<![CDATA[Hong Nguyen-sears - Blog]]>Fri, 19 Feb 2016 01:48:37 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Organized Chaos´╗┐]]>Fri, 19 Feb 2016 06:33:12 GMThttp://hongnguyensears.weebly.com/blog/organized-chaos
Over the last 23 years, I have convinced myself that I work well in chaos. 

By which I mean, mess. 

I will never pretend to be a tidy person. I certainly appreciate tidiness, and I understand why people have organized desks. I suppose, one day, I might also have an organized desk. But, who says it's not? I know where (most) things are. I can reach my keyboard and see my screen. If I open my cupboard to my right I know which notebooks and outlines I'm hiding there. The cupboard on my left--half-finished canvases and scattered pastels, ten volumes of Honey and Clover that I am excited to (eventually) read. On the desk itself, books upon books, cups of coffee and tea and milk and, at the moment, neocitron. Poetry, manga, comics, Harry Potter--I'm surrounded by things that make me happy.

I mean, and garbage.

Okay, I'm a mess.
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<![CDATA[´╗┐Foggy]]>Fri, 12 Feb 2016 20:38:03 GMThttp://hongnguyensears.weebly.com/blog/foggyThe irony of pursuing a degree in writing is that I suddenly feel as though I have no time to write. What do I do for school, sitting at my computer? I read a lot. I talk a lot, via my keyboard. I am alone a lot, though my puppy sometimes wanders by to bark at me. 

I don't know if I have created anything new in weeks. Or added anything new to ongoing projects. 

Part of that, I know, is a general feeling of being static. 

More is work, is raising a little fluffy creature, is trying to keep my home tidy and welcoming. More is wanting to read and play games, things which have always inspired and encouraged me to keep getting up in the morning. More are these insistent headaches that I hope stop soon.

It's hard to pull something out of chaos, and that's what I feel surrounded by. Harder still is finding something in me to write when I feel more than a little empty inside.

What I need more than anything is time. I am trying to break my days into blocks. One hour to write here. Walk the dog. Do the dishes. One hour to read. One more hour to write. 

It's like taking a spoon to the wall of my own writer's block and chipping away at it slowly. 

I have a superpower. I can create time. I must remember how to use it.]]>
<![CDATA[Wo/Men's Public Washrooms (?)]]>Sun, 18 Oct 2015 06:49:52 GMThttp://hongnguyensears.weebly.com/blog/womens-public-washroomsI worked at a Starbucks in Edmonton many years ago, and in the store were two single-use bathrooms. The doors to each faced each other across a small hall, and the only difference between either bathroom was the reflected layout within. Oh, and the Female or Male sign outside the door. When I cleaned the bathrooms in the evenings, I would "close" one door so I could clean in peace. All I had to do was lock the door and put a note outside. I know first hand that there was no difference between the bathrooms. Neither had a urinal, and both had baby-change tables. Both had toilets, a sink, a giant garbage, fluorescent lighting, grey tiles. But they were designated as Female- or Male-use.

I observed some things over the years, cleaning those bathrooms. If I "closed" the women's washroom, it was far more likely for a woman to knock on the door and ask to use the bathroom. If I "closed" the men's washroom, it was common for me to pop out when finished and find a man waiting sheepishly.

For clarity: I only closed one at a time. Once more: there was nothing different between them. The Starbucks I worked at then was not a particularly busy location. It was rare for there to be any kind of queue for the bathrooms, so more often than not the other bathroom would be available for the knocking-woman or waiting-man.

If I popped my head out to get a cleaning supply or more toilet paper, and if I saw a man waiting, I would let him know that he would be welcome to use the women's washroom. The man waiting would often respond with visible relief, but usually verify: "You're sure that's okay?"

"Oh yeah, absolutely. There's no difference between the two."

And he would go to use the bathroom. As though waiting for permission, even though he probably already knew there was no real difference between the two bathrooms and no real reason to distinguish them.

When I opened the door to a knocking woman, she would often look slightly panicked and ask why she couldn't use the bathroom. 

"I'm cleaning it at the moment," I would say. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but the other washroom is available if you'd like to use it. Or, you can wait."

Sometimes, the woman would nod her head and also respond with relief. Off she would go to use the empty bathroom and I would return to my cleaning.

Other times, the woman would nod her head and opt to wait.

And then there were the women who, shall I say, panicked.

"But that's the men's washroom!"

"Right now, it's empty. There's no difference between the bathrooms. You can use it, if you'd like."

"I can't use the men's washroom."

And then there was the woman who demanded I vacate the women's washroom immediately so she could use the toilet. I had never seen someone so flustered at the idea of using the "wrong" bathroom. In the time it took me to get my cleaning supplies out of the bathroom, I'm sure she could have used the other bathroom and been finished. 

