Friendship Foundation of American Vietnamese

We Are Kidnapping You!

By Volunteer Kristen Clark
Project XII Participant

One of the girls yelled that at me from the back of the other motorbike. My heart jumped when I first heard it, but a second later I yelled back a response of “Okay!” over the sounds of the bustling traffic.

It was the day of our university visit. The time was to be spent talking with various university students and faculty in small groups. We were allotted two hours in a large lecture hall, with scheduled circulations around the room every half hour.

You are not supposed to ask Vietnamese girls or boys if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend.

I got to take part in three very different discussion groups throughout the course of our time there—each of them pulsed to their own unique beat. My favorite group was the one with me, three girls (“Angela” and two others whose names I have forgotten because I'm the worst at remembering names), and for part of the time, Joe, Jr. I think Joe Jr. and I had had a little too much “caffe sua nam” in our systems because we were being pretty loud and obnoxious together and telling stories about people urinating inside various household appliances. Some small-statured man once said that Joe, Jr. can “giggle like a schoolgirl”. He sure can. And he did.

But as much fun as it was to engage in these antics with Joe, Jr., the discussion really seemed to get fired up after he took off chasing a bird he saw out of the corner of his eye.

“Kris—do you have a boyfriend?” one of the girls shyly asked me.

When I artfully dodged this question with a “Do you?” it was politely explained to me that in actuality, you are not supposed to ask Vietnamese girls or boys if they have a boyfriend/girlfriend because the question is too forward and personal. So I came back at 'em with “Ah, it's the same in America.” One girl arched an eyebrow and said, “Really?” We all started laughing, and then had some really intense discussions about boyfriends; American, Japanese, and Vietnamese cultures and their differences and similarities; gender relations, roommates, parties—all the normal things that I'd talk about with my buddies back home in America. Only these girls lived in Vietnam. So how could it be that we shared so many common views and approaches about life? Because maybe those lines of division that we build up in our minds only exist if we create them ourselves. Take the time to ask, to talk, to learn, and to ponder and most likely you will discover, as I did, that sometimes you will have more in common with a girl from halfway across the planet than you do with a girl who lived in the house next door to yours when you were growing up.

When the discussion session was getting wrapped up, one of my newfound friends ask me a question that rang out in my ears like the sounds of a Hai Ba Trung quote:

“Do you want to ride with us on our motorbikes?”

Nobody ever needs to ask me that twice.

I threw my bag at my small-statured friend and ran out the door with the girls and without a care in the world (after asking Gia Hoa in a small hopeful voice if it'd be okay if I rode to lunch with my buddies on their motorbikes, of course).

We rode for about fifteen minutes—I was on the back of Angela's bike and the other two girls were riding alongside us. We managed to energetically continue our conversation while weaving in and out of traffic. Angela took us to her house. I met her dog and her mom and we all ate freshly-cut mango. I spilled a bunch of it on the floor. Because in my country it is a sign of respect to do so within three seconds of entering a new friend's home.

We never seemed to run out of things to say. They said I should move to Vietnam to teach English so we can all hang out again. And somehow I got roped into promising to bring back a Japanese man for one of the girls.

When we left so we could make it to lunch on time, I tried to savor the motorbike ride back to the hotel. But it went by fast as truly worthwhile and meaningful things always seem to do. And when we got to the lunch we all had to separate because there were not enough seats for us all to sit together.

I felt like I had been dunked underwater for a short amount of time. I had felt so liberated—no bus. No belongings. A threat, or rather a promise, that I was being kidnapped. Is this what I had always wanted? Is this why I had moved to Japan? Why I had gone to Vietnam and Cambodia over the holidays instead of going back home? And are these fleeting moments of freedom, happiness, and satisfaction what I am still seeking out, even now, as I try to figure out where I am going to run off to next?

Was that what I had been needing? And maybe more importantly...

Could it be what I need?

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Meet foundation Vice Director Joe Meissner.