Monday, June 21, 2010

A Father's Day Tribute to Thai's Dad

My village was not a safe place at night for my dad to come home to and spend the night.  He always had to just come home for dinner and go back into the city to stay overnight.  I did not spend much time with my dad as I had with my mom, and I am sure most Vietnamese children did not see their dads much at that time. All the men from South Vietnam went to the war zone to protect our country.  I was probably luckier than children that had dads in the army.  Their dads had to go into the battle fields for months at a time.

I treasured my time with my dad when he had time for me.  He tried to find time out from his office during the day to come home and be with us as much as he could.  Those times he would take Ban, my little brother and I fishing at the river or just to sit under a shady tree to talk to us.  Ban and I went swimming with dad at the Lai Giang River.  In the middle of the river there was a sandy island.  My dad would put me on his back and carry Ban in front and swim through the deepest area to get to the island.  The water there was clear.  We played and swam in the shallow area while dad swim around us in a deeper area.  We liked to play on that island, especially with our dad there.  We made him lie down on the sand and we would cover his body with sand.  He told us that the sand felt cool and relaxing as he lay there, seeing the sky and the clouds while his children were there with him.  He felt safe and happy.

We went home in  the afternoon and had dinner, and it was time to see Dad off again.  He looked at us, smiled and said, "Be good!"  I thought my dad had the prettiest smile of all.

Dad was always busy with his duties, the higher his position, the less time he had with us; therefore, when came to the United States after the war,  he devoted all his times with the family. It did not matter if he was tired, sick or not feeling well.  His face would light up with that pretty smile of his and welcome us.  He would talk to any of us about anything we want to talked about. To me, he was so intelligent and knew so much.  He could communicate to the grandchildren from three years
old to his children in their forties and fifties.  If we needed him, he would be there.  My father spent the last years of his life for us, sharing his life experiences. He taught us to love, care, respect and be kind to each other and everybody else.  That's how he lived his life, and that is what he wanted us to be.

My dad passed away six years ago.  His last words to us were to take care of mom and love one another
for love is what gets us through anything in life.

My dad always said that he want to outlive the communism.  He wanted to go home to Viet Nam once the communist were no longer in existence in his motherland.  Unfortunately, they are still there, and my dad never had a chance to go home.  But rest assured, Dad, we are with the rest of the people longing to do away with the communism in Viet Nam, and that day will come some day soon.   I will go home to see a free Viet Nam, and  I believe the future Vietnamese generation will rebuild our country with freedom.

Thank you Dad,  for being  my dad.  You are greatly missed! Happy Father's Day.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

School Discipline in Bong Son

Before I started Elementary school, I attended a smaller school site in the neighborhood.  I guess now we would call it preschool.  I remember my classroom were tiny. We probably had twelve children sitting around two rectangle tables.  I do not remember much about my teacher except that he was old and strict.  I was afraid of him and did not like school at all at the time. 

We were taught that teachers are just like your parents.  You will respect and obey unconditionally.  We would be punished harshly if we did not obey.  At this school we learned first not about academics except for reading and writing, but more importantly we learned how to have good characters.  I always
have to cite that "First we learn to respect, values, to be a good human being, and second is academic."  I asked my parents why and what was this means?  and they would tell me that no matter how smart I am or whoever I became later in life, if I did not have the first rule, I still would be nobody.  This did not mean much then, but it all makes sense now, and I am trying to teach my children the same ideas.

I do not remember what my friends and I  did wrong at the time, but I remember we were being punished by making us lie on top of my teacher's desk.  The one that initiated the wrong act, the most naughty one, was made to lie on the bottom, and the rest would be on top of each other respectively.  My teacher then would paddle us according to the level of our actions.

After the paddle, we were to kneel on a piece  of a jack fruit skin. It was spiny like a porcupine.  The rest of the students got to go home for lunch.  I guess that day my mom did not see me come home as usual, so she walked to the school.  I saw her from afar and started to cry, thinking she was coming to my rescue.  When she saw that I was kneeling with two children being punished, she stopped, looked at me sadly, and  turned herself around to go home without saying anything.  I was so disappointed and tried  hard to hold my tears.  I knew my mom was disappointed in me, and she was sad because I did not get to eat lunch.  We had a good talk that night, and I understood that I needed to be on my best behavior, for my parents had entrusted me to the teacher. My parents would not interfere with the teaching.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Viet Nam Funeral, 1970, Bong Son

My childhood years were inside a war zone.  There were things that were scary, but to me as a child the  thing that terrified me the most was the sight of a funeral procession through my village.  I used to roam around the neighborhood and play with my friends daily.  No matter how far away from home, if I heard the sound of a funeral procession, I would run home as fast as I could without thinking about anything else.

Since my village was the lower part of the larger neighborhood, from up the hill there were many other different villages and people had to go through ours to get to the mountain and sea.  I  believe at the base of the mountain is where people buried their love ones.

First, I would notice the loud, sharp high pitched music note  of a certain kind of flute, the sound of drum, and a mixture of other kind instruments I did not know. They created a high pitched music that pierced through ears and heart. To me it was not entertaining but terrifying.  After hearing the music, children would all look up, frozen, and wait until the sight of the group of people appeared from the top of the hill. Then we would all just run home.

I would hide in my house, peeking out the window and see the funeral attendees walking slowly through on the road.  First came people who played the music, then a person throwing fake paper money in the air.  The coffin was tied with ropes at each end, had a strong stick loop through the ropes, and was carried by four people.  After the coffin came the  family members and friends.  The family members wore a white outfit on top of their normal clothes.  It was kind of similar to our "ao dai" but was not fancy.  Its length was down to the knees, split on both sides.  It was sewn together at the neck and shoulders to hold the sleeves to the body of the dress.  There was no hem. Everything about the dress was ragged and torn. The thread of the fabric hung loosely. Each funeral attendee wore a white bandeau on the his head tied at the back with a white tie and with no hems.

When the funeral went by, the adults in the village who saw it would stand quietly to show respect. As for me, I was terrified.  Something about the sight of the coffin, the strange outfits they wore, the sad sound of their crying and most terrifying of all the music, all worked to make me petrified.

I do not know if this is the traditional funeral procession of Viet Nam,  but this is kind of the tradition of the village where I grew up.  And I do not know if the religion has anything to do with the way of the funeral that I saw when I was a child because I did not attend any funerals when I was in Viet Nam.

When I attend funerals here, it is different.  We wear black, a line of cars go through the city roads escorted by the police, and people cry quietly.  It seems calmer, not as scary and not that sort of music that pierces; however, it represents the same thing.  We are sending our loved ones back to the earth with love and respect in our own different ways.