Richness of life, a matter of perspective

Last night, I enjoyed a home-cooked Vietnamese dinner, a day after just returning from Ho Chi Minh City. A Vietnamese-American friend visiting from San Jose prepared a wonderful meal for a group of us.

She asked a lot about my trip to Vietnam. She reminisced about growing up in Hanoi with her extended family. She described carrying heavy buckets of water to her house, with a younger sibling on her back. She remembered such times with fondness. She described how life in the US was full of modern-day conveniences, but that it could also be very cold.

People here generally live for themselves, she observed, and not for others.  Grandparents live in nursing homes, children are taught to be independent and move out of the home early in life. Siblings don’t talk for days, months and sometimes years.

She said she wants to matter to others, especially family. What good is material comfort if no one cares for you? Is good fortune that great if not shared with those whom you love?

When she first came to the US, she worked in a nail salon that was below a nursing home. So many of them never had visitors, she said. One time, an old man died and no relative came to claim the body. As the body was about to be carted out, she vividly remembers the body bag being zipped shut over his head. The sound is something she will never forget.

In Vietnam, she said, that just wouldn’t happen. People have the richness of family and relationships. People support one another and get self-worth through those relationships.

When I’ve visited Vietnam and other developing countries with fellow Americans, I’ve listened to the sympathy of pitying Westerners toward the local poor. It was interesting to hear the pitying sympathy of someone feeling the coldness of American lives.