Driving West in hát xẩm music

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Cotton fields (white patch) along the roads.

All pictures were taken by Anvi Hoàng in the car on the move at 70-80 mph.

—– Bản tiếng Việt —–

The fun list of a driving trip is long. No wonder many Americans do it in an… American way. One day, I may do the same thing: getting an RV (Recreational Vehicle) and spending retirement traveling across America at leisure, savoring one sunrise and one sunset at a time. No hotels and no worry about bed bugs and germs are wonderful. I may not like the idea of resting at designated RV parks, instead of wherever I want to stop, but so far that is the best option over here. In the meantime, another American way of experiencing the country’s freedom and bounties is a cross-country driving trip. Our third one, in broad strokes.  

1. Whenever I am on a driving trip, I think of a ‘word of wisdom’ a friend told me years ago: “Many Americans believe that if two people can survive intact and in peace a 5-day driving trip together, they can marry each other.” I can see that logging yourself in a tight space for that many hours is a good test of patience and character. If you don’t drive your partner crazy with your idiosyncratic habits one way or another, you two are definitely getting along well and your chance of success in a marriage is raised a little higher. True?

2. Fifteen plus hours of driving from Bloomington, IN, to Plano, TX is more than enough time for partners to connect or reconnect emotionally and/or spiritually, if they need to. I think couples with young children would normally be too busy in their everyday life to talk to each other like adults. A deeper conversation once in a while about themselves and life, rather than the kids’ homework and after class activities, must be greatly appreciated. In fact, modern life for every adult could be so hectic for any couple to really communicate with each other at a deeper level everyday. A multi-day driving trip could be an offer to rectify that situation. Or it could be appreciation and a meditation retreat, as ours was. Lots of time to think. What a luxury!

3. I also learned that Texas, along with New Mexico, Kansas, Arizona, and southern California, belong to the group that has hardest waters in the country. Fast lime buildup makes it much more challenging for cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms. According to USGS, softest waters are found in parts of New England, the South Atlantic-Gulf States, the Pacific Northwest, and Hawaii. Lucky for you if you have soft water where you live!

Water in Texas is also more scarce making it questionable to have a lust garden of your dream. Lots of trees and flowers means aggravating the environment and penalty water bills. If you are an avid gardener, you’d have to really think about water consumption. This, in turn, makes me appreciate all the more the deep forests and colorful gardens we have in Bloomington.

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Abstract painting of the west.

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Bare-tree forests in Indiana become all the more beloved!

4. Moments of ‘enlightenment’ came when we stopped for lunch at some small town. The folks there could not stop staring at us. It was not hostile stare but more of curiosity. I guess they didn’t see an Asian in flesh and blood before in their life, or at least for a very long time. I bet they would be very friendly and curious to find out about where I am originally from.

5. The landscape in Oklahoma and Texas is a dramatic turn from the rivers and forests of Illinois and Missouri. We started to feel the pull of the west – endless grass meadows, the flattest cotton fields, sun-burned grass, grazing horses and cows. We only missed the cowboys of the old days. The quietness and peacefulness of the empty space is almost irresistible.

6. The sunset and sunrise in Oklahoma are very dramatic. One would wonder how the sun can be that piercing orange, that raging red and that thrilling purple! After a while, you’ll find your mind tittering the glorious nomadic life in the landscape etched full of sorrow and sadness.

7. At the same time, the sky seems bigger in Oklahoma and Texas for the simple reason that big trees are a rare scene on the road. Most of the time, we were surrounded by flat fields that open up your view to over 180 degree. Just the big sky and intense clouds ahead of you – the best abstract painting of nature one could ever imagine. We turned the music on: orchestra, opera, hát xẩm (listen here), chầu văn (listen here), country, etc. In the end, chầu văn is the most enjoyable as it is upbeat and relaxed enough to entertain you, and the most suitable as it keeps your full attention on the road at the same time. So, the wild west scenery in traditional Vietnamese music. What a treat!

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Red soil in Oklahoma.

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Red sky in Oklahoma.

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