just driving to a grocery store.  Although the traffic on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles can be maddening, driving through Hanoi is like being a tuna parting the quick moving school of mackerel and bonito swimming to Baja Mexico.

You could go, but for everything gained, there is always something lost.  Maybe being in traffic on the 405.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

COLUMN ONE: A son's loyalties tested -

COLUMN ONE: A son's loyalties tested -

This article is a tough read.  It's because I know the man stuck in this sort of existential limbo.  

Brian Doan was one of my fellow Fulbright Hayes GPA participants from Long Beach City College. Without this project, I probably would never have met him.  I vaguely knew of the controversy connected to his photography show, as he mentioned it in passing. However, I did not fully understand the long standing echoes of the war still present in the Vietnamese community, as well as the compounded nature of assimilating into American culture.  In many ways, his story encapsulates the conflicts of being Asian Pacific American.  

His story is sort of a common story about generational conflicts when they emigrate to the United States.  Children of 1st Generation immigrants often are in conflict with their parents.  With the Japanese Americans, there was a conflict between the 1st Generation (Issei) and the 2nd Generation (Nisei) to such a degree that many Nisei do not read or speak Japanese.  The desire to assimilate was very strong.  There was a study posted on NPR called how appropriately, Immigration Study: 'Second Generation has an Edge'.  For Asian families, loyalty to the family is placed very high, but this often conflicts with American social norms.  The Migration Information Source discusses this matter very closely.  Basically, it is an issue of assimilation as noted in Asian Nation.

Brian's basic problem is not unusual.  What is unusual is that Art now is in conflict with the conservative sensibilities of his community.  His story exposes the real rifts within Little Saigon.  It reminds me of the conservative nature of Cubans in Miami who hate Castro.  For many Asian Pacific Americans, it is always a matter of trying to find the balance.  The problem is that sometimes the balance is not exactly easy to get.

The Asian Pacific American experience is in some ways more complex if you are part of a second generation wave.  The complexities of dealing with expectations of parents versus expectations within American society do not always mesh together.

Well, I could say that Asians Rock anyways.  Rock on Brian.

Ultimately, everything is about finding that balance.  Balance between generational expectations.  Balance between Art and Life.  Balance between Asian sensibilities and American sensibilities.  As Miyagi would say, "Whole life have balance."  It's something we all do.  I still do it myself.

I firmly believe we all eventually find a balance.  We all find the way if we continue to pursue it.  What will come of this all is unknown.  But then, Brian's a smart dude.  The fact that it is being covered by a paper means that he is working on this project.  Keep the faith man.  Keep the faith.  Remember, Maya Lin was savaged for her Vietnam Memorial proposal.  Now, it's a destination point.    

Some artists want to confront. Some want to invoke thought. They're all necessary and they're all valid. 
Maya Lin 

Friday, September 24, 2010

Rei's Advice on Packing Light

Much of my stuff comes from REI.  It's a company that I has a lot of things that can help reduce the amount of luggage that you carry when running around the world.

They go into the issue of new baggage fees and the selection of bags.  Domestic flights also seem to have higher fees than the international flights.  If you do pick up little tourist treasures, you had better watch the weight.  Vietnam Airlines gets into a thing about check in luggage weight.  It's 20 kg for flights within Asia, and 30kg at the business level.  Not a whole lot of breathing room there.

I was a little heavy with photographic equipment.  Also in the case of my summer, I was effectively living out of various bags for 2 months effectively.

So if you are going to try to duplicate the itinerary that was followed, be light.  One thing is that I am going to compromise on my photographic equipment next time by going with the Micro Four Thirds system Olympus E-pl 1 Camera with an additional wide angle and telephoto lens.  Much of my weight was the traditional Nikon DSLR I had.  


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

iTunes U Resources on Vietnam

iTunes University resources are pretty handy.  If you have iTunes, you simply go to the iTunes search window and try to locate content.  Now, there are also podcasts, but I tend to rely on the iTunes U resources, as I believe they are more properly vetted for accuracy.  The links below are going to open up the iTunes program, and then go to the respective site.  You will get a warning that this link is opening up the program.  

I'm also compiling a list of links to South East Asian studies centers in the USA.  It seems like there are a lot of them.  

General Lectures and Vietnam War Centric materials

You can go to Columbia's University's lectures on the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese perspective.

American Public Media has a lecture series on the Vietnam War and the Presidents involved.

American Radio Works (American Public Media) The President Calling has a number of tapes now uploaded for you to listen to.  It is fascinating to hear LBJ debate with people.

iTunes U with single lectures as part of a series

UC Berkeley's History 7B
 class covers the Vietnam War in one lecture.

Stanford University Travel/Study page has something specific on Vietnam, as well as a lecture on Buddhism.

Literature Resources on iTunes U

The Things They Carried.  This was created by Montclair Public Schools.  It is targeted for Middle School, but it might be useful.

Role of Art 
There is a lecture on contemporary Vietnamese Art from the Center for South East Asian Studies at the University of Michigan.  

Websites focusing on South East Asian Studies
This website has some links to some lectures.  The topics are wide ranging and focus on a variety of topics from a regional perspective.  They have a presence with iTunes University.  

