Monday, June 7, 2010

Shadowed by History

I chose to depict Thanh gradually crossing a monkey bridge connecting Vietnam and the united states. I felt that the tenuous yet firmly grasped structure served as Cao's best metaphor in traversing one world into another. Baba Quan, whose legacy is forever shadowing Thanh's, is depicted as the shadow in Vietnam. The bridge is at once an impetuous structure binding Thanh to Vietnam and a generation gap keeping Mai and her mother from relating to each other.

-David S.

An Easy Way Out?

I am contemplating the effectiveness of Thanh’s decision to free Mai from her culture by the means of suicide. Thanh’s rationale for her actions is that her death will have a liberating effect on Main and allow her to pursue her own life in American culture. I disagree with her reasoning, although I can see a reasonable thought process. She wants to free Mai to the human obligation, the Mother-Daughter obligation that Mai our feel like she has toward her mother. Personally, I also think that her mother’s reality of the weight of her past, and the traumatic pain that accompanied her with the act of suicide leaves Mai completely alone without anyone to support her as she goes through college.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

What Remains in the Heart

One of the most striking images in the novel was when Mai's father likens the communist strongholds as "leopard spots" in Vietnam. This image seems to resonate about what is happening in Mai's heart. The spots are representative of Vietnam in Mai's heart. Mai is attempting to become a part of the American culture that has been forced upon her but she continues to be tormented by those leopard spots.

the significance of a rice kernel

This scene is intended to portray the rice fields of Saigon. The rice fields symbolize so many things in the text-both good and bad. I separated the sky into two colors in order to illustrate this aspect. For instance, the "golden" sky is meant to reflect the "current of grace that runs through [the fields] (like golden light)" pictured on page 172 in Cao's text. However, as seen, the light in my drawing does "evolve" into darkness (the black color) as a means of representing the turmoil of war and even exile. The color red in the water is meant to represent the blood that was spilled in the war (among the luscious greens of the fields-emphasizing the contrasting memories that Lan Cao's family has of this specific terrain). I was really fascinated by the passage on pg. 172- especially when the mother says "She (i.e. Mai) has never known how it farmed, how it is loved, how a bowl of rice is also a bowl of sweat, a farmer's sweat, a mother's sweat." This really puts things into perspective- never take anything for granted-because someone, somewhere, sacrificed in order for us to have it.

In Mai's eyes, the essential elements of Vietnamese culture are precariously placed and can easily be shaken by science and her new American ideals. And yet for her mother, who knows how to easily navigate monkey bridges, they seem as safe and sturdy as ever.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mai and Thanh and written memories

The journal that Mai reads, that belongs to her mother, was a really interesting and valuable part of the novel as it actually lets us see, as Mai also is, a little further into her mother and the way her mother thinks and why she is the way she is. Earlier in the novel Mai describes her mother’s wedding photo and how she observes that her mother was once beautiful, there is a sense of disconnect and inability to relate to her mother. The journal provides a chance for Mai to understand her mother on a deeper level.

Because Mai is so much younger than her mother the way she experiences her life in exile and the way she relates to her Vietnamese past is very different than the way her mother experiences and relates to those things. Mai’s comment about the wedding photo is an example of the way Mai can’t really link her mother’s Vietnamese past with who her mother is now. The journals provide insight into the past that Thanh embellishes on but the journals only serve to create more stress for Mai as she struggles to hold on to her past. The descriptions of Baba Quan and the land and the life that they came from only serves to awaken a longing in Mai for Vietnam and for answers to questions that there seem to be no answers for.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

David B.'s Journal Entry: Thanh Rides Across a Monkey Bridge on Her Father's Back

We hear a lot about Thanh's childhood throughout the novel. Actually we hear a lot about the childhoods of both Mai's mother and grandmother. Yet we hear next to nothing about Mai's childhood in comparison. I drew the scene where little Thanh is riding on her father's back because it is precisely this kind of childhood memory that Mai does not seem to have. This memory is one of many that grounds Thanh to her old way of life and it's traditions. They are crossing a monkey bridge because this memory is one of the only things that Thanh was able to bring with her to her new world, it is her connection between her past and present. It also brings up some interesting questions such as why Mai doesn't have anything similar? The monkey bridge itself sort of represents Mai's connection with her mother, it appears whin and rickety but it is made of materials taken from the land, and should it break it would be easy to reconstruct. Also bamboo is a lot stronger than it looks, much like Mai's relationship with her mother.

