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Dream of Generations

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I believe that for those of us who are fortunate enough to have grown up with our grandparents – as the backdrop of our childhood – will have developed a cherished relationship with them. For example, for the most part of my life, my imagination and motivation have been significantly inspired by my grandmother. Because of that, I find the detail of ‘braiding hair’ in the poem ‘My Hakka Grandmother’ particularly inspirational as it rekindled my memory. Through my reflection, I’d like to invite you to travel with me, back to the time that I was inspired by my grandmother.

I remember the succession of hectic days preparing for my very first collection for the Vietnam Traditional Fashion Week. The struggling amid a sea of tedium had drained all of my buoyancy, to the point that I almost conceived of myself as a figment of my own imagination. While I was absently scrolling down my screen seeking a beacon of inspiration, I came across a picture of a grandmother braiding the hair of a little girl sitting on her lap. All of a sudden, a tidal wave of childhood memories fiercely washed over me, sweeping over the present and dragging me back to the time when I was about to leave my grandmother, whom I dearly called ‘Ngoai’, to move to the city to begin my study.

I remember the quaint old Cu Lan village where we resided, right beneath the grandiose Langbiang peak – our tribal pride. Our homeland hunkers down in the lap of a crystalline spring, sparkling and murmuring while absorbing the glare from the beaming Liangbiang sun. All the dwellings together resembled a wheel with its rim surrounding the rear cog. The hub of our village’s wheel was a monumental poinciana with its long sinewy roots stretching out like a cluster of lazy snakes sunbathing. Such a tranquil simple life! However, from the day I received the scholarship from the most prestigious high school in the inner city, my life flipped over into a whole new chapter.

At first, I was exhilarated. I imagined myself at the high school, lithely walking in an elegant ao dai – a long, split tunic dress worn over trousers by Vietnamese high-school girls. I had never worn one, but I had found them particularly fascinating since Ngoai always reminded me that ao dai was not only the epitome of the Vietnamese feminine beauty but also the ingrained symbol of the national spirit. Every time she spoke of ao dai, I noticed her deep eyes beaming like glistening stars, but at the same time blended with a slight sadness. Fifteen years prior, Ngoai had been well-known as ‘Golden Hands’ for sewing the best ao dai downtown and there had been no doubt that her biggest dream was to start up her own boutique. But a harsh bitter wind had blown her dream away when my parents split up and abandoned me with her to find their new fortune. And so Ngoai ended up having to choose me over her life’s passion.

When Ngoai found out I had been enrolled into the school, she rushed to the market and brought home a bolt of lily-white chiffon, ready to rediscover her flair. And as I watched, I was impressed. The way her callused hands carefully took measurements of my figure was soft and soothing. The way her scissors effortlessly glided through the fabric, splitting it into two perfectly identical halves of a garment was as if she had never ceased sewing. I realized that fifteen years of putting away her scissors had not prevented her from nurturing and embracing her adoration for ao dai. Intentionally, I tiptoed a few steps towards the table, gently running my fingers along the fabric to sense Grandmother’s feeling. And I was inspired, as if my grandmother’s flame had ignited something in me. That was when I decided to take over her vocation to become an ao dai designer myself.

A few days before leaving, we had a tragedy. That afternoon on my way home from the market, a malevolent blanket of cloud concealed the sky and I had a sense a of foreboding. When I arrived home, I found my grandmother had tripped over a chunk of wood and tumbled down. As I came to her as she laid unconscious on the floor, I was struck dumb. My heart squeezed. My soul was pierced with thousands of arrows. All the way to the hospital, I was on tenterhooks, praying to God for the life of my grandmother.

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Eventually, God saved her from that injury, and the relief radiated from me. But a thought flashed through my mind: who would take care of my grandmother when I was away? Who would remind her to put on another overcoat before heading to the market every frosty morning? Who would knead her calves every night? I tossed and turned in bed, finding myself in a divided mind as to what to do – stay with Ngoai or pursue my dream?

Growing up with Ngoai by my side was the best thing I had ever been granted. Fifteen years ago, she could have just let me go with one of my parents, then carried on her dream, but she did not. Ngoai, instead, had sacrificed her whole life to take care of me. Ngoai, instead, had chosen to give and share. I owed Ngoai a big debt that I could never repay, but I knew that I had to try. So that I decided to stay in under Langbiang, in Cu Lan, with Ngoai.

The day before school started, Ngoai brought me a bowl of sweet red bean soup. Since red bean soup is only served at auspicious times for people who were leaving for a new adventure, I contemplated her intention. After fifteen years of living in the same household, we had developed our own language which did not demand many words, as it was just simply reflected on our faces. And Ngoai, with all of her love, affection and sacrifice, was telling me to spread my wings and fly.

“If you really want me to be happy, then follow your dreams. If you want me to be proud of you, please fight for your future. And if you think you owe me anything, then please repay your debt by stepping out of this vicious cycle”, she tenderly explained.

I sobbed. A sense of guilt grew in me. Life was unfair. I had always been receiving, while Ngoai had only been interested in giving. The more I obsessed over that thought, the more powerful the flame that I had taken from Ngoai, urging me to make my dream come true so that at least Ngoai could proud of me, and perhaps herself too.

I remember my first day at my new school, the sun rose crimson, shimmering across the land. That was the first time in all those fifteen years that Ngoai did not braid my hair before school. As I sat in class, marveling at what a wonderful ao dai she had sewn, I looked far beyond to the day when I would be able to tell Ngoai our dream had come true.

The clock ticked midnight. The ticket to my childhood had expired and I was back at my table. All of a sudden, I felt ardently inspired and came up with a theme for my collection: my grandmother, my childhood, and accompanying the ao dai, the models would be braiding hair of each other on the runway. As I sketched, the images of ao dai triggered a strong reconnection to my grandmother. I guessed that I had inherited her passion and was duty-bound to carry it on. Even though the clock will never unwind for us, my grandmother is always a very important part of me.

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Dream of Generations. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from
“Dream of Generations.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
Dream of Generations. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 25 Sept. 2023].
Dream of Generations [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2023 Sept 25]. Available from:
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