It was Old Boy's cleaner's birthday. I was invited to her party. At first I rejected because I knew what would follow. Everyone was pretty persistent on my presence. Everything that made me hesitant about going happened.
This restaurant was a very down to earth commoner place. There weren't many tables around and the food was especially medicore. The lack of protein and over saltiness meant to get the patrons drunk confirmed it. When I arrived, everyone was already drunk. Dudes were hunched over barely able to keep awake. Everyone was shouting. They were forced to shout because the music was unbearably loud. Like clubbing music loud, but way more annoying. I was forced to eat with my ears plugged.
Old Boy was doing his best to blend in. The men embraced his presence. They tried to converse with him, but conversations were limited. They went as far as how old everyone was, if he was Korean, and if he was married. I was feeling like I could have been anyone else. The birthday girl was busy putting ice into everyone's drinks. WTF! Don't work on your birthday, Vietnam!! The lack of depth in the conversations bothered me. I can't stand most drunk people. Fortunately, one dude started dancing and others joined in. I even joined in for a bit until I felt the sweat of those drunk guys on me. Old Boy had a blast to say the least. He was pretty drunk.
Then out of nowhere the most sober guy asked me what was the matter with me and why didn't I drink? I told him that I didn't like the taste of beer. He asked me if I was a woman. I said absolutely. The tension was sky high. By now he was eyeing me and I stood up. He said that I couldn't hang out with him because the lack of drinking meant that I was disrespecting him. I was fine with that. He took his drink and attempted to do 1,2,3 YOOOO. I looked at him with glaring eyes. He told me that he didn't care if I thought I was American. I'm still Vietnamese and Vietnamese men drink. He pointed over at a traditional guitar and asked me if I knew the name of it in Vietnamese. I said no. He gave me this look of, "What the hell is wrong with you."
This happens to me all the time. I was expecting this. This is why I don't hang out with local men often. There's always a constant tension or invisible barriers that keep us from really being real friends. I'm not interested in making acquaintances. I don't want single serving friends. The locals don't really see me as a foreigner. They see me as some dude who lost his roots for trivial aspects such as knowing the names of certain instruments or knowing certain rituals that I would have never been exposed to in America. This is really upsetting to me because I feel like compared to the Vietnamese people that I grew up with, I know more about Vietnam and its culture than they'll ever know. One of my Vietnamese friends didn't even know what Viet kieu means! Hell, many of them haven't even been to Vietnam. The men here are so afraid of losing face that they'll do anything to bring me down closer to their level. They don't like the fact that I'm Viet kieu, because there's a negative stigma here about not being a FOB. It's not really about being a Viet kieu, it's more about the fact that they think I am pretending to be whitewashed. Can I help it if I make it a point to wear deodorant daily? Can I help it if I make sure my pinky nail isn't absurdly long enough to pick my rectum? The truth is, I am. There's no questioning that I'm a product of where I grew up. But at the same time, I'm so Vietnamese. A lot of locals can't wrap their brains around that. You're ethnically Vietnamese, but culturally you're more American? But your eyes aint blue!? HAAAAA?
The man continued on about how I don't smoke or drink and where does all my money go then. I know it's just an expression people use here. I told him it was none of his business. Old Boy said that all three of us should just hang out more often. The man crassly said that he doesn't want to hang out with me because I don't drink. This isn't the first time, and I'm as sure as hell bent on trying to make it the last time that this will ever happen to me again. Maybe it's me? Maybe it's the fact that I spoke English with Old Boy. Maybe it's the way I talk with my hands. No matter what, I can't help but resent this notion about my existence here in the motherland. I also hate it when people say that I mat goc or lost my roots. There are certain things about this culture that I don't know. I don't know everything. I'm not pretending that I don't know to be more white!!
Sometimes people here will take a different route about my lack of complete Vietnamese knowledge, and they'll proceed to blame it on my parents. When I was growing up my parents were working so hard to make ends meet that they had no time to talk about the past with me. My parents wanted to ensure that I spoke English properly. They didn't want me to think about Vietnam because that was in the past. My parents did everything they could to assimilate me in a country that they fought so hard survive in. The only thing about Vietnam that was relevant to us was discussions about family there. My parents shared stories with me about our family and about people that mattered. The only intentions my parents had with bringing me to Vietnam for the first time back in the 9th grade was for me to meet my grandparents.They didn't have time to tell me things that just weren't relevant to our daily struggle in America, such as funeral traditions or vocabulary about trivial shit. So for someone to blame it on my parents, makes me feel like I should turn the very table that they're eating on upside down.
Needless to say, the food was shit.