May 3, 2012

This is for my dad

My co-worker handed me the white boxcutter. It looked like a stick of peppermint gum but had the texture and weight of a beer opener. Of course, a red square with the words UNIQLO written in white capital letters sat at the end of the razor. It belonged to them.

I took the tool, retracted the sharp blade, and sliced through the tape. I felt cruel destroying this box even though it has consistently excelled in storing perfectly folded linen shirts. The sharpness of the razor sure beats my well inked blue Bic pen, which will stick to it's role of transcribing the daily sales goal and whatnot.

This utility knife felt familiar. I have seen it before, piles of them actually, in all different colors, though I mostly remember orange and dark grey. They appeared less polished, lighter because it was molded plastic and not metal. More used, with strips of packing tape holding the blade in place. These segmented blade utility knives rested in our monochromatic filing cabinet with its charcoal colored drawers and handles. It was located in our dining area between my dad's homemade alter and a twin sized bed. My dad found it on the side of the street and insisted to carry it up a flight of stairs just so it can consume more space in our already crowded two bedroom apartment. It became home to the knives, old VHS tapes varying from home videos to Paris By Night concert series, usb cords, and other tangled electronic items.

I never knew why we had so many of of them. I've never seen my dad cut anything at home. Then,  for some reason, at that moment of me breaking down the box, it occurred to me that he used them for the same reason. He opened a lot of them at the shoe warehouse where he worked.  Here I was, doing exactly what my dad has been doing and still is doing for 15 years. I'm living what he still is struggling with now. He has been working there since 1997. That was his way of making money to support his wife and two kids. He had left the comforts of his homeland and his family, replaced a camera with a knife, and abandoned a huge house with a backyard full of jack fruit, gauva trees, and all sorts of fruits and vegetables for an upstairs corner two bedroom, one bathroom unit in an apartment that looked more like a motel.

I can't help but make comparisons and wonder if I'll be in the same shoes. Has he succeeded? His two kids are college graduates from outstanding universities. One has a good job, and the other is still searching. It's hard to say. His goal was for us to have an education and pursue any occupation we wanted, and raise our own families and make enough money to support them. In that case, he has succeeded.

But I feel that if he knew what his daughter has been doing - working at a store, moving boxes, using razors like he did - he would be mad.

"I didn't come here so you can work like that," he would probably say.

But Dad,  I understand your struggle now. I used to ask you why you were always tired all the time from work. Why you sighed and huffed and only sat in front of the computer every time you came home.  I now do the same. I'm now somewhat living your life and barely getting by (except I have no one else to support except myself). I don't want to repeat that step.

I will get out of there. It's just a step I need to take to get elsewhere. Lucky for me, I have you and mom for support. And lucky for me, my family is in the same country and I can visit them any time. Lucky for me, I have the opportunities you never did.

It doesn't end on the razors as a comparison. I'm also picking up furniture from the street. I'm taking an hour to buy toilet paper because I need to compare and find the best value.

I moved to NYC by myself to pursue a dream, as you did when you left Vietnam. I know it's a bit farfetched comparing my journey to yours, I can't help it. You've inspired me to do this. And I can't let you down. I came here for a reason and when I go back home, you'll be living in a house with a backyard full of fruits and vegetables. And when I get home, I'll throw away all of your razors.  You won't need them anymore.


  1. Hong, it's Frank that guy you met at d12, sorry to keep stalking, but I love your blog.

    I moved to Los Angeles after college because I wanted to get a job at the Los Angeles Times. I had no experience so I did internships, read books on writing and journalism, rewrote my old shitty articles to learn. I had no money so I slept in living rooms, ate ramen, ran out of money a ton. I got rejected the first time, but not the second. I start in the fall. If you work, your impractical dream will come true too. It will be worth it. I'm rooting for you.

    But if photography doesn't work out, maybe consider a career in writing.

  2. Hey Hong, it's Linda Nguyen. It's not really considered creeping if you publicize your blog via Facebook, but it kinda is if I can't help but check back every other week to catch up. You're an amazing writer. That is all.

  3. Frank's right, Hong. You should consider a career in writing (in addition to photography).


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