Monday, October 27, 2008

The Reality Of War

In nearly every house in Vietnam is a Buddhist shrine with pictures of relatives who have died. Ninety nine percent of the time there are pictures of someone's mother and father or grandparents. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure how it works but the basic idea is you burn incense and fruit in front of the shrine for your deceased loved ones.

On Sunday I asked Huyen if my family and I could see the upstairs of her house. She agreed and took us upstairs with her father. In the one room upstairs was a bed (which Huyen and her brother and sisters sleep in), more ceramics for sale, and a little shrine. There were two pictures hung on the wall above the shrine. One picture was of Huyen's Grandmother and the other picture was of Huyen's Uncle -- her father's brother. On the way back down the stairs Huyen's father stopped at the shrine and told us (via Huyen's translation): "This is my brother. He died fighting in the American War." Huyen's father said this with no resentment or anger; he was just telling us about his brother. In the car on the ride home, Huyen said to me, "My Uncle was very handsome. However, he died before he got married or had children."

Seeing the picture of Huyen's Uncle hit my Dad pretty hard. The next day he was still thinking about it and told me it was on his mind when I first saw him that morning. He said that he knew Americans who died in the Vietnam War, but seeing someone from the other side -- and someone's loved one -- was bothering him. As my father has said before, "Nobody wins in war."

The thought that kept crossing my mind was how amazingly forgiving people can be. Huyen's family welcomed my family into their house with open arms despite us coming from the country which killed her Uncle. I keep asking myself, "Would I be as forgiving if the roles were reversed?"

Mom and Dad Meet The Nguyens

My family and Huyen's had a great afternoon together. Huyen's mother and sister prepared a huge meal for us and could not have been more friendly. There were so many great moments during our time together but here's the top ten:

10. Upon arriving at the house my father immediately saying hello to Huyen's parents and pointing at Justin's feet and saying, "dirty." (They were dirty, as were mine, because we got sprayed by the truck we had just helped push out of a ditch). Justin then said out loud, "Has anyone told them what just happened with the stuck car or do they think you're just saying I'm a filthy animal?"

9. Watching my parents sit on the ground to eat. I can honestly say I don't think I've ever seen my parents sit on the ground to do anything.

8. My Dad's back/legs starting to hurt while sitting on the ground (see #9 above) so we moved him into a chair. He sat above everyone else like a king (I think he's practicing for his Mayor of Livingston role which is scheduled to start in January '09).

7. Trying to explain to Huyen's family that my father doesn't drink beer and that my parents can't eat grapefruit because of the medication they are on. These just aren't things that translate in Vietnamese.

6. Huyen's father playing the guitar for us while we ate.

5. Managing to not break any of the ceramic goods scattered all throughout the house. Huyen's parents sell China and their goods are stacked everywhere. Between Justin and I, I think we banged into at least a half dozen pots and luckily not one cracked.

4. The Nguyen's telling us that, "Having [us] at their house is the happiest [they've] been in a long time."

3. My father singing "The Itzy Bitsy Spider" to Huyen's nephew instead of responding to Huyen's Dad who tried multiple times to do a cheers with my Dad's coke (see #7 in regards to the Coke).

2. Huyen's family telling us that, "They always thought foreign families were not close. But now they see they are." Huyen's parents also told Huyen that they can see my parents are very kind people.

1. The Taxi Driver asking in Vietnamese in front of everyone , and translated by Huyen, "So you want to marry a Vietnamese girl?"