HAGGLING HASSLES

My brother is having a traditional Vietnamese wedding tea ceremony. What does this mean? Hell. I’m just kidding… I haven’t been to Hell, so I can’t compare but I can imagine it’s pretty close.

I didn’t have a tea ceremony or a wedding that my parents were happy with. My mother wanted a church wedding with a priest, while my dad wanted a lavish over-the-top wedding with the entire village and then some. Instead, I chose a no-frills, all-in-one venue, Sunday lunch wedding with a celebrant and invited only close family and friends. It was a simple understated affair and suited us perfectly. 

Unlike me, my brother and his fiancée are doing the whole shebang. It’s so big that they have to split it into two separate events. The tea ceremony is going to be held this weekend while the civil ceremony and wedding reception will be held in a fortnight.

The tea ceremony is a tradition where the groom’s family visits the bride’s family bearing gifts (dowry) and the groom officially asks the bride’s parents for their daughter’s hand in marriage. It’s basically an elaborate engagement party.

The groom’s family (my parents, my family, uncles and aunties, groomsmen) will arrive with a $500 suckling pig and five trays full of alcohol, tea, jewellery, fruits, Vietnamese mung bean cake and Vietnamese sweet glutinous rice. 

There will be a formal introduction (aka awkward meet and greet) then the bride and groom will serve family members with tea in exchange for their well-wishes and a red pocket. A red pocket is a red envelope with money. How much money they will get depends on the generosity of the family member. There’s a celebratory lunch and then the groom’s family head back to my parent’s house and await the bride’s family to visit us. The same process then occurs at our place minus the proposal. 

By the end of the day, the bride and groom will have officially met the family on both sides and will be richer for the experience. And by richer, I mean literally richer with money. And it’ll only take a whole day.

Anyway, my brother is keen to do things the traditional way so it means my mother, my daughter and I have to wear something called an Ao Dai. It’s the Vietnamese traditional dress, usually worn by women and only looks flattering on thin people.

I’m not what you would call a typical looking Vietnamese woman. I could give Shakira a run for her money in the hip and bust area, so I don’t particularly like the idea of wearing an Ao Dai. I mean, if I wanted to rock the toga look and it was a Greek themed wedding then sure, but this is a traditional Vietnamese wedding and I want to look hot not a flop. 

A couple of months ago, I ordered a cheap purple Ao Dai from an overseas online company. According to their measurement chart, I was a heffer and needed a 3XL, the largest size available. When it arrived in the mail a month later, the thing didn’t fit me. The arms and legs were so long that I could have made myself an extra pair of pants with them. Despite being way too big in the limbs, the body of the Ao Dai was too small. It was obviously made for a willowy giant. I tried salvaging it but even with my reasonable sewing skills, it was impossible.

With only three weeks until the event, I felt the pressure to find something to wear and reluctantly agreed to go with my mum to the store where she bought her yellow Ao Dai.

Shopping with my mum is like going to the dentist. It’s painful, costly and it feels like an obligation. You just gotta suck up it and get it done. That’s how I felt going to this Vietnamese fashion store with my mum.

The minute we stepped into the store, my mother started barking at the poor owner to get me a size 14 Ao Dai. Fortunately, the lady didn’t take offense at my mother’s poor manners and simply told her to step aside.

“I think you’re a size 12. Let’s try that first and we can see what we’re working with.” The lady passed me an Ao Dai to try on. As I was in the change cubicle, I could hear my mother and the lady argue about sizing and whether or not my ass would fit into a size 12. Talk about mortification!

“She’s got a big ass and boobs but has a small waist. That’s why it’s so hard to find clothes for her.” I heard my mum tell the lady. “She eats too much pasta.”

Why do mothers do that? It was so embarrassing. I felt like a teenager again with my mother choosing hideous outfits for me to wear and me having to grin and bear it.

“Did you have a big bottom before having kids? Do you eat a lot of Western foods?” The lady asked me a bunch of in-your-face questions before giving me a size 10 to try on. “You should eat purple wild rice; it’s much better for you.”

Ignoring her comments, I returned to the cubicle to try on another Ao Dai. The two women continued to argue about sizing but then changed to what colour would suit me best. It was basically a pissing contest. Eventually, I found a purple size 10 Ao Dai that didn’t offend my sensibilities too much and went to pay fo it. 

