Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Gold, Love, and Power Struggles: The Caper PART 3

August 8, 2017. Gold, Love, and Power Struggles: An Inside Story of "The Caper." copyright © Kim Roberts

For over forty years I've accustomed myself to American way of being open, rational, and straightforward. But, in Vietnamese culture, it's not flattering for one to be forthright. So to be tasteful, we often imply. The Vietnamese implication is not about beating around the bush. It is intended to make the subject listener feel and act in certain way. Impacting the psyche of the listener is the point. Not only the Vietnamese don't directly say what we mean, we often don't even make our intention known. It's a cultural trait. And that is not only in speaking manner, it's also in our way of thinking, behaving, strategizing, and living our lives. If I could draw the way the Vietnamese rationalize, it would look like a maze, not according to any law of logic, or any rule of commonsense.  

That pattern of thinking has led us to our way of social interactions and formation of various segments in the community. Back to my hometown Sadec, since 1975, the socialist local authorities have had a tremendous power over the lives of the locals. Yet the authorities also know that there is another force they have to reckon with: The native belief in the power of the Village Deity and of the elders. As we Vietnamese would say, Phép vua thua lệ làng,” or "facing the village's customs, the king's rules must leave in a lurch." Then there is a powerful religious group, the pro-government Buddhist Association, which comprises about one-half of Buddhist Temples that have gained supports and recognition from the local authorities. Explicitly, these groups don't fight each other for territorial controls. Implicitly, they try exert power over each other and the locals. The village people get used to dealing with these implicit power struggles. Even when it's unbearable, we Vietnamese know how to "cố đấm ăn xôi," or "take the punches to earn the sweet rice reward." 

With respect to my story, "The Caper," after I came to America in 1975, I never mentioned to others of my mother and the deep, binding love I had for her as well as her influence upon my life. Quietly and faithfully, I sent her support money on a regular basis. After her death in 2000, I let my Buddhist nun sister Nhu Chieu sell the house and land that Mother had willed to me. My sister bought .999 pure gold bars with the proceeds. Then I continued to send her money. For each $100 I sent and unused she purchased a .999 pure gold ring until she collected hundreds of gold rings. I am a fool for love, I knew they never needed that much money but I wanted to pamper them.

In 2006, my Buddhist nun sister Nhu Chieu died of a sudden heart attack and left two bags of gold. A dozen of powerful figures in the community, including Buddhist nuns, relatives, and law enforcement witnessed the gold and did an inventory of it. They called to my home in America and needed my decision on how to distribute the gold. They spoke as if they recognized I was the rightful heir to the gold but implicitly, I should not or could not claim the gold for myself. I knew immediately, each one at the scene of my sister's death implied that the gold should go to them. Off the top of my head, I suggested a gold custodian, my cousin Thanh My, living in downtown Sadec near the police headquarters, although I had no contact with her for over forty years. I knew for sure the people and groups present at the temple where sister died would keep an eye on the gold until, as they suggested, I returned to Sadec to officially gift it to them. No one, no group, not even my cousin, would dare to touch the gold. 

In Sadec we say, "Đi với bụt mặc áo cà sa, đi với ma mặc áo giấy." Literally, it means "going with a monk, wear a saffron robe, going with a ghost, wear a paper outfit." Or as we say in America, "Pay a man back in the same coin." No one knew that I selected my cousin because she was a mother of three who would unlikely skip town with the gold while I was exploring my options.

I knew without any doubt that the moment I claimed my right to the gold or hired an attorney to fight for it through the legal system, the gold would mysteriously disappear within seconds. However, if I returned and distributed the gold as I promised the people there, I could endanger my life as I would not please everyone. Worse, I would subject myself to unwanted pressure and forces. I could jeopardize my safety as the local authorities could arrest me without a cause. Once, my brother in law, a Vietnamese American, was arrested and thrown in jail because he took a video of a government building near Sadec even from street. My third option was walking away. And I knew that was their intention for me to do. The fact that the gold was intact in my cousin's safe for weeks until I returned indicated that the risk of any attempt to take or tamper with it was extremely high.

Walking away was never my intention. So "The Caper" operation took place. That wasn't for the value of the gold as I later gave the gold money away to charities. I had to do that for my self-respect. No one should underestimate the intensity of my love and the fire in my determination when it comes to the matters of the heart. The gold was a loving gift I gave my mother and sister and no one else.

With that, I dedicate this piece to my late mother and my late Buddhist nun sister Nhu Chieu. Their spirits were with me throughout my adventure. The force of my love for them made The Caper a successful experience.


END. www.facebook.com/sadecinmyheart   copyright © Kim Roberts

(For the full story, please click the following link)

The Caper PART 3--Retrieving Two Bags of Gold from...: copyright © Kim Roberts

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