“Mommy, Nancy Khong want this porridge, it looks nasty,” I lamented to my mommy in “Vietlish”.
“Eat up before we arrive in Vietnam within the next hour,” she replied in Vietnamese. By eating the dense chicken porridge from Cathy Pacific Airline, I felt more apprehensive about visiting the land of my ancestors than the past fifteen claustrophobic hours .
Insomnia struck me whenever I attempted to fall asleep. The questions: “What if I cannot speak Viet to Grandma, Fifth Auntie, Eighth Uncle, Cousin Trung? What if I embarrass myself? Would they laugh at me? Would they like me? How am I suppose to fit in?” incessantly popped into my head. I knew I had to overcome this ordeal, especially arriving in a country dominated by a Vietnamese speaking population.
Stepping off the van was such a relief for the butterflies in my stomach. “Nancy, you look taller in the pictures and skinnier too,” Fifth Aunt commented in Vietnamese. “Hi Fifth Aunt, how are you,” I replied in English. “Ok, you must see your grandma, she has been sitting in her hammock since this morning waiting for you,” she said vaguely. The sun was at its peak and I was strolling along a small pathway paved with nothing but wet, muddy dirt. The swamps parallel to the pathway were covered with tiny salamanders crawling around like ants.
Coconut tree after coconut tree, I knew I was one coconut tree closer to seeing my relatives. After walking for what seemed like a brief walk in the park, I saw a quaint little white house with a gated door. I proceeded onto the porch to avoid being cooked alive by the tropical sun. The square linoleum tiles felt cold on my bare feet. I smelled the burning firewood while beads of perspiration dripped off my face.
Amidst the chaotic hustle and bustle, I saw a graceful woman with her white glistening hair pulled back into a bun. She was sitting on a worn-out hammock swinging back and forward carelessly. Her face had blemishes from the seventy years of tropical sun-tanning. Her sleepy eyes and ruby red lips made her look almost like a graceful Buddha sitting on a lotus leaf. Her eyes and mine quickly came across each other. This is it, I told myself. I must speak the language of my ancestors. A brief moment of silence attracted many eyes toward my direction. My heart began to beat as fast as a Ferrari on a freeway’s off hours. The flavorless gum dried out in my mouth. My brain sent a message to my mouth but it seemed to have been blocked by my anxiety. Staring back at my grandma’s helpless and innocent eyes, my anxiety began to dwindle. “Chao … Grandma,” I stuttered in Vietnamese. She patted my burning head with her warm and soft hand. A teardrop rushed down her wrinkled face. She kissed my forehead with her ruby red lips. At that moment, I could sense her warm and loving sole.
How could I feel so close to someone I have just met? Perhaps it was her loving and graceful face that made me feel warm and safe. Or it could be that every grandma has the ability to cure her grandchild’s insecurities. Who could have known such a word like “hi” can equate to a lifetime of familiarity.
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