After three years in England, I come home to see Hanoi has changed a lot. I have all sorts of reverse culture shocks from boundaries of privacy to the art of barter or the skills of stealing. I stumbled. I fell. I cried. I didn’t get a hug. My family don’t hug. But they keep me strong because they remain the same as which I belong.
My mum still goes to the pagoda near to their house very often. When I was very small she sold me to the pagoda (neither for money nor for real). I stayed at home the whole time. But I was given a monk name, which was supposed to keep me safe from bad spirits. She believed that would help. She just wants to believe that nothing bad will ever happen to me.
My dad still plays chess every afternoon before tea time with a few others in the neighbourhood. One of them hosted the group at his doorstep. A year ago, I was told he passed away. When the shock and upset passed, I sometimes worried about Dad and his chess group. But I came back to see they gathering still. Just move to another doorstep. They play and shout loudly regardless passing bikes, barking dogs or crying babies. The fear of death might have affected them but hasn’t defeated them.
My brother still tells long stories, buys his little sister lunch, and teases her when she lost her wallet (again). He gave me a lot of books when he found out I lost my kindle as well as my wallet. He knows I don’t read the same types of books as he does. But he cares. As always.
A few weeks ago, I was asked whether my family are happy to have me back. As cynical as I am, my answer was “They said they are”. Now if I am asked whether I am happy to be back near my family, the answer is definitely “yes”. They make it home!
It started in the shop where my kindle (and my wallet) vanished into thin air. I cried like a baby: over the phone to my boyfriend; on the way home to myself, at the doorstep to my parents. Upset. Gutted. Disappointed. My heart sores because the Lilly’s Kindle is a precious birthday gift from my boyfriend. My head aches because of the many unanswered questions. Who stole my Kindle: the elderly shop owner, the chatty woman who told me about her child, the friendly one who complimented on my trousers, or all of them? Who should I trust or distrust? More importantly why have I let my Kindle be stolen? Stupid. Naive. Careless. Mum said I look like I am not from here. That is why they bullied me. City dwellers tend to bully outsiders because the latter don’t know the so-called rules. She didn’t mean that I am more ugly or more pretty, paler or darker. She just meant that I don’t fit in (any more). In my hometown! Is she right?
So I let my Lilly’s Kindle be stolen. Soon enough I can have it replaced I am sure. But how soon will it take for me to trust again? Or learn to distrust. More importantly how soon will it take for me to pave my way back in? Eventually!
“ So after, when he whispers, “ You love me. Real or not real?
I tell him. “Real”
It is Mockingjay – the story about a girl who fought through wars, losses and extreme pains. Then, she realized that what she need is the dandelion in the spring – the promise that life can go on, no matter how bad losses. His firm arms are real.
Most people don’t have to go through losses and pains to realize what is real or what is needed. Some never do.
I was eighteen. It was my last day in high school. Friends took photos together to keep memories alive. I hid in a corner crying because the boy I liked didn’t ask me to take photo with him.
I loved him. Real or not real?
I am twenty eight. It was at the airport. I saw my boyfriend going through the gate to fly 6,000 miles away from me. Tears stung my eyes. But I didn’t cry. I held myself together.
I love him. Real or not real?
How do I know? How do people know?