From the series: Dispatches From A Damaged American Teaching English Abroad in Vietnam
I keep thinking about the night after the results came in:
We were sitting in the 18A Minh Khai alley and going over the release of Trump’s proposals, many of the items new and many old, and many of our heads lost in the fog that got Trump elected in this our year of the lord 2016, when I got a message from my Vietnamese tutor telling me that she feared the events and wondered if she’d ever get a chance to study in or even go to America. “Honestly, I don’t know,” I told her. Hard to be sure. Life is strange after all. And, unfair to many. After all, as a gentleman, I didn’t want to shit on her dreams unnecessarily.
I remember shifting a lot in my chair that night. And I remember focusing too much on how I was sitting as if I was back in high school completely stoned and giving myself medically inaccurate Cat-Scans ad nauseum, which might have been normal, or unusual, but it felt weird. People in the States were all but literally flipping their shits up in the air like cow pattie pancakes in dismay, like pissed off caged animals flinging feces around their cells.
“Res ipsa loquitor,” I typed quickly. What would she make of that? Would she understand? I had doubts she knew much Latin, or much about Western law systems. Shit, I don’t even know that much, come to think of it. Quickly she sent back an emotionally expressive thumbnail gif of a gray puppy falling flat on its face as if to say “What does that mean?” which she confirmed to be her sentiment immediately by then sending “What?? ==”. Oh, fuck… you are old aren’t yout? I thought to myself. I attempted to search for “==” and came up with what appeared to be html coding. After a moment of consideration I thought I had figured it out.
“‘==’ means ‘I’m annoyed’ doesn’t it?” To which she responded “== yes”.
I have been in Vietnam for almost three years now, and that’s enough time to see that the young and upcoming generation here are not much different from others in the world.
I looked up at the people seated around me on a dozen or so inadequately designed red and blue plastic assplant-or-fail chairs made for not tall or wide people and saw that most everone was sucked into their phones. Brit, Scot, American, Vietnamese, Australian, Canadian. I looked down the alley at some Vietnamese walking their children around in strollers. The alley contained hanging lanters, strung lights like Christmas lights back home, stainless steel tables, platic chairs, mini-carts full of cigarettes lighters and scattered bills, fake stainless steel tables, glass shards from thrown mugs, piles of dirt, stacks of bricks, tattered and brand new flags of Buddhist and Vietnamese nature, Koreans, Japanese, Germans, Israelis, Chinese, Danes. Then a kid zoomed by on one of those hoverboard things that don’t actually hover. A gyroscopic two-wheeled thing or whatever. Everyone calls them hoverboards. Which is a lie, kind of like people not calling water-boarding torture, or people thinking that America is a pure democracy.
The Vietnamese man who owns the place where we drained beer was listening to American country music. Some big name. Nothing to distract the mind from thinking about the ramifications of the election. No dump trucks full of sand barricading buildings. Space and time did not feel to be operating correctly. Too much had just happened — kind of like when you tilt a bottle to pour and there’s not enough left to even warrant a suction-suck sound indicating a decent amount of liquor was no longer left… change was now come. Instagrammatically speaking, strange and normal are now become confused memes. Indeed.
It has now been 31 hours or so since Trump won. But I remember the odd and slimey sensation of standing in class with students watching a feed on YouTube of Trump’s speech. No, I remember thinking. No, this isn’t real. This can’t be real. And no, not that song! Why do my students have to view this bullshit!? It doesn’t bother me that what I just told all these students was wrong, because I am comfortable with being wrong, but Christ a la mode in hot pants what the fuck is actually going on?
Is this stream really playing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”!? Is this a sarcastic joke? A taunt? But after leaving the room and walking downstairs (because the elevators are about as reliable as a prophylactic made of rice paper) I barged like a drunk ampetamine-angry hippo into another teacher’s room, kicked over a desk-chair unintentionally (but perhaps in hindsight intentionally) hard and to the floor in anger… I then realized that I would have played that song if Hillary had one as well. Because. Shit. I certainly didn’t want that thing in office either. I could feel the synapses pruning in my head. Grim. Strange.
