Chuc mung ngay phu nu Viet Nam

Today is Vietnamese women’s day. It’s a special day celebrating the important roles played by women in Vietnamese society. So for my class, I bought my teacher a bouquet of yellow chrysanthemums from a flower shop along the way to my school. Although it was raining and it was so difficult riding a bike while holding with my right hand the big bouquet of flower, no problem, it’s for my favorite teacher.

I’m not doing well in my Vietnamese lessons not because she is a bad teacher but because I am a bad student. However, I feel that our Vietnamese lesson is like visiting a psychiatrist every time for we both talk about each other’s problems, frustrations, regrets in life in Vietnamese. She calls it tro chuyen than mat (heart to heart talk). I simply call it friendship.

She’s thirty years old.

Ten years ago, she was a countryside girl who came in Hanoi for better education and a good life that she hoped would come with it. She studied English in Hanoi University, and like everyone else, had a fairly normal student life. After graduating from college, she felt that she’s holding life in her palm. She’ll have a good life ahead. That’s what she thought she will have, she told me.

She met the man she thought would give her happiness. Disregarding other suitors who also showed their undying devotion for her, after two years of engagement, she got married with that man. They have a son, whom according to her, is her life’s only treasure.

Her husband, being a member of the military is stationed in different parts of Vietnam. They seldom see each other. My teacher has to balance being both a mother and a provider. Her story is nothing extraordinary. The honesty, however, when she tells to me her story it is something extraordinary. Although sometimes I have to ask her to speak slowly or to repeat what she has said in order for me to fully understand her story which is in Vietnamese.

Her story is the story of Vietnamese women who have to deal with the psychological and social burdens of being a woman in a close and patriarchal society like Vietnam’s and at the same time deal with her struggles as a person and as a mother, all at the same time.

She once told me that one time they did not have any water to drink because the drum that they use to catch rain water for drinking got hole on it; the water continuously dripped until the next day when she discovered it was empty. And since she could not afford to buy a jug of bottled water, she had to pawn her gold ring to buy water and did the repair of the hole herself because her husband was away.

In another occasion, one female teacher took notice of her clothes and told her blatantly that she dresses up like a girl from the countryside. She was furious for she is a woman. I told her that it does not matter. She said she also thought so. However, the next day, she was wearing a black blouse which she probably bought that afternoon after class. I excused her. She is a woman.

One time I noticed her eyes were swollen. I asked her if she cried. She said she’s okay. And since I am rather persistent, she gave up and told me that she tried to call her husband and a woman answered the phone. Her husband then talked to her and told her he was in a meeting. She knew he was lying, but “toi co the lam gi?” (what can I do?) was her rhetorical response.

I’m never good at giving advices, but I know that having somebody who listen to her is all she needs.

This morning, she’s wearing the same black blouse she bought last time. I was expecting her to be very happy that I bought her a bouquet of flower, which I have never done before, but instead she just said: “Cam on em” (Thank you.)

What can I do? I’m only her student. She’s just my teacher. I love her.