I was named on the mor­ning of the Tet Offensive. My father already had two sons and desperately wanted a girl. In January of 1968, when I was just a spinal cord with appendages in the womb, he brought home several apricot tree branches and put them in a tall ceramic vase. He made a public vow – by the first morning of Tet, the buds would bloom, they would be yellow, assuring that I would be a girl, and he would name me Hoang Mai – Yellow (in Chinese) Apricot Blossom. But on Tet eve the tight green buds were stubbornly closed, and he panicked. When he thought no one was watching, he dumped an entire bottle of aspirin into the vase water. The next morning, as Viet Cong stormed the gates of the U.S. Embassy and gunfire sputtered on newsreels, the stressed branches relented and bloomed yellow. Four months later, I was born into my sunny fate.

Even this is not incontrovertible to tell. I hang suspended in the crevices between continents and cultures, war– and prosperity–traumatized generations, Buddhists, Jews and Gentiles, the left and right brains, between normal people who use a singular “I” and other people who lose their way and find rubble and “They” where the “I” should be. In this elasticized state, it seems life threatening to lunge for a singular truth, if that means committing to the perspective from one ledge or another. It induces vertigo and nausea, palpitations and flailing, and ends in disaster. Besides, no one else is dangling up here; this is what only I can see.

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6 Responses to Beginning

  1. I’m visualizing and enjoying the sound of a “yellow apricot blossom.”

  2. Mai Pham says:

    This is why I shorten my spoken name to Mai, because “apricot blossom” is bad enough!

  3. Pingback: Hoangmai Pham on her youth "Running Saigon"

  4. Pingback: Hoangmai Pham on her youth "Running Saigon" from

  5. Pingback: Hoangmai Pham and an excerpt from her memoir, Day Night Week

  6. Pingback: Hoangmai Pham on her youth "Day Night Week Month" from

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