As I congregate with other men my age, I am more and more aware of how different I am from my contemporaries. For one thing, I’m alone. My partner, Su, died several years ago, and I haven’t had the heart to seek another relationship. For another, I spend my worktime writing—blog posts (like this one), books (six now in print), short stories (17 published), and book reviews (more than a hundred in print)—and reading. For a third, I work out lifting weights for a couple of hours every other day. Granted, I haven’t been doing that while I was recovering my surgery on my eyes last May and now recuperating from pneumonia (I was diagnosed on December 28). For a fourth, I’m dedicated to living a healthy life and surviving at the age of at least a hundred. All evidence at hand so far is that I’m going to make it.
Equally different from my contemporaries is my academic background and linguistic profession. I am ridiculously well-educated with a PhD-plus and considerable training in foreign languages. Most Americans don’t speak any foreign languages or maybe have studied one. As a group, we consider foreign languages very difficult to learn. We’re spoiled because people in other nations routinely learn English so that they can converse with us. I, on the other hand, love languages and enjoy learning them. I have spoken seven languages other than English. I taught myself French and Italian as a child, had four years of Latin in high school, studied German (among other things) in college, and attended the Defense Language Institute for a year of intensive study of Vietnamese. I then enrolled as a part-time graduate student at Georgetown University to learn Chinese. But I didn’t know Spanish, the most common foreign language in the U.S. So I enrolled in Howard Community College a few years ago to learn it. During my many years of work in Vietnam before escaping under fire when Saigon fell in April 1975, I was unique in that I spoke all three languages of the country, Chinese, French, and Vietnamese.
Another difference: deafness. My hearing was severely damaged during my years as a civilian under cover as military assisting soldiers and Marines in combat in Vietnam with signals intelligence—the intercept and exploitation of the radio communications of the enemy—and during the fall of Saigon.
The guys I hang out with are a good deal younger than me, though I don’t think they realize it since I look much younger than my years. I don’t talk much but listen attentively because I want to learn. One result is that the guys I hang out with know little about me.
So there I am, different from my contemporaries. It’s okay. I like the way I am. So I have no complaints.