Tuesday, September 28, 2010

COLUMN ONE: A son's loyalties tested - latimes.com

COLUMN ONE: A son's loyalties tested - latimes.com

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. - latimes.com

"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. - latimes.com
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 Humantrafficking.org.  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.