He still feels like someone from outer space, so much so that his colleagues at the Hayward, Calif., restaurant where he works call him Mork, after the TV alien played by Robin Williams. But Thanh Vu, 37, can be forgiven for his feelings of culture shock--not long ago he was a Buddhist monk in Saigon with a congregation of 2,000. But fearing that he would be killed by the ruling Communists, he fled to the United States, where he is now waiting for a license so that he can begin a new profession cutting hair. In the United States, he tasted meat for the first time, at McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken, where he ate so much that he had a stomach ache. He found he still prefers vegetables and has become a consummate salad maker at the Green Shutter Restaurant where he is employed. "It's a dream, coming to America, living here," the refugee said. "American people are very loving and giving. I want to learn all I can. Someday I want to conduct religious services again. Maybe I will end up opening a restaurant--where people can eat and meditate."
--They are the prized progeny of the mother of invention, a collection of items concocted by engineers that range from the surprisingly practical to the weird. Included in the display at the 34th Annual National Design Engineers Show in Chicago are a golf ball that glows in the dark (for the nocturnal hacker too embarrassed to go out in the day), a plastic tea kettle that boils water while staying cool to the touch (for the absent-minded cook) and computer-fitted clothing that boasts no stitches (for those who tend to come apart at the seams). One of the inventions that's attracting attention is a tennis racket filled with fluid--to cut down on vibrations that cause muscle injuries. The "hydraulic racket" was developed by Marvin Sassler of Wayne, N.J., an amateur tennis buff with a bad case of tennis elbow. The exhibitors are chosen from thousands of entries, and their inventions must show workability in addition to "high consumer interest," said Lars Soderholm, a spokesman for the show. "We get a lot of figments of the imagination, ideas on paper that may or may not work," he said.