My extended family
On Dad’s side awaits –
Most I’ve never met
Copyright by Minh Tan on listed dated of completion.
Notes to this poem…
This was a connector haiku, if you will, to give some story flow among the other haiku I wrote in this collection so there’s not much to it on its own. The biggest draw, and biggest source of nervousness, for me on this return to Viet Nam was meeting the paternal extended family. My maternal extended family had all emigrated to Canada and the United States many years before.
I had never met most of these members of the paternal extended family. I didn’t even know most of them existed. Well, I sort of did, as in I had other paternal Aunts and Uncles, and they had kids, but that was about it. Dad didn’t seem to ever want to talk about them, it seemed, so I didn’t press him all these years. I’m going to guess part of it was that the Aunts there were all his half-sisters, not full blood sisters.
My paternal Grandfather had remarried after my paternal Grandmother had passed away, which was before I was born. The one I knew was never identified to me as a step-Grandmother, if you will. That wasn’t necessary at a young age. However, I was not told even in adulthood. I found out when a family friend accidentally talked to me about my “step-Grandmother” one day during a car ride while I lived out in Vancouver. Of course, I stopped him to ask “my who?”, to which he fumbled and only said “oh, they didn’t tell you?” in return, rather than try to cover his tracks. Maybe it wasn’t necessary as by that time, I had been a decade and a half removed from the folks back in Viet Nam. It’s awkward and inconvenient to just stop daily life for a talk like that, especially if either I or my Parents were on vacation, which was the only way we saw each other back then, very infrequently like once every couple of years. But I literally had to get a list and run down of everybody, and their character summaries like a short profile, awaiting me in Viet Nam on Dad’s side of the family from him before I left!
On the other hand, these people knew me very well. After all, I was the oldest child of this next generation of the Tan Clan, from the oldest member of the last generation, and male. They have a title for that child in Vietnamese, “Ca” (can’t put question mark punctuation over the “a”). It has no literal translation in English but I would say “prince” is a good metaphor with the respect expected, not earned, for said person by default of birth order. They were expected to know a fair bit about me out of respect for me being my Dad’s child, since he was the oldest of his generation. That knowledge only goes so far, of course, for you can’t fully describe someone in some conversation. You have to meet them and interact with them for yourself to really formulate an idea of what you think of them, rightly or wrongly. Furthermore, I didn’t even get to provide this profile of myself to these extended paternal relatives so I have no idea what they really thought or knew of me! It was information asymmetry at its finest.
On top of all that, the paternal relatives and I had a culture gap dividing us between their Vietnamese and my Canadian ways. We had a reasonable language barrier of some extent between us, with my Vietnamese being limited to casual social conversation mostly, but still better than their English. Then there was an age gap almost worthy of a generational gap in some cases as the elder were 15-25 years older than me, and the younger were 10-20 years younger than me. Of course, with the females, I had a gender gap as boys will be boys and girls will be girls, so to speak, no matter what the culture. There were a lot of unknowns and things to overcome as we were going to try to establish relationships we hoped would turn out well!
During my trip, I recorded enough details about these people and this relationship building process to write a book. Perhaps one day I will. However, here and for now, you’ll have to settle for about 20 haiku and stories annotated with them. They will follow this one and are my favourite part of the collection by theme. Other themes I have haiku here and there that I like better than these ones, but not the overall strength of haiku in those themes compared to the people themed haiku upcoming.