writers from China's diaspora 'I'm all American - can't you tell from the accent?' asks Andrew Lam, the 41-year-old writer and National Public Radio commentator who works as an editor for the Pacific News Service. He then subsides into laughter. Lam isn't all apple pie. He has Chinese roots, with his great-great grandfather having been a doctor in the late Qing dynasty (1800s to 1911) court. 'And this is only rumour, because, of course, there are no facts any more,' Lam says. 'But he was being persecuted because some high-level royal was sick and he couldn't cure her. So he took the family and all the wealth they had - and apparently they were pretty wealthy - and fled to the Mekong Delta, where a lot of Chinese were fleeing because the late Ching dynasty was chaotic. It was eaten up by westerners, and eunuchs were running the place, with a sort of shogun running the provinces. 'So a lot of people took refuge in south Vietnam. In fact, the Mekong delta was a no-man's land because there's so much fertile land, but not enough people, so Chinese and north Vietnamese were coming south to make a new life for themselves in that area.' During French rule, from the 1880s until the end of the second world war, those who had wealth and education were invited to become French citizens. Lam's father was one of them. He trained in a French military school and by the time the Vietnam war ended he was a three-star general. To escape the Viet Kong, he whisked the family off to California 30 years ago, on the eve of the fall of Saigon to communist forces. Based in San Francisco, Lam has a degree in biochemistry from Berkeley - the result of parental pressure to become a doctor - and a master's degree in creative writing from San Francisco State University. He writes for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation. In his first collection of essays, Perfume Dreams, which will be published later this month by Heyday books, Lam explores his identity. The thrust of his thinking is that the battle for his homeland was essentially an Asian affair that compromised families, as civil wars do and as the Cultural Revolution did. 'I think the real drama of the Vietnam war was between north and south. My mum's older brother went north and wrote propaganda music for the Communist Party. Her younger brothers joined the South Vietnamese army and became pilots and eventually dropped bombs on their older brother and their cousins in the north. I feel it's truly sad that this thing can happen to people who otherwise love each other. 'And from the historical viewpoint, it's really sad that America and Americans tend to take over that narrative and can't see the real drama that took place: Vietnamese against Vietnamese. 'And so, in every American story, it's about, 'Oh look! We're fighting the Vietnamese and we're either winning or losing - we're guilty or we're triumphant'. But it's always the American point of view and the Vietnam war, there- fore, was seen as an American experience and not a real traumatic experience between Vietnamese.' Lam says he believes that Americans present the war in this way because they simply can't see it from any other point of view. 'Americans aren't capable of seeing the war through anybody else's eyes,' he says. 'If in a forest a tree falls and the American is not there, there is no noise.' Lam has plans to return to China and says the People's Republic is the place for a writer to be now the state has retreated from controlling personal lives. Communism once cast a shadow over everything, he says. A card was needed to buy rice and houses were checked to see if the owners had TVs - a sure sign of bourgeois tendencies. Today, millionaires are invited to join the Communist Party, lavish parties are thrown, stocks and shares are bought and children are sent to Harvard. 'China is rising very quickly and, along with its economic power, it's the cultural light at the beginning of its renaissance. And so there's a lot of interesting dynamics happening in Shanghai and places like that - a lot of hybridisation between east and west.' This renaissance has found expression in the spread of designer clothes, sexual freedom, blogging and the rise of avant-garde performance artists such as Zhang Huan. 'People are now writing blogs, making friends across impossible distances - Chinese talking to people in Japan, talking to people in Glasgow,' he says. Lam says he still feels like a child of Vietnam, but is wedded to China through cultural rituals that the nations share - 'like Chinese New Year and Vietnamese New Year. Praying to the ancestors is pretty much the same.' Does he pray himself? 'Oh, yeah. And I don't know if it's Chinese or Vietnamese.'