Tet is known as the biggest holiday in Vietnam and it is a time for everyone to return home to unite with their families after a year of hard work. However, many Vietnamese youths are stressed out by Tet because many people will ask: when will you get married?
Vietnamese tradition indicates that the 3 most important things in life are: having a buffalo, getting married and building a house. (In darker days, a buffalo is very important for every family because wet rice agriculture – the major economic activity of Vietnamese people, requires having buffaloes to plow fields.)
Everyone in their twenties has to think seriously about their future spouse. Vietnamese people seem not to care about whether you are successful or if you are happy. If you do not get a good job, that is still okay. If you are stressed out, it does not bother them too much. However, if you are twenty-something and still not married, that is a problem. And if you are successful and still not married, that is a very big problem.
As an unusual woman, who has not lived with my parents since I was 6, I have never faced the question about marriage. Whether my parents did not care about me or acknowledged that they do not have a right to interfere in my life, I am still a lucky one. However, my brother, who is two years older than me, is absolutely not.
My brother is my parents’ only son. In Vietnamese culture, the reputation of a family depends on the success of their sons and that is why my parents have always cared about him. My father started forcing him to study hard when he was six (I was 4 at that time). In contrast, my brother had no interest in studying. One day, my father found out that my brother played hooky with other kids. He was very angry and beat my brother. After that my brother never dared to cut class.
However, the hard thrashing scared him, obsessed him even during his sleep. If he got low scores, he got beaten. As a result, he became quiet and slow on the uptake. Teachers said that he seemed a dull-looking child.
When I was 6, my parents went bankrupt. They left me in Hue and took my brother and my sister with them. When I was 14, I got a chance to reunite with them. My brother, at that time, could not pass grade 8. One day when I got back from school, my father called me and my brother to sit in front of him. He said: “You know well how much I love you. Therefore, if you want to continue your study, I will support as much as I can even if you need me to sell my kidney. However, if you do not want to study, I will not force you anymore. Your lives are yours, not mines. I want to give you freedom.”
The next day, my brother decided to quit school. He left my hometown to go to Ho Chi Minh city where he would stay with my father’s cousin and follow his dream of fixing motorbikes. He quickly became a connoisseur, got a job, survived and everyone loved him due to his kind character.
A few years later, my father found out that although my brother was sedulous he could not save money. He decided to call my brother back home to help grow rubber trees. My brother returned home, worked as a technician in a motorbike shop nearby and spent time helping my father.
One thing I love about my brother is his kindness. I still remember he gave me all the money that he had made after a week working as a grass cutter to help me buy a calculator for my math class. That is why I love Vietnamese culture. People in the family try to support each other as much as they can, and that is what the word “family” means.
One day when I was interviewing a celebrity (my job was a journalist), my mother called me announcing that my brother was going to get married. The bride was younger than me, good looking, from a well-off family and had graduated from a good college in my hometown. It is unusual for a woman to marry a man who is poorer than her.
My parents were really happy. How could they not be happy when their son, who was supposed to be a dull-looking child, had a chance to marry a good bride? They believed that getting married would help my brother be more mature. Most Vietnamese people think that way. They assume that when someone gets married, the person knows that they have to be responsible for their families. Therefore, they would work hard to save money and take care of the family.
The day I got home to attend my brother’s wedding, my uncle asked me about my feelings. I said I wondered whether the bride knew that staying with my family was completely different from staying with her family. I was concerned about my brother as well. In my eyes, he still was not mature enough and did not know how hard it was to be a husband is. I also recognized that getting married was not what my brother really wanted. He just had a girlfriend and my parents wanted him to get married. My uncle laughed. He said, “God created the elephants and God created grass.” It means that people know how to adapt to a new situation using their natural instincts and therefore, my brother would know how to be a better man.
What I worried about quickly became true. A year after getting married, they had a kid. My brother quit the job as a fixer and started a new project on our own farm. One day when I visited home, my mom was in tears. She said the couple was usually contentious and my sister-in-law was often vituperated her husband. Through talking to her, I realized that the conflict proliferated from the disappointment the wife had in the husband who could not afford his wife.
“Hi sis, you knew that my parents and my brother were not prosperous. My brother is also not one to stay at home and do nothing. He is now on the farm, growing plants with the hope of getting a better future. He works even during the night, sleeps in a hammock. If you believe in a better future, let’s support him. If you cannot bear anymore, you know what you want to do,” I said.
The woman was quiescence. I did not have a chance to talk to her again.
Recently, my sister told me that my brother got divorced. She said he was in tears on the day he signed the divorce agreement as he loved his daughter so much. He is now working harder to support his daughter.
This Tet, my parents were not happy at all. Having divorced children is a shame for most Vietnamese people. Everyone kept silent in the house which was already silent. I wonder, did they ever think about this possibility on the day they told my brother to get married…