~David B.

Jason's Journal

I decided to focus my final journal entry on the journal that Thanh leaves for Mai. Now, what I decided to depict here was an over-exaggeration. Thanh's intentions for the journal's appeared to be that she wanted Mai to have a connection to her homeland and to through that, have a connection with her mother. Now, while she still depicted Vietnam in a somewhat gloomy light, there were areas that she enhanced in order to create a rosier picture. Particularly with the sections that deal with Baba Quan. By speaking better of him, this helped developed Mai's desire to reconnect with him and what made things seem better then they actually were. This is where my over-exaggeration comes in. In order to show the strong feelings of longing for Baba Quan and the Vietnam Thanh was depicting, I decided to draw a rainbow and bright light erupting from the pages of the journal. Obviously it Thanh's depiction was not that spectacular, but the actual reality of the situation was far worse then what Thanh was letting on.

Side note, I never intended for my journal to reach human eyes other then the Professor's, excuse my horrific artistic skills. :p

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Matt's Journal

Mai's mother's discussion of genetics and karma is an interesting illustration of the differences and similarities between their worldviews. Mai has learned about genetics and DNA through her western education, while her mother has reached a similar, though broader position - the karmic connection of people to their ancestors, and even more fundamentally, of people to the land. Mai's mother draws an essential part of her identity from her connection to the land - she is tied to it like we are tied to our ancestors through genetics, and consequently she seems to suffer more than Mai from their physical exile.

Aimee's Blog Entry

On page 212, I came across a quote that struck me as very powerful: "As my mother's eyes and mine met and locked for a brief moment, I was afraid I knew what she was thinking: among the four of us, it was not Bill, but I, who would be considered the outsider with insider information." This is very revealing on Mai's feelings. The cultural separation that she feels seem to reach its peak at this moment. She has never considered herself as Vietnamese but an assimilation of cultures and values that an exile might feel. Her mother's strong sense of traditionalism strongly opposes that and the generational divide furthers this misunderstanding of one another. Mai's acceptance of a Western ideology contrasts with Thanh's karmic beliefs and as a result, Mai feels isolated and lost. Thanh wanting to instill a hereditary legacy in Mai just pushes her further away.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Kristel's Monkey Bridge Journal

The Lotus and Rose

Depiction’s description:

The picture is of a wilting rose over Thanh’s lotus-adorned head, and a wilting lotus over Mai’s rose-bearing head. It symbolizes the view of the American culture (as the rose is the U.S.’s national flower) to Thanh who holds the ideals of Vietnam (symbolized by the lotus as it is Vietnam’s national flower). Thanh’s or Vietnam’s belief system at the time and traditions as well are seen as obsolete and weak in Mai’s perspective, which is why the lotus wilts above her head. The flowers, vibrant and proudly worn, represent the belief systems being upheld by Mai and Thanh while the wilted flowers depict their perspectives of the other culture. Thanh’s perspective of American ways, then, is that they are inapplicable and virtually useless to her thought process and cultural foundation of beliefs. Also, the positioning if their heads signify their clash in beliefs and ideas based on the cultures they inhabit the most.

