Tales of an Expat Tourist, a Haiku Collection from Viet Nam

In March 2015, I returned to my country of birth, Viet Nam, for the first time since fleeing as a child refugee in April, 1980. It had been almost 35 years, and pretty much everything was different from the way I had remembered it. While the trip was planned to some extent, I did not know what to expect for most of it. For example, just because I knew Aunts, Uncles and cousins awaited to welcome me, there was no telling how we would get along. I also had no idea how I would react to all the natural things in life there, from extreme poverty to bribery. Then there were all kinds of things and experiences I did not know about to even anticipate encountering.

I kept notes and verbally recorded daily travelogue style entries of the meaningful moments of the journey, big and small. However, I also encapsulated a lot of it in haiku. In a way, I was making shorthand mental notes in haiku format. I chose to do it that way to capture the most essential parts of those moments, memories and experiences, rather than write or talk them out some big run on description. I did that, too, but that has its value and place elsewhere.

For my poetic note taking, I came back to Canada with about 50 haiku, most complete but some not. I followed up on an idea I had during the trip to put them together into a collection that flowed a bit, rather than just a bunch of random haikus. How I ultimately ordered the haiku were by organization of common subject matter, rather than chronological progression, whether by event or haiku start or completion dates. They just read better that way. Trust me. I tested reading order in numerous ways by putting the text in Microsoft Excel and writing formulae to let me control the haiku order with just a few numeric keystrokes. Yes, I did some of this collection’s composition by Excel! How many spreadsheet poetry writers do you know? 🙂

To make the my haiku collection read a bit better, I wrote about a dozen haiku after I returned home. More than just filler and/or transition haiku, they were also based on my experiences. They could stand alone, but meant more in a collection.

To this point, I have not shared my haiku collection from and about Viet Nam because I had entered 50 of the 65 into the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Literary Awards Poetry competition for 2015. If I had published any of these poems before the results were announced, I would have disqualified myself. The 65 chosen were done for no reason other than to get as many haiku as I could into the collection that had to be under 600 words, nothing more. I also used Excel to help me keep track of words easily as I brought in and thew out my choices.

The Long List of 25 finalist poems for the CBC poetry contest was announced today, and I didn’t make the cut. That’s fine. I didn’t expect to, actually, because poetry of form were generally of zero value in the competition. All 25 long listed poems were free verse, and I just don’t “get” modern free verse “poetry”.

What it means in me not making the cut, though, is that I can now start sharing this collection on my poetry blog! I’ll share two haiku a week, only because I will write notes, sometimes stories, to expand on each haiku, as I do with all my poems here. I’ll also post navigation links within each haiku to help readers get around the collection more easily than typical blog navigational features would allow. For example, clicking on a category or tag would show the poems in reverse chronological order, which is not how a collection of anything is meant to be read.

For a title, I decided on Tales of an Expat Tourist because that’s exactly what this is. I am an expat of Viet Nam. I came back as a tourist. These are my tales. I originally called this collection The Expat Tourist’s Tale, because it reminded me of a tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales collection, in form. However, there was too much spitting required between the last two words so I went with the more elegant sounding version of Tales of an Expat Tourist.

I hope you’ll like the haiku in this collection, and please do tell others you know who you think might be interested. Certainly, please feel free to comment or share any similar experience you have.

Please click here for the first haiku in The Expat Tourist’s Tale.


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