A Meaningful Vacation
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
A Meaningful Vacation
Thong Duc Cao
My father arranged the whole family to take a C-130 military plane from Da Nang city to Cam Ranh Bay airport, where many U.S. soldiers were stationed. When I sat in the plane with a seatbelt around my belly, I felt afraid of the huge sound of the engines. My mother calmed me and gave me a piece of chewing gum.
Born and raised in my beloved Vietnam, I was thirteen when my parents took me to my grandparents' village-Dong Lac. On our way, I saw the green fields exposed to the warm sunlight with white storks flying by. In the field, I noticed people wearing conical hats and rolled-up trousers. But I couldn't understand what they were doing, some of them bent to the ground, moving their hands nimbly with small green plants. My mom explained that they were transplanting the rice seedlings. Afterwards, they would have to care for the plants by plucking out weeds and spreading manure through their paddy field. Three months later, these farmers would harvest their crops. I had never known how hard it was to cultivate rice for food.
Soon, the coach stopped at a crossroad. We got down and walked to the village. A mixture of special scents-straw, rice, flowers and mud-overwhelmed the air. Some villagers greeted us warmly. My parents cheerfully returned the greetings. For me, I was gazing at the cows that were grazing along the road with their long tails switching back and forth. Some calves prowled around. Sometimes they searched for their moms' udders and sucked noisily. We stopped at the gate of a big house with a tiled roof. Two spotted dogs rushed out, barking loudly. My grandparents hugged me lovingly. I was too moved to say anything until my mom reminded me to greet them. My grandpa was quite old but still healthy. His voice was sonorous. My grandma, on the contrary, was thin and gentle. She had blackened teeth. She continuously chewed something and sometimes spat the red liquid into a spittoon. How surprised I was when she told me she chewed betel, mixed with areca-nut and slaked lime. This mixture, which was used for ages by our ancestors, had a spicy and acrid taste. My grandma said that the betel and areca were indispensable in traditional Vietnamese betrothals and weddings. Many relatives heard about our visit and came to talk to us. Our first meal in the rural village was very warm and familiar. In the evening twilight, my grandpa lit a gas lantern. There was no electricity in the village. That first night I had an indescribable feeling, hearing the plaintive harmony of chirping crickets and boisterous frogs.
A peaceful winding river fortified the paddy fields with tons of alluvium. At the river's banks, fruitful coconut trees reflected on the surface of the water. A flock of quacking ducks swam here and there, some of them diving and leaning over with their rear-ends sticking up. Several duckweeds drifted slowly with purple flowers. At the edge of the village, clumps of bamboo swayed in the wind-a range of motionless mountains prominent on the horizon. What a poetic scene!
I explored the vast garden of my grandparents. My dad showed me mangoes, avocados, bananas, jackfruits, oranges, and lemons. Their branches were curved with fruits. Several bees were buzzing and gathering honey from flowers. A fragrant subtle smell was everywhere. I was delighted to pick some fruits and enjoy their fresh sweet taste. Many odd birds settled on the branches, where they had made their nests into strange shapes. I climbed up the trees and discovered many very young birds, featherless, calling for food from their moms.
My grandparents had livestock-bulls, cows, and goats. In addition, there were many cats, dogs, pigs, hens, cocks, and ducks. The bulls ploughed, the goats produced milk, the pigs provided meat, the hens laid eggs, the cocks announced the morning dawn, the cats caught mice, and the dogs patrolled the house. At first, I was afraid to approach the bulls and cows because they had pointed horns. However, I saw many children sitting on the backs of the bulls, feeding them along the country road; these animals then seemed gentle, not menacing as I had thought.
I had a chance to witness the villagers plowing their fields. A man steered two muddy bulls down the path, yelling special words to turn right, to turn left, and to stop. Many women stood in the mud, bent their bodies, and quickly put rice plants into the wet soil in straight lines. They did their work, regardless of the hot sunshine or cold rain. They used sharp sickles to reap ripe rice plants into small bunches. An aromatic scent of yellow rice occupied my lungs. I breathed deeply the fresh air and shared the farmers' joy of harvesting after days of toil. Then, they shouldered these bunches home, ready to be trampled for the valuable rice kernels. The field of stubble remained with sparrows eating the dropped seedlings.
Our relatives showed special affections to my family. We rarely visited them since we lived in the city. But on this trip, I met my cousins, uncles, and aunts. They all were plain, honest, healthy farmers. Their knowledge about nature was admirable. They also had favorite outdoor hobbies. One day, my cousin and I went to fly a kite. He tied a small flute under it. When the kite flew in the high sky, it made a series of special sounds that I had never heard before. He invited me to catch crickets in order to have a cricket fight, to capture cicadas, which sounded loudly in the trees. My cousin taught me to swim. At first, I was a little scared when I was in the water, but gradually I became daring. Of course, we stood in a shallow place by the river to make sure I was safe. He and I eagerly caught many fish. He wrapped some with clay and burnt them in a heap of flaming wood. After a while, he carefully took off the clay and we appreciated the savory taste of burnt fish. How excellent it was!
Absorbed in such activities, I forgot that the time of separation was coming. The summer had passed swiftly. It made me tough and sunburned. I seemed healthier, yet I felt extremely sad when I had to leave. I discerned a sacred feeling in my heart. I experienced a profound attachment to my native land. It penetrated through every cell of my body. My mom understood my whirling sensations and comforted me.
At the farewell, my grandparents were quite sad, and so were we. They told me to study hard and to return to visit them again. I knew they loved us very much. They gave us many gifts: glutinous rice, dried fruit, fish, and bamboo shoots. My cousin gave me a tiny buffalo made of clay and a cage with four birds inside. I kept thanking him, unwilling to leave. Eventually, he brought our luggage and walked with us to the coach station. I walked calmly, my heart sobbing. On the train back to Da Nang city, my whole family admired the blue sea with yellow beaches, the remote villages lying under forests of green bamboo, and the ranges of blurred mountains in the far distance. All of them provoked in my soul lovely feelings for my country.
Indeed, the journey to my parents' village during my summer vacation when I was thirteen years old opened my mind and taught me many valuable lessons about rural life, about the life most of my ancestors had lived. Most importantly, it increased my love for my Vietnam-my beloved country, which I have now been apart from for a long time, my beloved country, which I desire to visit once again.