On my last night in Hanoi something wonderful happened. I was couchsurfing with Van, an awesome 24-year-old woman and I got to meet her whole family.
We were talking when her grandma walked up the stairs. Though she was a bit winded from walking up the stairs, she seemed in good health and spirits. She had a smile on her face, and always seemed to have one on her face thereafter.
It was my first and only night in Van’s place and she told me to go and sit over on the couch next to her grandma. As I sat down, her grandma turned to me and asked me a question in Vietnamese. Of course, I had no idea what she said.
After about two seconds, realizing we won’t understand each other at all, she grabbed my hand and put it in hers and smiled.
It was a bit awkward, but not very. It brought back a very fond memory. Unfortunately, my grandma and I didn’t have a common language either and our communication always had to pass through a third party for translation, or it was the same as this interaction – some non-verbal expression of love.
Sometimes my grandma held my hand, other times I’d sit next to her and she’d put her arm around me.
Like all good grandmas, she’d also express her love via concern about food and how much I eat. I remember visiting her in 2005 and having to learn how to adapt to this so my stomach wouldn’t burst.
We’d have a typical breakfast – Pakistani tea with toast. The first day I had three pieces of toast and I was full. But when I said I was full my grandma heartily encouraged me to eat another piece.
Then she demanded I eat another one because she said I was too skinny. So I obliged again, much to my discomfort.
So after that day I’d say I was full after 1.5 or 2 pieces of toast and eat a total of three maximum. She’d get me to eat more than she thought I wanted, and I was full without overeating. Perfect compromise.
Anyway, with my hand in hers, Van’s grandma asked Van how old I was. So I told Van to ask her grandma how old she thought I was. Without hesitating, the grandma said “30 years old.”
The date was July 30th,2012, or exactly six days before my 30th birthday. I was shocked! What a great guess! Most people here guess lower than my age as I look younger. But Van’s grandma was unfazed by her precise guess.
I guess she didn’t get to be 83 without learning a few things along the way. So, she made a wise guess and I was impressed. For her it was just a normal Saturday.
Sadly, I didn’t get a picture with Van or her grandma. But just picture in your mind what a wonderful Vietnamese grandma would look like and you’ve got it
It was a nice reminder that the best things in life are free and that love doesn’t have language barriers.