It wasn’t the first time Grandma mentioned the matter of death.
She kept wondering if she would live until the day I came back to Vietnam, even just for a short visit. She wanted me to travel the world. To explore all the wonders and meet all the brilliants. But she also wanted to see me again.
I genuinely don’t understand why people back home want to see me, when I’m terrified of the same thought.
I didn’t know what got into me. I didn’t know why a part of me was excited and anxious to visit my motherland. I still don’t know if I’m ready to go home.
I vaguely remember Hanoi. I remember the abrupt and violent downpour in summer. I remember the nasty slippery sweaty walls in spring. I remember the food. When I thought of a dish, I could almost taste it in my mouth, but I wonder if I can truly recall its flavor because it’s been too long.
I’ve been away from home for almost two years now. I’m scared of going back.
I don’t think my parents would like the way I speak or behave or think. I don’t think I’m a good daughter. I don’t think they would accept me. I could have lived up to their expectations if I just stop arguing with them and listen to their wisdom, but I never did.
I don’t think I would get on well with my sister, who is six years older than me, married with two kids. I don’t think I know how to start a conversation with her. Or how to answer her likely insensitive questions like, “What is like dating a Westerner?” or “When are you two getting married so you can have a green card and stay in Europe forever?”
I hope she wouldn’t be so rude and narrow-minded, but I don’t know what to expect from people back home. I can’t recall what they were like back then, let alone predicting their thoughts and behaviors now — and that’s the basis of Vietnamese conversations — You have to know what’s the person like before you talk to her, so you don’t upset her. I lack fundamental communication skills, and I’m going to mess things up.
If there’s one thing people would want to ask me, it is: if I want to stay abroad afterwards, to which the answer is, I want now since you kept asking me for the thousandth time, but it’s rude to say that out loud because it means I’ll abandon my underdeveloped country, proving I’m a jerk to the Party and the State. More seriously, I have no exact plan on how to stay abroad. Or where. Or when. Or why. I’ll fantasize to them about me doing this and that, going here and there, as if everything’s under control. No, it’s not. I don’t have a clue.
I don’t even hang out with Vietnamese here in Czech Republic. I rarely talk to my old friends back home. I occasionally engage in short awkward conversations with my cousin, who lives across the hall way to me, when we unfortunately run into each other. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to be associate with being Vietnamese any more because I don’t feel like I deserve the nationality. What does even mean “to be a Vietnamese”?
I wish I could speak several languages fluently, so I wouldn’t become this cocky little privileged bitch who got sent to study abroad for a few years, coming back with her face parallel to the sky, butting English words in every sentence she speaks with people because she thinks she’s more educated and civilized than ninety percent of the population.
I caught myself speaking improper English at the university, pronouncing Czech words incorrectly, forgetting basic Chinese conversational phrases, and struggling to get my point across as I speak to Mom in Vietnamese. I felt retarded. I can’t go back home when sounding like someone with a speaking handicap.
I felt insecure than ever about my looks. When my family greets me at the airport, they would see a mess. My appearance, my weight, my daily outfit, my hair, everything about me is wrong. It has never been right. I should have done something about it. I never did. Everyone told me to. I ignored. But now I’m 20 years old and they need to interfere to save my face on behalf of me, and their face. I’ll ruin the family’s picture like a burnt scar on a woman’s face.
Why did I decided to go back home?
I don’t know, maybe there was a part of me that wanted to give the land another chance to prove its value to me and convince me to return, maybe not to my hometown, but elsewhere, Saigon, Nhatrang, somewhere, some time. Maybe I miss home. Maybe I was scared that my Grandma might not last until the day I actually want to visit Hanoi.
Maybe I fear rejection from my family, and the nation as a whole. Maybe I actually love my country, but think it’s not the other way around. I’m not the child that Vietnam expects me to be. And never will be.