Late post: Before I leave for Long Xuyen today and begin my actual volunteer work with PALS, I must finish this post. So here it is:
I always used to say: “I don’t have much family in Vietnam.” I was so wrong and ignorant.
Family first is a philosophy that most of us tend to live by. Therefore during my first few days here, it only made sense for me to visit all the relatives that I’ve never met nor even knew existed.
The majority of my family here are from my father’s side. The moment they heard I landed they called me nonstop. They love my father dearly since he took care of them all back in the day. “Taking care” of them is an understatement, for he paid for almost everything, bought them cars and houses, and gave his family members (from young to old) so much money. He was very generous and well-liked, sometimes way too generous with his money some would say. This was before he lost all his fortune due to the fall of Saigon and other details that I’d rather not write about since I am currently in the country that brought him down.
My father is the eldest in his family and love his siblings so much, including anyone else that is blood. He instilled the importance of family in my sisters and me. Now that you can get a grasp of how important and respected my father was in his family, it will make more sense when I write about how excited everyone here was when they heard a daughter of his, whom they never met, was coming to Vietnam.
My phone was constantly ringing the moment I landed and I felt so adored and welcomed everywhere I went. I visited one aunt on the same day that I landed and met some cousins who were very sweet. Two days later I was to visit my paternal grandparents’ grave in Tay Ninh, which is about 3 hours away from Saigon. My uncle rented a van and we picked up relatives as we stopped by their homes along the way. Remember, this was my first time meeting them all, so you can imagine the excitement in that van.
According to Vietnamese customs, despite your age, if you were born to an older sibling of your father or mother, your cousins must still address you as chị (older sister). So although I was younger than most of them, but since my father was the eldest, all my cousins were all so respectable and called me chi. It was sort of weird to me and definitely took some time getting used to.
I loved being on the road and seeing the differences between the city and the countryside. At one of the houses, I got to picked some mangoes and ambarella (coc). My relative grew a bunch of other fruits including bananas, jackfruit, mangosteen, guava, and much more. We made a few stops and finally reached my uncle’s restaurant where he made really good duck soup vermicelli. This is my Uncle 7, he is the one that organized this whole trip to visit relatives and made me feel super welcome and safe. He is also a bit more well off than the rest of them.
We finally got to my grandparents’ grave, which was designed, built, and all paid for in the past by my father. It was gorgeous. I am so glad that I can tell my dad how well-rested his parents must be. After that we all went to another relative’s house and this was on a farm with dirt roads, lots of greenery, and a very popular mountain called Núi Bà Đen (Black Virgin Mountain) in the backdrop. Unfortunately I didn’t have much time so I wasn’t able to tour it. That was the last house we stopped at and we all ate and laughed together.Their living conditions are far from modern, and they live a simple life. It was beautiful.
Meeting and getting to know everyone felt so amazing and makes me very humble and grateful. It was brief, but the memories and emotions will last a lifetime. They still call to ask how I am doing and if I need anything, when I feel like I should be asking them that. They are definitely one of the main reasons why I will have to come back to Vietnam, hopefully with my sisters :).