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08 Apr '20

"Matter of Consequence" vs. "Force of Uncertainty"

Posted by Lanchi Vo

There hasn't been an entry in this blog for a long while because, of course, I have been busy with "matter of consequence", spreading myself thinner than those rainbow-color oil slicks. Life had been dragging, pushing, shoving me on and on and on...until it came to a screeching halt. Now, I suddenly have the luxury to sit down and entertain some frivolous thoughts. Thank (but, no thanks!) to Covid-19!

The current situation reminds me of another time when my life got suspended in the forceful grip of uncertainty. On that day, I peeked through a basement's window, as massive combat tanks grinding onto the streets of Saigon. I saw my mom crying. I saw my dad's blank expression. As the world tumbled down around us, we gathered together and ate instant noodle to celebrate my 9th birthday, and to mark the first day of a seven-year wait.

Wait for a future that might never come.

Those were difficult years. There was not enough of everything to go around, Except for Humanity. Up to this day, my mom often mentions to us the gratitude she felt when a relative came by our home, casually dropping off a precious sack of rice, a bag of cookie, a bunch of bananas...They were looking out for us, knowing that my parents have seven kids to feed. There was also a lot of Inhumanity that went around, but that's a different story.  The kids eventually came back to school, but all the adults were unemployed, except for some gig jobs here and there.  The new proletariate society had no function they can entrust to white-collar people from the old regime. We lived on the government's miserable food ration. We tried to survive by selling whatever we could, down to a set of dictionaries--a well-utilized treasure of my parents as educators--by the kilo for scrap paper.

Yet, those were the most carefree years of my life. We all lived a rat’s life, but there was no rat race. We didn't have a future, but we had the present. One day at a time.  Most importantly, we had one another.  Life offers a strange comfort when it collectively hits rock bottom: it is, certainly, a very stable place!  There is no danger of an "existential crisis", since existence was distilled down to its  purest essence, uncontaminated by the past or the future.  At the end, the future came as a set of visas to the US, thanks to my uncle, who sponsored us over via the Family Reunification program. The day I touched down on US soil, I felt the tangible weight of the future and the obligation to siege it with a vengeance. I have been trying to capture the American Dream ever since, for myself, for my family, for my kids. How very busy have I been!

I was living in the cocoon of that Dream when this pesky virus exploded into our world, shook me up and showed me how fragile and ephemeral Dream can be. It brought to the surface this Uncertainty that we all try to suppress or mitigate. It asserts the fact that future, by definition, is never certain. No matter how thick the cushion of our wealth or how many insurance policies we own, the risk of unemployment, separation, failure, illness, death...are here all along for everyone of us. The thing we call "normalcy" is but a very thin veneer.  Apply a bit of pressure and it will disintegrate. 

How terrifying! Yet, how liberating!

For awhile at least, the pressure of maintaining the statue-quo suddenly lifted.  The weight of the future lightened.  In this chaotic force of uncertainty, families have to hunker down together, caring for one another, living more in the pressing present. In the past few years I kept telling myself to spend more time with my kids.  But there was always an art show coming up and I didn't have enough stock, so to the wood shop I went. In the past few weeks, I have shut down my work completely but I am not feel stressed out about that, since it is no longer a "matter of consequence" (to borrow Saint-Exupéry's expression). The problem is, my kids are teenagers now.  They prefer to spend time with their electronics rather than with us parents. But that's OK. I can tend to their needs and retreat to my room, saying Hello to my inner self: Long time no see! How are you?  Hang in there!  Stay alive!  We have been through this before. We will be OK. 

06 Mar '17

Collectoritis--Warning Signs and Symptoms

Posted by Lanchi Vo
I am blessed with a sense of wonder. I am easily fascinated by "varieties" of all kinds. Thus, I become a collector of many things. Or so, I thought. As I pondered a bit more about the thrill of collecting, I realized that it stems from something more primal, rooted in the survival instinct, the egocentric desire for anything perceived as 'rarity', whether real or imagined, natural or artificial.

I still remembered very clearly the time when I accidentally tumbled onto a rare orchid species that I had coveted for a long time, Constantia cipoensis, to be precise. There it was, a perfect specimen, lying among many other species brought to the orchid show by a Brazilian vendor. As I made the purchase, my heart palpitated, my limbs felt weak, my stomach tighten, and my head felt like it was about to float, carried away by elation. How else can I get to that level of excitement in a totally non-chemical, non-sexual way? There I was, holding a beautiful plant. It was uniquely mine, exclusively mine, selfishly mine. It was a wonderful feeling! Not so much of having it, but of having found it. More and more, I realize, it is not what I have amasses that brings me the satisfaction. Like hunting, it's more the process of selecting, searching and acquiring that is so thrilling.

