Many Vietnamese are taught about filial piety, a key virtue in Vietnamese culture, from a very young age.
They revere their parents in daily life. They give them love and happiness while they take care of them. They look after them in sickness, and express great sorrow over their sickness or death, and sacrifice for them with solemnity.
However, to some, filial piety is still a matter of concern.
Phan Thi Tam, 72, (people call her Old Tam), is an example of a rich-but-lonely case in Ha Noi's Long Bien District.
She has three sons who have all excelled in their professions and stay abroad, but not many people in her building know them. Some think her domestic helper, who has lived with her for nine years, is her daughter.
"My sons have asked me on numerous occasions to live with them abroad in order to give them a chance to take care of me, but I have refused," Old Tam says.
"In my old age I want to live and pass away in my native village. So every time they come back (usually at Tet, the Lunar New Year festival), I try to show them that I am happy," she says.
"They have sent me a lot of money, gifts, medicines and have called me and my help often to make sure I am okay. I have no need to shop or eat out. I feel sad and lonely right in my luxurious home. I cannot sleep when I think about whether they will come back in time before I pass away," she says, crying.
Teacher Tran Minh Duc from Hoan Kiem District's Chuong Duong Ward is another case of filial piety.
"Born into a poor family with five children in the central province of Thanh Hoa, my parents had to undergo various problems for many years to raise us. I told myself I will do my best to revere them and be good to them till the end of my life," Duc says.
Duc sold his house and land in his village and brought his parents to his fully equipped house to live together. However, his parents fell ill after just two months with his family.
"I like green tea and black tobacco, but there is no place for my habit in my son's house," Duc's father, Tran Van Tuy says.
"I do not like either air-conditioners or the city's specialties. I want to breathe the air in my village. I miss my old friends who I used to chat and play chess with every afternoon in my old house," he says.
Old people have very few demands in terms of food or accommodation. They are sometimes too sensitive about the way their children behave with them. They love them very much, but at times they cannot find a solution to balance their differences about characteristics, habits, the generation gap, and especially the conflicts between them and their daughter-in-law or son-in-law. That is why some of them have decided to spend the rest of their days in nursing homes.
Each one has his or her own reason to stay there, but they still love their children deeply, and do not blame them. They agree to do that because it is for their happiness, though they miss their children, their old house with close relatives, neighbours and friends.
"I don't think letting parents staying in nursing homes is bad," Le Quang from Long Bien District's Giang Bien Ward says.
"In my case, I have to work in the countryside most of the time. And I am single now. So, I neither have the time and nor am I in a condition to take care of my mother (my dad passed way two years ago). I feel so sorry about that, but I have no choice," Quang says.
"I think letting her stay in a prestigious nursing home where she is provided good care and where she has people from the same age to talk to and share is better than staying at her house, but being lonely," he adds.
Luong Ngoc Hai from Cau Giay District's Trung Hoa Ward objects to the view of people who talk a lot about children nowadays having less filial piety for their parents as their parents did before.
"Being a father of two, I think the opinion that children must have filial piety for their parents is not really right," Hai says.
"Giving birth to a child is our choice. And when we decide to do that, we have to take care of our children, at least till they turn 18. That is our responsibility. They bring us happiness, so why are we expecting them to repay a debt?" he asks.
Nguyen Quynh Chi, from the same district as Hai, also reveals the pressure she lives under while staying with her mother-in-law.
"In my opinion, living separately but close to each other is a good way to prevent conflicts," she says.
"My mother-in-law is so hard to please. She's prissy, demanding and wants to control everything, even my business and that of my husband. She especially wants to get my son on her side. I think, implementing my filial duty to her is really hard, though I do my best," Chi claims.
The generation gap and differences about characteristics, cultures and habit between parents and their children, of course, give rise to numerous challenges. But let us think twice before we say or do something without mature consideration.
When I was young, I had many things to take care of such as love, work, and friends. Everything that is but my parents, and they took up a very small part of my life. I thought having parents by my side every time and everywhere to share was just a matter of fact. When they passed away, I knew whatever they had done was only because they loved me and sacrificed for me. They were happy when I smiled and sad when I cried.
I miss them so much, especially when I face difficulties, when I am sad or even when I am happy.
I have become more understanding about how much they sacrificed and how deeply they loved me, especially now that I have children. I wish I could return to the past for just one day to meet them, to say sorry for whatever I did wrong, to experience their deep love without any condition, and especially to do my filial duty to them, with all my heart.
Let us try to understand them, spend more time to talk with them, and show them how much we love them, before it is too late. Step by step, filial duty will become a natural and gentle thing which comes from the heart. — VNS