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  • Most of the stories of Vietnam that I have shared here come from the women in my family, my grandmother, my mother, my aunties.

    During the holidays, the women in my family would gather, and they would cook, in the kitchen, they would mince onion, chop lemon grass, peel ginger, soak rice paper, fry dumplings. Even now, I can recall the aroma of shallots frying on a pan, the chicken stock boiling, the rice steaming. The air was always spiked with spices: clove and cinnamon, bay leaf and black sesame, star anise and cumin. These are the scent of my childhood.

    I preferred the women to the men. While the women cooked in the kitchen, the men of my family gathered in the living room. They ate boiled peanuts and drank Thai beer. They did not tell stories. They told facts. They informed each other about their career, they bragged about their children getting all As in their report cards. They talked about politics–those bastard Communists in Vietnam, but rarely anything personal, nothing concerning their hearts.

    Sometimes, the men became stranded, they had nothing left to say to each other, and so would sit on the couch, staring glumly, silently, at the television, watching some man kick a ball, or two fighters punching each other silly with swollen mittens.

    The women loved to talk. They nourished me with their stories, in their sing-song voices, they shared tales of their former lives in Vietnam, tragedies, comedies, ghost stories, history and personal memoir, everything was thrown into the pot. And that broth, it was delicious.

    Some of the stories were infamous and repeated again and again at every family gathering, like the-time-my-grandfather-hired-an-assassin-to-kill-his-French-neighbors, or the time-my grandmother-disguised-as-a-peasant-saved-the-family-fortune-by-smuggling-all-her-jewelry-right passed-the-French-soldiers-who-were-looting-the-city. Or how-dolphins-rescued-my-aunt-from-death-by-leading-her-boat-to-an-oil-rig-where-she-was-saved.

    Even though I had heard some of these stories many, many, times before, I was still enthralled with each new telling.

    My father never understood the power of these stories. He would always shake his head in disbelief. How is it that your mother and her family can chatter on and on throughout the day, until late at night. What is there left to say?

    Unlike my father, I knew the secret of these stories. They could not be found in just the words, you had to plumb deeper, like peeling a fruit, hidden below the rind, the fleshy pulp, the sweet juices, is the seed. The heart of everything.
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