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Back to square one - Introduction by Author Anh Tho Andres


Back to Square One - Autobiography

Pourquoi écrire ?

On a quelquechose à donner, on ne sait pas quoi, on ne sait pas à qui mais c’est là, alors on prend un crayon, on trace, on dépose les petits cailloux, on sait qu’on reviendra et que ces petits cailloux nous parleront. Nous n’avons pas tant besoin de dire que d’entendre une parole, celle de celui ou celle que nous étions il y a trois jours, il y a vingt ans…
(Journal intime, auteur inconnu)


I have always wanted to write 3 books in my life: the first one on where I come from and what makes me ME, the second one on my struggle through life, and the third one on my message after I am gone.

I did a draft on my first book, gave it a title, “Agony of a People”, and told my childhood stories and the impact left by the war on my people, our culture and way of life,  an unseen scar which still has its effects through generations, sometimes so well described by poets, writers, film makers, sociologists and the likes. I never published this book, and worse, I lost my manuscript in one of my periples.

I plan to call my third book, “A Mother’s Love”, which I ponder on the subjects of Love and Compassion, as expressed through plenty of examples of sacrifices from mothers I encounter, starting with my own. But let’s get back to my present concern, my struggle through life, which I intend to name:  “Back to Square One”. 

About Back to Square One

This is the letter that many of my childhood friends have been waiting from me, since I left Vietnam 26 years ago, as a happy bride for Switzerland, bringing with me so much hope, pride, envy, jealousy, joy, sadness, expectations, disappointments, etc. a numerous contradiction of feelings when you see someone succeed, wish you were in his/her place, feel proud because he/she is part of your culture or country, but envious and sad at the same time. I left behind me my friends, my neighbors, my relatives, my cousins and my parents, and friends of friends, and unknown compatriots who accompanied me since, with their dreams of a better life full of success and happiness. Through me, they hope I will make their dream come true, the dream of going overseas, the joy and excitement of finding new perspectives, the hope of bringing back home fame and wealth, just as traditions used to be.

I did succeed. I did come back with lots of wealth. I did buy my parents a beautiful house. I did help my sibblings to get a better life, move overseas, own houses, get better paid jobs. I managed to get a very good education for myself and my children. I am well looked upon by my peers in the country I settled in. I do have intelligent and beautiful children. I am rather well-married, with a nice husband, and landed with a well-considering family-in-law. I live in a beautiful country with very good social conditions, no crimes, no war, no neighborhood problems, no political pressure. In short, the paradise. It could be one, but only,... I am  wondering whether I have made a good choice. I am still wondering…

Life has reserved to me a lot of challenges, more than an average person could take. My life experiences through many countries, each of them  all different from each other, from cultures to languages, from business to philosophies of life, have forced me to use all my skills to adapt myself to new situations for my own survival and that of my family back home. I used to ask myself:  WHAT FOR, ALL THIS? Is it just to have 2 meals a day, one bed to sleep in, a roof to feel safe under. WHERE are all my friends those with whom I can share my childhood’ dreams? WHO are those on whom I can count in bad times? Can I count on my children?  Can I count on my present husband? Can I count on my colleagues?Or can I count on my 10-year neighbors whom I hardly know? I always got the same answer: I only can count on ME. I can only count on ME ALONE to make myself and the people around me happy. And I have full responsibility to carry out that mission.

I once read a book “Why has Japan succeeded?” by Professor Mikio Morishima, a Japanese economist, who interprets Japan’s current success as the result of keeping religious, social values while using technological advances for creating wealth and power for the nation. I guess, somehow, we are all products of our own culture. Although we all claim that we have learned from the West, no matter how well integrated we are as a professional, we still go back to our Eastern values, when it comes to our secret garden.

So, I think, basically coming from the land of sunshine, I have heaps of optimism flowing in me, that keep me going. Of course, I did not have the luxury to have a quiet life, as one of my compatriot replied to me, when being asked how has her life been, after 10 years of absence, that " life has not changed: same house, same job, same husband, same friends, only the children are growing". I was amazed by her answer, as for myself, during the same period of time, I managed to lose three husbands,  changed three countries, started two companies, bought 4 houses, get my MBA done, got 2 children, wrote three books, and about to start a new life in a new country, this time, alone, with no husband, no house, no company, and no money…

Some clues I got from people when they learn of my stories, is that, what happened to me was due to MY karma. I have studied this concept, the Karma. What is it? From what we Vietnamese understand of  karma, is that we have to pay whatever past deeds we have created, so bad deeds bring “bad karma”, and good deeds bring a "good karma", in the form of good wealth, good health, good families.  According to Buddhist theories, karma is the result of intended actions carried out though your body (senses), your mouth (words) and/or your ideas (than, khau, y). I also read through the 12  causes and results (“nhan duyen”) of the cylic wheel (vong luan hoi).

Through all these theories, I start to understand that it’s I, by my own deeds, have created my own “tragedies or sufferings” (dau kho), and as a result I have collected the fruits of my own actions. Nobody else has caused my own unhappiness. Or, to put it otherwise, I alone can decide on my OWN happiness.

I would like to share some anecdotes of my life with all readers of this book. The theme which I wish to develop is around the concept of karma and the impermanence of life. This is the reason why I named this book “Back to Square One”, which in Vietnamese is translated as “Tro ve con so khong” (Back To Case Zero).

Through understanding the impermanence of life, we can contribute to get our own “liberation” out of the life and death wheel of life (luan hoi sanh tu).

My knowledge of Buddhist theories is still at its the first stage. I was born a Buddhist, have practiced Buddhism throughout my whole life, started studying Buddhism as a subject at age 50, that is some years ago, and yet I still do not know much on the subject. All I remember from the teaching of my mother is that “If you are not causing harm to others, you are already doing good to them”.

Later with my first lesson in Buddhism, the rules can be summarised as follows: “Practice the five principles, that is, do not kill, do not lie, do not say bad or wrong things to or about people, do not steal, and do not involve in adultery”.
I find it wonderful and easy to start with these five principles as it is within the reach of everybody who wishes to be better.

With this simple approach in mind, I hope, with practice, I will, by the time, this book is accomplished, to get a clearer view of my own life experience, as witness to the evolution of the everchanging and multi-colourful of what we call life.

Have a good reading!
Please view Vietnamese text under note: "Tro ve con so khong"

Anh Tho Andres
Excerpts from my coming book
Back to Square One

Reviewed Midnight December 20th, 2011

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