Jefferson's Thoughts on Monkey Bridge

I feel it's important that I add a disclaimer to my explanation. Brush work has always been challenging so in attempting to create this response the actualized form of my concept is lacking. I attempted to creat an asian inspired brush painting. That was supposed to depict the Great Smokey Mountain Range that would be near where the characters of Monkey Bridge live. The reason that I wanted to depict this range because it seems that Mai's mother has been living a life in exile. So my concept was to depict the familiar in an alien fashion. To me the novel is about dealing with what is unfamiliar for Mai and Thanh. Because of Mai's young age when she left Vietnam, her Vietnamese heritage becomes troubling for her. For Thanh the new world with its different ways causes her a great deal of stress. The motivating factor and what drives the plot forward is that the two main characters attempt to rectify the alienation that they feel. In the sketch I link the house like structure to the mountains by way of a murky pathway. That pathway is representative of the pains that Mai and Thanh go through in order to connect to one another.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Teresa's blog on Monkey Bridge

Throughout the novel the reader is able to understand that there is a disconnect between Mai and Thanh. However Thanh is able to maintain somewhat intimate and close relationships with other people. Thanh shares a special relationship with GI’s. This at first seems odd because she can be perceived to have a distain for Americans and the ‘American way.’ However, there is a shared experience between the two. Uncle Michael is able to appreciate Vietnam the same way the Thanh does. And regarding Bill, he is able to connect with Thanh’s status as an outsider. Thanh is considered one because she is a Vietnamese immigrant. Bill is outcasted because he fought and Vietnam and both have stigmas associated with those roles. Than’s lack of connection with Mai could stem from the fact that Mai has not been able to connect with Vietnam outside of a war. Mai’s memories, at least the ones mentioned in the book, only seem to come from the people of Vietnam like her grandfather, and father not Vietnam itself.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Monica's Reflection on Monkey Bridge

"In 1963, in an act that stunned the world, an elderly Buddhist monk stepped clamly from a car into the street, crossed his legs in a serene lotus position, meditated hinself into a contemplative state, and watched in silence as a group of monks and nun encircled him, dousing him with gasoline and lighting him with fire" (253).
This passage had very powerful imagery for me which allowed me to form a connection betweeen the monk's sacrifice, and Thanh's sacrifice of her own life for Mai. I believe that Thanh uses the analogy of this story to convey the reasoning of her suicied not as an act of selfishness, but as an act of the ultimate sacrifice that she can give to her daughter. Thanh believes that if she ends her life, she will end the bad Karma of her family and their history as well, leaving Mai with a clean slate for a better future. Therefore, like the monk, Thanh is willing to make a sacrifice for a greater cause.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chris' thoughts on Monkey Bridge

The message I got from the novel was not very enlightening. I felt that Thanh was conveying a neglect of her true heritage. She does perform a traditional suicide which preserves and follows her culture, but I still saw some holes in her actions. She could only accept her Vietnamese heritage through lies and highly fabricated stories that only made her feel even more guilty. She claims this was to conceal the tragic and horriffic truth from her daughter. All she is diong is giving her daughter a false sense of hope that will never be gained. She will be in search of a person that she will never find and a truth she, perhaps, would never realize. Mai gained nothing from these lies and ints very selfish of her mother to do this to her. Unfortunately, Mai, who loves her mother dearly, must realize that her mother was a weak person and let her fears overcome her.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I was just thinking of the different thing that separe Mai from her mother. The main thing that came to mind was their different ideologies. Mai does not want to remember the past and the past is all Thanh is and holds unto. Mai wants to sever all ties from the past but cannot. She has nightmares and flashbacks from when she used to volunteer at the hospital. The gruesome images haunt her. They do not try to understand each other. Mai sees her mother as ignorant. Her mother is actually quite knowledgeable. Thanh sees that there is not much difference between Karma and genetics. She says that she and her daughter will always be close there is a close connection between them. Thanh knows that what separate them are their different outlooks on life.
Mai unlike her mother adapts well to the United States. Mai is modern meaning that she does hold unto traditional values. Her father was also considered as a modern thinker. Thanh was married to a modern man who was always chasing big ideas. He never stayed long enough with her and was not satisfied with the way life is. That is why Thanh is afraid that Mai will be just like her father. Her fear is that Mai will always look on the horizon for bigger and better things. She could come to abandon her too and never quite be satisfied with her life as well. This could be the bridge separating yet connecting them at the same time.

"In our way of thinking, it is not enough to obey, you must also, as a child, look deep into your parents' souls, and distill the true meaning behind all the outward conversations. A child born from her mother's womb should be able to unlock double meanings."

