“Why can’t you be a part of our family?” my mom yelled at me.
“Well Kelsey’s parents let her go wherever she wants! They don’t over-protect her like you do.” I screamed back.
My dad and brother sat at the dinner table as my mom and I ping-ponged our arguments. “I never got to study abroad in college. This is my chance.” I had just quit my sales job and had nothing lined up for me.
My mom wanted the perfect daughter, for her to have a strong, high-paying career. At that point in my life, I was nowhere close to perfect and my career was in a huge rut.
Instead of searching for my next job, I booked a trip to Vietnam for 2.5 months, thinking it would be a perfect opportunity to reconnect with my extended family after 16 years.
I was surrounded by a crowd of Nguyens when I hopped off the plane and finally passed through customs. My family and I run in wolf packs and everyone will come to say hello, even my elderly grandma.
The first couple of weeks were fun, because it was exactly how I imaged the nomad life. I was visiting all the tourist attractions, I barely had to work and I was shopping left and right. But soon enough, those things get tiresome.
How could someone keep going full-force, sightseeing everything and spending money that she didn’t have? Being unproductive took a toll on me, especially when every other person had to continue on with his daily life.
A shadow of loneliness draped over me. I felt disconnected from the culture, my surroundings and the people. Did I make a mistake? Was I just running away from reality? There was so much doubt. Certain days, it was just me, the maid and my aunt-in-law.
My aunt-in-law, Mo Moui (Auntie 10), stayed at home to manage her kids schedules and take care of my grandparents. From the look of sheer boredom and probably the perkiness at any chance to leave the home, she took pity on me and dragged me along her errands.
As I followed her around like a lost puppy, my eyes saw what most tourists would see. Locals pattered down the alleys bartering for the best-quality fruits and vegetables. I got to practice some bartering myself. Pharmacies under construction were on every corner; Her sister’s pharmacy was one of them. I got to sit in the front, speaking to customers who were expats. My grandparents’ 5-storied flat needed constant cleaning, because street dust flew through the opened windows and settled on the green floor. I got on my knees to scrub the floors.
Her life somewhat became my life. “This is what my life would have been like if I was born in Vietnam,” I thought to myself. It was not necessarily better or worse than my current life, but it was clearly different than the lifestyle I wanted.
After a long day of work, we rested in the hammocks in the kitchen. Mo Moui asked me, “Would you ever want to marry a Vietnamese boy and move here?”
“No, I wouldn’t want to live here.”
“Life for a woman here is hard work. You get on your knees to scrub the floors, but we use a Swifter. You also hang dry your clothes, but in the U.S. I just throw the clothes in the dryer.”
She laughed at me, teeth showing-something taboo for a Vietnamese woman, according to Grandpa – because the perception that Americans have it “good” was true. She was expected to stay home and take care of the family, while my uncle worked. She didn’t have the tools to ease the physical labor. I took all those things for granted.
“I’m so spoiled,” I self-reflected.
If my parents hadn’t escaped from Vietnam in 1975, I wouldn’t have been born in the United States, and I might not even have the choice to have a profession. They provided me the life that they couldn’t have in their home town and abandoned their comfortability.
2.5 months prior, I flew to Vietnam to run from my life and away from the home my parents created. In the end, I unexpectedly found that I want to return to the U.S. and be a part of my family. My life and view was forever changed.