I remember she said as I scurried out of the bathroom: "The least you could have done was hurry up."

I guess I could have. I guess I could have started covering up the signs when I began cleaning.

At the bookstore, no one seemed to have any trouble using the other washroom and those were multi-stall and did have urinals (and strangely distinct smells). 

I wonder why.

A few years ago, I blacked out a Remembrance Day ceremony. One moment, I was standing in the crowd with my back pressed against my partner's chest. And the next-- Actually, it wasn't a blink. It was more like a slide. Blackness crept in from the edges of my vision. I tried to blink it away. A moment later, the blackness had spread so I suddenly could not see. My knees began to tremble. I blinked my eyes to make sure I hadn't fallen asleep.

I leaned back against my partner, and said, louder than I intended, that I couldn't see.

And then there's this moment I can't remember, what I assume is the actual blackout, and then my vision burst back and the sudden light made me nauseous. I untangled myself from my partner, certain I was about to vomit, and stumbled towards the bathroom.

You can imagine where this is going, maybe.

What followed were many dizzy moments. I remember leaning over a toilet, gagging and trembling. I remember a woman rubbing my back and asking if I was alone. I remember hearing my partner's voice from the doorway, calling my name. I remember someone telling him he couldn't come in. The woman rubbing my back helped me to my feet and led me to the sinks, where I immediately fell to my knees. Overall, I wasn't in good shape. Someone eventually let my partner in and he was suddenly next to me, asking if I was alright. 

First Aid cleared the bathroom. I could hear the distant sound of the ceremony ending.

As the First Aid responders tried to help me in the empty washroom, my partner held my hand. They closed the bathroom, since I wasn't sure I could move. But as people began filing out of the building, people began to want to use the bathroom.

One woman became very insistent. Her voice, in my memory, marks the beginning of my return to actual consciousness. She was yelling, telling the responder at the door that she couldn't use the bathroom because there was a man (my partner) in there.

"The bathroom is closed anyways, ma'am."

"He can't be in there. This is a woman's washroom! I won't use it!"

"The bathroom is closed, ma'am."

I lifted my head and looked at my partner. He looked only slightly sheepish, smiling as he shrugged at me. The responder checking my blood pressure shook her head

I'm working at a Starbucks again, but not in Edmonton and no longer as a teenager. I went to use the bathroom today and noticed something I hadn't before: both stalls are designated as gender-neutral and family-friendly. I considered both doors, hands on my hips.

How would anyone be able to tell the difference?
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<![CDATA[Two Lefts Don't Make a Right]]>Sun, 18 Oct 2015 00:45:54 GMThttp://hongnguyensears.weebly.com/blog/two-lefts-dont-make-a-rightSomehow, I've managed not to bring my election rants to this blog. Mostly because I want the things I write and share here to be heartfelt, semi-productive, and carefully considered. Maybe I've been all three of those things. I like to think I was while I decided where to cast my vote. 

I'm not going to talk about the things that have frustrated me. Two more sleeps, and it just won't matter as much.

I do want to say this: it must suck to be a conservative right now. Small-c conservative, anyways. Or someone whose political values seem to fall on the right side of that spectrum.

There's been a lot of concern about vote-splitting on the left. You want to get rid of Harper? Vote for the candidate that is most likely to beat the Conservative!!! This has concerned me, though it seems like the best option right now, because it would probably mean compromising one's sense of one's own values for the sake of...well, the greater good, to invoke Dumbledore for a moment.

But I've realized that it must be even harder on anyone on the right. Sure, us on the left have a whole bouquet of options and that causes stress , confusion, and conflict. But to be a conservative and having a single Conservative option to represent your values? Even when that representative party seems uninterested in basic things like decency and honesty?

This election has been cruel to all of Canada. I'm sorry for you principled conservatives, whatever conflict our ideals might have, that you have been faced with voting against those values and voting for a party that represents them poorly.]]>
<![CDATA[Review: Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin Volume I: Activation]]>Thu, 10 Sep 2015 05:06:47 GMThttp://hongnguyensears.weebly.com/blog/review-mobile-suit-gundam-the-origin-volume-i-activation
Mobile Suit Gundam: THE ORIGIN volume 1: ActivationMobile Suit Gundam: THE ORIGIN volume 1: Activation by Yoshiyuki Tomino
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maybe more of a 3.5, I can't seem to decide. I am a sucker for a good Gundam story, but I think the best are based on good characters AND awesome battle scenes. This definitely has the latter but I'm not feeling super connected to any of the characters...and the 'villains' and potential love triangle feel too reminiscent of certain other Gundam series for me to feel confident in the originality of this origin story.

It is definitely cool though. 100% fighting robots in space cool.

