On my most recent visit in June of this year, I gained full realization of what a major role 'the Grannies' play in the lives of these families. It is quite common for three and sometimes even four generations of a family to reside in the same dwelling and the role that 'the grannies' play is generally not a passive one.
Despite advancing years and the ravages on bodies of a hard life, those still in good health play an active role in the daily lives of their family. When one arrives to visit a student it is not unusual to find a granny caring for the children while the parents are working in the family rice plot, or absent from home working at a distant factory. On other occasions one cannot help but notice these beautiful oldies pottering in the kitchen or performing other household chores while we are interviewing our student with mum or dad in the living area. But it is also evident that ears are cocked and granny doesn’t miss a thing of what is being said with regard to her treasured grandchild.
In the Vietnamese culture this caring is also reflected in the respect, bordering on adoration, shown to the older generations. Those who are ailing are treated with great tenderness and indeed on their passing photographs and tributes to them appear and remain on the ever prominent family altar. Ancestor worship remains an important element in Vietnamese culture.
As an aging guy myself I find it very easy to interact with the village grannies. Through our translator we share some laughs. But how I regret my laziness over the years in not becoming fluent in the Vietnamese language; for I could think of nothing more pleasant than sitting in a village garden listening to the wonderful life stories that these great people could tell and boasting about our respective grand kids.