For a blog about a summer travel excursion, this probably seems like an odd posting, a dour sidetrack to an otherwise sunny and exciting adventure. Actually going to the funeral of a very distant relative here in Hue, however, made me remember one of the reasons I decided to come to Vietnam instead of some other country in Central America, or Europe or Africa. It's a reason so cliched that only Jhumpa Lahiri can write about it anymore without irony: I came, in part, to find my roots.
The language, the food, the very geography highlight the connections ripe for the making. Walking around Hue, certain characteristics about my family become clear. Hue is a city known for education. People love school here. Every slightly decaying French colonial building is a shrine to higher learning. Is it any wonder that my parent's highest aspiration for me and my sisters was to go on to graduate school of some kind? The food is elaborate, the people kind, formal and aloof. The landscape serenely beautiful, the kind that is easy to miss and long for in the deepest recesses of your heart. The longer we're here, the more details about my parents and my upbringing seem to snap into clearer focus.
Oh the language. This one thing is probably, and inevitably, what makes this root-finding business so difficult. The accent of Hue distinguishes it from every other region of Vietnam, and it has done an excellent job of distinguishing me to exclusion. I'm regarded as an oddity on a par with Holly and her big blue hat. I've lost the one thing that could make me feel at home in this city. Every word that I successfully scrabble for in the dark places of my brain, each phrase that I correctly piece together is greeted with moderated indifference. It's expected. Anything less and the questions begin to fly about why I haven't been studying my Vietnamese more back in America.
Any-hue....(sorry I couldn't resist) back to the title of this posting. This morning, we went to the funeral of my mother's cousins mother-in-law. This is roughly equivalent to our future children attending the funeral of Holly's cousin Macie's husband Kent's mother's funeral in Zimbabwe. But it's what my people do. We attend Mass, we sing, we cry, we chant and we remember. And we eat. I've seen this ritual carries out many times, but this time I got to see them where they were meant to be carried out, not 10000 miles away in a country where snow falls from the sky. The transplant is because of other things that my people do: we survive, adapt, and carry what we can. You lose some things, gain others. But you can find lost things sometimes, and maybe be better for the looking.