This website has some links to events in the LA basin, and announcements about lectures, and projects by professors and graduate students. 

This is the host of the Journal of Vietnamese Studies.  There are occasional webcasts posted on the front page. 

Yale publishes a series of texts on Vietnam.  The website isn't as immediately useful as the University of Michigan's but it can be a starting point. 

This university received a huge grant from the Dept of Ed in regards to language studies and cultural studies of South East Asia. 

Offers a general overview of their program. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Recent documentaries on trafficking by Lucy Liu and MTV

My student demographic is primarily African American or Hispanic.  One of the more common themes that show up in discourses with African Americans is slavery.  They did this.  They did that.  What I want to do is to show them, it is still going on.  You are not the only ones.  In fact, the current data indicates that slavery is bigger today, than when their ancestors were slaves.  

The goal of a service learning enterprise is to make the volunteer experience and the issue more connected to reality.  What I want to do is to shake the reality of my African American students.  Slavery is in the past.  No.  Slavery is in the present.  What are you going to do about it?  

Lucy Liu recently has been producing films and documentaries focusing on this issue.  Oprah and others have also focused on this issue.  Regardless of celebrity involvement, I think it requires more of a grass roots vibe.  It's time for people to get pissed off and to do something.  

As I develop the service learning packet, I'm encountering more and more videos on the issue of trafficking.

I have mixed feelings about celebrities and causes.  In my mind, I'm sure it is part of a public relations campaign, on the other hand, I know that they are probably the only way to get anything publicized.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

From Boston to Long Beach: Khmer Gangs and Education

Educators Meeting in Phnom Penh

During the trip, we met a group of Fulbright Hayes GPA participants out of Boston.  Here is Mike meeting his counterpart.  
Here's Joy making a new friend from Boston's educational system.  It turns out that there is a huge Cambodian student population in Boston, and the issues were the same as in Long Beach.  They were there specifically to get a better understanding of Khmer culture.

While, we had dinner, the subject of gang activity in the Cambodian community came up.  I talked to them briefly about my experiences at the community college level.  They were having a difficult time because the elementary, middle and high schools are forced to deal with it no matter what.  The high school instructor was trying to find a way to negotiate a way to keep the gang activity off limits at the schools.  Now, this was a conversation between a Japanese American college instructor and a Caucasian administrator from Boston which occurred in the middle of Phnom Penh.  The contrasts of Buddhist temples and monks with the mean streets of America was striking.  So, what were we talking about?  Creating exit strategies . . . more specifically, education as an exit strategy.  It's a complex topic, so I guess I should offer some information.  Much of what follows was part of a conversation in Phnom Penh.      

Origins of Khmer Gangs
Long Beach has one of the largest populations of Cambodians outside of South East Asia.  (There is a significant Khmer population in South Vietnam by the Mekong Delta.)  Unfortunately, the Khmer community has also been plagued by gang activity in Long Beach.  Now this gang phenomenon is not exclusive to them.  Many immigrant groups ended up with gang activity from the Irish, Jews, Italians of the 1800's to the Chinese, Mexicans, El Salvadorans, Cambodians and Vietnamese of the 2000's.  What is unique is the history of Cambodians.  They were bombed by the USA in a secret war, then subjected to the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields, then ruled by Vietnam afterwards.  A tragic history.  They come to the USA for a better life, and then things fall apart as noted in Time Magazine in 2001.  America has a way of breeding these problems.  

The History Channel series, Gangland, has some disturbing materials. So if you are sensitive to this stuff, then don't click on the YouTube links.  There are actually two major Asian gangs functioning in the Long Beach area.  One would be called TRG, or the Tiny Raskal Gang.  This clip focuses on Fresno, but in reality, they are a hard core Long Beach product.

The other group would be called Asian Boyz.  Now, when I first heard of them, it was out of Little Saigon, but then it seemed that they had a major presence in Long Beach.  Initially, I had thought it was more of a Vietnamese gang, but it turned out to be more inclusive.  I noticed something about the Asian Boyz that seemed to be common--race and ethnicity issues.

Ethnic conflicts.  Many of the Asian gangs were formulated as a reaction against other gangs in the area which were most often Hispanic.  Afterwards, they would turn against other Asian gangs.  This profile follows the pattern that existed since the Irish immigration of the 1800s, as portrayed in the film Gangs of New York.  Immigrants would move to areas often considered "ghetto."  Many of the parents would work long hours to support the family, but also leave their kids unsupervised.  Cultural values of traditional Khmer culture often conflict with American values and habits.  Subsequently, rifts develop between parents and children.  The Cambodians in Long Beach and Vietnamese in Westminister have complex histories as well.  Cambodians running away from the Khmer Rouge ended up in more troubled parts of Long Beach.  Long Beach looks nothing like Cambodia.  Vietnamese boat people ended up in suburban parts of Westminister.  They went from a country of rainy season to drought.  Regardless, dropping these communities into LA always seemed to have side effects.  How do people from a homogenous society deal with a multi-ethnic society?  Sometimes not well.  

