Time to go and Thoughts on the Packing Ritual

I'm sitting here at work but my head is anywhere but at work. In a few short hours I'll be boarding a plane to Vietnam, unless my friend jinxed us last night by telling us that her sister had to wait a full day in the airport because their flight was delayed.

We finished most of the packing last time, i.e. stuffing stuff into big boxes with the intent on distributing it to family members and needy people once we get there. For those of us who grew up in America, the things being sent are very... mundane. Sundry items one might find in a thrift store - a maternity dress from the 80's, a sparkly fiber optic flower with music, boxes of dầu xanh, toothbrushes, gloves, and don't forget the Fuji apples and seedless grapes.

I think it's a type of ritual. All of this stuff being send back, much of it second-hand clothing that is intended for the "huddled masses" in the Northern region of the country, seems to satisfy a longing in the sender more the recipient. Without making too broad a generalization, I think that many Vietnamese left their war-torn, famined, destitute homeland 25 - 30 years ago, but that image has never left them. I believe there might still be a hint of survivor guilt in those living here, especially when there are still family members living in "Vietnam." The urge to gửi đồ về, the constant drive to send things back to Vietnam perhaps originates from that guilt and a desire to redeem oneself from the sin of leaving Vietnam and not bringing the rest of the country with them.

I don't think this ritual stems out of need. On a comparative basis, my relatives-in-law in Vietnam live "better" lives than we do: a maid to cook and clean, frequent vacations around Asia, and an army of people in America ready to send "American" merchandise at the drop of a hat: candy and chocolates, Levi and Old Navy, Legos for the kids. Although there doesn't seem to be a "need" for these things, the expectation is definitely there. From what I hear, some families don't want all of that stuff, they just want American cash. Lots of it.

So the ritual of packing a bunch of stuff every time someone goes back to Vietnam might have two purposes: a cleansing of guilt that all travelers must pass through in order to be fit to enter the "homeland," and a tribute to those "stuck" in Vietnam.

1 comment:

Jennie said...

I love that picture of the airplane -- I can just imagine you and your family in a cute little plane like that all the way to Viet Nam =).

I don't have any relatives remaining in Viet Nam, but the ritual sounds fun and cleansing in several ways ("Spring" cleaning and conscious cleaning). I guess it's inevitable to feel guilt about the discrepancies between living in America and Viet Nam. But like you said, the contrast probably isn't as drastic as to need to compensate for it on a "need" basis.

Hope you're having fun in Viet Nam! I'm jealous!

travel log
  • 02.13.08 - to the temple with Luan and his mom, good to be back
  • 02.14.08 - Mẫu's alive! and staying for the weekend
  • 02.15.08 - floor hockey and Thái food makes for some strange dreams
  • 02.17.08 - frisbee and swamp monster at the park: fun but I'm pooped!
  • 02.19.08 - just read Triết's response to my last post - game on!
  • 02.20.08 - raining and expected to continue through Sunday - thank goodness!
  • 02.21.08 - 3-hour nap is a bad idea right before bed
  • 02.23.08 - to the beach to watch kites, a baptism @ 5pm, and homemade bulgogi - what a day!
  • 02.25.08 - just gave myself a haircut - woo, cold head!
  • 02.26.08 - 75° and spring cleaning - couldn't feel better
  • 02.27.08 - fed the elders bún đậu tonight - think it's their first time
  • 03.01.08 - working on new background...
  • 03.02.08 - finalized javascript to change background without muffing up my other scripts
  • 03.03.08 - fhe: "In his strength I can do all things" (Alma 26:12)
  • 03.07.08 - some decisions are harder than others, but some are downright excruciating
  • 03.08.08 - there is life after work... i almost forgot
  • 03.11.08 - the distance between good and bad is much shorter than between better and best
  • 03.12.08 - conversion is sometimes a gradual process, so much so that we don't even notice
  • 03.14.08 - for some reason everything was a little harder today, looking forward for bed!
  • 03.15.08 - last night after blog reading, I missed OnlyBlue, today I find she's back
  • 03.16.08 - best day of my life!
  • 03.19.08 - "Pray for the answer that they've been looking for"
release notes v1.0 - FINALLY DONE!
  • 12.07 - first thought of starting a new blog
  • 01.08 - busy with election stuff but blog design still on back burner
  • 01.13.08 - first idea to imitate jk rowling with the "desk" theme
  • 01.28.08 - start sketching current design, breaking down development into phases
  • 02.02.08 - election only days away but still drafting final plans
  • 02.04.08 - v0.6 LAUNCH
    • main components (blog body, sidebar, header, etc) designed and implemented
    • styling for font, links, drop caps, etc. finished
  • 02.07.08 - v0.8 LAUNCH
    • image style to imitate polariod
    • moveability - post-it notes and static clings can be repositioned by drag and drop
    • release notes styled and written
  • 02.16.08 - travel log (beta) added in hopes of catching the mundane
  • 02.22.08 - lightbox 2.03 reinstalled and working fine (hopefully - let me know otherwise)
  • 02.26.08 - v0.9 LAUNCH
    • travel log seems to be working, so I'll keep it
    • lightbox also seems to have passed the test, so it's a keeper
    • some credits/info added to bottom (will expand)
    • keeping old Viet terms in archive for future viewing
  • 03.18.08 - v1.0 LAUNCH
    • installation and testing of time-sensitive background completed (for now)