Interview with Jon Duong
A Conversation with Jonathan Duong, Assistant Clinical Professor
I've read that Duong can mean either "male, virility" in Sino-Vietnamese or "street or road." Which meaning is your understanding and which is your preference?
The Vietnamese language has different pronunciations and intonations and meanings depending upon if people are from North or South Vietnam. For example, my name, Duong, in the North would be pronounced "Zung" with a long "U," or "Yung" also with a long "U" in the South. The written language can change meanings if certain marks, like cross marks through letters, so the same spellings of Romanized letters without any intonations, essentially make them different letters. So, depending upon how it is written, you could say "đừng đặt đường trên đường" which means something like, "Don't put the sugar on the street."
Tell me about your family history. How far back do you know of it?
My parents were born in 1950 and came to the United States in 1975 during the Vietnam War as refugees. They were both sponsored by American families and met at a refugee gathering in Texas. My dad's dad died in the war but his mother was able to come to California and my mom's parents moved to France, where they still live. My parents came to give their family a better life but nothing I do will ever compare with what they had to endure, leaving a home country filled with strife and starting from scratch in a new country. My dad was a pilot in the Vietnam army but when they went to college here, he became a chemical engineer and my mom is a lab technician. Both of them are retiring this Friday. I have an older brother who is a pharmacist who lives in Houston with our parents.
How do you approach things that are not in your control?
I am very, very chill person who doesn't like to think too far in the future. I'm very much in the now and really don't take things terribly seriously. If I can't do anything about it, it's not that big of a deal and I just let it be. I feel that, if it happened, there must be a reason and I will deal with it as it comes. There is no point trying to fuss over it. That's how I approach my life in general; I do as much as I can but there's no point in worrying. It makes me calm, I think. I try to live a calm life.
What is a personal competency or trait that you rely upon in life?
Patience, I think, and something that I pride myself on is being able to make close relationships. If you are going to have people in your life, there's no point if they are not close and being able to show vulnerability. I try to make close connections. I think I am rather honest, both in the professional and personal world, and I think that if people see that, they know who you are for real and are more willing to share themselves as well. I try to speak my mind and still be respectful.
Does that Texas upbringing include the Dallas Cowboys? What specifically Texan activity have you tried to replicate in San Francisco?
I lived in Houston for 18 years, then Austin and Dallas for 7 years. It took a while but I learned to like the Dallas Cowboys and root for them although they didn't start getting good while I was there. It's hard to rally behind a team with so much talent but not get anywhere! It took a while but, now that I am in San Francisco, I have more pride rooting for Dallas than I did before. As far as Texan activities, definitely barbecue, but it's more difficult because it's not such a big thing here. We don't have a backyard or outdoor area and it's sometimes difficult to find a good barbecue place. I'm a sauce kinda guy, not dry rub, and for Texas-style barbecue, I just found a place on Divisadero: 4505 Burgers and BBQ, across the street from the Bi-Rite. It's not like the Texas barbecue that I'm used to, but it's decent and I would go again.
Which comfort food or activity always makes you feel better after a bad day?
I'm not a comfort eater and never have been. If I had to pick one, it would be chocolate or ice cream, one of my favorite things in the world. Otherwise, working out is a big part of my life; escaping by working out at the gym helps me relax.
You recently traveled to Korea. Please share one image that remains in your mind's eye.
The shopping in Korea because it's so extreme. They have very large shopping center and each is extreme; their food courts are like the makeup areas in department stores here. It's vast and everyone is trying to get you to buy something. It's more advanced, in my opinion, in their willingness to go to extremes, similar to Japan and Shanghai.
When did you last write an old-fashioned letter? How do you prefer to stay in touch with loved ones?
The last old-fashioned things that I wrote were the thank you notes I wrote to all of the people who interviewed me when I interviewed for my fellowship. Facebook and texting, because it's easy to do; things pop up and strike an impulse to reach out. Many of my close friends are still in Texas so texting is a small barrier, without being a burden on their day, to insert yourself and bring a smile.
When was your last good deed?
Not a doctoring thing but this happens a lot in the hallways: helping lost people, who don't know where they're going. Instead of just telling them where to go or giving directions, it's sometimes easier to show them and walk them toward that place.
What outrageous profession might your alter ego consider?
I watch a lot of Food Network and my favorite show is Chopped, and I can literally watch it for 2 to 3 hours. So a chef might be my alternate profession because there is a science and art behind it and, when you learn how foods and drink can be paired in creative ways, it's so much fun. I am not at all a cook but, since my college life and residency, I like to think that I've upgraded a little bit and I still cook very basically. My roommates and I host dinner parties often because our place is very conducive to getting people over to socialize and eat, and it's cheaper than going out in San Francisco.
Thank you, Jonathan.
- by Oralia Schatzman