by Lynn Kim Do

Faces Of Vietnam

This is my third time in Vietnam. My first time was when I was 8 years old, the next time was when I was 23 years old. And now as a 26 year old. And somehow, they have all felt so incredibly different. And I don’t mean “different” in cityscapes, development, and economic display in Vietnam. That’s a given. I mean, I become different. I think Vietnam has always been a huge metaphorical benchmark in my life. When I was 8 years old, I distinctively remember being pulled away from my mother’s arm by my father to head back home to New Jersey (my mother and brothers were going to spend an extra week in Vietnam and I was cuckholded by the American education system aka I could only miss 14 days of school so was returning home early with my father) and she said, “Do not let anyone at home bully you.” That phrase alone holds many context. Before that moment, Lynn Do was a pushover. I was always bullied by my cousins. I always did what I was told. I barely spoke up or spoke at all. I held in my tears at any given moment. I swallowed the bullying and belittling just so I could be apart of the play circle, to fit in, to belong. But after that moment in the airport, I remember my mother’s voice, her curly locks pulled to the back of her head, the warm humidity in the air. And somehow, something inside me just changed, like a switch had went off. And after that moment, Lynn Do began a journey that led me to become the person that I am now — assertive, opinionated, a self-proclaimed bitch. The next time I went to Vietnam, I was an adult. I came to Vietnam with a huge internal purpose that I dared not share with anyone including my mother. I wanted to speak to my grandmother, the only living relative of my father’s, on a sensitive topic. I needed to understand why my father is the way that he is. Why he could fuel an unhealthy gambling addiction with very little regard to his family? Why he had the worst track record on reliability and stability? Why he couldn’t show me love like other father’s I’ve seen around me growing up. I remember sitting in front of my grandma on a plastic stool. I remember choosing my words wisely, navigating through the language barrier and communicating to my grandma with the little Vietnamese that I knew, without hesitation to not come off offensive or letting on to my purpose. And my grandma whether she knew it to nor brought tremendous insight. My father is a man stunted by his harsh childhood and nonexistent stability or display, let alone connection, with “love” as I know it. And I was able to work on my path of forgiveness.

This time, Vietnam showed me my people. I have only seen my people through America’s eyes. Through American upbringing. I don’t know Vietnamese. I’ve only known Vietnamese Americans. This time, I went up north to Hanoi. The “American South” to Vietnam. The Texas or North Carolina, if you will. I wanted to experience Vietnam in a new understanding from the ones I had before. I can’t deny that I don’t have true Vietnamese insight. I can only see it through voyeuristic eyes, half in, half out. And what have I learned? In my stillness back home in New York City, I realize I’m still putting together all the knowledge and wisdom attained in this trip together. Sorting through visuals, faces, smiles, laughter, taste, and smell. But what I have put together is that Vietnam is a country that is resilient in it’s unpredictability, in it’s chaos, in it’s adaptability. I think these characteristics run rapidly through every Vietnamese’s vein. I see it in the grandmother selling oranges on the street. Or the Minnesota born Vietnamese American who decided to uplift his life to move to Vietnam and pursue his dreams at Public Relations (I met him at a bar in Hanoi). I see it in my mother and her 26 years dedicated to raising 3 children practically alone in a world who called her a foreigner all while having fun. I see it in myself recently trying to not only ideate but create something out of nothing.

I love my motherland. I love the people, culture, and land that shaped my ancestors and my mother. I appreciate all the nuances — good and bad. Because it ultimately is the reason why we are so badass.

Images by Lynn Kim Do & Kristy Do