After thirteen years through thick and thin together, I still have tremendous respect, admiration, and love for my wife. Last year in particular, was a challenge for us. Once again, our relationship was put through a difficult test.
As the global pandemic hit our country, schools shut down and daycares closed. We both had to work from home, kept our two older sons online schooling, and took care of our two younger sons. We had a difficult time to navigate and adapt to the new circumstance, but we pulled through with the tremendous help from my mother-in-law.
With everyone masking up and taking every precaution, I thought we could ride through this pandemic safely. Then the bad news came when my father was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer. He passed away and I didn’t get to see him because of the traveling restrictions from Vietnam. Then the worst news came when my mother was tested COVID positive. It shook me to the core. I did not expect it nor I was prepared for it. I had to rely on my wife and her mother to take care of our kids so I could be away for a while.
Then my mother passed away. I lost both of my parents within a month. I was beyond devastated. My heart broke and my soul shattered. I was drowning in sorrow. I didn’t know if I could go on if I didn’t have my wife and kids. They helped me to hold on, to rise above water, and to stay sober. I wanted to reach out to the liquor so badly, but I did not take a drop in that period. If I did, I would have fallen deep and fast into depression. I needed to stay strong for my family. I wrote and wrote instead.
I know I am not a perfect husband, but my love for her is real and I have no problem letting her know. In fact, I have no problem letting the whole world know. Unlike me, my wife does not express herself, but I can feel her deep love. She is a caring daughter, a loving mother, and an understanding partner.
In the past few weeks, I revisited the web page I created for our wedding. Rereading our story and looking at our photographs brought back so many memories and inspired me to expand our love notes. For our thirteenth anniversary, I would like to share our story with you.
Hải Dung and I met through my blog, where she read my amateur reviews on Vietnamese music. When she was searching for an apartment in Poughkeepsie, New York, she reached out to me for advice since I had been living in town and working at Vassar College. Of course, I said yes and asked for her phone number so we could be in contact. I didn’t have the courage to call her because I didn’t want to embarrass myself. Even though I had lived in Poughkeepsie for a few years, I didn’t venture out much and didn’t know much about the area. I stayed silent, but my instinct told me that she was someone special.
A week, a month, and then three months went by. I stared at her phone number, but I still couldn’t make the call. Why was I nervous? What did I have to lose? What if she was the one? These questions helped me pull together my confidence to place that call. My heart beat out of my chest when she said, “hello.” I nervously explained to her who I was, but she could not remember. I felt awkward and embarrassed. As I was about to say, “Sorry for bothering you,” and to hang up the phone, her memory came back. At this point, she already found an apartment and settled in. The only thing I could offer to her was, “Do you want to hang out sometimes since we’re in the same area?” To my surprise, she said, “Yes.”
I invited her to Upstate Films, my favorite independent movie theater in the area. After the movie, I didn’t want our “date” to end; therefore, I invited her to a late dinner. While I could barely eat whatever I ordered, I watched her enjoying a huge plate of shrimp pasta at ten o’clock at night. I was impressed. I couldn’t stop thinking about her.
We continued to exchange emails and dine out at various restaurants around us. We sat by the Hudson River relaxing after a long day at work and chatting about our family, particularly our parents. I told her how I felt about her, but she didn’t reciprocate. She didn’t respond one way or the other, but we continued to see each other once or twice a week. I didn’t know what to think. It seemed as if we were stuck in the friend zone.
Then one beautiful summer evening, we sat side by side on the bench having a passionate conversation about Vietnamese music. She pointed her finger in my direction and I grabbed her hand. To my surprise, she didn’t pull back. I held on to her hand for as long as I could. Our relationship began on a whole new level.
As Hải Dung and I got to know each other, we found out that we shared many common values and interests. We were family oriented, proud of our Vietnamese background, and passionate about Vietnamese music. Vietnamese melodies and lyrics connected us to our roots. To document our love notes, we have selected seven Vietnamese intimate ballads that illustrate our story.
Tình tự mùa xuân
Music & lyrics: Từ Công Phụng
Vocal: Tuấn Ngọc
Tuấn Ngọc is one of our favorite Vietnamese balladeers. When he sings romantic ballads, he pours his heart out. As I was driving Hải Dung back to her apartment from one of our date nights, “Tình Tự Mùa Xuân” came on and Tuấn Ngọc’s vocals swept us away. I had listened to this tune many times before, but the magic only worked when she was by my side.
Em lại đây với anh
Ngồi đây với anh
Trong cuộc đời này.
