Illustration by Trịnh Lập
by Lương Thu Hương
Class reunions can be fun, catching up with people we knew when we were younger and hearing of how life is treating them.
But the best reunions seem to be those held within a few years of parting ways, as friends and acquaintances haven’t been battered by time just yet.
It’s become clear to me over the years that the older my former classmates or friends and I become, the smaller our meetings are.
A friend of mine since secondary school, Hoàng Lan Phương, 32, now works at a bank in Hà Nội, but has no interest in reunions for the simple fact that she’s still single.
“The talk at class reunions is always about family and kids, so I have nothing to add to the conversation,” she said in explaining why former classmate meetings just aren’t for her.
“Instead, I have to answer a stream of questions about when I’ll get married or if I’m dating anyone. These questions become annoying pretty quickly.”
Class reunions normally take place on Teacher’s Day on November 20, when people visit their old schools and teachers and present them flowers and best wishes.
“The first few reunions were really great,” said 42-year-old Nguyễn Phương Thảo. “But eventually all that anyone talked about were jobs and families, and a lot of people started to show off their wealth and success.”
“Some boast about living in a luxurious apartment, or that their child is attending an international school and planning to study abroad.”
“One of the women constantly talks about how her husband runs a successful business and just bought her a new car or a new top-of-the-line phone.”
While most are genuinely happy about a former classmate’s success, they just don’t want to hear about it at every single reunion. At least an equal number of old classmates are doing it quite tough, and hearing of the success of others just adds to the weight already on their shoulders.
Insensitive boasting only widens the distance between former friends and classmates on a day that is supposed to help them stay in touch or reconnect.
Tăng Hà Long, a former classmate of Thảo’s who was school monitor and has now become the director of a large confectionery producer, once made the suggestion that the cost of the class reunion be covered by those who are well-off, to help others who can’t afford it.
The idea irritated just about everyone, especially as the agreement has always been that the cost is split among all who come.
Thảo’s alumni get-togethers saw a lot fewer people attend in the years that followed, with most no longer interested in hearing the boasts of others.
“One of my close friends refused to go to the reunion this year, as her husband lost his job and the family is going through a tough time financially,” she said. “She feels embarrassed, and asked me not to let on to anyone.”
A friend of mine, meanwhile, told me about one of her acquaintances who rented a car to drive to his class meeting in Hà Nội.
“Having seen in previous years that most of his former classmates drive expensive cars, he didn’t want to turn up on his old motorbike,” she said.
Many reunions, however, help to strengthen the friendship and solidarity between former classmates.
Beyond just keeping in touch once a year, they help each other tovercome troubled times whenever needed. And when one is doing it particularly tough, a helping hand comes their way in a discreet manner that doesn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable.
For example, my older brothers’ class got some money together to help one of their classmates, who had been unemployed for a long time, start a small business, which became quite successful. In return, he is the first to offer financial support to anyone in need.
The best class reunions, then, are those where everyone sits down and fondly remembers the past but also talks honestly about life’s ups and downs.
So, former classmates, it pays to be sensitive and treasure the moments we have with people we grew up beside. Let your alumni homecoming fulfil its true purpose and meaning. VNS