I think that this passage speaks to Mai and her mother's unmeshed relationship. Mai's mother, coming from a very deep and rich Vietnamese history, who believes in profound connections, surpasses the logic and science of Mai's more familiar American culture. Mai's mother is still hopeful, or at least longs for, her daughter's understanding of their deep rooted connection to things that are not explicit or obvious. The connection that her mother possess to karma, tradition and a profound respect for the dead, is lost at times with Mai, who does not really comprehend this because she was brought up in this American culture. In writing this in her journal perhaps her mother was trying to reach out to her in hopes that she will read through the journal and discover her true feelings. In the very way that her mother is expressing things to Mai through this journal, she could be showing how her daughter and she have a deeper connection after all-because perhaps she knew she would read it and get the message. The message being that culture and history lies deeper than genes and heredity, it is a state of beig that is as subtle as a breath and as powerful as a monsoon. I think this idea needs to be understood by Mai in order to be totally connected to her mother and her past.


Alicia's Post on Monkey Bridge

I chose to write on the “monkey bridge in Ba Xuyen” (179). This is the second time I was in a class that had used this novel. In the initial class, they had thought that due to Cao’s description of the bridge, as being a “thin, unsteady shimmer of bamboo” and that one needs to “propel themselves forward and across” (179) that Thanh had possessed great physical agility instead of realizing that the bridge was created as a link for light, short trips. They had believed that it must be put together only with 2 long bamboos literally and that there was not much material utilized to walk upon. Obviously they were wrong as it holds netting, I believe something similar to the bridges used at Disneyland.

Of course Thanh’s physical ability to cross a bamboo bridge astounded Binh since he was just of the literary world, as he stood waiting to embrace this gymnastic athlete in his arms, for the first time. He probably became in awe with her once he found that she possessed an intellectual dimension as well. Thanh had no idea of the monkey bridge that she will need to cross after their marriage. Also, of the trick that will be needed to distinguish when to speak or keep her mouth shut in America. In both cases, it is a monkey bridge but she already knew how to do the tight rope walk as Thanh had lived with nuns in the convent.

The clock and the astrology signs are reference to Mai going to the fortune teller because she is trying to figure out what happen to Baba Quan. There are many references to astrology within the book and it applies to good luck and a happy life. Time is important concept in the book because it refers to Thanh and Baba Quan not meeting at the right place at the right time. Thanh had to leave without Baba Quan and it became a haunting memory for her. The letters all over the page represent Thanh’s journal; they spell out Baba Quan and love. Two main concepts that are in Thanh’s journal, by Mai reading it she gets an idea of who her mother is. In a way Thanh becomes more human to Mai because she realizes her mother is full of wisdom. Mai and Thanh don’t have a close relationship but the journal is a way that they can cope with it and it bridges them together. The last symbol is the yin and yang sign combined with a karma symbol. Thanh believes in karma and is constantly referring to it. She tries to convince Mai in the belief of karma but Mai doesn’t understand it. Mai believes in the American concept of genetics. Thanh can see that her daughter is slipping further and further away from her Vietnamese roots and embracing the American culture. The yin and yang symbolizes not only Mai’s parents but Mai and Thanh. They are two completely different people but love is what binds them together


Friday, May 21, 2010

What a Daughter Inherits

I really enjoyed reading Thanh's journals because it was so interesting to read a mother's take on her daughter. It definitely made me wonder what my own mother would write about me -- does she understand more than I give her credit for? I don't know if I'd want to read her journal if I stumbled across it. Are there some things about our parents we just shouldn't know? I put myself in Mai's place and wondered how it would feel to learn that my mother loved my father with a quiet resentment, or that there were things she desperately wanted to tell me but couldn't.

The more I think about Thanh's journal, the more I believe that she is writing it for Mai to find. In the first entry, Thanh writes about her ears and how she hopes to pass them on to her daughter. It's interesting to learn about what Thanh hopes Mai will inherit, knowing that Mai believes she's inherited her mother's "flawed eye," or the ability to perceive danger where there is none (20). Thanh doesn't know how to speak to Mai in a way she'd understand, so she writes down what she wants Mai to know for later. She feels that she can't directly tell Mai the story of her ears because Mai wouldn't listen since she's too busy trying to distance herself from Vietnam (language, family, culture) so she'll fit in better in America.

