This is a rough translation of “Nô lệ của hạnh phúc“ by Trang Hạ. Some words and sentences had been changed in order to have the closest meaning to the original copy. If you think any changes should be made to make this translation even better, please comment bellow.
Something you should know when you read this articles:
In the past, Vietnamese girls were married into another household when they were very young. The main reason for it is to have another helper for the husband’s household in the farm and around the house, and to bare child to keep the family bloodline. A lot of women were treated like maid/slave, and they were expected to be obedience, well trained, never complain, and never talk back to older people or her husband. They had to live in a household with 4-5 generations, with tons of people to take care of, and almost no freedom at all. Everything they did, or own, all belong to the husband.
That image slowly become a tradition of good woman, someone who would do all the housework, take care of kids, cook well, prepare every meal for her husband to come home, listen to her husband’s every word,…
However, even after woman right and human equality, a lot of people still believe that a good woman have to act like a good housewife even when she goes to work just like any man. Less and less young women want to follow this tradition, and more women require their husbands’ share on housework these day. But due to another tradition, which is newly wed wife have to come and live at husband’s parents house with him, this has become a major problem.
This article is a real story of a Vietnamese woman, living in Vietnam, in the current modern world. It’s just one person, one situation, it doesn’t mean that all Asian housewives or all Vietnamese housewives are like this. However, this way of life is considered a “dream marriage” in many women’s eyes in Vietnam, especially older or more traditional women.
This article was written by a woman writer, who’s happily married with 3 kids, who’s also currently living in Vietnam.
Slave of happiness
There are some kinds of happiness that carry the shape of a golden cage, because in order to have it, women have to exchange their own freedom.
1. The young housewife:
When Hai got married, the whole neighborhood was really happy for her to get such a talented young man as her husband. After a huge wedding, she started a new life of a young housewife. Which means, she gets up early in the morning to buy breakfast for her husband, then goes to yoga class right at the floor below. At noon, she eats alone in her luxury kitchen. At night, she’s busy with the luxury dishes and tableware, while chatting with her friends online through webcam. In the weekend, her husband drives her to the market, stacks the whole car with enough food and appliances for the whole week. Each of her dress has to come with a matching pair of shoes, and her perfume collection might be as big as a closet for a household of 3 people.
I haven’t seen her until a few years after, partly was because we see each other online everyday, and every time we talk, it feels like we’re both doing well. If we need something, we can send email, or gift each other through online services. Even my books, I could just gift her online, it will go right into her smartphone.
Then one day, while I was drinking coffee right at her building, I called her to open the door.
From the day she married until she got kids, she had never gotten a job. So of course, she’s always at home. She gained some weight, and has a relaxing life around her kitchen. However, there is something weird about her, that is, when I was eating, she was always standing.
When I just finished eating, she immediately cleaned up, and placed newly made carrot smoothie right into my hand. Even when I was eating, she was always busy doing something. I asked her:
“Just leave it there, we can clean up together after. Why don’t you sit down and talk with me?”
“It’s nothing really. Keep talking, I’m still listening.”
I found out, she always held one thing in her hand, one thing that even after 20 years living together in our old building, I had never seen before!
That one thing is a white, soft cleaning cloth, 100% cotton, and a little damp. That cleaning cloth is always clean, and couldn’t be any more clean, because every 10 mins or so, she would wash and hand dry it.
And that young housewife, even when she was sitting next to me to watch TV, she still held that cloth tightly in her hand.
2. The secret of happiness
She said, her husband is getting more and more successful everyday. Even when the kids have grown, he still doesn’t want his wife to have to work hard. One time, she told him, “you should make me your secretary, everyday we could go to work together, how convenient! It’s really boring to stay at home!”
Her husband said, “you know that the wage of my secretary is just enough to pay for the milk we buy for our kids each month. Even if you go to work, it would just be enough to pay for some milk, not really worth it. And what about housework?”
And that’s the end of the discussion.
Every time they fight, her husband usually buys her an expensive make-up kit. She said, “if I went to work after finishing college, and keep on working until now, probably I could only earn enough to pay for those make-up.”
But the problem is, the young housewife barely use these cosmetics. A lot of them are about to expired, but haven’t been opened before. She owns these thing, she got gifted, but does she really need them? The things that make her proud of, do they really worth something to her, beside self-comfort?
I ask her, “why do you keep on wiping everything around the house? Your house is as clean as new already, you still have to talk to guest and cleaning at the same time like that? Being too clean is also bad, I heard in Japan, a lot of people have to go to the psychology hospital just because they are too clean. Some people have to wear glove when receiving money back from the store. Some people always think of virus.”
I noticed that she planted some flowers hanging from the window. Her laptop was placed right under these flowers, but surprisingly, not even a tiny bit of dirt or a drop of water was found on the laptop!
The young housewife said, “my husband is a clean freak, if he saw even a drop of clean water on the glass table, he will make me clean immediately.”
and “CLEAN IMMEDIATELY”?
I finally understand that luxury life inside a luxury apartment of a happy family. One person will “make”, while the other will “clean immediately”! Even when I know that every happiness has it price, but we are different in our places in that happiness: Are we the owner of that happiness, or are we the slave?
She said, “oh, there is a short hair drop by the door.” She leaned down, used her white cleaning cloth to pick that hair up, then brought it to a garbage can on the corner of the kitchen.
I said goodbye to her in a hurry, because I was worried that another hair of mine will make her apartment and her life become less perfect. Or maybe I was worried that the thoughts in my head will startle her!
Translated by Nana3B