East and West Meet and Greet
December 13, 2010
Andrew Lam's collection of essays, very cleverly entitled East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres, is a timely ode to the growing Eastern influences on Western, particularly American, cultural traditions. But even more, it is a moving recollection of how Lam himself, as Eastern as could be when he arrived in San Francisco as a twelve-year old refugee from the fall of Saigon, fell under the influences of the West. Lam covers the big three "e"s of everyday life -- entertainment, education, and eating -- and discusses how Western and Eastern takes on these all-importance endeavors play back and forth against each other, everything from action movies to comics and manga, to the deliciously described Pho stew, prepared worldwide now but a salient and significant memory from Lam's Vietnamese childhood. Lam takes on the education question with brave gusto, pitting the Eastern tradition of respect for the teacher, self-effacement, and community against American individualism, egotism (the self-esteem movement in education that may be leaving whole generations with inflated egos and unfulfilled potential), and freedom (he is grateful for the career of writer, a bliss he never could have discovered if he had stayed in Vietnam or on the medical career course proscribed to him by his parents).
Lam writes with honesty, wit, and excitement -- this man is never bored by what he covers in his works. For him words are sacred, and are to be spent only in recording what is deserving of remembrance. Much as his mother lights the daily incense in honor of deceased relatives, Lam writes his daily words in honor of all the interesting ideas, people, activities, sights, smells, and sounds that make up his marvelous world. How lucky for us that he shares his words, and his worl