Deportation, Law Enforcement and Education
Lately, subjectively, the amount of criminal activity in Long Beach has been on decline.  A discussion with LBPD revealed that crime has actually dropped in Long Beach by 25%.  With increased law enforcement pressure, the Cambodian populated gangs in Long Beach seemed to be less active.  Generally, the policy of community based policing has decreased the level of murders in Long Beach.  One other additional factor could be deportation.  In the LB Press Telegram, this issue is discussed in their series called, "Exiled to Cambodia."  In part II, they noted a few deported Cambodians trying to remake their lives in Phnom Penn.  Apparently, one way to get rid of a gang member is to fully utilize the immigration courts.  This is not to say all the people being deported are gang members.  In fact, a few are probably getting deported for minor offenses like possession of a controlled substance.  The thing is that it makes me wonder if we are exporting the problem too.  For example Mara Salvatrucha or MS 13 is an El Salvadoran gang that developed here, but we exported to El Salvador.  Now El Salvador has a problem.  Recently there has been both more law enforcement pressure and educational system pressure to break the cycles for all the gangs in Long Beach.  Khmers are just a lego part of a huge lego building of gang activity.  For both law enforcement and educators, it is a problem that seems almost impossible to solve.          

In the College Classroom  
So, why is this topic important for a professor of English to know about?  In the past, I had taught at a number of colleges in Los Angeles and in the OC.  A report in the LB Press Telegram seems to indicate that gang activity is a problem that exists from the core of society.  It's a problem that won't go away easily.  Now, many of my other colleagues don't know it, but there are gangsters in their classrooms.  Just because you graduate from let's say LB Poly doesn't mean you graduate from the gang.  In fact, I would speculate that there are more members on your campus than you might think.  I even heard of Bloods taking classes at Long Beach State.  How do I know this?  Because, quite often, they told me.  I really need to change my essay prompt about regrets.  I have no clue why people tell me things.  Maybe because I have a bald head and Asian . . . Hey, he must be a monk; let's air our the issues with him.  Most often, it's like, "You know what professor, I've done things that now I regret" sort of stuff.  You have the generic story about getting pregnant at a young age.  You have others about doing something stupid like reenacting a Jackass episode.  You have others who say I joined a gang, and then got incarcerated.  Real fun stuff here.  Maybe it was because of the prompts which often are phrased like "Have you been pressured to do something you didn't want to do?"  Sometimes I wondered if it was to gain sympathy from me.  (Didn't really, but you must show respect.  It's the only way to break the cycle.  I'll explain.)  Occasionally, authenticity questions would come up, but most people don't go up to a professor to declare they are a gang member.  Now if they got a scholarship OK.  Normally, no one wants to talk about jumping in (Getting beat up by fellow gang members to join the gang) to the professor.  Many might say they are leaving, but I think that is more easily said than done.  There is a reason, I think, for this behavior however.  Everyone wants a confessor.  That's why they go to a priest or see their therapist.  With English, essays are very personal, so therefore they tell you about their personal issues.  

Education as an Exit Strategy
I think some of these students were trying to formulate an exit plan for their troubles.  Some of them happen to be gangstas.  There are reasons for such change like suddenly becoming a parent.  Ironically, since I am now based in Compton, Ca, people often think that I must be drowning in this gangsta stuff.  I know there are gangs in the city; I've heard of the South Side Compton Crips or T Flats or whatever.  But Compton isn't the place in which I thought it was pervasive--it's everywhere in Southern California.  Many of the OC colleges have some hard core stuff going on.  Some of the hardest gangs are located in the OC, and they are taking classes in OC colleges.  When I taught a few classes in East Los Angeles, some of the hero essays were about brothers shot in confrontations.  It figures.  Some students were from Hollenbeck.  That area of Los Angeles is particularly plagued by this problem.

In Santa Ana, I encountered students who were a part of F Troop.  It's a Hispanic gang.  A student once told me that he writes faster in "gang" than regular handwriting.  He wanted out because the young ones were violating codes, and he had a kid.  In Cypress, I encountered some students who obviously didn't like me and dropped my class, but it was because they were NLR or Nazi Low Riders, a White Supremacist gang.  You can tell if they have spider web tattoos on their elbows and wear the number 88 (which stands for Heil Hitler).  The oddest thing was seeing a Korean student who was part of Black Crip crew in Long Beach.  The crew shall remain nameless, but it was because he grew up in the neighborhood.  If you listened to him talk, it was all hood in tone.  I've encountered other denominations that may or may not be gangs like Straight Edgers.  There were also Non-racist Skinheads that go around beating up Racist Skinheads.  It's really wild out there.  

The Korean kid got out, as far as I can tell.  The former Blood revamped his wardrobe, and began to pursue a job in animation.  Another Cambodian kid decided to go into the auto repair business.  Whether or not they really are out of the life, I don't know.  I just say, "You have a kid man.  It's not a hard thing to decide."  The problem is that the gang life forces illogical and potentially self destructive decisions.  It is not entirely certain if a person really does leave that lifestyle.    

In Long Beach, there has always been a long term tension between East Side Longos and TRG.  I became aware of this long before the History Channel's Gangland series emerged.  While teaching a class in the LBC (so to speak), a young Cambodian student came up to me, and he talked about getting out of the "life."  It came to the conclusion that he was a shot caller, and he was talking about tensions between his crew and the "Mexicans."  He never really said which gang he was with, but I could read between the discourse.  At one point in time, there was a truce.  The truce was supposedly broken by the Mexicans because 2 Cambodians were assassinated perhaps as a part of an initiation.  Consequently, things fell apart.  Because of the touchy nature of "respect" in this life, truces don't seem to last that long.  Had the truce lasted a bit longer . . .  Still, the guy was in college at the time, taking classes.

