You’ve probably read countless articles about the negative impacts and stories 2020 brought to daylight. People were shown at their worst, at their most self-centered or unreasonable behavior. As often, when life gets tough and you get hit by multiple disasters and negative things, people tend to disappoint – so that’s what COVID did to us and what 2020 taught us again and again. So why did we all gather here? I wanted to share stories of kindness today. Stories from my grandpa. Stories that made me try to be the most genuine I can be, to live up to his integrity and loyalty. Stories that I have heard only recently and reflected on a lot. My grandpa lives in Vietnam, I was born and raised in Germany, and because of that, I didn’t get to see him as much growing up.
So my granddad, my Ong Noi, Nguyen Cao Cuong, like many other Vietnamese in his generation was in the military. Actually, he came from royalty because his mom was a dutchess and his dad was one of the most renowned writers of his time – his work won prices post-human, with the entire prize money of 20 million VND being donated by the family to the Young Literature Composing Fund in Vietnam. My grandpa grew up in a time of change when Vietnam went from feudal to wars and establishing a different political direction.
With 13 he had to enlist in the army. Over the years he worked up a respectful reputation, with a high rank (around admiral or higher, dont ask for details, ranks and titles in Vietnamese are all so confusing to me because I dont use that vocabulary that often with my parents. What I imagine is Ong Noi being as respectful and tough as Captain Ri) 🙂 Instead of edging and name-dropping his way up in politics, he used his high ranks and position to live in remote villages in Vietnam and build them up. Literally build them up, helping locals and farmers, creating opportunities for people after war and rebuild small villages, and taught locals how to sustain themselves. And after a few years, he would move onto another village to do the same process again, to help more people and to do his part in literally building up the country after all these wars. He is a decent man with a lot of values, he has his heart in the right spot and would make sure that he can help everyone as much as he can.
What I know and learned about my grandpa throughout the years is his loyalty and integrity in many aspects. He met my grandma and despite things not going smoothly – and if you are Asian.. you know, families always have their opinions on marriages and choosing a partner. But he always stayed loyal to my grandma. He is a devoted husband to her. You couldn’t make up their Korean drama love story and how they are still so loving and caring (actually, again, Crash Landing on You comes close to it, so there is a chance we find our Captain Ri one day). But really, my grandparents are so supportive and enjoy each other’s company even after five decades of marriage. They spent most of their life on each other’s side. It’s so beautiful and wholesome, it’s what you would love to find in life one day too – a partner that cherishes and respects you the way they do. It’s something so pure and genuine, having a partner and best friend like this for a lifetime, to have created a beautiful and loving family, despite all the challenges and difficulties – that’s a wonderful blessing that I wish to experience one day. I dont need to romanticize things or have unrealistic expectations, when I grow up and witness this relationship and my parents loving marriage.
After all these years and seeing my Ong Noi’s siblings and their families, seeing my Asian friends and their family dynamics, I can proudly say that grandpa made all the right choices. There really hasn’t been a family as close and loving as the one my grandpa and grandma from my dad’s side build. The way we are so close and the way I see my aunts and my dad love, care, and trust my grandparents is incredible. The way all of us, the grandchildren and the younger generation, still feel comfortable around our grandparents. We rather stay with them than going out sometimes and we can share our goofy stories, feeling absolutely fine talking to our grandparents about dating and partying. We can drink with them and have them like our social media posts without hiding – it’s so precious. And all that takes a lot of work, understanding, and love to build. Especially in Asian culture, it is not common to have such a loving, supportive, and “laid back” family, and such support from the older generation.
As I am writing this, Ong Noi is very sick and in pain. I never thought I would write these words, but I wish it would have been just cancer and he could have a peaceful and calm last part of his life. Very heartbreaking and devastating, it is much more painful and suffering that doesn’t make sense to anyone of us. For such a kind and compassionate person, and for the life, he has lived and the support and love he has given to people and to us, his family, for the endless love and care he gave my grandma – he does not deserve any of this, not the pain he is in right now. He does not deserve any of the things that happened in the last months. It makes no sense and it never seems fair. I know bad things happen to good people and I know life isn’t fair, but that doesn’t mean it makes it is easier. There is no explanation and we can’t change things, I know. However, it doesn’t take away the frustration and pain.
On top of that, due to the pandemic my siblings, my mom, and I can’t fly back since we are holding a German passport and Vietnam closed their borders for months now. My dad luckily got permission after months and is with my grandpa since a few days now. My heart is very grateful because he is the only son, and my dad needed to be with his dad now. But also, the day we have been mentally been preparing for is coming closer and at this point, I know I am not ready. I know that the last time I saw him, I thought it wasn’t the last time and as much as you prepare, I am very scared that day is this close now. I can’t support my grandpa, my family, and of all, my best friend – my dad – with what he is and will be going through, I can’t do much to take away the pain and sadness. I feel like I can’t do anything. I could only facetime grandpa. I can tell his story, and appreciate my time and health, knowing life isn’t always going to pan out well and try my best to be kind and do good in my lifetime – not letting the unfairness and pain take away this part of me.
So with that, I am just trying to continue his legacy, kindness, and integrity as much as I possibly can. I try to be as supportive, loving, caring, and kind as I can – to people who I love, and to strangers who have shown me the same kindness. I can’t do much now besides being the best person I can be, being positive and encouraging, and being a pillar my family members can count on. I can be all that, but I can’t be there in person, I cant hug and physically help and support my family. I know due to Covid some of you went through the same. Not being able to be there, to say goodbye, or to bring a peaceful mind to a family member feels hopeless. All I can do is taking time out of my day and be kind to whoever I can, be helpful and supportive to my friends – I can’t be in the hospital and take care of my grandpa, but I can go with my friend to her appointments here. I can’t hug my dad and tell him I am there, but I can do that for someone who needs me in Taipei. I can’t run errands for my family but I can help my godbrother here or support my friends. It’s like I am making up for not being in Vietnam, by being there for whoever needs me, by making lots of people’s day a bit better, by making people laugh or help them in ways I can right now – because I can’t do the one thing I really wish I could.
We often think we are doing good things to be kind and selfless, but actually, in a lot of ways, we are doing it for ourselves. I am trying to. I am doing it to make up for the fact that I can’t be there for my family, right now, physically and hold their hands. I think what 2020 taught us is to hold the ones you love close and be kind and patient with yourself, and the people around you. The world is such a mess, at least we can do is trying to bring a smile to strangers’ face sometimes, share something beautiful and, and give without expecting much in return while knowing not to be taken advantage of. There is so much grandpa has taught us, and most of all, he has raised his children into beautiful and loving people who became great parents to me and my siblings and my cousins. I’ll be forever grateful for that, my life wouldn’t be the same if my dad wouldn’t be my best friend and my pillar. And I’ll try my best to hold grandpa’s values and integrity close to my heart and live a life of kindness. I wish I would have written this in time so he could have read it. But I thank you for reading about my Ong Noi and I hope his life inspires you. ❤️
Edit 17th November 2020:
A few days after I shared this article, my dad translated and read my words to my grandpa in the hospital. I feel grateful that my Ong Noi got to know the love and appreciation I feel for him and the inspiration his stories gave me to be better and kinder. I am forever thankful, I wouldnt know how to say all this in Vietnamese because emotions and feelings are so hard to describe precisely in the Vietnamese language.. but I know my dad translated this into beautiful words that makes my grandpa thoughtful and at ease and happier to hear. ❤️