By Lựu Lê
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Banking on the power of food as a social currency, Tinh takes pride in the array of spices found in his kitchen and imagines that the gulf between Sai and his second wife can be negotiated through a welcoming banquet for the bride ("Even a Hanoi feast would not have been better"). For his part, Sai at first does not miss the intrusive presence of family and neighbors in the village, where privacy is unknown. How different Hanoi seems, with its lover's lane by the West Lake (Thanh Nien Road), its bicycle riders pedaling through neighborhoods with the freedom of complete strangers, its apartment complexes at mid-day, "as deserted as graveyards," where any assignation is possible, its time-driven residents "too busy" to gossip about their neighbors.
Since his son believed this was the way things were, he believed he could drill his father in the style of what he called criticism. But the old man had his own logic, his own tradition, his own habits, the hereditary customs passed down for generations to call upon, and they told him that children could do nothing without the consent of their parents. As he thought more and more of this, he became more and more sure he was right. Feeling himself more in the right, he became more self-assured and more irritated because his son's silence was becoming more oppressive and was now descending heavily on the three rooms of the house.
Now and again, he tripped and fell, his face hitting the hard edges of clay that seemed as solid as stones. Once, his fall hurt so much that he swore he would not get up again. He let his tears pour out on a lump of sod, melting it and gluing it to his face. But he clambered up and ran again, clenching his teeth against further falls. When he couldn't run anymore and thought he was quite a distance from home, he lay down in a pile of hay left over from a recently extinguished fire. He spread the ashes out, still warm, and made a bed for himself.
A time far past by Lựu Lê