The other thing is that most gang members are men.  In some ways, this leads to other issues and other theories.
It's up to you to figure out if you agree with this concept, but when you factor terms like respect, being tough, being down . . . it figures.  For some, it is better to be Tony Montana of Scarface than to be Shakespeare.  It's why when they read, they will read Sister Soulja's The Coldest Winter Ever versus Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.  Some focus on being "hood rich."  

Just Teach
I don't treat people with pasts any more differently than an angel.  Everyone is the same to me.  The standards for passing the class are the same.  What I find is that they only want to see if you are going to prejudge them.  Grade them for their work, not their wardrobe or their past issues.  The way I see it, everyone has issues anyways.  
Many college instructors in the Los Angeles and Orange County basins do not know the nature of their student body.  It is important to get a handle on the overall picture of your population.  In reality, students have complex lives, often gangsta lives.  Often, some of the things that appear to be unrelated becomes much more crystal clear later.

From International to the Local
There are other causes for conflicts as well.  For example, international politics can become local gang politics.  The Asian Boyz versus Wah Ching--there was a gang war depicted in the History Channel series.  They are respectively Cambodian/Vietnamese versus Ethnic Chinese.  Why?  If you do the research, there has been longstanding tensions between Vietnam and China.  In fact, they have gone to war with each other several times.  There is even tension today related to a few islands in North Vietnam.  The Vietnamese refuse to call the South China Sea, the South China Sea.  They prefer East Sea.  So, historically, there has been a"beef" between the Vietnamese and Chinese, so it does seem the global becomes the local.  It's sort of a long standing border war that gets repacked into a "beef" war.  People carry the historical conflicts here to America sometimes.

Perceptions and Mis-readings
Sometimes, you watch the news, and you just might hear about a former student.  You think, "That student was so great in class.  I can't see that student being a criminal."  Better luck tomorrow.
(By the way, Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow sort of touches on the duality of perceptions versus reality.  A 4.0 Asian student might be committing crimes.)  The Black student in your class who sags might just be doing it for the fashion, and he is really a biochem major.  He doesn't bang at all.  The Mexican kid who shaves his head and wears khakis might be helping his father as a gardener.  Whom you think is a gangster, and whom you think is a scholar may not correlate.  Because of racial profiling and stereotyping, many gang members are not commonly displaying their flags anymore.  The stereotype of dress as coding no longer works really.  The fact is unless they tell you, you don't know.  Even then, are you sure it is the truth?  The way I view it, treat all students with respect and hold them all equally to standards.  It helps with the student with the past as much as the AP student.  If you explain why they didn't pass, they often understand, and they will probably enroll in your class next semester.  I view my position as a coach, and occasionally, it means being an accidental life coach.    

The role of the Community College
Sometimes it is better not to know a students past or their current history, which is why I keep a formal distance.  Often the students who talk about "respect" are the ones with touchy pasts.  But community college is a different thing.  Often, it is the last ditch effort for change.  A person had to make a decision to change their life, if they enrolled into the college.  The very act of enrollment is a sign of change in attitude.  In this sense, I give no judgments.  Who am I to judge?  I always say, "You are not the past, but you are the future to be defined by your actions today.  To define yourself, focus on the present.  The present is what you must observe closely.  The future's seed is in the now."  College is often an exit strategy for people from past problems in life.     

Now, this is not to say that everyone in a classroom is a gang member.  In fact, MOST of the students are probably too busy trying to figure out mundane things like if their boyfriend or girlfriend is cheating, or texting about lunch or thinking about how to do the least amount of work in the classroom.  Maybe the most important issue to them is the when the new Blackberry or iPhone is going to be released.  But, from what I can tell, there are other worlds that walk through your doors.  Gang members are just a part of the fabric.  There will be the veteran from the 2nd Persian Gulf War suffering from PTSD.  There will be the single mother living in a garage.  There will be the woman running away from her abusive mate.  On other campuses, I remember seeing students who were obviously in rehab.  Gang activity is the least of the problems out there.  I know of a young Latina, who takes care of all her brothers and sisters.  At 18, she is now their mother.  She is still going to my college.  The community college system really is the place to remake yourself.  As instructors, we facilitate it.  We are the catalyst for change in a life.  I suppose this is more of a social constructivist approach to our roles.  It's not just a job.

The thing is that gangstas are not just in Compton.  That's a stereotype thanks to the rap group, NWA.  They are in Santa Ana, Cypress, East Los Angeles, West Los Angeles, Gardena, Venice, Huntington Beach, Long Beach.  It's the American way.  They are even in Boston.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

More Indictments of Khmer Rouge leaders

Fresh off the presses of the Phnom Penh Post.  They are going to put the following people on trial: Brother Number 2 Nuon Chea, Khieu Sampa, Leng Sary and Khieu Thirith.  

The magnitude of this can not be understated.  

