All In The Family

*(originally posted at boyatlarge.com in 1997)

…I lived about 22 years of my existance never actually meeting any of my family members because I grew up in America and the rest of them, with exception to my direct family, were still in Vietnam. I was much too young to remember what Vietnam was like (I was about 6 months old when my mom, brother, and I left the country in 1975). When I finally got to return to the homeland this past year of 1997, I got to meet practically everyone in my family…a good portion of whom was at the airport the first day I arrived. They had not seen me since 1975 and it was very important that they got to see me when I first entered the country. It was quite a welcome…


annvrsy…that’s me in the center of the pic waving. While in Vietnam, one of my aunts and uncles had a celebration party for their 10 year anniversary. It was quite the party. A lot of my family and their friends were there to congratulate Aunt Hue and Uncle Hoang. It was kind of a weird situation for me because the restaurant that the party was held at also had a wedding reception going on there on the other side of the restaurant — which was
just the other half of the room (there were a few situations where guests ended up sitting on the wrong side of the room and not realizing it until they noticed that they didn’t know any of the people sitting at the table with them). The restaurant was in charge of entertainment and one of the most out of place acts there that night was this sparkling, bikini clad girl spinning, eating, and blowing fire off of these sticks while dancing to some techno music (her dancing assistants added to the crazyness of the whole routine). The whole room enjoyed watching the act and I guess I was the only one that thought it was way queer for this kind of an act to be at an anniversay/wedding reception (I was also embarrassed because I was asked to video tape the anniversary party for my aunt, so, I felt like a real sicko standing there video taping this girl in her shiny underwear all the while this absolutely adorable girl on the other side of the room — whom I was falling for — watched me video taping the whole thing). Oh well, at least the restaurant band played a few recognizable polkas that night…grandma

…that’s my grandmother (a sweet and spunky ol’ gal) and my cousin My. In Vietnam, disposable diapers are nonaccessable. Instead, they pretty much begin potty training the babies when they begin to sit up on their own. My is only a year old. Every morning when she wakes up, my Aunt Tuyen or someone would set her down on this little bowl and start making this hissing sound, “sssssss”. They do this in order to encourage the baby to pee. They would keep doing it until she was finished and then let her be on her way. This would be done about 4 or 5 times a day. Every once in a while, I would help out and sit with My and hiss for her so my aunt could work on her sewing (she makes customized women’s clothing for a living). Everytime I did it though, My would also make poopies. So, my family started making jokes saying I had the power to make babies poop (I also did it for another lady’s baby and the same result happened). I thought about how funny it would be to have this superhero that his main power was to do this. He would be in the middle of a confrontation and then he would start hissing and his foe would poop. Imagine how disoriented his enemies would be (“I will destroy this pathetic mudball of a planet and rule over all of these worthless — oops! Excuse me…”)…

grndpa…my grandfather is a quiet, soft spoken man. At first glance, I was a bit nervous being around him because he rarely smiled and didn’t say much. I was afraid that he was one of those extremely traditional old men who refuses to accept change and that maybe he found some of my mannerisms to be uncouth and unorthodox. But as I got to know him, I found out the reason he was so quiet was because he was content with the situation. He was happy that his family was together again (with exception to Aunt Tu who just came over to America a few years ago and couldn’t afford to make this trip back) and that he finally got to see his second oldest grandson again. I know now that he is just the opposite of his angry physical appearance and, in fact, he’s very kindhearted and sensitive — especially about his family…five

…in Vietnam, you address your family members by a numbering system. For example, this is my Aunt Lan, which I called Di Nam which is roughly translated as “Aunt Five”. I had an “Aunt Ten” and an “Aunt Nine” and an “Uncle Six” and etc…there were a few exceptions for the younger aunts. For example, there was my Aunt Tuyen whom we called Ut U which means “chubby child” — she got the name because in her earlier years, she was quite obese compared to how incredibly thin she is now. Then there was my Aunt Thanh who we called Ut Chi because she was the youngest (Ut Chi is roughly translated as “baby daughter”). It seemed cruel to have these names but they were just nicknames and there was more love to them then there was any intent to hurt. I, on occassion, was called dau dien which means “crazy head”…

nhuong…this is my cousin Nhung (pronounced “yuung”). Out of all my cousins, she was the one I got along the most with. Her mother and some of my other aunts constantly got on to her for being too outgoing and too annoying and trying to be tough all the time but it was these qualities that I think made her and I get along so well. She would come over to the house after school (she was in the 3rd grade) and then head up to my bedroom, where I was usually working on my artwork, and start teasing me for my silly haircut, or bad pronunciation of Vietnamese words and phrases, or how she couldn’t understand me when I spoke English, or what not. In return, I would tease her for being too dark skinned for a Vietnamese girl (she got a bit too tanned from being outside so much), or for being so short, or for not being able to understand me when I spoke English. We would just pick on each other (sometimes she would hide my art supplies while I put tape in her hair or what not. Her best prank was when she put a cricket (which everyone knows I am deathly afraid of) in my pencil box and when I opened it, it jumped out at me and scared me senseless). Anyway, I think one of my favorite moments with her was when my family and I were waiting at the airport for my departing flight to arrive and the whole time, her mother kept telling her to give me a goodbye hug and kiss and she would refuse, as if doing it would kill her, but when it was time for me to go through the gates for the last call, she ran up and hugged me for a long time and gave me two kisses on the cheek. I guess she wasn’t as tough as she wanted everyone to think she was…hanhshrt

…my cousin Hanh. I rarely got to see her because she worked at a clothing store from 8 in the morning to 10 at night. I was usually asleep when she left for work and then she would spend some time with me at night after
she got home from work. She really wants to come to America but her chances of getting to go are very skim and almost next to none because the priority ranking for bringing over family is usually spouses and children first, next parents, then siblings, and possibly cousins later, so, if I were to try and sponsor her over to the States, it would take forever for the paperwork to go through (it took my mother 10 years to finally get my Aunt Tu to America). I jokingly told her I would hook her up with one of my friends from America so she could come over. She joked about it, too, but I think that she actually considered that option. Anyway, I hope that she can finally get to America someday while she is still young…

momboat…before ever meeting any of my family back home, I could go days — months — without ever thinking about them. They were like strangers to me and I just didn’t know who they were, so, out of sight — out of mind was the case. Now, having met them and spending a mere month with them, I can’t stop thinking of them. I miss them all very much and I hope to be able to make as many trips back to see them as possible.

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