“An di! An di! (Eat more!)” My aunt weaves through the small kitchen carrying bowls of hu tieu: vercimilli noodles in a warm, savory broth. It is raucous and rowdy everywhere; people are eating cross-legged on the tile floor, children are squealing and running barefoot, and the smell of authentic Vietnamese cuisine wafts through the air. The women are hard at work in the kitchen cutting fruit and cooking noodles, and their efforts have been delicious. Believe it or not, everyone in this Vietnamese household share the same blood as me. We are a family.
â–ºFinalist 2012 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
I trekked to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam (15 hours on a plane ride!) in the summer of 2011, eager and nervous to see my massive extended family – eager to visit my roots and nervous because I don’t quite remember the names of my relatives. Mother Four…Father Six . . . Bi, Bo, Ben, Ken… You can’t quite blame me.
Tonight, I am the photographer scurrying around snapping photos of everything possible just in case I can’t imprint these moments to memory. But then I see something I thought was not worth remembering.
My uncles are sitting in a circle on the ground with my father amongst them, drinking bottle after bottle of beer and wine. My stomach twists. Ever since we’ve arrived, my father has been drinking with his brothers every night and coming home, loud, obnoxious, and drunk. I remember retrieving a plastic tub when my father needed to vomit, and the distinct smell of beer and cigarettes fouled my nose.
It’s fine, I think to myself. It’s a party. But hours later I come back to check on him.
His face is as red as radishes and those green glass bottles are scattered in front of him. The smell is back.
“Tina! Come here.” He wraps his arm around my shoulders and pulls me close. I can’t breathe; the smell is back. “You know I love you, right?” my dad slurs. “Yes, Daddy,” I mumble. I just want to escape and breathe clean air, and I untangle myself from his grip.
I just don’t understand. Why did they have to drink all the time? Don’t they know alcohol is unhealthy? Don’t they know how insane they act when they’re drunk? I peer around a corner and see my uncles egging my dad to drink more.
And then, at that moment, I am furious.
I storm to my older cousin, Sang, and pull her aside. “Why don’t you tell your dad to stop drinking? They’re just going to vomit at night and wake us all up. Why don’t we do something about it?”
Sang’s party mood vanishes for a moment. “Tina, nothing’s wrong.”
“Why do they have to drink all the time?”
“They are celebrating. Just let them be. Look,” Sang gestures to the men.
I look back for the third time. The glass bottles catch my eye immediately, but then my eyes shift to my father. He sits in a circle with his close brothers, and he is laughing. They are brothers, and they are having a good time.
“They have all worked hard to be where they are today. Just let them have a good time together,” Sang says.
And then I realize she is right. My father is not some raging alcoholic, abusing his wife and children after a night with the glass bottles. He is my father, reunited with his brothers after thousands of miles apart for years. The men drink, and they drink together as a family and celebrate. I raise my camera to my eye. Click.
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