What is strange is that many of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge were all French educated.  In fact, when you include Uncle Ho Chi Minh, it seems that France has track record of developing leaders who lock into Communism with a passion. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Thai farmworkers describe being lured into slavery in U.S. -

"If you want to be fully convinced of the abominations of slavery, go on a southern plantation, and call yourself a negro trader. Then there will be no concealment; and you will see and hear things that will seem to you impossible among human beings with immortal souls."
Harriet Ann Jacobs 

Harriet Ann Jacobs was a slave girl who eventually would publish Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.  We are talking about a text published in 1861.   Slavery.  It's still going on.  You have Somaly Mam's book, The Road of Lost Innocence, which was published in 2008.  Somehow, I think I am going to pair these books for a class, as it makes a connection between the past and the present.  For Somaly Mam, she was, for a few years, one of the 12.3 million in slavery TODAY, according to the US State Department's 2010 Report on Trafficking in Persons.

Thai farmworkers describe being lured into slavery in U.S. -
This article is not really related to Vietnam or Cambodia, but it is related to my ongoing development of a service learning/critical thinking topic for an advanced English class.  Mainly because I am actively researching the issue, I've come across a few things.  Yes, it is sort of depressing, but you must recognized the disease before you can prescribe a treatment.  Not all trafficking is sex related.  The problem about this event is that it is something that happened in the good ole US of A.  We are talking about Hawaii and Washington.      

This is not the first time I've observed Thai workers being forced into slave conditions in a sweatshop environment.  In some cases, they are shipped to places like Utah.  The International nature of the ring identified in Beverly Hills is rather disturbing, but not something that is unusual.  In many ways, some of the workers managed to get a temporary visa as compensation for their cooperation.  It believe it is called a  T Visa.  In some cases, some victims in the past have ended up getting permanent Green Cards.  Still, that is a hard way to get a Green Card.  

Now the United States has been getting better at this issue.  Before, it would be problematic to get anyone to testify due to the issue of being illegally present in the country.  We are a country of laws, but this doesn't mean the laws are rational.  This changed when in 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was passed.  With the T Visa system, it has been getting better.  

Unfortunately, the US is now on the radar as far as human trafficking is concerned.  In the 2010 report, we have put ourselves as a destination country for slaves.  This is especially problematic because of our history.  Remember, we did not really deal very well with the issue of African slavery.  How is it that we are now dealing with slavery again in the USA?  It is the same causal component--profit.  

It is also deeply disturbing to explore this topic, as it now merits an entire website called  If you explore the website, you will discover that this is a world wide phenomenon.  There are estimates that we have more slaves now than during the height of the American slave trade period.  The thing might be proportionality.  We have also more people in the world.  

In terms of Vietnam and Cambodia, it appears to be that Vietnamese girls are being trafficked into Cambodia, but there are reports of trafficking going to England and China as well.  Cambodian men and women are being trafficked in Thailand, Taiwan and Malaysia.  For the most part, it seems that there are two strands: labor and sexual exploitation.  For a detailed explanation of the sex slave industry, you can go to PBS Frontline.  Eastern Europe is also a hot bed, and lately, Russia has also shown up on the radar.

People often put up Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand as examples of countries that have this problem.  In reality, it is a global problem.  It doesn't just exist there.  The other thing is that many in the West are the ones fueling the problem.  This is why the LA event was important.  It shows that it is a global problem.

Slavery still exists, and it could be in your backyard right now.  Harriet Ann Jacobs would be rolling in her grave right now.   

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Suicide Rates: Reflections on Education in Vietnam, Japan and the USA

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
Winston Churchill 

Why does it seem that Asian countries have kids drinking poison after less than satisfactory examination scores are posted?  Why does Japan have one of the highest suicide rates for teens?  Why does it seem that there is a rise in suicide in Asian Pacific Americans (APAs)?  Why?

I periodically read articles from Vietnamese newspapers.  No, just because the trip has ended doesn't mean I stopped looking over stuff.  One interesting editorial I came across was in Thanh Nien News.  Its title is "A Black Hole in Our Education."   What it focuses on is this periodic phenomenon of teen suicide, which can be closely correlated to a low score on an entrance exam.  Remember, to get into higher education in Vietnam, you must test in.  There is no open access gateway.  The news article on the suicide was posted in July 2010.  "High School Student Commits Suicide."  Thanh Nien News, 7/7/2010

On the surface, a suicide in Vietnam may not mean anything to you.  However, if you take things from a more global perspective, it gets intriguing.  According to Psychiatric News, such countries like China, India, Japan, have high suicide rates connected to students who fail to score well on the exams.  Their higher education system is closed, so a low score means your life is over, essentially.  What is also disturbing is that the rate seems to be growing for the Asian Pacific American population.  Remember, these are Asian Pacific Americans in America.  They have access to some sort of higher education.  This problem was outlined in an article by Andrew Lam published in New America Media website.
"Asian Americans' Rising Suicide Rates" New America Media 8/13/2009

Additionally, there is an old 2008 article out of the Times magazine called A Family Suicide Risk in US Asians that also saw this as a growing trend.  One group that tends to show high suicide rates is the Asian student.  Part of the reason is the expectations that a family may have for a student.  Parents often compete with each other on which university their child went to.

