I haven’t had the luxury of traveling or living in other countries, but what I learn from the people I meet in my regular, run of the mill life, enriches who I am and gives me images of a world I wouldn’t have without having met them. I always feel like a person can give me a much better feeling of a place than a relic or even nature.
The entire time I have been frequenting my local nail shop, it has been managed by 2 sisters, Carol and Jean. The shop is a bit of a family affair; at least 2 other sisters and a cousin have worked there at one time or another. They are a very close-knit family.
On one of the occasions when my regular pedicurist was in Vietnam for a month, I had the pleasure of spending an hour and a bit with the older of the two sisters. I didn’t know Carol very well at the time; I had gotten pedicures from her sister, Jean, and knew about Jean’s children and how they spent holidays together with all the family that lives in California, but I only knew that Carol was Jean’s older sister and that she often hosted these family holiday get togethers at her house.
That day, I ended up staying a while after my pedicure was over, and Carol talked to me about her life; her life before California. Two of the things I often ask people who I know are from different countries, are how long they have been in the states and have they only lived in California. I find that asking these questions can often lead to someone sharing stories about where they are from; talking about life before nail shops and Hollywood.
I am not sure where in Vietnam Carol lived, but I do know that her husband was a soldier during the war. I always felt as if the war must have profoundly impacted her entire family, given the kind of bond that they all share. Carol didn’t talk about the specifics of the war itself, as Kim has, but she did tell me that her husband was part of a program that brought Vietnamese soldiers to the United States for asylum. Carol’s husband was imprisoned by the VC for years and upon his release, he and Carol and their family were brought to safety.
It might be that Carol was able to bring most of the rest of her family here to California because she had been granted citizenship, but I may never know. All I know is that most of the siblings are here, but her parents are still in Vietnam; at least one of the sisters goes to Vietnam every year to visit the parents, and this year they are all going because their father is 93 and very ill.
Carol is a remarkable woman. The minute you meet her, you can feel her strength. She is in charge and everyone around her knows it. I felt really honored that she chose to tell me even a small piece of her story and I hope that I get a chance to spend more time with her and learn more about who she is and what has shaped her life.
I may never have the good fortune to actually travel to places like Vietnam, but I do have the good fortune of learning about and getting to know people who have come to California from vastly different countries and cultures. I have learned that I don’t have to actually be in a place to feel it; I only have to take the time to get to know someone who has worn the fabric of that culture.
I guess I also, on some level, have to feel grateful for RP. Although I think I have always had a curiosity and interest in people and their cultures, if I didn’t have RP, I may just be another Angeleno who spends their life in a car and in a hurry. RP forces me to slow down and that suits my nature. I am grateful for all of the opportunities I have had and will have to truly know people who come onto my path, even if I can’t see them until they also take the time to slow down and come out of the shadows of the periphery.