With the sweltering heat and 90 percent humidity, it was not easy getting used to the climate of Bắc Giang, the village from which my family came from in northern Vietnam. And nearly two-and-a-half hours away from Vietnam’s capitol of Hanoi, Chloe and I faced our unending idle time by locking ourselves in the holy haven that was our air-conditioned room, stripping down to our skivvies and sprawling across our hard-as-nails bamboo bed in an attempt to sleep our days away. Of course, this proved to be difficult as our door was rapped upon by our cousin, Thu, every 30 minutes calling us down to eat.
While I’m never one to shy away from a traditional Vietnamese meal, eating a full five to six courses every three hours was proving to be a bit much, even for someone with an appetite such as myself. However, in spite of our feeling like stuffed pigs roasting in an oven, every time the familiar knocks and voice came through the door, Chloe and I managed to pull ourselves from the room and into the kitchen, where heaps of eggrolls, rice noodles and pork awaited us.
I’m pretty sure I gained 10 pounds just by visiting my family those few days, but I digress…
But, even though my waistband and the scale may regret those plentiful meals, I don’t. Sure, they were a bit excessive when it came to portions and frequency, but the people who shared those meals with me weren’t.
I had never met any of my relatives from the north prior to my trip, and being in their presence and hearing their stories made me realize just how far my family has come. Through my very elementary Vietnamese and their patience, I was able to learn about the perseverance of my grandfather’s older sister, who, after the war had ended, had faced countless obstacles and adversity just by being born a woman. And it was through her that I learned of my grandfather’s childhood, adolescence and growth into the man I, and my family, revere in life and in death.
Perhaps my only regret is that I didn’t make the trip back sooner or take the time to talk to my Ong (grandpa) about these things while he was still with us.
But even so, his infinite influence on my life is a constant reminder of everything that my family stateside and in Bắc Giang have gone through just to make it to where we are today. And as difficult as it was to acclimate to the environment, it really took a village to make me appreciate where the roots of the Nguyen family tree began.