In a store, one lady said, "My child is going to UCLA."
Her friend responded, "Oh so sorry, my daughter is going to Harvard.  They can't be roommates then."

At this point, I wondered if there is a reason for this competition.  Is there an Asian thing going on here?  The closed educational system's pressures on a student are obvious causal factors.  The editorial in Thanh Nien News declared that Vietnamese students don't know how to deal with FAILURE.  The article goes on about how there seems to be a lack of an ability to see beyond failure.  The article also mentions Japan.

Now Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the industrialized world.  Some of it I think is related to the concept of face.  You can't lose face in Japan.  Not doing well on entrance exams might mean a loss of face to the family.  There are other disturbing trends like suicide pacts (a group gets together to kill themselves), social networking pacts (use Facebook or similar media to set a day to die), among other extreme behaviors.  Aokigahara Forest is also notorious for people committing suicide.  For more specifics, look at this post.  

On the other hand, Japan is not Vietnam.  It is fully developed.  The common thread seems to be a sense of a closed existence.  In some ways, it is sort of binary.  It is either yes or no.  Maybe doesn't factor.  Japan is sort of an extreme example though.    

Elsewhere in the Thanh Nien News, there is an article that outlines some potential issues about inequality.  "Vietnam's Children Facing Rising Inequalities: UN" seems to indicate that not all children have access to good secondary education opportunities.  Given these factors, it makes you wonder about how fair the examination system really is.  It would seem that if you have access to better schools, your options are much better.  If you don't have access to good schools, how are you going to do better on those exams?  I wonder.  

It seems that for Asian students generically, there are family and societal pressures.  An article from the Washington Post entitled, "Asian Students Contend with Expectations," seems to show that there is more expected from APA students.  APAs are often considered to be the "model minority."  However, the statistics on Asian Nation might say otherwise.  My friend who used to work for the Asian Unit of the LA County Department of Children and Family Services told me a common abuse issue was about a child being hit over grades.

When you look at what is going on in Japan, Korea and Vietnam, then it isn't so surprising that there might be pressure for Asian Americans.  Many of the young Korean Americans are only 2nd generation, so their parents have very Korean attitudes towards education and excellence.  (Asian American young adults often joke that they HAD to play the violin, piano or cello before they could even walk.  This is under the expectation that they were supposed to become the next Yo Yo Ma or something.)  Pressure.  There is always pressure.

It's pressure--both self imposed and externally imposed.  Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand have entrance exams.  Those entrance exams are huge determining factors in a person's future.  How do you deal with such stress when you are 17 years old.  But this doesn't entirely explain why the US APA student community is seeing a spike too.  There are no life defining exams.  If you screw up on the SAT exam, you can still take it over again.  It could be other factors.  Bullying.  Discrimination.  Alienation.  There's something going on.  Another puzzle to be solved.  I always end up with more questions than answers.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Anthony Bourdain in Laos

To a certain extent, not all trips are complete.  In terms of the Vietnam War, it actually encompassed Vietnam, Cambodia and also Laos.  Laos was visited by Brian Doan just prior to the Fulbright Hayes GPA visits in July 2010.  I am thinking about exploring this country, which is still Communist, and in some ways, what Thailand was about 25 years ago.

Anthony Bourdain Q&A - Dos And Don'ts

Some good advice.  Well, and yes, I eat street food.

Higher Education Comparisons & Overall Thoughts

SEAMEO RETRAC or South East Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Training Center was the Vietnamese sponsor for the Fulbright Hayes GPA people.  According to sources at the US Counsel General in Vietnam, they are probably the most innovative of the educational bodies in Vietnam.  They made the arrangements in Vietnam/Cambodia for us.

We had visited a number of colleges and universities during the trip.  The system in Vietnam and Cambodia is somewhat different than the USA.  It is a closed system in terms of admissions.  You have to score well on the exams to get to any sort of higher education institution.

Generally, we were always well received.  As you can tell, we are always posing for group photos.  The fact that we are from the USA seems to make it more important to them.   You could think of them saying, "They actually flew across the Pacific to see us." 

This university had an elaborate presentation about the minority groups represented in the Mekong Delta.  
So this is the sense of what was going on during the trip.  We were also ironically showing up during their semester breaks, so getting to more colleges and universities was problematic for the schedulers.  

What is interesting is that Vietnam is experimenting with the Community College formula.  Dong Thap Community College was an important stop.  They are however not open access like the US Community Colleges.  This is something that I found very interesting about Vietnam.  Although it is a Communist country, education isn't always equally available.  You must test to get access to a college.  

Remember this pic?  Yes, we were really there.  The head of the college was actually very very nice.  He managed to secure better housing for us, when the hotel we were booked at was really scary for many not used to travel in this part of the world.  

As noted before, to show gratitude, and also for paying for our lunch, Chef Steve gave him a cook's uniform.  This was greatly appreciated.  I posted a different picture of this, but Mike's reaction was not documented in the precious post.     

All of the colleges and universities in Vietnam, also to a certain extent, Cambodia, have a high graduation rate.  This is because they actively screen their students.  Now, this is good in the sense that generally students accepted will graduate.  What is not good is that your life is basically determined when you are 17 to 18 years old.  

