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"You are young. You are healthy. Do something good."

- I don’t know which one to choose… they’re both very nice.

- Maybe both!

- Haha, I know… I have a friend who’s leaving New York soon, so I think this could be a nice gift for him.

- How long have you been here?

- Almost 10 years!

- Oh, and where were you before that?

- Also New York, but I was upstate… haha. So about 13 years in total. I’m originally from Vietnam, though.

- So you are Vietnamese? I had a feeling.

- Ha, is it because of my accent? Yes, I am indeed!

- No. I was there.

- Really? Did you visit recently?

- …

- Oh… you meant during the war…

- Yes, I’m a vet. Do you see my right hand? Here, my left hand, is what a normal hand looks like. The fingers on my right hand are shorter because they were blown up. It was the war, you know, we were shooting at them and they were shooting at us.

- I know… it was a tough time… I’m glad you were safe.

- So where are you from in Vietnam?

- I’m from Hanoi.

- Oh, the North. Tet Offensive, that’s when I was in your country. 1968.

- Wow. So when did you come back?

- 1971. I was in Vietnam for about two years and then spent some time in Cambodia and Thailand before I returned to the US. I was traveling the world, you know, but for all the wrong reasons.

- I can only imagine how hard it feels… How long does it take you to…

- Get over it? Never. You won’t. It stays with you forever. Most of my buddies are gone a long time ago. And for those few of us who are still here, when they have the Memorial Day parade, you know, we can’t watch it. It brings back just really sad memories. When we returned to the States, we were treated like trash. People at the airport were screaming and throwing things at us, calling us baby killers and women rapers. It was very tough to swallow. You will never get over it.

- I can understand… Thank you for sharing your story with me.

- You know, this is not the kind of story you talk to people about often. You’re the first Northern Vietnamese that I’ve talked to here. The other day, there were two other Vietnamese girls stopping by, but they’re from the South. Saigon. I know it has a new name now, but that was the name I knew of during my time when the North and the South were divided. Now you are one country. This was more than 50 years ago. I’ll never go back.

- I understand where you’re coming from… I know you won’t, but you wouldn’t recognize Vietnam now if you came to visit. Our country has completely transformed.

- I bet. And you guys are now rising to the top in manufacturing and textile export! I know it because before I started making art like this, I ran a tailoring business here.

- Ahh! Yes, you are right. I really appreciate this conversation we had today. I was just wandering around the city and didn’t expect to have this encounter… 

- So it must be fateful ;)

- I guess so! I’m glad that you are alive. Can I buy both of these, please?

- Of course. And I’m glad you are alive, too. We’re a country of immigrants. Do you enjoy your life here?

- Yes! I do love America. I also love Vietnam. I’m very grateful.

- Good. You are here. You are young. You are healthy. Do something good.

- Thank you. I hope you take care.

- You too, young lady.


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