The Vietnam of my parents is gone. It lives on in the Vietnamese diaspora. I know a lot of people go back to Vietnam to make their fortune and whatnot. But my parents (my father anyway) who, in his youth, fought on the Nationalist side, rather than the Communist, is too fearful to see how his beloved country has changed.
I think because there was no love for the current Vietnam, I have no interest in going there, and I feel like I can’t relate to the people who live there because I don’t really know who to trust besides people who question the government.
The one time I went to attend my cousin’s wedding banquet, there were plenty of friendly faces, but the only person I felt I was able to connect with was the girl cleaning the bathroom of the club we were at when I went to wash my hands. I asked her what life was like here as a queer woman (gaydar works in Vietnam!), whether she had a girlfriend, and she said that life is hard, but enjoyable. There are events where like-minded people get together and hang out. And she has a lover.
This to me is reassuring. Another reason for my disconnect with Vietnam was how a girl is supposed to look and act. Skinny, long hair, long legs, sweet and nice. This isn’t restricted to just Vietnamese girls, but when you hear it regurgitated in Vietnamese and you see the Vietnamese magazine photos and the Vietnamese stage show videos, and you just don’t fit the mold, you cling to something that won’t judge you (for one thing, because it doesn’t include you) and tells you that you’re fine just the way you are.
Recently, I started to see privilege in having an American accent. You can go anywhere with it and be considered cool. But mostly, I’ve been told, understandable. It makes me wonder if the American accent was developed through generations of immigrants from everywhere in the world having to learn English, and the rules or pronunciation of American English simply made more sense to English learners than the rules of British English.
But back to accent privilege. Even in high school, the Viet-Am kids who were born in America would look down on the ones who spoke English with an accent. Even I was no exception to judging the kids that we used to call FOBs. Sure, we both spoke two languages, but I spoke better English than they did. And everyone else understood me better.
In Japan, students are learning English as a foreign language, and are also expected to be able to understand academic literature by their senior year. For the kids in Aizu, this is impossible without extra English courses outside of school, and only the students who can afford it can have this ability. And if you compare that to the American students, how many can actually read and understand academic papers in a foreign language like French and Spanish? Not to mention that English, French, and Spanish all fall under the Romance languages, while Japanese and English are completely in different language families.
So when someone says they know 9 different languages, I ask them which ones, and if they’re all from the same language family, then that’s a privilege to have been able to learn a language that share common roots with other ones, too. Japanese and Korean are in a separate language family all on their own.
When you meet a group of Asian people, all speaking English, but all with their own accent and style, who are you most likely to trust and work with?
I’m told that during new years, they play かるた (karuta), which is a quickspot card game that uses proverbs from 百人一首, which means “waka poems from 100 poets”. One pile of cards have the written tanka on the face, while another pile has pictures depicting the poem. The reader reads a tanka poem, and the rest of the players have to try to be the first to grab the correct picture of the poem being read.
The new year’s game I remember playing with my Vietnamese family is a gambling one, called Bầu Cua (Gourd, crab). Place your bets on one of the 6 pictures of a gourd, crab, shrimp, fish, deer/elk, or rooster, throw 3 dice, and get paid the amount of times your picture comes up.
I went to pick up an áo dài from the owner of the Vietnamese restaurant in town to show some kids at an International Association event tomorrow. She noticed and remarked that my hair was getting longer/higher, and that I should trim it before I’m “cowboy”. I laughed and said, “My parents call me that, too! They even call me ngầu!” She said “Ngầu is like cao bòi, but they’re meaner!” I asked, “Am I mean?” She said, “You’re pretty nice”.
Cat ghé nhà hàng Vietnam để mượn áo dài của bà chủ để khoe cho mấy đứa nhỏ trong buổi họp của hiệp họi quốc tế ngày mai. Bà chủ để ý tóc ra giài ra cao, nói nên cắt chứ không nhìn thấy cao bòi. Cat nói “Ô! Bố mẹ em cũng gọi em là cao bòi, còn gọi em là ngầu đó cô!” Bà chủ nói, “À, ngầu cũng gióng như cao bòi, nhưng dữ hơn!” Cat nói, “Em có dữ không cô?” Bà chủ trã lời, “À, em hiền.”
This is why I hate Vietnamese entertainment. They take a beautiful song with beautiful lyrics, and a beautiful classic singer that everyone loves, and then they do this with it. Somehow it feels perverse. Stick with your crappy bubble-gum pop, hip-pop, whatever. Why ruin a melodramatic song by trying so hard to look better than everyone else? It’s not working! I think if people weren’t so shiny, so surgically torn, botoxed, I’d have a better time enjoying this stuff.
“If we had one day left to live”
Let me be like a shadow of a cloud, wandering through this world
Let me look beyond the sky, in the middle of the village of my ancestors
Let me be a song, flying far far away
Let me thank my life, thank everyone
Let me live in the hearts of everyone with these words I sing
If I had one day left to live, take me back to my hometown
So that I can visit villages of old, and dream in my mother tongue
If I had one day left to live, give me a line of prayer
The people I love with warmth and smiles,
Give my children a future of peace of happiness.
If I had one day to live, how would I give back for my life?
How do I give back to all those people, who lifted me from my troubles
If I had one day left to live, how do I redeem myself from my sins
How do I quell my spirit, that blows westward toward the daybreak
I love being where I am today. Growing up in the South Bay, one of the highest concentrated Vietnamese communities in the States, there’s the expectation that a Vietnamese cisgendered female should look and act a certain way.
And if you can’t look and act a certain way, the middle ground is a-ok (which, to me, means not sexually appealing)
But if you cut your hair super short, don’t wear make-up, or have the features of a beautiful woman, then what the fuck are you? A boy? A girl? Definitely not Vietnamese, you must be from Hong Kong. Or whatever crazy gender ambiguous trend East Asia is going through now (let’s just not think about our neighbor Thailand).
<begin empowering and affirming rambling>
I am so lucky and proud to have met hot, confident, original, hard-working, tough, androgynous, trans/butch Vietnamese women in San Francisco and Oakland, people that I doubt I would have had the chance to meet otherwise. They inspire me and affirm that we are a passionate bunch, and our struggles to be who we truly are makes us all the more Vietnamese, no matter how much our people try to ignore us, because we are so very fucking stubborn to the core.
Nice to get Vietnamese news from the younger generation. Bolsavik was my goto at one point, but then I got sick of internal community politics among the older generation. I found my piano teacher’s kid’s tumblr through this. The passionate creative gene definitely runs through the family.