Personal Perspectives: Vietnam

Personal Perspectives: Vietnam

Personal Perspectives: Vietnam

Patricia Pham

The scorching air of the Vietnam countryside stunk of oxen droppings and fish. Flies buzzed in my ears as I staggered along a dirt road, narrowly avoiding the oversized trucks recklessly swerving past me.

The heels of my Gucci stilettos sank into the warm muck and I stumbled out of them. I turned around and cursed under my breath as I picked them up and shook them violently, sending feces across the road. My frustration didn’t seem to faze my mother who was walking 30 feet ahead of me. The sun was at high noon and my skin felt as if it were on fire, burning and peeling itself away from my bones. The blisters on my feet were pulsating with pain, the insect bites all over my body ready to explode. The veering trucks flew by, sending clouds of pebbles and dust into my hair and face. I wanted to scream.

I wondered if my mother even noticed I was lagging. I began shouting toward her, asking why we hadn’t taken the bus or a taxi, telling her she was inconsiderate for making us walk to God-knows-where in this stifling heat. She had no response and continued walking, and my bitter inner dialogue began: “I hate this place.”

I stared at the back of my mother’s hat bobbing side to side. We were so different it was difficult to believe I spawned from her. She was a strange stranger to me at times. I had the urge to take my shoe and chuck it at her and then wave down a passing truck.

We finally found shade at a roadside café, complete with bright pink, plastic chairs. Two men, dressed in dirty shorts and sweaty tank tops, were eager to serve us. One of the men pulled out a half melted chair and gestured for me to sit. I shook my head and took a different chair on the opposite side. We ordered two coconuts that the men fetched from a nearby tree and began to saw off the tops. My mother took off her sunglasses and asked if I was all right. I shook my head. I looked at her eyes, the same as mine, brown and deep. Brown and deep like every other Asian person in the world. I resented the color of my eyes. So ordinary. Just brown. I looked down at my feet, calloused, blistered, and brown from dirt and droppings. My mother began to sing absentmindedly, gazing off into the distant rice fields, as if having a pleasant dream. I took a sip out of my coconut but spat the warm juice out. A teenage boy made his way up to our table and offered us lottery tickets but I shooed him away.

Suddenly, there was a small voice.

I looked down to see a small girl of about six. She had deep, brown eyes. 

In a very tiny voice, she asked to wash the dirt off of my shoes.  I looked at her curiously, not knowing what to say, not really knowing what she was doing. She cupped water out of her pail into her tiny little hands.  She bent down and wiped some of the mud away, then poured a bit more water.  Behind my sunglasses, I saw that the little girl’s hands were oddly jointed, bending at awkward angles, and on one hand, her fingers deformed into a mass blob of tissue and bone.  There were red circular welts up and down her tiny arms and legs, some oozing a yellow puss. 

I began to feel sick.

I took off my sunglasses and felt the heat hit my eyes.  The girl finished and looked up with the same deep, brown eyes.  For a moment we stared at each other, and into ourselves.

She accepted some money and limped off into the hazy heat carrying her pail. I put my sunglasses back on to mask my foolishness as my mother began to sing that old song again. 

For once, I took in this lonely countryside view with its bombed out mountains, distant grazing oxen and the slight breeze through the palm trees. And I saw the true brilliance of my eyes.