It has been 7 months already since I arrived the US. Just 10 days ago, my friends & I enjoyed the road trip through national parks together. Now, we are going in different directions. Life is funny. People meet, stay together then separate. I wonder whether they are thinking of the trip like me at this moment.
One of my purposes when traveling to America is to hike to giant mountains, wander along vast deserts and wild valleys which lead me to nowhere to get the feeling of freedom. That was why I decided to do a road trip with friends from CS.
We did not organize well except trying to rent a good car which has enough space for 5 people to sit and sing together. Ben is from England, Alina from Germany, Angelika from Poland and Aurel from France. I sometimes felt lost because only I am from Asia. However, that did not bother me too much because they all loved and respected me. When I felt useless because I did not know how to drive a car, Ben tried to cheer me up by saying “Linh, you are the leader, if you did not make a fire for this trip, we would not be here together.”
A night when we stopped at Yosemite for camping, Ben had an idea to play a game. Each player was given 9 small slips of paper. Everyone had to write down a celebrity name on each slip. Names must be well known to players including real people in history, fictitious characters, movie stars, famous animals, etc. Players were required to not reveal the names that were written. We placed all of the finished slips into a bowl. Each member of a team respectively grabbed a slip from the bowl, used verbal clues to describe the celebrity name on the slip, and tried to get his or her team to correctly guess the name. Once the name was guessed correctly, 1 point was earned.
We divided people into two teams. Ben, Alina and I were in team A, Aurel and Angelika were in team B. I took the last turn, which means that there were just a few slips of paper left in the bowl. The difficult thing is that I realized I knew nothing about the world. I did not know what movies Jennifer made, what songs made Britney Spears famous, who Tiger Woods and Michael Johnson are. When I picked the slip with the name “Garfield”, I did not know how to describe and just stood to wait for the time to pass. Alina encouraged me: “Linh, if you do not know who they are, just tell me that is a man or a woman so I can guess”. I replied to Alina that I didn’t even know it it was a man or a woman (in fact, Garfield is the name of a cat – a fictional character from the comic strip Garfield created by Jim Davis). Alina laughed at me and said: “What! you don’t even know that is a man or a woman by looking at the name?”. My face turned red.
That night, I did not sleep well. Alina’s laugh was always surrounded and obsessed me. However, it was not Alina’s fault. She, Ben, Angelika and Aurel were not born and raised up in Vietnam where a day’s wage of middle class just equals an hour’s wage of the lower class in Europe. When Angelika and Aurel were enjoying the movie Garfield, my world was painted by fairy tales told by my grandfather. When Ben was a 17-year-old boy traveling around the world, I was just a little girl running along the fields after war collecting shell casings to make money. When Alina was spending time watching sports competitions, my job every day was to follow my mother to the market selling milk. I didn’t even have free time to learn about Conan, Harry Porter, Doraemon. When I got into college, I started writing books for children. I promised myself that if I did not have opportunities to read books like others, I must be an author writing books for them.
I remember the day Daniel taught me English, he asked me about Gandhi & Luther King and was very surprised when I shared that Vietnamese schools do not teach their students about these famous men. Yes, I grew up in a country where people are not allowed to hate our presidents and historical textbooks just talk about the Vietnam war. Students are taught how to remember every single word in those books without understanding what guerrilla warfare is.
The game over, my team was badly beaten. Definitely, it was my fault. I felt ashamed because of that. I even felt more when looking at my facebook page, googling my name in Vietnamese. There are thousands of young Vietnamese admiring me, there are bunches of articles praising me. However, who am I when standing next to friends from other countries?
To my international friends: I want to say thank you to you, who did not judge me when looking my background, always tried to help me to fulfill myself day by day. How many young Vietnamese people are lucky enough to get out of the country and go and see the world like me? Why after so many years, is my country still here where the world does not even know its name?
To the Vietnamese youth, who want to go far in the future: I know that it is not fair for us when being born and growing up in such a poor country that others might not know. However, the world never stays there to recognize our names. We need to go to write down our names on it. Therefore, let’s get out of your comfort zone, go to see the world through your own eyes.
To other Vietnamese people, who have lived and suffered greatly from the Vietnam war: I know that we had to experience a very difficult time in the past. However, if we, ourselves once stepped on a pile of shit, please do not let our children step on it again. Please!….
Vo My Linh