November 8, PRAGUE—I consider myself to be quite an avid sleeper. Therefore, when I naturally awakened at 5 AM on a Wednesday morning, I knew something quite out-of-the-ordinary was going to happen today. And it certainly did not feel like the good kind of the unordinary.
Vietnam has been flooded. More than 80 people were killed, and 26 have gone missing in a flood caused by Tropical Cyclone Damrey. Nearly 120,000 homes have been ruined. 10,000 hectares of rice and more than 15,000 hectares of vegetables were flooded. All of these would have just been numbers, somewhat detached from my own existence, they exist as mere symbols to convey a piece of information that feels mathematical and, therefore, cold.
I then, however, received this photo of my great-uncle via Facebook Messenger:
It is a photo of an 88-year-old wounded-in-war veteran, who lives in a district called Duy Xuyên. He was the one to raise my Dad, my favourite person in the entire world, after my grandfather died in the Vietnam War when my Dad was a child.
And it has stirred up all the emotions that one can feel at once, I am certain of it. As I wiped away tears that happened to suddenly stream down my face, I was once again reminded in a beautiful way how amazing it felt to be alive; to be human.
Lately, I have been thinking quite a bit about what made me Vietnamese, apart from the obvious answer: my looks. I couldn’t figure it out but I knew I had the answer. And maybe that’s it. If I omit the opinions that I have acquired from the surrounding environment during my upbringing, Vietnam, simply enough, runs in my DNA. All my ancestors are, in fact, Vietnamese or, at least, Asian. And I carry their history in my body, it is as wonderfully simple as that. As a melancholic, I also feel a certain level of sadness for being so distant from the country where I probably would have been raised, had the circumstances been different. Migration has been a natural process throughout the history of mankind, but there happen to be certain, heavy-feeling, consequences that go hand in hand with it.
On a visit to my great-uncle’s earlier this year, he couldn’t quite remember who my sister and I were. Nonetheless, there was a certain sense of familiarity in the air. And under his confused facial expression, you could tell he recognized us, even if it was not in his mind, not bound to his memory. This article is somewhat of a subtle ode to family bonds and the unconditional love that comes with it.
And just as the big water was a sign of a great cleanse for the Vietnamese nation, the photo of my dear great-uncle – practically my only living relative from the generation of my grandparents – managed to cleanse my soul, through the tears of deep connection to the land of my roots, and it finally shook me out of the compassion fatigue I had been feeling for months.
The author of this article is of Vietnamese descent, however, she was born and raised in Prague. Her parents decided to pursue a future in what was then Czechoslovakia, where they moved in 1981 to study at a university. Born in 1995, she speaks both Czech and Vietnamese, and except for her close family members (sister, mother, father), the rest of her family either still resides in Vietnam, or they had moved to the United States. She has recently co-created, along with her colleague Nhung Dang, a documentary-theatre play on the topic of identity.
Source of the feature (illustrative) photo.
Written by Huyen Vi Tranová.