I found time yesterday to treat myself to a pedicure. I suppose I could have used the time in a more valuable way – I could have exercised, or tackled the mountain of laundry (about 63% of which is comprised of orphan socks I discovered beneath The Boss’s bed when we disassembled it Monday night), or steam-cleaned the yuck out of my carpet. But instead, I found myself at the mall, because that’s where Sears is and they sel Lands’ End and I was in need of a bathing suit.
(Aside #1: I had bought another Lands’ End suit in May, full price. But it doesn’t fit right, so I had to buy another one. Now I’m kind of pissed off that I just got the same thing for half the money. Gah.)
My purchase complete, I wandered out into the mall in search of a nail salon.
(Aside #2: Mall Food Courts = Lowest Common Denominator. Am I right?)
I popped into a salon and asked if they could take a walk-in, which was kinda stupid because there were only two other customers in the whole store. A nice Vietnamese lady named Gina motioned for me to follow her. As I settled into the massage chair, we started with the small talk. We discovered that we both have sons – each of us has a 14 year old, and a younger one also in middle school.
We talked about how the older boys will be heading to high school. We also talked about their grades. Gina was upset that her older son got one B instead of all A’s! She said she expects him to try his hardest, and she knows he can get all A’s because he did so the first three quarters. But the last quarter, he got a new math teacher because they bumped him up to a higher math class, and he ended up with a B. Which was an 89, which is almost an A. And she was disappointed, and her son apologized and said he would try harder.
I said, wow, I think those are still some pretty good grades! And she said yes, they are, but she expects him to do well because she and her husband don’t have a lot of money to send him to college, so he’ll have to earn scholarships. She said she didn’t do well in school because she’s first-generation here, but her son was born here and has all the advantages of having been raised in America, so she figures, no excuses. (And I figure, I am way too soft on my kids.)
I asked Gina when she came to the US. She shared with me her amazing story.
She said she left Vietnam when she was 11 years old, in 1982. Her parents put her and her older sister on a boat to send them to the US. They paid a lot of money to get their girls on the boat, knowing that the money would not guarantee safe passage. Yet, they wanted their girls to have a better life in America.
Gina’s parents did not tell her they were sending her away “permanently.” She just thought it would be “for a while.” She also said that her father would not allow her mother to cry as they said their farewells. He told her it would be bad luck for the girls, and they might meet peril on the sea if she cried. So, she had to hold it in.
A voyage could take days or weeks or months. At the time, there were boats full of Thai marauders who would pillage and plunder the boats of Vietnamese refugees. (A quick Google search yielded this article with some details on the practice, and Wikipedia has this on the boat people.) All females on board – no matter their age – would be raped if the Thai bad guys came on board. Men coming to the defense of their female relatives would be beaten or shoved overboard. But, there were German boats patrolling the waters, looking to rescue the refugees and protect them from the bad guys. One such “Germany boat” (as she called it) got to her boat just 36 hours after they’d set sail, even as a Thai boat was within sight, fixing to attack.
The Germans took them to the Philippines, where they stayed for a couple of years. They learned some English there. Once their paperwork was in order, they came to California. They ended up in Maryland because her husband had relatives here.
Gina can’t tell this story without tearing up. She has shared it with her boys, so that they may understand the sacrifices she has made so that she could provide them with a good life in America. She has asked them to think about what it would be like to live without their mother and father at their age (as she had to do).
Gina – and many of her friends – works 6 days a week doing nails. She said her husband was also trained to do nails, but ended up working in sales at Sears, and eventually secured a job as a mail carrier with the postal service. That way, they have good benefits (she gets none). They hope to send their two boys to college – an opportunity she never had.
I told Gina that she should write a book, for hers was an amazing story. She was delightful. I tipped her big, and I’ll ask for her next time.