Now, with internet search, online commerce, social media, wikipedia... collecting is dangerously easy. Fortunately--like it is usually the case--Money (or the absence of it) puts a healthy brake on my impulse. Time and Space add their own set of constrains. Operate within those sets of constrains is what make it even more exciting. Collecting is a great hobby. I highly recommend it. It is both engaging and educational. Being a collector means you have to do some research, prioritize your acquisition, organize your collection, budget your fund, exercise self discipline...All are great skills to cultivate.

However, one has to be very careful. Indulge in this activity predisposes you to collectoritis, a pathological condition colloquially known as 'hoarding'. There is a very fine line between collecting and collectoritis. The first warning sign is when you don't even know that you have a certain object, and if you do, you have no idea where it is (caveat: this can also be a result of old age, but that's a different issue all together). Next, you becomes less and less selective, the collecting skill sets listed above begin to deteriorate one by one. When you found yourself squeezing side-way, contorting your torso to navigate though your living room, bathroom, bedroom, bed...walled in by your acquisitions, then it is too late. The condition has progressed to the 3rd degree. So, be vigilant.

If you still keep a record (either physical or mental) of your inventory; have a systematic way to display or store them; trade, sell, or gift your items occasionally to refine and streamline your collection, then you are safe. Congratulation! By being a collector, you have chosen the best addiction of all addictions. If you happen to collect art and craft, specially wooden items, please do keep at it! You are the enablers for us artist and crafters to keep on creating. You are part of a rare population with a keen appreciation for the finer things. If, after reading this blog and a bit of self diagnosis, you find yourself heading to the other side, or had already ensconced yourself there, you have all my condolence and sympathy.

Now, if you please excuse me, I need to go search for that rare wood sample I collected last year. I know I have it somewhere....
22 Nov '16

Red Sandalwood and White Elephants

Posted by Lanchi Vo

During the course of my wood collecting, I came across a specimen called Red Sandalwood. Of course, a common name does not mean much to a wood collector, so I jumped on the net and searched for the possible scientific name of the species. I learned that there are at least two timbers with that common epithet: Pterocarpus santalinus and Adenanthera pavonina.

My sample is positively a Pterocarpus, a nice, deep red wood related to Amboyna, Narra and African Padauk. It is a highly sought after timber and a rare find here in the West. Having a piece of a rare timber is always exciting, but that excitement is nothing in comparison to what I discovered about Adenanthera pavonina, a tree that produces bright red seeds.

Years ago, a colleague of mine gave me a tiny, intricately carved elephant perching on the top of a round, red base (Thanks! Goeff).

It was a delightful addition to my miniature collection. I never suspect that it contains magic, until I tumbled onto this article while searching for information on Red Sandalwood:


I learned that in India, the shiny red seed of Adenanthera pavonina were used to produce good luck charms known as "Magical Seeds" or Manjadikuru: "The [hard shell] seed is slit across the top, hollowed out, and left to dry. Then a series of elephants is then carved from bone—usually camel bone—and placed inside, with a slightly larger elephant carved to seal the mouth of the tiny container. The idea is that the owner of a Manjadikuru will be granted one wish for each elephant contained in the seed" (quoted from http://elephantaday2.blogspot.com/2013/09/elephant-no-6-manjadikuru.html.)

I felt a rush of anticipation as I got out my own Manjadikuru, pulled out the elephant stopper, and shook out all twelve white elephants from the tiny red seed! All perfectly carved with minute details.

It was such a thrilling, accidental discovery!  This little red seed with the magical elephants is definitely the coolest thing that I have ever came across. Such whimsical container! Such awesome content!

Now, to put things in perspective, I do make tiny bead-size containers with a screw-on cap and am very proud of the intricate threads on teeny boxes. But this herd of elephants is an order of magnitude more complex. We are talking about incredible craftsmanship here.  

I was so taken by this little surprise that I went on the internet and searched for these magical seeds. I found a source on Ebay (Yes, Ebay is such a great place for obscure thing like this!) and purchased a dozen more just for fun. I learned that not all Manjadikuru are created equal, some have an elephant as the stopper, some just have a knob (like the one I purchased). Some contain carved elephants with elaborate 3D details, others only have flat slivers of crude elephant shape.

I realized that my original, very well made magical seed is a rare specimen, a cultural artifact, and a lost art.  But above all, it is such an inspiration for someone like me, who uses traditional, non-computerized tools to create intricate pieces.  

14 Oct '16

HELP!!! My Husband's Other Woman is a Three-Legged Cyclops!

Posted by Lanchi Vo

The problem is that they've been together for a very long time, long before he married me. So, I am not sure who has the "Right of Way" here.

Their relationship is a perfect one. They truly click. She has an eye only for him. She is dependable, patient, quiet and steadfast--all the traits men want from their woman. He can really see things from her perspective. He can read her mind, can push all the right buttons to make her happy--qualities that women yearn from their man. They share a deep passion for the great outdoors. They often travel together, camp together, hike together. She would sit on his lap every time they board an airplane. On cold nights, he would hug her close, so that her big, clear eye would not be all fogged up. When they come back from the beach, he would wash her multiple legs so that her joins would not feel creaky from all that salt water...

