As some of you may know, I recently went on a month long trip to Viet Nam…And it was with my parents. I haven’t gone anywhere for that long with my parents since our last family trip to Viet Nam in 2011. I shared a room and a bed (luckily a queen size) with my mom at her family’s home in rural South Viet Nam. I spent more time with my parents in that one month than I probably had in the past 4 years.
Most 20-somethings that do travel, do so on their own or with a group of friends. Having had the opportunity to travel and study abroad just a bit over a year ago, led me to experience a new found independence and confidence that I never had before. I hadn’t travelled since then, and I was itching to go somewhere. So when my parents asked if I wanted to go to Viet Nam, I immediately said yes. I mean, hot summer weather and good food and celebrating Lunar New Year’s (Tet) for the first time in the motherland, sounds like a great way to escape the terrible Canadian winter. In my head, I only allowed myself to think briefly about the ~cool~ photos I could take, you know for the insta and about doing things like hiking and going to all these art galleries and museums for personal research in the big city (Saigon). Then, this weird idea formed before we left for our trip when people would start asking if I would travel outside of Viet Nam, or leave the South while on the trip. It felt like they were saying to me that at 22 years old and travelling to Asia, I should be doing a lot of ~really cool~ things which is in retrospect, stupid of me to be consumed by.
As my much-wiser-than-me, older sister said to me, “Travelling with mom and dad isn’t going to be the same as you travelled in Italy where you could do whatever you want.” And I got that. My parents don’t take vacations, they take trips with a purpose- for a wedding, or to visit family. My sister and I like to take trips to explore and enjoy it. I knew that the importance of the trip was to visit family members and celebrate New Year’s together, and I knew we would be staying in the South, but that weird idea that felt like FOMO (fear of missing out) was lingering.
Travelling during Tet meant that most of our family members were busy with their own families, so my cousins that were closer to my age were busy. It also meant that the days leading up to Tet were meant to stay at home to clean, pray, prepare offerings, visit relatives and doing that on both sides of the family. It was the first time I experienced Tet and all its traditions. In short, it is a lot of work but fun with all the excitement and flower markets. Travelling at this time also meant it was more difficult to get out of the house and see you know, things. You either go before celebrations or don’t go anywhere at all because after New Year’s it is literal madness everywhere, because everyone has time off work (see below).
That independence I spoke about earlier? It was pretty much non existent at first. I had to rely on family members to drive me on their honda or for cousins that were free to hang out with.
Some people might think: But you’re 22, you’re old enough to do things on your own. You’re damn right, but the dynamics of this trip were different. It was a family trip with the purpose of being with family. Part of me resisted this independence loss, the other part accepted it once I stopped criticizing myself for being dependent on others. When you’re travelling with your parents to your motherland and you don’t know the language fluently, it puts you at risk. I was not allowed to go on my own for safety. If I was fluent, this would have been a completely different experience. But I am also a visible target, before opening my mouth people can look at me and tell I’m not from there (and on top of being female and in a country where there’s more crime than the West knows about). Same thing goes for my parents, even though they grew up there, people can tell they’re from the “outside”.
So this was a huge bummer at first, but once I accepted this, my thinking was that it would be a good time to just spend time with family members and take everything in. And I was right.
At first, I had thought about myself and my wants, and I let go of the idea that the trip needed to be action packed, that we always had to be doing something or going somewhere. Once I let go of this weird expectation, I felt less anxious and I was able to to truly realize that this trip was about my parents and it was for my parents and it was particularly for my mom. Making sure she was happy because this was the first time in 36 years that she would be home for Tet. So it was important for her to spend time with all her siblings (she’s the youngest of 13!).
There were days we stayed at home and I allowed myself to feel bored and not feel bad about it. I appreciated that I was able to go on a tour of the Middle of Viet Nam and glad that I convinced my mom to do a tour for the first time in her life. And I’m so thankful for the days I spent with my cousins that showed me around the cities my parents are from. Looking back, I appreciate those lazy days at home or on the farm, and helping my aunt and uncle where I could, learning more about their lifestyles. I found enjoyment in other things like getting to know my relatives better by listening to their stories and just enjoying things slowly day by day. It also really helped when I turned to writing, sketching, photographing, and brainstorming ideas when I had all that time to myself.
This trip helped me see my parents as more than just my parents. It sounds silly, but when I asked my mom more about what she was like when she was younger or who she hung out with, it was like a light bulb went off saying, “Oh yeah, my parents were their own persons too before they became Mom and Dad to me.” And that was refreshing to think about.
I don’t know when I would get a chance to take a family trip with my parents again. We got on each other’s nerves as it wasn’t always sunshine, but reflecting on the positives and what I learned about myself and them, as well as the understanding I gained about our entire family dynamics and traditions, made me grateful I got to go back to Viet Nam with my parents.
There’s only selfies because it’s superstition in Viet Nam to take pictures of just 3 people meaning bad luck for the person in the middle #themoreyouknow