It struck me how much Thanh felt she and Mai were similar. Thanh's journal revealed how much she "gets" Mai even though Mai thinks they are nothing alike. Thanh compares her experience of moving to her husband's family's home, and accepting their ways as her own, with Mai moving to America and learning a new language and adopting a new culture. She writes that she understands what it feels like to discover that a "common dream" had never actually been commonly shared. She was referring to her marriage but also relating to Mai's early experience in America and her growing disappointment. I was also reminded about the difference between Mai and Thanh's perception of what was inherited (eyes vs. ears).

I thought it was interesting to see how Thanh was surprised to discover she was a Traditional wife/woman after marriage. My first impression of her marriage to Binh was that they were in love -- happy intellectuals. Thanh's second journal really fleshed out their marriage. She seemed disappointed with the way her marriage turned out -- the desire to have a perfect marriage was not shared by her husband. Binh didn't bend or change and Thanh followed him with a "muteness and mildness" (187). Thanh felt like an exile in her new life as a wife. This made me wonder what Mai was feeling when she learned about her mother's exile.

The section on karma also stuck with me. Thanh views karma as something passed from parents to children. I wondered what kind of karma Mai will inherit from her mother and Baba Quan. This line really stood out to me: "A child born from her mother's womb should be able to unlock double meaning" (171). With this line, I think Thanh is speaking directly to Mai. It seems to me, there are things Thanh wants to share with Mai but she can't -- either because Mai isn't open to listening or because Thanh doesn't know how to say them. I read the line as an accusation, or a scolding -- especially since she also wrote that it isn't enough for a child to obey, but they should also know their parents true wishes. Maybe there is something Mai should be able to discern without having to be told. I can't help wondering if Mai will come to the "true meaning behind all the outward conversations" all on her own? If Thanh reveals it to her, will she say it face-to-face or write it in her journal for Mai to find?


This is a new title and cover for Lan Cao's novel. I renamed it as such for dramatic effect, assuming it might be one hit for those looking for this specific genre. Also, the seahorses are meant to represent Mai and Thanh; the one going right over the United States is Mai because she is absorbing its culture while the other, meant to represent Thanh, is simply being absorbed by the country itself through her reconnections with the people of "Little Saigon." The jungle below depicts rice patties and its farmers, Baba Quan & Thanh. Thus, the cover is representing america's gathering of exiles and how they associate with the country. Also, the red around the novel is meant to symbolize the many shades of red that are associated with Vietnamese culture as depicted by Thanh.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

An Inverse Relationship Between Mother and Daughter

So, I was struck by the quote on page 170 that says: "There is no escaping it, the fact of mother and child, as synchronous and inseparable as left and right, up and down, back and front, sun and moon."

It is really interesting to me because so far the relationship between Mai and her mother does not at all sound like this description. In fact, since the beginning of Mai's tale, there has been a disconnect between Mai and her mother. The disconnect associates Mai with the western world (aka America) and Thanh with the eastern world (aka Vietnam). There seems to be no bridge between the two and it only perpetuates this disconnect in their communication and understanding of each other. However, it does seem strange that Thanh talks about her journey being the same one as Mai's because upon a second glance Thanh's story is the story of Mai... only backwards! When Mai came to America, her assimilation was smooth and quick. However, four years later we find that the transition is flawed and incomplete. She begins to question her homeland and tries to find peace with her familial history. Thanh's transition was initially very difficult. She had a stroke, which made it even more impossible to assimilate creating a shadow of who she had been in Vietnam. However, after her rehabilitation from the stroke, she is beginning to piece together a new life and make a slow transition into America. This represents an inverse relationship between Mai and her mother, possibly the root of the disconnect we see between them!


Monkey Bridge Discussion

Please post your comments / questions about Lan Cao's novel Monkey Bridge here.