The visitations by these American professors turned out to be a big thing.  We were often given gifts, as evident in Jeannie's and Joy's display here.  Now, there seems to be a clear difference between the two systems, especially Vietnam versus the USA.  The universities are highly specialized.  They are not like our land grant universities that offer multiple disciplines and majors.  They are devoted to specific areas like the sciences, arts and languages.  The concept of a general education plan is not even a part of the system.  

Cambodia is also proving to have problems with their higher education system.  The Royal University of Phnom Penh was shut down during the Khmer Rouge days.  It has since reopened, but it is a public university with a unique problem--keeping the faculty.  The pay rate for the public university professor basically stinks in Cambodia.  They are finding many fly by night, basically for-profit colleges and university's popping up everywhere.  In terms of maintaining the academic rigor, it is an uphill battle of keeping up with the attrition of their faculty being lured out by private universities.   
Whatever your thoughts, higher education in Vietnam and Cambodia is important to their economies.  Without a developing pool of intellectuals, you can not compete in the global oriented economy.  As with Thailand, they are also a part of ASEAN.  While at ABAC, I saw a few Burmese, Vietnamese and Chinese students.  I also noticed a higher number of Iranian students, specifically maybe due to the recent protests that occurred there.  Strangely no Cambodians, but then there is long standing political conflict related to Preah Vihear temple.  

General Ideas & Thoughts
There were a lot of lectures during the trip.  However, I am not going to go over any specific lecture, as it seems that there is a limit to speech, specifically in Vietnam.  The intellectuals are mindful of the limits of their discourse, and some of the discussions were on very touchy subjects, like politics.  So, for the sake of being ethical, I'm not going to clearly identify who said what and where.  I will have to generate a simplified broad analysis. 

1.  They like our system.  Their jaws dropped when we said anyone can go to our colleges.  Our community college system ironically is more Socialist than their system in Vietnam.  

2.  They would like to change the system.  The US model is highly attractive to them, but our model may not be possible.  The organizational structures are already in place.  The testing system is fully entrenched in Vietnam and Cambodia. Change is difficult.  US style research based universities are not the norm.  The one land grant style university, Can Tho University, is located in the Mekong Delta, the South. It was established in the South prior to the fall of Saigon, so it retains a US structure of a broad academic departments.  It is the university that is focusing on the issues of the Mekong Delta.  That project is called Mekong 1000.  However, the Vietnam National University is modeled around the Soviet model, so you don't get students with a general education background.  You are also not certain if they get any general education.    

3.  The Vietnamese intellectuals take academic risks, but they are not stupid.  Many of the Viet academics were very careful in their statements.  You had to read between the lines to really hear what they were saying.  It is still a tough job.  Professor Joy Zhao did some surveys about the most important books in Vietnam, and the responses were pretty standardized.  Ho Chi Minh was always on the list by the way in Vietnam.

4.  Support services.  We have support services, but it is because we are more open access oriented.  We have to serve the needs of a wide population with even wider disparities in terms of academic preparation.
5.  Facilities.  I would say that some of the facilities are not on par with US universities, or even some of our community colleges.  They are trying however.  

As it is right now, I got no buzz words that are floating in US Educational discourses like student learning outcomes, course outlines, and other matters.  Most of the students in Vietnam, Cambodia and also in Thailand are very passive according to some interviews.  They sit and listen.  They generally don't question.  

Overall, I would say that there are benefits and drawbacks to either system.  Because of our open access in the California Community College System, we have more problems in terms of retention, graduation rates and other matters.  But we do offer a student a pathway.  On the other hand, their system is closed, but it seems that they don't have the same problems in terms of student preparation that we have.  You don't have to worry about variables like academic preparation levels.  

It could be worse like in Burma.  The University of Yangon is basically shut down.  Burmese students are showing up in Thailand, specifically because many of the higher education institutions in Burma were shuttered by the junta.  In this way, Vietnam has made more progress in terms of academic freedom.  Cambodia is basically still in the process of rebuilding their system.  Remember, during the Khmer Rouge years, if you were an academic, you were killed.  An entire generation of intellectuals got wiped off the landscape.  It takes time to rebuild such a huge loss of intellectual capital.

American students do not know how lucky they are.  

Last Days at ABAC

These are the last days at ABAC, or otherwise known as Assumption University in Bangkok.  I'm working with friends at the Graduate School of Psychology.  My best friend from high school, Dr. Sunya Ratjatawan is in charge of the practicum students.  I had a number of things that I wanted to do here, and ABAC was my base station.  

1.  Deal with my scholarship program.  I returned to Khuk Khak School during my first week in Thailand.  Khuk Khak school basically goes from K-6.  Prathom is what they call it here.  

Rural schools in Thailand are very poor.  When the Tsuanami Children Foundation (TCF my little NGO) had arrived, we managed to get power to their computer room, some software, a DVD player, and I helped to develop some curriculum to be executed by the Princeton In Asia fellows.  For the most part, TCF is now going to be a scholarship program.  It could have been bigger, but other than myself, none of the people had any real NGO management experience, and it took all my efforts to keep the projects alive, let alone grow.  To salvage the status of TCF, I've shifted the organization by sheer will to a scholarship formula.  I'm not known for being Mr. Fix It for nothing, you know.    

