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The Burning Question, or The Big-Mouthed Vietnamese

Compared to Laos (the most bombed country in the world) and Cambodia (land of the “Killing Fields”), the Vietnamese have done quite well “forgetting the past, so that they can focus on the future,” as our guide mentioned.

I’ve been quite impressed with how modern and prosperous (relative to other SE Asian countries) Vietnam  is, and seeing a communist country like this embrace capitalism and flourish makes you wonder if communism is really all that bad.  But I digress.

Anyhow, so with Vietnam’s more progressive culture also comes a cheekiness that has amused Mom and Dad Sale, Tim and me.  We’ve been taken aback by the Vietnamese’s inquiries about our personal lives as well as unapologetic and constant glaring.

I noticed that during our border crossing trip from Cambodia to Vietnam, the staring and questioning was becoming more prevalent.  Although I get stared at by pretty much every local here, the situation is even more common  in Vietnam.

Ok, I get it:   You don’t  know what to make out of the giant Asian (I am twice as tall as everybody else and wear XXL here) who wears shorts (we’ve been told that real Asians don’t wear shorts), sometimes sits with her legs wide open, and walks around with a white man (the local women, in particular, cover their open mouths in surprise as they repeatedly ask me “HE is your husband?” as if I wouldn’t know how to pick out my own husband in the  middle of the other hundreds of white men here).Another topic of much interest and debate is my heritage.   In Korea I had people affirm with great conviction that I, indeed, look Korean.  In Thailand, they decided that I was Thai and Diesel was one of those foreigners who snagged me from the slums of Bangkok and brought me to America to give me a better life and enjoy being married to a subservient Asian. Other SE Asians shamelessly stare at me with genuine curiosity while they play a guessing game.  At the Laos/Cambodia border, all I heard was one of the border guards point at me and say:  “Korean.”  30 seconds later:  “No, Japanese,” and then finally “Oh, I think Chinese.”  As if I weren’t even there.  In Laos, people were a bit more reserved and tried to uncover my ancestry in a more subtle way. In Cambodia, most locals would correctly guess that I was Chinese, but for the life of them, they could not bring themselves to accept the fact that I had married a white man.

And this brings us to Vietnam, where small talk immediately starts out with some very personal questions.  However,  I must admit  that the unfiltered inquiries are directed to all of us, starting with one of our golf caddies straight up asking Dad Sale how old he was to asking Tim and I when we are going to have kids.  But almost unanimously, the burning question  is:  “Where are you from?”  When the Sales answer “America,” the Vietnamese seem to take them for their word, but just as they are nodding  their heads in acknowledgment, they glare at me suspiciously.  Pointing at me, they ask the Sales:  “but she…” and seem to think that I don’t speak English.  I also have an inkling that several of them think Diesel bought me from a poor family while traveling in the area.  Other than that, they are happy to give the Sales insights about me (like how my skin is nice, to which Diesel replied “she uses Proactive”), even though I’m standing right next to them and can hear the conversation really well…heck, most times I’m even participating IN the conversation.

The highlight of all this circus was tonight, when Diesel finally got measured for his custom-made suit.  The four cute girls who worked at the store smiled at him.  Me?  The girls interrogated me about my ancestry, age and get this, one of them PETTED me, even though she was probably 18 years-old and half my size!!!  I don’t know if I should feel indignant or flattered, because after all, they seemed to think I was rather “cute.”  But a monkey is cute, and so is a pig.

I told mom, dad and Tim that starting tomorrow I will wear a big sign around my neck that says “YES, I’M CHINESE.”  This will at least take care of the burning question.  As for the cute ladies at the tailor shop, tomorrow I will grace them again with my most bizarre kind of Asianness when we return to  pick up Diesel’s suit.  I’ll report back on the “Yes, I’m Chinese” sign that I’ll be wearing.


5 Responses

  1. Hey Kelly, don’t worry, you aren’t the only one that happens to. I’m a big asian guy and if you hadn’t noticed, there just aren’t that many of those in Vietnam. I even got the, “he must be a sumo wrestler from Japan!”
    Yes, asian people don’t seem to have much shame when it comes to these things and yes, every SE asian country I went to, I heard a lot of talk as well. At first, a little annoying but after a while, I just made up crazy stories to feed their future story-telling….call it, building my legend! haha

  2. You could always make up countries! Or tell them you’re tall because you have SIDS.

  3. brandon and i are enjoying your posts, especially this one!

  4. hilarious! I wish I were there to talk about you like you weren’t there, too 🙂 (She uses Proactive. HA!)

  5. Oh, Kelly, I feel your pain…the irony…I am VIETNAMESE! The last time I was there, they TOLD me that I can’t possibly be Vietnamese because 1.) My skin is not the right color. 2.) “You very BIG girl” I to had to buy things XXL. 3.) I ate too much and too often. and a slew of other reasons…all this while my Vietnamese parents are beside me. I’d teach you had to say a few choice phrases to scare ’em off but I think you’re gone. Darn.

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