American Decline

Interview: Linh Dinh

Leaf Box

Golden Cicada in Jersey City, New Jersey on 7-6-14

Linh Dinh is a Vietnamese-American poet, fiction writer, translator, and photographer who I first discovered watching an interview with Chris Hedges discussing the plight of the underclass.   Linh’s lastest collection on the US, Post Cards from the End of America is a roaming encounter with America’s, the West’s and contemporary people’s financial, political, persona. challenges.  Mixed with humor, optimism we connected to discuss chasing COVID, how to travel, censorship in Vietnam, collapse, on being a loser, carpe diem and other Ờ-mây-zing! topics.

All photos copyright Linh Dinh

Leafbox:
Even though you write about collapse and people on the out, there’s something always positive which I appreciate. I wanted to know where do you get that positivity from?

Linh Dinh:
Though I’ve talked about ethnic, racial and national differences, which you can’t help but notice when traveling, I don’t have problems getting along with people as individuals, so that’s the positivity, I suppose. Plus, it’s not wise to be an asshole in an alien environment, or you might end up dead, or locked up with twenty stinking gentlemen you can’t communicate with. Would you mind not splattering urine on my head when I’m sleeping?

Even in the US, I was often clearly an outsider, so this shaped my behavior. Taking the Greyhound, MegaBus or Amtrak across the country, I’d get off at some place I knew next to nothing about, so I’d just walk and walk, until I hit some lowlife bar, because that’s where I could meet people and afford many drinks. I was essentially home.

Generally, I don’t overly research a place I’m about to visit. I don’t even want to see photos of it. This ignorance enhances my surprise, even shock, when I get there, though surprises are inevitable, no matter how much research you’ve done. Although I spent three decades in Philadelphia, it continually surprised me, when it didn’t bore me to death, that is. All places are infinite.

In any shit bar, almost without fail somebody would talk to me and, before I knew it, I had learnt about his work history, present job, sexual habits, hope and fear. In a Woodbury, NJ dive where folks downed Bloody Marys with their breakfast scrapple, a frazzled stranger lamented to me about his torturous work schedule, with day and night shifts all mixed up, so he could never sleep properly. Not everyone finds that interesting or enlightening, but I can never get enough of how we get by, so I listen, and not just to what is said, but its delivery. I marvel at each man’s diction and cadence, so I can steal his language, of course, with gratitude.

In a country where I don’t speak the language, I can’t do that, obviously, but you can learn a lot by just looking at people.

I just got back to Vietnam five months ago. Because of COVID, I was stuck outside for 2 years. I had never traveled for such an extended time, drifting from country to country. Plus, without much money, it wasn’t like I had the option of traveling much. When I was well received as a writer, I would get invited to give readings, but they would fly me in, pay me, then I would fly out, so many brief visits to many places. Once, I was hosted in Marfa, Texas for two months, but that was highly unusual. When I traveled on my own, I would often sleep on a bus or train to save money. I couldn’t afford hotels really.

For 2 years, I stayed in eight countries. But you know how it is, man, if you stay away from Europe, you can find cheap accommodation. Even in Europe, there are some cheap places, so I was paying less than I would have if I was in Philadelphia.

 

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Categories: American Decline

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