Nghe thời gian lướt qua
Mùa xuân khẽ sang
Chừng như không gian đang sưởi ấm
những giọt tình nồng.
Come to me,
Sit by my side,
Share this life with me.
Listen to the time glide by,
As the soft approach of spring,
Warms the air
And our tender tears of love.
I didn’t need to say a word. Tuấn Ngọc’s charming voice expressed my feelings at that moment. We held each other’s hand and appreciated our company.
Bài ca hạnh ngộ
Music & lyrics: Lê Uyên Phương
Vocal: Thiên Phượng
As Hải Dung and I decided to embark on our life journey together, we recognized the rough, treacherous road ahead, but we will make it if we hold on to each other’s hand and never let go. When our relationship got tough, we reminded ourselves of Lê Uyên Phương’s advice:
Rồi mai đây đi trên đường đời
Đừng buông tay âm thầm tìm về cô đơn.
Later, on the journey through life,
Don’t let go of my hand to seek your quiet solitude.
The soft and fragility in Thiên Phượng’s voice somehow carried the weight of these meaningful lyrics. As long as we hold on, we won’t be alone. We will always have each other.
Vì đó là em
Music & lyrics: Diệu Hương
Vocal: Quang Dũng
Through his warm baritone, Quang Dũng captured the romantic beauty in Diệu Hương’s lyrics. His sincerity was felt when he delivered these lines:
Không cần biết em là ai
Không cần biết em từ đâu
Không cần biết em ngày sau.
Ta yêu em bằng mấy ngàn biển rộng
Ta yêu em qua đông tàn ngày tận
Yêu em như yêu vùng trời mênh mông.
Who you are doesn’t matter,
Where you’re from, I don’t wonder,
What you’ll be, I don’t worry.
My love is a thousand oceans strong,
My love will fight winters and eternities long,
My love, like the sky, will always be.
“Sure my dear, I love you just the way you are,” I made a joke and she accused me of “dẻo mồm” (smooth talker). Called me whatever she wanted, but I loved seeing her smile. She had a beautiful smile.
Nụ hôn gửi gió
Music: Hoàng Việt Khanh
lyrics: Hiền Vy
Vocal: Quang Lý
I played this rare, contemporary, folk tune, composed by Hoàng Việt Khanh, to Hải Dung because I loved Quang Lý’s delightful delivery. She immediately gravitated toward Hiền Vy’s lovely lyrics:
Môi em mọng đỏ, là đỏ như mơ
Cho anh nhờ gió hôn vào là vào môi em.
Your full red lips, crimson like a ripe apricot,
Let me summon the breeze to give them a gentle kiss.
What a graceful, subtle approach to express affections for your lover.
Niệm khúc cuối
Music & lyrics: Ngô Thụy Miên
Vocal: Thụy Vũ
The first time she invite me over to her apartment for dinner, I brought along a bottle of wine and Thụy Vũ’s solo debut, “Tháng sáu trời mưa.” As we wined and dined, “Niệm khúc cuối” came on. I invited her to dance with me for the first time. It felt like heaven. Of course, we had to pick this tune for our first dance at our wedding. Ngô Thụy Miên’s lyrics touched our souls every time:
Cho tôi xin em như gối mộng
Cho tôi ôm em vào lòng.
Xin cho một lần, cho đêm mặn nồng
Yêu thương vợ chồng.
Be the pillow I embrace,
Let me hold you in my arms,
Let us share warm nights together,
Loving one another as husband and wife.
Rồi đây anh sẽ đưa em về nhà
Music & lyrics: Phạm Duy
Vocal: Mộng Thúy
A lovely ballad from Phạm Duy reminds us of the days we sat at Eastman Park talking about life, family, music, and everything else until two in the morning. Accompanied by a simple, elegant piano, Mộng Thúy’s sweet soprano brings us back those memories:
Rồi đây anh sẽ đưa em trở về
Về nơi công viên yên vui lặng lẽ.
Hãy ngồi đây, ghế đá ngày xưa
Dưới hàng thông có gió lửng lơ.
And I will return with you
To the quiet park of our youth,
Where we may sit on the old bench
Under pines caressed by the breeze.
Bài không tên số 28
Music & lyrics: Vũ Thành An
Vocal: Tuấn Ngọc
Our love story is filled with memories and this is just the beginning. Each day our love grows stronger than the day before and we’re looking forward to sharing our lives together:
Cho đến trăm năm vẫn còn say
Xin đến trăm năm không rời tay.
Until a hundred years pass, our love shall never end,
For a hundred years more, never letting go.
Thanks to Đỗ Trọng and Anh-Chi Đỗ for all English translations.