They savor every second spent together. He would head out with her at the crack of dawn, returning long after dark, leaving me waiting, worrying. Sometimes, I tag along, just to see what happen. That was a bad idea. At the end of the very loooong day, I would often find myself seething with resentment and green with envy, not to mention being tired, cold and hungry. With her by his side, he is oblivious to the people around him, me included. He is too busy focusing on her, capturing their sweet moments with her impeccable visual memory. I still remember vividly that time at Piazza del Duomo, Florence.  There was so much to see and to share, but my husband was dashing around, hugging his mistress, ignoring me completely.

I was down there, alone.  He was up there somewhere, with her!

And that trip was supposed to be our time together, not one of his rendezvous that I just happen to tag along! Seeing the tourists strolling hand in hand, talking, laughing, eating, enjoying their time together only exacerbated the situation. I felt so acutely the intrusion of this Cyclops into my marriage.

To date, I still don't know how to make it work for the three of us. At home, he is a sweet, devoted husband and father, a man without any vice (except for his infatuation with this Cyclops). At home, she knows her place and just stands quietly, unobtrusively in a corner. She is even useful sometimes, documenting our memorable moments with a couple blinks of her lone eye. Only when we go on a trip all together that tension ensues. Many times, I want to give my husband an ultimatum: leave her home on OUR family vacations. But I know he would be at a loss without her spongy tentacle wrapping around his neck. He would not know what to do with his empty hands. He would be so dejected and would miss her terribly. So, I conceded. My husband is more aware of the three-some problem now. He is trying his best to stay focused on us instead of running off with her when we are on the road. But her lure is strong.  Relapses happen. Just one wink from her, he'd be lost to me.  I'd find myself left alone with the kids on the hiking trails, desperately trying to deal with their complaints of heat, cold, boredom, fatigue, hunger etc...while he was enrapturing with her elsewhere.

Look at them!  Kissing under the cover!

They even had a love child together! My husband had been pregnant with that child for the past 20+ years (yes, that's what happen when you hitched a Cyclops, you carry the load; she gets to keep her slim figure). He recently gave birth to a chubby, 7+ lbs baby. What an exquisitely beautiful thing it is!


Looking at that child brings back fond memories of the time we share at some of the most beautiful spots on earth. Reluctantly, but I have to thank her for that. Without her insatiable thirst for a change of scenery, my husband--and thus, us--would not have ventured out to enjoy all that natural wonders. This child brings a redeeming quality to my husband's affair with the Cyclops, but it also ensures that she is here to stay. I guess I have to learn to accept this three-company. Only if she could also supervise the kids, cook and clean, then the situation would be much more tolerable.

So, please tell me what am I supposed to do?  Perhaps, the best solution is for me to start dating a Cyclops myself???

02 Jan '16

Out of the Closet

1) No, there aren't any skeletons in my closet, only a few dog bones dragged there by Peanut--my Chihuahua

2) No, there aren't any sexy crossdresser's clothing in there, either. I am a mother of two naturally born kids, with a husband, who naturally happens to be a very nice guy (he took the below picture, and tons more).  Some of our best friends, though, used to be in closets...

3) No, I am not even hiding in there, but have been tempted many times to do so, only if I could find a space to sit amongst the grand mess for a few moments of peace and quiet (rare commodities when you have young kids).

So... what's brewing and oozing out of that space I called my closet? Just some innocent, hand crocheted garments

...Sorry to disappoint you, but if you are looking for sensational excitements, listen to the news, search on the net, read the tabloid headlines while paying for your groceries...

I have been having fun selecting fibers, combining them, making and shaping fabrics whenever I have the time away from my wood lathe. I enjoy wearing my creation to the local art shows. But when people starts to ask where I got my garments, dishes out compliments, expresses interests. I began to think-May Be...

I learned to knit and crochet during the summer vacations I spent with my grandparents, in the small coastal town of Vung Tau.

She was a great teacher, my grandma. She taught us only the fundamental: how to form the basic stitches, how to shape the fabric with increase, decrease, short rows, how to estimate size and pattern by eyes. Then she told me I can make anything now, create my own patterns, right out of my head.

That's what I have been doing. I still use the most basic (and slowest) single crochet stitch to create my fabric. I enjoy trying out new fibers as I have enjoyed using many different species of wood in my wood work. I incorporate the color and texture of the yarns into my pattern instead of fancy stitches. 

My design principals: simple, soft, light, comfortable, easy care (I am a mom, I don't do dry cleaning and hand washing). 

So, here they are, another form of containers, not to store your possession, but to wrap yourself up in them. I have mostly women's garb right now (since I am using myself as the mannikin), but I am a firm believer in the Equal Opportunity Policy, so I am working on something for the men, too. I hope I can come up with something more fun than the classic sweater men receive every Christmas.

Stay tuned!

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