This morning, my second-year students were informed that I was leaving Vietnam in December. Apparently it had never crossed their minds before. They learned this right before they had listening and speaking with me. So as I walked towards the classroom, where several were loitering around the door, they asked me if it was true. I told them it was true. “Why can’t you stay here forever?” they asked. I told them that I need to see my family and friends at home.
“You can call them,” they said.
“You can used the internet.”
“You can write to them.” I told them that I had to go home and see my family and friends, not just talk and write to them. Then, of course, the next question was “Will you come back to Vietnam?”
“Maybe,” I said.
“Not maybe,” one said. “Promise.”
“I hope so.” It was all that I could say.
I woke up from my nap this afternoon and got my red pen for grading and started walking down the stairs to my motorbike. As I was descending the stairs, I heard a song being sung from the music building. In terms of buildings near our guesthouse, we have the garage, and then beyond that, the music building where the choir sings. But this song had a very familiar melody. I knew it from somewhere. I took a detour at the bottom of the stairs and walked towards the music building. Yes, I knew the tune of this song, but I couldn’t make out any of the words. The words were different in the version I knew. I knew the tune though, it was “The Star Spangled Banner.” I walked out and stood around the corner from the music building and stood there until the song ended. I never did make out any of the words. As I was climbing on the motorbike, I heard the choir start to sing this peculiar song again.
There is a saying in this country that has come to have an influence on me during my time here. I like to translate it like this: “When you drink water, remember the source.” It’s easy to pass if off when you first hear it, or regard it as inconsequential, or something cutely trivial even. It’s easy to disregard it when you’re young and rebellious and want everyone that you can survive on your own. It’s something that most Americans, at least the way I see it, don’t think about. “When you drink water, remember the source.” What is this source? Does it symbolize something? If so, what? Is this a reminder not to pollute? I think that it has a profound meaning: remember what sustains you, remember where you came from, remember your roots. Actually, the Vietnamese is only four words: “Drink water, remember source.” It’s an imperative, an order, something that you must do. As you live your life, remember your family, remember your ancestors, remember your homeland. The meaning sends electricity through me when I say it. If there is one valuable thing that I’ll be taking away from this culture, it will be the things associated with this phrase. It’s unspoken most of the time here; I’ve never heard people here talk about it unless I’ve brought it up. However, for most people here, it seems to encompass most aspects of their lives.
The values that I’ve been brought up on and known for most of my life in North America are completely different. Things like rebellion, expression, roaming, etc. seem to have a lot of value placed on them. Friends from college have scattered throughout America and the world like fallout from a bomb, including me. I’ve enjoyed reading On the Road numerous times. However, now I’ve had some time here, and I am remembering the source of my life: my family, and Ohio.
There’s been a light drizzle throughout the day today. A perfect day for staying at home with Buong, my cat. Last evening, although it was six days late, we finally ate the sauerkraut that I’d been keeping in my room since the middle of December. For as long as I can remember, I’ve eaten sauerkraut on New Year’s Day with my family. But since my family isn’t here, the least I can do is eat sauerkraut. We cooked up mashed potatoes with real butter and UHT milk, and I was in charge of cooking the sausages and sauerkraut. Sausages have been available in Long Xuyen for a few months now; they’re made in Vietnam and ain’t too bad. Sometimes we fry them up with onions and green peppers and eat them on white bread with mustard, and it’s quite a treat. But anyhow, we ate them last night as a late celebration for the new year. Like last year when we ate the sour cabbage, I invited a friend/colleague over who studied with me at Bluffton College. While she lived there she acquired a taste for sauerkraut. So, the two times when we’ve cooked and eaten it, I’ve invited her over. We ate until we were stuffed and sat around laughing and telling stories before it got late. I woke up this morning to the drizzling rain and a cat nose touching my nose.
I stepped outside this morning to discover that the paving stones around our guesthouse were moist. The drive to campus was cool, and the sky was overcast. Only when I talked to some friends over coffee and breakfast were my suspicions confirmed: it rained early this morning, about 4 a.m. I thought it was supposed to be the dry season now! I have no idea why this weather is defying the logic of the seasons. But then again, I read some stories saying that the Eastern part of the states has received no snow this winter, while the prairie states and been hit with blizzards. And can we really blame everything on El Nino?
A month or so ago I wrote a proposal for a project to do over this coming semester: to set up a website hosted by the university that would help new foreign volunteers (and perhaps tourists…) navigate their way around AGU and the town of Long Xuyen. When I talked to some other foreigners they responded enthusiastically, so I’m hoping I can start moving forward on this to help future volunteers avoid the confusion that I went through during my early times here.
Sometimes there are just these days. Sometimes there is just one straw too many. Sometimes it just feels like you should give up on everything that you’ve accomplished. Little things that just get to you and make you feel like no one appreciates you and you should just pick up and leave everything that you’ve started and all of those that you’re trying to help. These things stem from personal vendettas and grudges that should not be part of professional educational institutions, especially those that are trying to rapidly develop to meet international standards. These grudges and vendettas tend to happen in Vietnam, or at least I notice it more here, than in America. I think it has something to do with the amount of conflict here that people refuse to address. So little things grow and grow inside people until people turn bitter. And I’m not one to say much either; I know I suppress things, but it really has gotten to a ridiculous point here. Today was another one of those days where I was so close to just calling someone and telling them that I was leaving and going home; that I was not appreciated here; that I was tired of living with all of these petty conflicts. I felt better later in the afternoon, but still, all of this unprofessional conduct is certainly not becoming to a quickly developing institution.