Now, if there’s anything worth knowing about my mother, it’s that she loves to bargain. And she’s ruthless about it. It’s mortifying and embarrassing. To a spectator though, it’s utterly fascinating human behaviour to observe.

“Can you give her a discount? Your prices are too high!” As my mother was likely embarrassed about being wrong with my sizing, she doubled down on her efforts with haggling for a discount.

“This is not Vietnam! You can’t just haggle for what you want. It has the price on it, and it’s already discounted!”

This went on for about ten minutes with me holding my money out for the lady to take. Why wasn’t she taking my money?! My mother wasn’t paying for it but for some reason, the lady felt obliged to argue with her on pricing. It didn’t matter that I was willing to pay whatever damn price it took to get the hell out of the awkward situation. I didn’t want a discount! I wanted to skedaddle and find myself a nice hole to bury inside.

“Fine! I’ll give her $5 off. Take it or leave it. But there’s no guarantee this dress will still be there when you come back.” 

“Round it down. Make it $10.” 

Another round of arguing and hard stares between the two women ensued and it was at this point that I lost patience with the whole situation. I cracked the shits. 

“Mum, I don’t want a discount. I am happy to pay the price. I got what I wanted, and that’s what is important here.”

I shoved the money into the lady’s hand and all but dragged my stubborn mother out of the door with me. 

“You paid too much! Five dollars is still money. Your husband works hard, and you shouldn’t throw money around.” My mother was still ranting about the lady’s overpriced Ao Dai by the side of the road.

Exasperated with my mother’s antics, I turned to face her and putting on my “mum” voice, I told her that not all juice was worth the squeeze but I’ll bet it won’t stop her next time.

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IN A JAM

Back in my day as a university student, some twenty odd years ago, everything was paper based. I read from textbooks that were heavy as bricks and thick as the tree trunks they were made from. I would read, highlight and put sticky notes on printed papers. I went to face-to-face classes where lecturers would drone on and lull me into deep sleep. The only technology I owned was a computer that composed of a microwave-sized monitor, a hard drive that took an age to wake from sleep mode and a bunch of floppy discs. Yeah, yeah… I’m old. 

These days everything is cloud this or zoom that. While I wouldn’t call myself a tech noob, I’m not tech savvy either. Learning as a mature-aged student on cloud campus is challenging. Not so much that I can’t use the technology but rather I’m not used to this form of learning. Reading off a screen for large amounts of time and using software programs to take notes seems foreign to me. It doesn’t seem right, like eating a carb-free burger (i.e. burger minus the bun). Push comes to shove I could do it, but do I really want to?

For one of my research units, I have to write a literature review. What’s that? Don’t ask me, I still haven’t quite figured it out yet and it’s due in just over a week. All I know is that it involves a lot of research of journal articles, reading said articles, note-taking and then writing something. I’m at the reading stage and I’ve found reading small print on a screen difficult for my already deteriorating eyes. So tonight, I decided to drive to the university to do some printing at the library. I think printed papers are the way to go for me. It’s a shame a few more trees will perish as a result, but if it means a pass…

You know what’s different about being a mature-aged student? You don’t have the same misplaced confidence and care-free attitude as the average twenty something year old student. But most importantly, you don’t have the same time pressures. As a mature-age student, you’re likely to have work, family or life commitments that takes priority. So by the time I got to the library, it was getting towards closing time.

It didn’t help that I have poor night vision or that I drove around in circles looking for the University multi-level car park. Eventually, I found my way to the library using their app. I still can’t believe how advanced things are these days – fancy app and everything!

I managed to find a computer, figured out how to print my articles and located the printer to collect the prints. The only problem was half way through its mammoth print job, the printer spasmed and died. Flashing red lights appeared and I thought I saw smoke billowing from the vents.

Now, most people can follow instructions and figure out simple troubleshooting problems by themselves without too much difficulty. I however, got nervous when I heard an announcement over the speakers saying they were closing in fifteen minutes. I started panicking and fumbling around trying to find the source of the printing problem. 

When I saw the side profile of a dude in a blue shirt with a tie and wearing a name badge walk past, I called out “Hello, do you know how to fix printers?”

Unfortunately, he replied with “Nuh” and walked off. You see, he couldn’t have helped me because he was a security guard and not a library administrator. I might have noticed the difference had I not been in such a flustered state but then again, being observant has never been my forte.

