Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Saving Face with Alcohol

"I suspect I will remember my days in Saigon through an alcoholic haze" (82).

Why does Andrew drink so much during his time in Vietnam? On page 84, this is partially explained by his almost distant, anthropological observation of his own cousins (and himself): "That is how Vietnamese men bond. We only talk when we drink" (84). It is also a gendered activity, as indicated by the fact that the women of the family leave the men alone and are not invited to join, even though they are the ones serving the beer and cleaning up after the men. There is the unspoken implication that alcohol is how the Vietnamese men cope with their troubled lives in the lingering aftermath of the war. Perhaps Andrew himself would not be able to handle all of the emotions and vivid memories all at once, if he were to stay in the country he was exiled from, completely sober. Because the alcoholism in the family is so customary and given a "manly" face, when Andrew finally breaks down emotionally, his family tries to help him maintain a sense of dignity by denying his that his tears are actually from weeping (109).

By Hannah


  1. More evidence of alcohol being a gendered activity can be seen when An is on the train. It isn't until the other male riders offer his food and alcohol that An is able to accept the men as his friends. Prior to that he was nervous and weary about trusting them. Alcohol serves as currency for male camaraderie as well as a masculine way to escape pain. When Andrew find himself in an emotionally draining event he responds by over-drinking to escape. For example, when he sees the beggar girl in Saigon and then breaks-down in front of his family, he leaves for an overpriced hotel and numbs the pain by inducing himself with liquor.


  2. Besides using alcohol to cope with the problems of life, it is also used to socialize with one another and open up. Andrew has major issues in his life and when he goes to Vietnam, the alcohol allows him to assimilate to the Vietnamese culture. Alexandra is correct in stating that drinking is a gender activity in this novel, but it is also a mainly male activity in most societies and the women that drink are many times looked down upon. However, all people use alcohol for some basic reasons: socializing and coping with emotional difficulties.


  3. I found it interesting how the men in Vietnam drink to form a bond and sense of comradery. Even An, a Viet-kieu, is offered drinks by many of the locals as an offering of friendship and sometimes as a test of his manhood. This is especially apparent when An is coerced to drink a snake's beating heart dropped in a shot of liquor. It also proves as a test of his Vietnamese-ness, that he is able to withstand this cultural delicacy--somewhat.


  4. It is very interesting to see the correlation between sexes and what is consumed by each. Alcohol, in a sense, is that medium which I think the Vietnamese men relate to each other their own sense of mortality, and even morality. Alcohol can also release the burden of responsibility from the Vietnamese men, masking the guilt of fighting a war they may feel regretful of.