The moon is hanging big and low in the sky over the Auckland horizon as I fly into the city. A reddish gold color I often think of when picturing the night sky in the East. Fitting, I think with a smile. Maybe a good sign, too.
I try to keep my eyes on it through the little spherical window in the airplane for as long as I can before it is lost to the curve of flight.
In the Auckland International Airport, the line to check into my flight is long and moving slowly. With the first stop in Kuala Lumpur, the biggest stopover for other Asian destinations, the queue is full of people from all parts of this world.
The man in front of me is small, shorter than me with tiny hands and tiny feet shuffling along a trolley packed with four large suitcases.
“Is this the line for Malaysian Airlines?” I hear a soft voice speak. I look up and realize that the man is looking at me through glasses and slightly crossed eyes.
“Yes.” I say eagerly. “I think it is.” I know it is.
“I waited in line down there,” he says pointing to other end of terminal, “in Singaporean Airlines and didn’t know it was the wrong plane until I got to the middle of it.”
He has a shy smile, a quiet voice and an accent that tells me he is a New Zealander.
“Where are you going?” I ask him.
“Flying to Ho Chi Minh City. And you?”
“Hanoi,” I say.
“Are you Vietnamese?” He doesn’t really look like it but I ask him anyway.
“Are you full Vietnamese?” I ask, probing.
“No, half Vietnamese. Chinese and English, too.”
“Me too!” I say enthusiastically. “Half Vietnamese, half American.” I haven’t met anyone who was half Vietnamese in a long time and I feel excited to come across brethren.
“Do you speak it?” I find myself asking him all the questions that I am so used to being asked myself.
“No,” he says with a shy, slightly guilty smile on his face.
“Me either.” I understand his shame. I imagine that, like me, many people have asked him this question and have reacted to his answer with chuckles, disappointment or general perplexity.
He came to New Zealand when he was four and he has only been back three times. He looks like a boy, a young man at the oldest but I think otherwise when he points to his wife up ahead of him who is cooing a small child in a stroller. She is full Vietnamese.
“We are going to introduce our daughter to my wife’s family,” he says.
“Ah, how wonderful,” I say to him, meaning it fully.
As they round the corner of the line and turn back to face me, I see his little daughter’s face.
She may have a quarter more Vietnamese in her, but she looks so much like I did when I was that age. Tanned skin, big brown eyes, a delicate little nose.
As we get to the end of the line, the man, his wife and child check-in at the counter next to mine. After negotiating my visa status and boarding passes, I turn to them and realize they are already gone.
As I head towards the departure gates, I wonder about his little girl. Whether they will raise her to be Vietnamese, teach her the language even though her own father doesn’t speak it, keep her clued in to that side of herself. At just three years of age, she will already be much more connected to Vietnam after this trip than I will probably ever be.
I feel a tinge of jealousy but I let it go, thinking that it is now in my own power to create my own experiences and connections to places.
I carry on my way.