vietnamese american

Notes from my 20 year old self

The way I see it…there are no legitimate excuse for me or any of us to be unable to attain what we aspire for..

I sat on the hard wood floor, going through my parents’ vast collection of photo albums. I smiled widely at the pictures of my father in college posing cheesily next to his pride and joy of a trans am back in the late 70’s. I flip further back to earlier pictures of those he left behind in Vietnam, a village full of our relatives. As I open my mother’s albums I found the same confident woman smiling back at me in the front of a coffee shop near Neman Marcus in Dallas, the last pages were mere remnants of her posing in her long flowing ao dai in the front of my grandfather’s old house with her sisters.

They left their comfort, their loves, their homes, to find hope in a place which exuded salvation. My mother flew solo letting go of her dreams and career in search of work to support her family despite her foreign tongue. My father and uncle experienced pain and anguish escaping incarceration by the communist only to be stranded in the Pacific for 21 days without food or water and then to be left in a refugee camp for over a year.. Their journey was no simple trip over to the states.

What did they have to face when they reached the shores of America?

Only to find more hardships fighting discrimination, loneliness, and unfamiliarity. Defeated? Never.

Barriers. There are no barriers they couldn’t climb. I couldn’t be more proud of my father for graduating Oklahoma State, and my mother for finding multiple jobs to raise my siblings alone as well as send assisting finances to the other side of the globe.. Somehow..They found their nitch, assimilated to the once foreign culture, built bridges and burned some and somehow their paths intersected…and there was me. Together we have a comfortable lifestyle. Both have yet to surrender their hard work ethic.

Headstrong. This is where I come from..

Hard on myself? I should be.

When I find myself stressing about school–I picture my father walking alone on the cold snowy campus in Oklahoma in his late 20’s holding his hefty Vietnamese/English dictionary and tape recorder as he scurries to his lectures after working 10 hours as a janitor at a local church.

When I find worrying about my finances/jobs–I remember my mother’s hands delicately weaving through white cascades of fabric, sewing intricate patterns of embroidery for hours then using the same hands to hold those of my brother and sister as they cross the street to return home to their small studio apartment.

So…here is the explanation on why I am how I am today.

Why I have little sympathy for petty problems, why consciously I am so hard on myself, why my expectations have no cap, why I do not complain about my parents being so unreasonable with me.

I have my reasons, because whatever complaints, worries, or anxieties I may have are surely negligible to what they have faced..

Now tell me what I want is intangible? No excuses.

That’s why it sickens me when I see kids take advantage of their parents. That complain about the minuscule things. That shrug their mother’s and father’s hardships as pennies of the past and disregard their advice. There is no excuse for you youngins’ to leech off your parents. If anything leech off their wisdom and pay your respects.

I came across this today from my old blog. It looks like 20 year old me was wiser than I thought she was.

I needed this today–Simple reminder that I really do have it good and I shouldn’t let my minuscule problems or insecurities weigh so heavy on my shoulders.


The backbone of an old country

has always had a way of grounding me. The comforts of the familiar faces that I’ve only seen in old fading photographs welcoming me back with open arms.

Traveling to Vietnam always feels like re-visiting a past world. The cities are beginning to develop against the shellshocked nation. Sky scrapers next to straw huts, newly paved sidewalks and asphalt covering the dirt roads next to lush rice paddy fields–but there’s still so much nostalgia left. There are still so many stories to be heard.

Though its far & expensive–my family has been trying to make visits back to Vietnam as frequent as possible as my grandma begins to age. It’s been about 4 years since I’ve returned and almost 13 years since my parents have and every time I go back I always come back with a new appreciation as well as a continuing respect of the locals there.

I don’t know where to start, I could rant for hours about our 3 weeks there. I brought a little leather journal, but since we hit the ground running it was hard to find any downtime or alone time in general to sit down with any of my thoughts.

We sang and danced on tops of the tallest skyscrapers in Saigon, walked through the rice paddy fields to pay tribute to my grandparents tombs in Long Xuyen, hopped on random motorbikes through the city, floated down the Mekong river, hiked up the green mountains and trekked through the sandy caves of Phong Nha-Ke, made new friends while drinking tea and watching water puppet shows in Hue, drank beer Saigon and road bikes and Xit lo’s through the lantern lit city of Hoi An, soaked in mud baths and then switchbacked to the tops of mountain tops in Da Nang, walked through memorials and seeing the remnants of the horrors of war. Bargained through Cho Banh Thanh and and even attended my aunt’s surprise wedding. Hiked through the fairy streams and had a near death experience not once but two twice–once ziplining through Vung Tau and second almost falling off a cliff riding an ATV off the white sand dunes in Mui Ne. We spent hours listening to my long lost uncles speak about the missing chapters of my parents’ lives. Tears always filled our eyes with every hello and goodbye.

I let the humidity soak into my skin, breathed in the morning dew and let the rain soak in my face. There was a tranquility about traveling without doing it for “the gram” or “facebook”–you tend to forget about all of that when you’re just struggling to find the nearest western bathroom or navigating yourself between back alleys and criss-crossed streets.

For once, I was in the moment. The beauty of traveling such an old country such as Vietnam is that it teaches you mindfulness–to look–to feel–to be. Here in America its so easy to get stuck in doing everything for the next best thing or dwelling on materialism and money. Vietnam came at a much needed time in my boyfriend went into remission, my job became overbearing–I was on a brink of a mental break down. It was nice to take a walk away–to focus on traveling–to only worry about how I was going to get to the next place; or where our next adventure was going to take place. It was the light I needed. The trip was much of a soul search that I was fiending for–it showed me the true colors of the people I thought I knew, gave me a whirlwind of an identity crisis as I teetered between being a Vietnamese American & the daughter of a South Vietnamese exile.

My everyday burdens, my job, everyday conversations with friends and coworkers felt petty when I came back. It’s fueled my need for a change. It’s evoked the necessity of mindfulness and living in the moment. It validated the notion of home as place that I feel for not so much a physical location. There’s so much perspective that I’ve gained since coming back, I would hate to lose sight of it all. My daily humdrum has not been in tune with the life I would like to lead.

This revelation has been burning in the back of mind for quite some time–the trip only amplified my need for it. I’ve decided upon my return that this is the year I start acting on it–for my heart’s sake & for my sanity’s sake.

When I’m in need of some humbling–Vietnam will always be my sanctuary.

Here’s my recap of the magical trip captured on my GoPro