Undesired Culture Shock
Ma clutches my arm tightly as we follow Auntie Noy through the unfamiliar large building. My hand covers my eye. A week ago, before we fled Vietnam, I was hit in this eye with a pot. Ma was aiming the pot at an American soldier. When she and Auntie Noy tried to remove the bandages a few minutes ago, the eye began to bleed again.
I' m concentrating so hard on keeping up with Auntie Noy that my uninjured eye turns everything we pass into a blur. This section of the building looks similar. The walls are white with sand colored doors on each side. Through an open door, I see what looks like a long, black table with a black cushion on top. The cushion reminds me of the seats in Auntie Noy' s automobile. Thin paper similar to our writing paper back home covers the cushion.
A woman stands in the hall way. She wears a strange aqua-green hat, the color of the lake in my village. The woman also wears these strange hats over her shoes. A paper dress the same dolor covers her clothes., I wonder why she is wearing shower caps on her feet and writing paper over her clothes. Auntie Noy speaks to the woman in English. The woman pints to a room at the end of the hallway.
Ma and I sit in the large green chairs while Auntie Noy talks to a man in white behind a counter. I look at the people in the room. One of the children wears blue pants that flare out at the ankle. Her shirt is white with large pink flowers and a pointed collar. I feel self-conscious in my hand -stitched shirt, a symbol of pride in Vietnam. the girl and I differ very much except for our hair style. While hers is blond and mine is black, we both wear our long hair parted down the middle.
A woman in a short white dress and strange triangular hat stops in front of the room. "Mai-Lin Vu?" she calls. Ma and I rise and follow the woman and Auntie Noy into a room similar to the one in the hallway.
A tall man with light brown hair and glasses enters the room. He wears a white coat over his clothes, so all I can see are his shoes. They are black, with strings, and they cover his whole foot. He also wears a strange necklace. A thick black string holds a piece of glass on. The button on the man' s shirt looks enormous through the glass. Auntie Noy speaks to him in English. The man then smiles and tries to pry my hand away from my wounded eye.
I almost let him. He has a kind face. Then I look more closely. My older brother Thai was killed by a man that looked like him man with the same blue eyes and light brown hair. A man dressed in dark green colors. I saw Thai get shot, and the man in the green was smiling. this is the last image I have of my brother, and the man in white comes too close to it.
I kick the smiling man between the eyes. His smile disappears as his glasses break down the middle. "Mai-Lin!!" Ma shrieks as she and Auntie Noy fight to restrain my flailing arms. "What is wrong with you?!"
I continue to kick at the man in white, who is struggling to get up from the floor. I can' t tell if the wetness falling from my eyes is blood or tears or a mixture of both.
First published: July 1996