BY HIEN NGUYEN
“Hey, will you come back to Vietnam on Lunar New Year?”
I have heard this kind of question several times. Very often, my automatic response is: “Sorry, my classes already started.” Then why I didn’t go back home for Christmas break? I figured I had just been in Canada for a while and it would not be that bad to stay away from home for a little while longer.
For the most part, I am content with my choice. If I had gone home during the break, I would have missed the chance of staying with my lovely Filipino friend and her family. But as it gets closer to Lunar New Year, I cannot prevent myself from being a little jealous of my Vietnamese friends as they are preparing for what is the biggest festival in many Asian cultures. Luckily for me, my kind senior year friend informed me of volunteer position for the I-Week.
My Vietnamese friend, a Chinese girl and I decided to make a combined table called Lunar New Year as Vietnam shares many cultural similarities with China. We sat down together to figure out what activities we do during Lunar New Year and how we could present those ideas on the poster. We then agreed that the two edge sides would have each country’s traditions while the middle one had pictures of the most common things in both cultures, such as family reunion. As we prepared sticky notes for people to write “Happy New Year” in their own languages and stick on the poster, we also put 20 dollars in some of the lucky-money bags to make the game more interesting.
The I-Week Monday is one of the most memorable days of my journey at Augustana. The coincidence of having I-Week on the same day with Lunar New Year made it more special. I felt a little anxious putting on “áo dài”, a traditional Vietnamese dress, yet the excitement of explaining Asian cultures to foreigners outweighed it. My heart beat fast when people asked me about our custom of releasing fishes, the meaning of the calligraphy that I wrote on the poster or the Dragon head in the bookstore. The sad folk story behind fish-releasing activity as transportation for three Kitchen Gods on their way to heaven in my description was rather funny and messed up than heartbreaking. The point is to portray your culture, not how you tell the story, isn’t it?
When thinking about cultures, we tend to value the differences. What I find more interesting, are the similar aspects within cultural stories. What exactly are those similarities? I can neither find a branch of apricot blossom in this minus-degree temperature nor have more Vietnamese dishes. However, most people here have open eyes. Open eyes to see, to learn, and to respect. Knowing the differences emphasizes the similarities we share as a community. I still remember my professor’s questions about why we must learn English if it is a language of force and colonization. Learning something is perceiving the positive side, and knowing the differences is to shift our mindset to think about what we can build together.
At the end of the day, I am still nostalgic thinking about what I do every single new year back home. I didn’t spend ten hours waiting for Chung cake, visiting temples on the first day of the year, or sharing meals with my family. However, I am glad to have many good friends by my side who broaden my mind and teach me much more things than I can find inside the textbooks. And guess how touching it was when in the first morning of Lunar New Year, a lady knocked on my door, smiling and wishing me in my mother language:
“Chúc mừng năm mới.”