View all my reviews
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<![CDATA[Encounters With Casual Racism - Episode 1: No, I Don't Speak Chinese]]>Tue, 08 Sep 2015 23:21:08 GMThttp://hongnguyensears.weebly.com/blog/encounters-with-casual-racism-episode-1-no-i-dont-speak-chineseA few months ago I was still working at a bookstore. A customer came up to my register and put down a Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrasebook. I greeted him and scanned the book.

He asked, "Do you know if this is useful?"

I looked down at the book. I smiled. "I don't know this one specifically, but Lonely Planet is a reliable name."

He seemed satisfied and paid his twelve or thirteen dollars for the book.

As I was slipping the receipt inside it he said, "Could you take a flip through and make sure it's okay?"

Sure, I thought. Pages were sometimes missing. At the time, I had found a handful of books with pages printed upside down. I flipped through it. It looked okay to me. I put it on the counter between us.

"But is the Chinese okay?" 

I blinked. The frustrated ball was beginning to form in the pit of my stomach. I had a suspicion, I had a feeling. I maintained my smile and struggled to hope. 

"I'm not sure. I don't speak Chinese, sir."

He took the book and scoffed -- snorted, really, I kid you not. He tucked the book inside his jacket pocket and turned to leave.

"Not a very good Chinese person, then, are you?"
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<![CDATA[Smells Like Chicken]]>Mon, 07 Sep 2015 22:51:37 GMThttp://hongnguyensears.weebly.com/blog/smells-like-chickenI was washing rice and next to me was a rotisserie chicken from Safeway. It was still in its container, still wrapped up its plastic bag. It still is, I can see it from where I'm sitting. Some of the rice I cooked is probably going to be eaten with the chicken, by my parents. The chicken, I imagine, is moist and a little salty and very delicious. 

I can smell it.

Wrist-deep in starchy water, and I could smell it. Drinking over-steeped tea, I could smell it. Sitting here, typing this, I can smell it.

I never noticed how chicken smells. There's the obvious semi-barbecue smell, unique and tempting all on its own. I know that smell. It's familiar. A whole chicken from Safeway (or Costco or anywhere else, really) is a great value- meal for the whole family. Find a side, some potatoes or rice and some vegetables, and you could feed a family of four for two, maybe three, days. I used to really love those chickens. I bet I'd still love it, if I ate it. My parents are going to eat it in an hour or two with some coleslaw for sure and perhaps rice. 

I haven't eaten meat in a while. Not really. There was a mishap with a deep fried dumpling that had some shredded chicken in it a little while ago. I still haven't forgiven myself. 

I am not writing this is an attempt to convert anyone to vegetarianism. I'm not comfortable with that. I'm not comfortable with calling myself a vegetarian, even. I'm not comfortable with eating most meats, is all. What is interesting, slightly disturbing, and the motivation for me typing this first blog post is the smell of chicken.

I don't think I can describe it. 

My partner and I haven't brought meat into our new apartment yet. He's eating some duck that my parents bought, but I cheerfully fill our meat drawer with various kinds of tofu. I haven't been around meat, not really, in a while. I almost didn't recognize the chicken smell, and when I did I realized it smells totally different than the last time I was near one. The easy explanation is that my senses are just more sensitive to the smell.

Except that my dad has been eating barbecue pork and my mom soy duck for the last couple of days. The pork has smelled mouth-watering good, but I know for sure I can never eat pork again and the better it smelt the more disgusted with myself I felt. I've never liked duck, the thought has always irked me so I've trained myself not to react to the smell of it (my partner and mother both love duck). 

And yet the chicken. The chicken smell. It bothers me, for sure. It makes me think of descriptions of factory farm operations that I won't repeat here, for the sake of focus. It also interests me, because it smells so completely alien. It inspires me to reflect.

In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan talks a bit about how chicken has changed so much that it no longer tastes like the chicken our grandparents or great-grandparents might recognize. His suggestion, I think, is that when we use the phrase "tastes like chicken" we are actually acknowledging our own devaluing of flavour: something tastes like chicken because it doesn't taste like much of anything.

So, has being away from meat awakened some deep part of my brain that now properly smells what it (or chicken anyways) smells like? Maybe I am now aware of a smell because I am not consuming as much meat as I once did. Meat is such a huge part of most people's lives, it was a huge part of mine, and perhaps something that at least North American's might take for granted. I no longer take it for granted, I simply avoid it, and standing next to it doing something normal and even comforting suddenly awakened me to a new smell.

I've spent about 30 minutes writing this and I'm already adjusting to the smell. A part of me is disappointed. Another and louder part of me hopes I don't smell it again.



As a final note, I just want to add that I didn't actually like The Omnivore's Dilemma. I wrote a brief Goodreads review about it here if you're curious, but I wouldn't recommend you seek it out.]]>