Photo: Author’s mother on the right. Circa 1970s
Recalling back to the time when I was about from secondary school to high school, there was this thing that many of my friends had in their mind — some sort of hero or “idol”, in music, movies…
“Who is your hero?” I sometimes asked myself since I did not really have one. And I felt like I didn’t really need to have one or just only one hero. Say, in music, I listened to a mix of genres. However, now reflecting upon it, I think I did have many heroes or heroines, instead of one. My heroes were mostly characters in stories and books like Doreamon, Teppi, Tottochan, Little Princes, Peter Pan to Anna Frank, or the kids in In Desert and Wilderness, or in the kids in the famous Vietnamese novel Tuổi thơ dữ dội, or characters in big novel like Jean Valjean, Quasimodo…
Lately, I realize I do have my hero in real life, who is not just in fairy tales, fictions or nonfictions. The Hero, who I believe that everyone may also have, is called… Mom
I’ll tell you why…
My Mom is as simple as many Vietnamese. After the war was over in 1975, there were many movements of people from the North to the South, and from the countryside to big cities like Hanoi or Saigon, to find work. Mom was one of those migrants. In 1975, at the age of 19, Mom went to Ha Noi, a couple hours of driving from her hometown, to find work and eventually settled there. Only then, Mom enrolled in high-school, the same school I attended 26 years later.
While in high school, Mom worked as a mechanic . She had attended a vocational school before starting the job at a factory in Hanoi. As the nature of her job, Mom was able to fix and repair many types of machines including motors and engines in cars and trucks… I still feel shameful myself, compared to Mom for that skill. I studied engineering and I did like playing with machines during my childhood (sometimes very dangerously :D), but I often joke seriously that I am just a half-baked engineer since I can only fix my bike, but none of the more “complex” machines.
During that time, with a “classic bike” which any working person should own as a mean of living, Mom was always trying to earn more money beside the main job, as many other workers also did. She sometimes tried to do “small business” by selling things like vegetable and other farm products.
Talking about Mom’s career, she worked in the “machinery industry” for more than 10 years for what I can remember from her stories. Mom then “was promoted” when the socioeconomic situation of Vietnam started to change. Now t, she worked in a state-owned trading company, importing chemical products then re-selling to the retailers and local manufacturers.
During these times , sometimes I heard stories about her friends or her business partners committed to prison because of their cheating in business such as tax fraud. Mom even lost money due to their cheating.
As a kid, I did not understand much of those stories. I just had a feeling that it was not an easy job since she had to deal with all kinds of people. Lately, when I was able to understand what it was about her job, I felt extremely grateful that Mom had saved my family during such a hard time for the whole country, in the decades of 1980s and 1990s. How blessed we were!
Mom tried as much as she could to earn money for her kids, and though my family was living modestly in our tiny cramped social-housing apartment, Mom usually said she was content with what God Father – Ông Giời – had given, without complaining or blaming on the circumstances. By the way, during my childhood, our sleeping room was next to the pigpen – chuồng lợn – of my family where we normally kept 2-3 pigs for domestic pig husbandry each year. Nonetheless, we still had a quite acceptable healthy condition for our bodies. Thanks God! Thanks Buddha!
While at the trading company, Mom realized that she needed to study further and higher , which was not only for her job but also to fulfill her thirst for learning. Mom said she always wanted learning since she liked studying and she needed to learn what her kids were studying at school so that she would be able to find ways to support the kids.
Mom then registered to College in an Open University to study accounting, business…at the age of 40.
Mom’s constant effort and patience for lifelong learning was also deeply inspired by her big brother, my uncle, who was a soldier during the Resistance War against the American to Save the Country – Cuộc kháng chiến chống Mỹ cứu nước — but the American simply called it the Vietnam War . Obviously the Vietnamese thinks about the purpose of the War, and the American simply thinks about the location. Anyway, my uncle served in the military of the North. Mom said she never forgot the advice in those letters that my uncle sent her while he was fighting in the South.