A scholarship program?  In order to do this, I have to find students.  Initial inquiries through ABAC did have some leads, but the candidates didn't screen well.  Returning to the tsunami related school in Phang Na, I was a little disturbed.  The area has not faired well.  The initial influx of relief work financing and economic stimulus was gone.  Gone are all but a few groups.  Still, Dr. Ratjatawan and I managed to talk to the Khuk Khak administrators, and we have a tentative agreement to sponsor a child.  At 2,500 Baht a semester, it is possible, and given a 10,000 US equivalent donation from Singha, we should be sustainable for at least a while.  By the way, at the 2010 exchange rate, that's just over 60 dollars.  For 60 US dollars, you too can send a child to school.  Technically, all Thai public schools are free, but it is the other costs that make things difficult.  Thai literacy rates are actually pretty good.  I have to follow up on this.  We have an agreement, but no scholarship candidate yet.  The Takuapa School District had some ideas, but I will be back in the USA by the time I have a clear answer.  On the other hand, the process has begun.  In Thailand, things are not always done quickly.  It takes time.   

2.  Set up a program to insert GSP interns at Yaowawit School.  
Yaowawit, or Children's World Academy is located in Kapong, Thailand.  It is geographically near Takuapa, which is the district impacted by the Tsunami.  Pi Wit, is the principle of the school (holding the umbrella), and Dr. Ratjatawan (standing next to him in grey shirt) and myself met up with him.  We had worked with Yaowawit earlier, helping to counsel the teachers on interventions and counselling issues.  I had tried to get Princeton In Asia involved to insert long term ESL interns, but they changed their mind, soon after the economic downturn of 2008-9.  Dr. Ratjatawan was going to set up a program to send interns to the school to offer practicum hours of counselling.  This was the other purpose of the trip.     

The profile of the student body is generally quite tragic.  There are a number of children who survived the Tsunami, as well as HIV orphans and extreme poverty cases.  They are housed here, and they are fed.  The school is self sufficient.  They have several acres of land, and actively farm and raise their own produce.  There is a hospitality training center, which trains students to work in hotels.  It also generates income.  Given the exchange rates, the budget for Yaowawit School isn't always set.  This was the plan from the beginning.  I have to give it to Germans.  They know how to figure out a way to do things.  The Yaowawit people are also good at developing alternative income streams.  They do not want to be purely dependent upon donations, which is why TCF is basically now a one pony show.    

The students are generally well behaved.  When we first had worked with the school several years ago, the place was in disarray.  Student behavior was not good.  Teachers were frustrated.  I managed to get Dr. Ratjatawan working with them actively, and it ended up pretty well.  Now returning to the area from Bangkok after over a year, Dr. Ratajawan was asked about teen problems.  Many of the children are becoming teenagers, and the principle is worried about teen sex, drugs, alcohol and smoking.  It's an ongoing problem with any teenage population.  Yaowawit is no different than any other school.  It is unique in that it has students from kindergarten to high school.  This is why the placement of interns is going to be good.  We will also have a consistent presence at the school, and I can find out about any ongoing issues.      

I'm the one who writes the MOU proposals.  The sending of the interns to Yaowawit is a done deal.  I drafted the MOU, and the ABAC GSP faculty approved it.  The MOU will be faxed to Yaowawit soon for signatures.   This is step one.  What is step two?

One of the other things that I did with ABAC is to set the groundwork for potentially recruiting students from Yaowawit to go to ABAC.  This was done about a year ago, when I had first visited the university.  I had a good meeting last year with the head of ABAC, in which he said that they could find money for special cases.  I had pitched that it would be good press for ABAC to help out students in real needs, or with complex histories.  The head of the college agreed, and I have been working on this ever since.  Dr. Ratjatawan and I are covert philanthropists.  We may not have money, but we can find ways through connections.  These two girls are the ones that we think might be good candidates, and we are going to monitor their academic progress.  I follow up on things, so I will push the agenda forward.    

3.  Gratis Lecture
At one point this week, I had been asked to give a gratis lecture on scholarships, and also a brief presentation on my Fulbright Hayes GPA experience.  I explained to several students about the different strands of Fulbright scholarships and grants from the US State Department's version to the US Department of Education versions.   I basically went over the application process requirements for the PhD students in terms of scholarships and grants.    

I also went over the issues of NGO and the set up of nonprofits.  This was more of a sober discussion, as I had used Yaowawit as an  example of how quickly an NGO can be set up.  With German/European financing and Royal Family of Thailand backing, the school was instantly created.  However, most NGOs do not have this luxury.  We all basically work on a shoe string budget.  I also explained issues about expectations, and the inherent need to really know what you want to do.  Also, I warned them not to base their budget and operation on donations only.  It is a recipe for disaster in terms of sustainability.  

Charity work is fun for me.  It forces me to go to places that I would not normally go to.  It also grounds me.    
I had thought about Vietnam and Cambodia as of late.  I had a detailed discussion with a monk trying to set up his NGO, and I went over some of the problems.  It will take me some time, but if I use ABAC as my base for the region, I think some good things can happen.   

I have only a few days left, and so much needs to be done.  Time.  That's the hardest commodity to manage.