Hien, my airB&B host, invites me to a family dinner, a feast on the anniversary of his father’s passing. this is done annually, this kind of remembrance, called a death anniversary.
there is nonstop cooking for two days, and then Hien’s family fills the main room of the house. I sit quietly and eat at a table of women, next to Hien’s wife, Hoa. aside from light conversation with Hien and Hoa, I am a silent listener. most of the talk is in Vietnamese, of course, so I smile and try to look grateful. the women smile back as they fill and refill my bowl: spring rolls, prawns, green papaya salad, boiled chicken, sauteed greens, smoked ham, mushroom soup. it is all incredible.
when I notice everyone looking at me, Hien tells me they say I look very young. “18,” he says. I shake my head – no, no, no. I tell Hien that I’m 28, and my birthday has just passed. he says, “ah, 1987,” and he tells me in the Vietnamese zodiac this is the year of the cat, and that his mother is the year of the cat, too.
after dinner we sit and drink tea and eat watermelon. I’m left wishing I could express all the gratitude I feel – how honored I am to sit at the table with them. but even without the language barrier I don’t think words would be enough.