Literal Translation: I return home and bathe in my own pond,
Regardless of whether it is clear or shallow, [my] home pond is still better.
English Equivalent: There’s no place like home.
Two years ago, around this time, I found myself in Biloxi, Mississippi. My uncle, whom our family had lived with for several years, had passed away and we were there for his funeral. My sisters and I were all born in New Orleans, a 40-minute drive away. During that trip, my dad took us to the old neighbourhood where we used to live – a run-down, remote area inhabited by Vietnamese settlers called Versailles. On this day, my dad was hell-bent on reliving the past, tracking down his old friends through a registry at a shabby convenience store, waiting for hours at a nearby bakery for his friends to come home, and driving around getting lost while trying to find our old community church. The entire day was strange to my sisters and I. The area was a shantytown, my dad’s buddies were not the usual people we associated with, and despite my dad’s eager stories, we did not feel any closeness to this unfamiliar place. For me, the first home I remembered was a small but cozy apartment directly on top of a clothing boutique on Toronto’s Dundas Street West, but for my dad, it was Versailles, the first home he started a family in.
Home is the topic of our proverb and one of the themes of our April/May issue. In the past, Vietnam was predominately agrarian. Poems and folk songs sung of straw houses with thatched roofs, clay courts, modest gardens and small ponds. The ponds were significant to farmers; they used them to wash their rice and vegetables, swim and bathe. It was a part of their recollection of “home.” Regardless of whether it was clean or dirty, deep or shallow, their own pond was more comfortable than any other. Home is where we spend the majority of our day, comfortable and safe. Like the way these farmers yearn for their ponds, we itch for home during travels. On a wider scope, it expresses the loneliness and longing of displaced immigrants leaving their homeland. Even after 40 years, I still find my mom searching for remnants of her Vietnam home in foreign films and TV shows. We may live in many houses throughout our lifetime, but only a select few hold special meaning in our hearts. As Dionne Warwick’s 1964 ballad song poetically put it, “A house is not a home”.
This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt