A Two-sided Coin

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

I often think of my home country, Vietnam, as a coin factory. At this factory, day in and day out, coins march in assembly lines out of metal strips in perfect conformity. I am just such a coin, minted in 1993, rimmed, polished, annealed, and finally stamped. But I am a defective coin: I am different from the rest. How? As a child, I questioned prevalent Vietnamese customs and beliefs, thereby distancing myself from these cherished traditions and my compatriots who upheld them. I felt out of place.

As a prime example, I challenged the Vietnamese “superstition” regarding “Tao Quan” -- the Kitchen God. My parents constantly reminded me that on the 23rd day of the twelfth lunar month, just before Lunar New Year, the Kitchen God flies to Heaven on a holy carp to report the past year’s activities in every household to “Ngoc Hoang” -- the Jade Emperor. Based on Tao Quan’s report, the Jade Emperor in Heaven would either reward the household with good health, fortune, and abundant wealth or punish it severely. And so, in my youth, my mother often told me to behave lest the Jade Emperor penalize me for my wrongdoings.

Nevertheless, I saw no evidence that supported such beliefs. As a curious kid with aspirations to become a scientist one...

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