This morning, my second-year students were informed that I was leaving Vietnam in December. Apparently it had never crossed their minds before. They learned this right before they had listening and speaking with me. So as I walked towards the classroom, where several were loitering around the door, they asked me if it was true. I told them it was true. “Why can’t you stay here forever?” they asked. I told them that I need to see my family and friends at home.
“You can call them,” they said.
“You can used the internet.”
“You can write to them.” I told them that I had to go home and see my family and friends, not just talk and write to them. Then, of course, the next question was “Will you come back to Vietnam?”
“Maybe,” I said.
“Not maybe,” one said. “Promise.”
“I hope so.” It was all that I could say.
I woke up from my nap this afternoon and got my red pen for grading and started walking down the stairs to my motorbike. As I was descending the stairs, I heard a song being sung from the music building. In terms of buildings near our guesthouse, we have the garage, and then beyond that, the music building where the choir sings. But this song had a very familiar melody. I knew it from somewhere. I took a detour at the bottom of the stairs and walked towards the music building. Yes, I knew the tune of this song, but I couldn’t make out any of the words. The words were different in the version I knew. I knew the tune though, it was “The Star Spangled Banner.” I walked out and stood around the corner from the music building and stood there until the song ended. I never did make out any of the words. As I was climbing on the motorbike, I heard the choir start to sing this peculiar song again.
There is a saying in this country that has come to have an influence on me during my time here. I like to translate it like this: “When you drink water, remember the source.” It’s easy to pass if off when you first hear it, or regard it as inconsequential, or something cutely trivial even. It’s easy to disregard it when you’re young and rebellious and want everyone that you can survive on your own. It’s something that most Americans, at least the way I see it, don’t think about. “When you drink water, remember the source.” What is this source? Does it symbolize something? If so, what? Is this a reminder not to pollute? I think that it has a profound meaning: remember what sustains you, remember where you came from, remember your roots. Actually, the Vietnamese is only four words: “Drink water, remember source.” It’s an imperative, an order, something that you must do. As you live your life, remember your family, remember your ancestors, remember your homeland. The meaning sends electricity through me when I say it. If there is one valuable thing that I’ll be taking away from this culture, it will be the things associated with this phrase. It’s unspoken most of the time here; I’ve never heard people here talk about it unless I’ve brought it up. However, for most people here, it seems to encompass most aspects of their lives.
The values that I’ve been brought up on and known for most of my life in North America are completely different. Things like rebellion, expression, roaming, etc. seem to have a lot of value placed on them. Friends from college have scattered throughout America and the world like fallout from a bomb, including me. I’ve enjoyed reading On the Road numerous times. However, now I’ve had some time here, and I am remembering the source of my life: my family, and Ohio.