Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Money Makes the World Go Round


An has quite a lengthy interlude with a ‘persimon-faced’  beggar girl while in Saigon. He identifies her as having a remarkable resemblance to a girl he was once intimate with and gives her the contents of his pockets. He goes so far as to say, “I was her. She, me. She was Trieu. Could be my sister Chi. Could be my own daughter. Random. My world- her world” (107). It seems odd that such a peculiar happenstance such as a run-in with a random beggar girl would bring An to such a profound notion of his own narrow escape of such an existence.

He goes on to present the solution as his parents money separating him from the destitution of Southern Vietnam and while that may have been a contributing factor, it hardly seems to be the solution as a whole. His cousin Hung makes money enough to drink himself into a stupor but still lives in relative squalor. He may be better off than the Trieu-look-a-like beggar girl, but really gives the impression of living a variation of the desolate life of South Vietnam.

It almost seems indelicate for An to compare his life (or what his life could’ve been) with that of the beggar child who has lived the nightmare he only thinks of on a whim of a daydream. He constantly makes reference to ‘westerners’, implying that he isn’t one, but doesn’t the distinction between their lives (the beggar girl and An’s) distinguish him as a westerner? He escaped her fate by finding refuge in the west; does that distance him from his fellow Vietnamese or is it irrelevant how he has lived since leaving?

By Kelsey


  1. An's connection to the beggar girl seems to be yet another moment filled with guilt and shame for him. He feels guilty that his escape to America protected him from suffering a similar fate to that of the beggar girl. He is shamed by what he sees in Saigon and the poverty and corruption unleash a wide range of emotions. It seems as though Hung, like the beggar girl suffers due to struggling through the difficult times that he faced in post-war Vietnam. By coming to America, An was given refuge from these struggles and in place was given opportunity. This causes him to feel guilty as well and keeps him from feeling truly Vietnamese.


  2. When An meets the beggar-girl he becomes aware of his own privilege and obviously feels guilty about it, but he is still not fully aware of how much it is coloring his experiences in Vietnam. He feels ashamed that it took a personal, self-centered connection to his past to finally feel something more than repulsion towards the Vietnamese people, but this thin line is something he must continue to learn to negotiate during the rest of his stay in Vietnam, or perhaps for the rest of his life as Vietnamese-American. The book portrays this struggle in a very nuanced way, with no clear answers as to the moral implications of An's reaction to the girl.

    - Hannah

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  4. Andrew's reflections on poverty were heartbreaking to me, just because of the way they ate at him. He put a great deal of stress into thinking about all the implications of even helping her the way he did, when it seems to me that it was simple to her, based on how she reacted, that her and her family just needed money. It does seem out of perspective for him to directly compare himself to her, but at the same time, it is a way of being more personal about her struggles.

    - Casey