Family dynamics can be a little tricky to navigate, especially when there are ulterior motives and awkward situations like we experienced with my dad’s side of the family. My mother’s side of the family is a completely different story. I try not to be too biased or judge too harshly, knowing that a large part of the reason why there’s such a difference between the two branches is because my mom’s family is so much more financially secure than my dad’s family. Even so, my maternal relatives are so genuinely kind-hearted, down-to-earth and good-natured that it’s hard not to be biased. Thanks to them we get to live in a mansion as long as we like. Sure, my uncle can afford the space and extra mouths to feed but there’s no reason for him to be so welcoming other than simple generosity, for which I’m very grateful. It’s unlikely that I could have afforded a year off from work or we would have cared to stay in VN so long if not for his generosity. This is pretty much as comfortable as it gets in VN. I’m still reconciling myself to the fact that this is not a traditional vacation. Amenities and creature comforts are not the reason why I’m here. I’m realizing more everyday that the purpose of my sabbatical is to cultivate relationships, to connect or reconnect with people, and to cherish those who deserve to be cherished. The upside to such an extended stay is that I’m getting to know my cousins far better than I could possibly get to know them during an average two week sojourn. It’s the day-to-day act of living and eating and being together that breeds intimacy and affection. And I have true, although not fully expressed, affection for them because they’re such cool people. They’re extremely considerate and it’s never in a calculated or ingratiating way. They just try to make us as comfortable as they can. For example, when they found out why we weren’t sleeping with our windows open, one of my cousins immediately bought a mosquito net and another cousin installed it over our bed the same day. They also gave us a tennis racket-looking device that electrocutes mosquitoes on contact. Not exactly child-friendly but an essential weapon in VN.
It’s been a struggle to get them to let us pay for anything, a drastic contrast from our dealings with Aunt #6 and her family. And even though my maternal relatives are gracious in an easygoing, unassuming manner, we’ve learned not to reveal too much about our likes and dislikes because they’re so quick to accommodate us. If you mention that you like a particular food or fruit, it’s sure to appear at the next meal. I made the mistake of letting it slip that it was Tom’s birthday as we were heading out to dinner last night. Tom swore me to secrecy because he didn’t want anyone making a fuss like they did for the boy’s birthday. When Chi Ca pressed me for the reason why we invited everyone out to dinner on a Monday night, I figured we were in the clear because we were literally on our way to the restaurant, so I confessed that it was Tom’s birthday. Word spread quickly and unbeknownst to us, a call was made to one of my cousins who was picking up her kids from school en route to the restaurant. She made a detour and arrived a little late to dinner bearing gifts and a birthday cake. These people are sneaky and they work fast. Tom was not happy with me which resulted in a scolding for my big mouth. He got over it by the time he was being serenaded in the karaoke room. These people also take their karaoke seriously.
We’re bound to be treated less like guests of honor and more like regular family members as time goes on and the novelty of the Viet Kieu wears off, and I’m looking forward to that.