There was always something repeated in those letters, which my uncle reminded Mom about, as his youngest little sister: “How hard life is, never quit studying. By all means, send the kids to school, get them good education….The war will be over soon, I’ll come back home…. “
But Uncle never came back. He died young in battle in his early twenties, some time in the seventies in the South, almost 15 years before I was born. His name (with the body) was found resting at the Vietnam’s largest national military cemetery – Trường Sơn Martyrs’ Cemetery. To be more precise, we did not know where and when exactly he died. Mom said she felt things went wrong with uncle in her dreams.
Back to Mom’s learning career, let’s face the truth about the corrupted system of state agencies of Vietnam at that time (perhaps even now, though I really do not want to believe so). Many people including Mom’s colleagues registered with the Open University for a degree certificate to get promoted in the state-owned companies or in the government offices. Some hired someone else to be present in the class for them in order to pass the attendance checks, and some even hired someone else to do the exams. Many wanted to enroll in a college but did not have a high-school diploma to meet the prerequisite for college admission. So many of them simply bought a fake high-school diploma. That, not mentioning people who bought fake college degrees.
Nevertheless, Mom rarely quit any class she was taking at night or during weekend. I still remember, that time was such an exciting studying atmosphere for my family. I was in secondary school, my sister was in high school and the other sister was in college too. Three or four times a week, Mom got home from work, prepared dinner for us, then went to class until late night. After class, she came home and had dinner.
Her “education facilities” were no more than notebooks, pens, and with a small wooden desk (about 20 cm height, 40×50 size), the one that everyone in my family shared for all kinds of usage. It’s now the desk that my nephews use sometimes. Mom also had an indispensable lecturer “who” was a tape recorder and a set of recording tapes containing all sorts of subject from economics, mathematics, psychology, philosophy, accounting…for her class. During the exam time, she studied and prepared for exams by listening to the recording tapes almost every night.
Mom even showed her notes of her English study. Only now I remember, sometimes she also studied Chinese on TV. She admitted the difficulties in her oral exam for English like: “I understood what the teacher asked me but I could not answer, so I gave my fingers to answer the question: How many kids you have?”
Five years after, Mom got a university degree. To be honest, I had no idea and I was certainly not able to understand how hard it was for Mom to start college at the age of 40 with 3 kids along and finish it at 45,until I myself completed my engineering degree at 22 (though lots of fun, it was not that easy for me at all).
That’s a small piece about my Mom’s learning career. It simply proves that it is never too late to start something that you always wish to do.
There is something for else all kids including me to learn. That is, it takes, sometimes, 10 years, 20 years, or even your whole life, to realize that Mom is really your hero. It is never too late for that simple enlightenment.
I just want to say few more trivial things about me apart from Mom’s career. Since a kid, I have had a habit of collecting things in the nature including different types of insect, like bee, or beetle (of course, the dead and dried one). In addition to other things like leaves and insects from the forest, my friends remember me by that “craziness” of collecting stone, rock, seashell, whenever we traveled to such lovely and most beautiful beaches of the countrylike Nha Trang, Lăng Cô, Cô Tô,…
Irealize, Mom somehow unconsciously gave me such curiosity for nature, science and everything else, including to trust in Ông Giời – the God Father. For that, it made me become a sort of “nerd” who is curious for everything in the surrounding environment, from a tiny ant to…a whole universe, an active nerd who is simply interested in things that people might find trivial, .things that my friends define as “rag and rubbish – chổi cùn, rẻ rách”, so to speak, to make fun of me from time to time. Yet my friends just can’t help supporting me on that. I am always happy about that “funny trait” of mine 😉
Few words on my “craziness” just to say, nonetheless Mom never fails to support me on that hobby, Mom never stops me from collecting things. From time to time, she would pick up for me a bee or beetle if she accidentally finds any, then contributes it to my collection. I still keep the collection home but I haven’t had a chance to take care of those boxes for years.
This is just a small piece about my Hero in real life.
There is a song goes like: There is a hero, if you look inside your heart.
Yes, that’s true. I also say: There is a hero, if you look inside your Mom. Your Mom is in You.
I am deeply grateful for having such a hero who gives me wings to fly, who believes and supports me in everything I do (though hides her deep worries inside sometimes), a hero who teaches me the Truth and let me live in that simple Truth of being patient, honest, humble and unconditional love.
How amazing that was – a nineteen year old girl started an independent life in the great waves of migration throughout the country in that great year of 1975 ! And instilled in her daughter a great sense of Truth.