The students stared at me, and then laughed, uneasily. I thought to ignore them then glanced around the room. Some nodded. Seemed to grasp what I was thinking, which is saying a lot because I couldn’t be sure what was in my mind.
Possibly this: This is a social sarcasm – many will binge on sad music and drink and evoke Hitler and the Third Reich and complain about much… how much they actually do about the causes of their dire feelings… we will have to wait and see. Many of his followers are vomiting happy rage, but probably won’t be when they learn Trump pulled references to banning Muslims from his website, has gone back on many, many campaign promises, including that he won’t be seeking the prosecution of “crooked Hillary”, bitch-slapping all pigmented baby seals because unlike their namesake they cannot seal any deals at all and should be flat fuck out straight away fucking fired as fuck, and writing off Climate Change as a complete hoax – all this and more, not even a month after his election. A true shit wind ferments on the horizon, but it is dubious who the wind will be shittiest to upon smelling. For the same reason that laughter does not equate to happiness… people that voted for trump will be upset with the fact that he is not a man of his word, and realize that his elocutions are toxic and bare-assed at best.
Or, perhaps and maybe most likely, they won’t.
That, ultimately is how the reaction to the election feels out here in Saigon. People are upset back home and vocal about it, but much of what they’re saying is hyperbole and not productive at all. Much of what people are saying, on both sides, amounts to little more than wallowing in shame and grief or rolling in bliss and whatever the metaphorical representation of a hybrid unicorn-kitten happens to be. Equal parts hard to take seriously, and hard to take seriously.
But, back to the story.
Some students laughed. More out of a natural human effort to relieve awkward tension than any sense of malice. I figured. I threw a tennis ball I carry to wake students up dead into a corner and it just stuck there. They saw the rage in my eyes. And a sobering feeling overtook my mind that I haven’t shook since, despite heavy drink and telling people otherwise. You’re in a foreign country. You thought you got away from all that shit. Nope, you goddamn inert. You stopped paying attention. Now you have to unpack all this garbage. Volumes have been spoken about America in the last minutes. Volumes! Now what! Think! What is this? What meaning do these moments have? What does it say about us as animals?
At first, the urge to find a silver lining felt aroot in pessimistic conceit. For example, there are many things that can work out well for people in general, and Trump won’t have much of an effect. That’s hope. That’s false hope. Either way, people like me who got sick of American politics and so kept out of it need to suck the shit and get back in because Confusion adores company. Pencils will have to wear thin on this. Fingers will have to BLEED.
Then I remembered that my Vietnamese tutor sent me a message, so I responded.
“It’s Latin. Has to do with laws and stuff. And negligence.” She going to understand this? I wondered. Possibly. Unfortunately, I can say first hand that being a teacher does not necessarily make one smart, but in her case she happens to be quite sharp.
“I want to understand. But I don’t.” I thought about this for a moment. Sympathetic to her position.
“Listen all u ne3d to know is the state of America has always ben linked to serious change n thats whats come.”
“Are you drunk?” I looked around, and wondered.
“Not necessarily depends on yours definitinos”.
Shit! Why am I carrying on this way? This is too embarrassing to grasp in any normal context. Any context at all. What becomes of all this?
The good in this is that anger is serious fuel, sometimes even good fuel — just short of love, lust, whiskey, or cat video addictions. Rage makes people act. The danger in that is obvious, but harnessed appropriately and you can get a lot done fast.
And so we sat and drank and considered the shit in front of us. Or, at least that’s what I did. And it would have been shit whatever the outcome, maybe less intensely shitty if Burnie had not been screwed over by the DNC months back, or if America ran different, but shitty nonetheless.
Many public figures who not so cheekily stated that they’d move the hell out of the country should what has come to pass come to pass will have to do some more talking or buckle. Watching how that all plays out will just be a minor distraction from what people should be focused on — which to be clear should be on whatever they want to change. If you are an American and you’re upset, furious, foaming out all holes or however you want to say it, then you should do something about it. Shit winds cometh.