Slightly embarrassed, I went to the front desk in search of a librarian for help but they were closed. Beyond the desk were some admin rooms and I could see the silhouette of two men. With nothing to lose but my printing, I called out for help.

“I haven’t been at uni for a long time, and I didn’t want to break your printers so I thought I should ask for help.” You know how I ramble when I’m nervous? Well, you can bet that I did a massive word vomit. 

The young man who came to assist looked at the flashing words on the printing screen and said (quite condescendingly) “It has instructions so you just have to read and follow it.”

I bet if I could mindread, he would have thought “These bloody boomers and their moronic IT problems!”

And I would have vehemently protested with “I’m not a boomer, thank you very much!”

Was it a surprise when he couldn’t fix the “simple” problem? No. Did I feel slightly vindicated that he couldn’t “follow the instructions”? Yes.

He gave me a shrug of the shoulders, told me to reprint on another printer and get a credit from IT the next day, then he went home.

Annoyed and determined not to be beaten by a stupid printer, I attempted to give it another crack. Seriously, how hard could it really be? If I could put together an IKEA product (those things are brutal), I could fix a stupid printer. And did I fix it! I stuck my fingers into its body like a field surgeon removing shrapnel and pulled out the jammed paper. I might have done a fist pump and yelled out “Oh Yeah Baby!” too.

The point of this story is that if I had taken a calming breath and refused to allow my anxiety to consume me, I would have been able to use my problem solving and critical thinking skills to deal with the printing problem.

Imagine what I could do if I didn’t just cave to this beast at every whim and used higher level thinking instead? Most likely, I wouldn’t have asked a security guard to fix a printing jam.

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ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK

Anxiety is my tormentor, an insidious beast that loves to creep out from the darkest corners of my mind, causing immeasurable destruction in its wake and leaving me in damaged pieces. I’ve been stripped bare emotionally and drained of confidence on so many occasions that it’s hard to believe I’ll ever feel whole again. It’s a draining dance of one step forward, two steps back. Sometimes in my darkness hours, I recklessly wonder if I should continue. Luckily, these thoughts are rare, and my family keeps me grounded. 

This week has been hard. The beast reappeared bearing unwanted gifts – three to be exact. Three panic attacks that left me gasping like a fish out of water, unable to draw breaths deep enough to ease the screaming desperation of my mind and the burning of my lungs. Death by suffocation is a scary thought.

I suppose I should have anticipated these panic attacks. I’ve got too much on my plate and stressed to the max.

My brother’s wedding is in three weeks, and I’ve been playing arbitrator between my brother and our parents – there’s been a lot of in-house fighting. There’s been bruised egos, drama divas, shattered illusions and a heck of a lot of screaming.

I’ve worried about securing and undertaking 200 hours of professional placement, only to discover from the lecturer that I’m in the wrong course – an oversight by the enrolment officers and lecturer. I feel let down and unsupported by the university. Not sure what’s to happen now. 

I have a kinder meeting tomorrow about my four-year-old son and I’m praying that his teacher doesn’t give me negative feedback. I’m worried about my eight-year-old daughter and her issues at school. 

My mother-in-law has been having radiation therapy for cancer these last five weeks and we’ve supported her and my father-in-law with cooked meals and company. Seeing her unwell has made me feel emotional and I feel the worry emanating from my husband. 

I’m still on my stupid low-carb diet and losing weight but it won’t make a shred of difference for my confidence when I’m at my brother’s wedding and faced with snide or condescending remarks from an uncle or aunty. The possibility is real. And despite disowning my dad’s family two decades ago, I’m loathed to admit that I’ll probably crumble under their cruel comments.

Everyone has had a cold this week, and I’m still not fully recovered from mine. I’m not sleeping well as I keep waking throughout the night to check on the kids. The image of my four-year-old choking on his vomit still burns in my retina, and I haven’t quite dislodged those feelings of mother’s guilt.

It’s really no wonder that I started getting panic attacks. Strangely, I think not blogging/writing has added to the stress. I stopped blogging to relieve myself from the expectation of weekly posting and instead of helping, I took away the only outlet I had to vent and feel centred.

So I’m back but not really back back. And before anyone asks… I’m ok or at least I will be. This is a bump in the road, a blip on the radar in the grand scheme of things. So I guess I’ll keep doing this dance until it becomes two steps forward, one step back. Eventually I’ll get there.

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