The Vietnamese concept of ‘que huong”, or home village, is strong in Vietnamese culture. When making acquaintance with someone, a common question is, “que o dau?” or “where’s your home village?” Usually, it’s a tiny little place, where everyone knows everyone. Jameelah and I are in my village, Don Duong, where mist covers the base of the mountains every morning and evening, where pine and banana trees rise out of the hillsides and women wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. to set up their small shops at the village market. Here, life is simple. In fact, the villagers only update their Facebook page only once or twice a week.
There is not much to do here, but that’s the whole point of one’s home village. You are just there, partaking in the simple joys of family and existence. The aunts have been very welcoming. After the critical appraisals of my appearance (“marriage has made you fat”), they have been spending countless hours making vegan food for us. Wacky and delicious stuff like banana blossom salad or lotus roots braised with tofu in a clay pot.
Every morning, Jameelah and I walk to the village market, where the women stare at us. Jameelah has been here nearly a month, so they don’t stare much at her any more. I, meanwhile, am somewhat new, and Vietnamese people are not shy about staring and making comments. “That’s Le Dang’s son,” they whisper. “He just got married, and I think it made him fat.”
We have been really enjoying spending time with my little cousins, who are 8, 12, and 14. In the evenings, at 5, after the sunlight has faded and is more tolerable, they take their badminton rackets to the schoolyard and play. Sometimes they try to fly a kite. Their badminton skills are negligent and their kite never flies, but this spirit of childhood joy is persistent and contagious, and their energy is boundless. And that’s why I usually pretend to be asleep at 5 p.m.
At night, the monks at the temple next door finish their chanting, the lights die down, and the stars are brilliant. This is the only place I know where I can see the Milky Way. After dinner, the kids usually harass me to tell them stories. Unlike the kids in the U.S., the children here will gather around and sit enraptured as I spin stories from Grimm and Greek mythology. After two dozen stories, I couldn’t remember any more and had to resort to recalling plots of my favorite movies. They especially liked scary stories. “So then,” I said, “Malcolm came into the bathroom and saw that his wife was in the shower. He noticed a bottle of antidepressants. His obsession with helping this boy who sees dead people was costing him his marriage…”
After a few days, we left for the beach city of Nha Trang, where the ocean shifts colors from grey to turquoise to sapphire throughout the day. There, I paid visits to more relatives (“Your aunts from Don Duong called and said you gained a few kilos since getting married.”) We then went to the city of Da Lat, the city of poets, high up in the mountains, where the weather is very similar to Seattle’s. It got so cold at night that we had to buy a used jacket for 3 dollars at the black market.
Da Lat and Nha Trang are beautiful and full of life. But I, like most Vietnamese, are drawn to my home village. I’m glad to be back here, where I spent the first eight years of my life, playing among the banana trees, sending paper boats down rivulets of monsoon river colored red by the earth. Here, where I first–
Oh crap, it’s nearly 5 p.m. I better go hide from the cousins. I think they want to create more childhood memories.
Look, an easy-to-remember website: www.Jaggednoodles.com.