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I was born in Hanoi, but truly, I am a child of the monsoon: it was in a summer storm that my mind first came alive. The morning that the storm hit Hanoi, the house flooded so much that I could not go to school. The deluge provided a respite from my otherwise predictable middle-class life; for once, my day did not follow the beaten track to school, home, and back to sleep. Instead, as my grandmother entertained me with seafaring tales, I folded paper-boats and set them on the ocean that had become of our living-room.
Paradoxically, though I could not leave the house, my world had swelled beyond its four walls. My imagination delighted in the tempest. I filled the waterfront with all the wayfarers from Grandma’s stories, and they danced to the raindrops on our tin roof. The furniture became islands, the floating ropes gigantic sea-dragons. Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of a world beyond the physical that I had never seen before. No longer was my vision bound by the iron-wrought window; one hand on an imaginary spyglass, I was an adventurer heading past the end of the known world. I was determined to pursue that glimpse to the very end. Years flew by and the floods stopped, but the spirit of the wayfarers lingered; it fueled my unfettered desire to explore beyond my textbooks. Discontent with a curriculum based entirely on rote memorization, I read voraciously in search of other worlds. Although I could not afford long-distance travel at the time, I sailed to the places hidden in Vietnamese and English books alike. I longed to discover experiences, ideals, and peoples that I never thought could exist in “real-life. ” I found them in Xuan Dieu’s poems, as his lovesongs revealed such ardor to which comradeship, the only relationship I was taught of, paled in comparison.
In place of the endless odes to Stalin, I sought shelter in the Bard’s sonnets. Verona dazzled me with its opulence, Hamlet’s Denmark with stateliness. My sails filled with the whispers of men across time, I broke free from the iron anchor that had attempted to restrain my intellectual explorations. When the economic tides turned for my family, my parents sacrificed material comforts to provide me with an American education. Filled with excitement, I sped across the Pacific and landed in Pennsylvania. Before arriving at Hill, I had sailed in solitude, as debate and dissent were heavily censored in a Vietnamese education. The freedom that greeted me across the pond was exhilarating: for the first time, I was encouraged to broaden my intellectual horizons. I sampled Abrahamic theology and quantum physics between bites of maple pecan cookies.
I fell in love with Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ in its schizophrenic brilliance. I hiked through parabolic hills in Calculus, and with my teacher’s insistence that math was a language, weaved poetry out of differential equations. As I navigated my American education, I found fellow voyagers in my community in the shape of teachers and schoolmates. Guided by the Socratic method, I stood at the crossroads of ideologies and histories provided by their differing experiences, and I always emerged with a more comprehensive understanding of the topic at hand, whether it is the English language, mankind’s motivations, or method acting that is on the table for that day. Together, we are the modern-day Argonauts; with their aid I race towards the dawn of knowledge, and every time I return home, I strive to help fellow Vietnamese explorers on their quest, as I have been helped. It is my need to explore beyond all limits that has propelled me forward; it is what characterizes me. I am a sailboat born of monsoon fevers, and the sea has always called for me: beyond rationality itself, there is always a new idea to ponder, a horizon to breach, and I am ever ready to set sail again.
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