We’ve been giving your grandmother money every month since being together and, previously, your mother had given her money every month since she was a teenager. I don’t know how much money your mother had given her before, but we’ve given her between 5,000,000 VND ($215 USD est.) and 10,000,000 VND ($430 USD est.) each month and more than 20,000,000 VND ($860 USD est.) extra for Tết, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, each year. For the last year or thereabout, we gave your grandmother closer to bottom of the range. She is unemployed and hasn’t worked for a very long time. The money we give to your grandmother supports her basic needs and provides some disposable income.

Vietnamese make around 4,000,000 VND ($174 USD est.) on average, monthly. No joke. Our 5,000,000 VND monthly outlay, on the low-end, seems meager as compared to Western salaries, but let’s not forget that it’s 25% higher than the average salary. Your grandmother also still lives in her hometown where, as compared to Vietnam’s bigger cities, the average worker earns even less money and the cost of living is significantly lower. But, since your birth, she has spent about two to three weeks per month at our apartment.

I questioned how much money we were giving your grandmother, early on. 10,000,000 VND, the top-end of the range, and the monies for Tết seemed excessive. Why? We’re talking about Vietnam. It’s not Tokyo. Concerning Tết, we pay for almost everything before and during our visit, which includes an obscene amount on cookies. I didn’t understand why giving your grandmother 20,000,000 VND or more for that holiday was necessary. Your mother typically spends two weeks there, whereas I stay for one week, max. There’s not a proper desk nor table, and I’ve gotten ill each visit.

Your grandmother thought she was going to die, recently. She had consumed some pseudo store-bought homemade sauce for lunch that your aunt had brought from their hometown about a month ago and, unbeknownst to her, later suffered from food poisoning. Your grandmother was afraid she had contracted COVID-19, and consequently scared your mother into thinking she might have it too, but I didn’t think that was true since her only symptoms were frequent bouts of nausea and vomiting. But, before she knew the cause, your grandmother confessed to your mother that she had unpaid gambling debts. She owes about 100,000,000 VND ($4,300 USD est.) to two loan sharks. Mind you, gambling, like prostitution and drugs, is illegal in Vietnam. Yet, it’s endemic in Vietnamese culture.

Last year, your grandmother was caught gambling but it didn’t seem like a big deal since we thought she managed the situation accordingly. Other than being a bit disappointed in her, I didn’t think much of it and eventually forgot. Your mother, on the other hand, took it harder than me and scolded your grandmother. But your mother didn’t take the situation as seriously as she should have and wrongly trusted her again. There have been a couple of times since then when I suspected your grandmother might be up to something fishy but those thoughts were short-lived because your mother got uncontrollably mad for bringing it up every time. She even threw things at me, like the pink mug we had bought together at the Lotte World Tower in Seoul. We don’t know when your grandmother had re-started gambling, or if she had ever stopped, since she wouldn’t say but we suspect it was before she got caught.

We’ve taken it much harder this time. Your mother and I both realized that your grandmother isn’t who either of us thought of her to be. To your mother, she was her loving mother, and, to me, she was a nice, honest mother-in-law that really loved you. But there were some warning signs. Among other things, once or twice a month, your grandmother would complain to your mother that she was using her like an ocean. I always thought her comment was overboard but didn’t think much of it because, well, she’s old for a Vietnamese person. Your mother gave her some work to do when she stayed with us, which included helping take care of you and doing some menial tasks for your mother’s online business. Neither was anything hard nor time-consuming since, with every complaint, I helped your mother more and more as well. Considering we have funded her lifestyle for a while, I thought it was the least she can do.

Now that I better understand your grandmother, except for when it comes to you, I’ve completely ignored her. I don’t say hello. I don’t make eye contact. I, intentionally, don’t want to benefit from anything she does. Take cooking rice, for example. Even if she has cooked a large pot of rice, I will still cook my own rice. Call it harsh treatment, but everything I had heard about your grandmother finally came full circle soon after her confession. Your grandmother is aware of my behavior. She doesn’t want to stay in our apartment but, unfortunately, she’s stuck because the Communist Party of Vietnam has failed to control COVID-19 and, as a result, locked down many parts of the country, again. This time around is far worse than any of the previous lockdowns. Approximately 80% of all cases have happened since this past May.

Your mother, on the other hand, is much nicer to your grandmother than me. After keeping her distance for a week or two, she had re-started interacting with her again, including eating meals together. But your mother has remained stern with her when it comes to money. Your grandmother has, so far, wanted money to order food or top-up, buy prepaid minutes, her phone on several occasions. If her requests or complaints didn’t start an argument, they fell on deaf ears. Even though your grandmother’s asks are immaterial, your mother’s judgement is no longer clouded by love, in her perspective, and Vietnamese communist teachings, more so, in my perspective.

Regarding food orders, it’s not like we force your grandmother to eat rice all day, every day. Rather, your mother told her that she can cook whatever she wants to eat of the food in the refrigerator but ordering food is out of consideration because she doesn’t deserve it and we’re trying to show her that money is tight. Plus, we go food shopping two or three times per week and much of what we buy is for your grandmother anyway, which, I think, is still generous. I wouldn’t mind if she just ate rice, seriously. That might seem harsh to someone in the developed world but, again, this is Vietnam. Rice, alone, isn’t a bad meal, comparatively. Speaking of food, basically, I have only ate chicken, rice and, for the last two years, kimchi for my main meal, so my food costs are inconsequential.

Regarding your grandmother’s cell phone, your mother has neglected to give her any money to top it up. First, as with ordering food, your grandmother doesn’t deserve any money because she gambled it all away. Second, and more importantly, your mother doesn’t want her to talk to her “friend” for who, it just so happens, she also owes money. Your grandmother had even called her a good friend despite the fact that she’s an illegal loan shark and the obvious conflict of interest. Your grandmother felt privileged and proud of the fact that her friend was charging what she thought of as a preferred interest at 2,000,000 VND per month regardless of the debt outstanding. That woman is one of two people your grandmother borrowed money from, as far as we know.

It’s not easy for me to treat your grandmother as if she doesn’t exist. I feel bad about it, honestly, but I don’t know how to act otherwise. I care that she took our generosity for granted as if it was expected, but I’m really hurt by the years of lies and very disturbed about who she really is as a person. I think it’d be wrong of me to overlook everything, especially because your grandmother’s actions have already affected the livelihood of your family and I have no doubts that her selfishness wouldn’t affect your life as well. She didn’t even want your mother to tell me about the gambling debt and hoped she would secretly pay it off. What would your mother have done in that situation? Borrow money from an illegal loan shark to pay off two other illegal loan sharks, probably. Your grandmother is innately selfish. She is really a fucking idiot, no apologies.

This, hopefully, will be the last time I speak badly about your grandmother. I had said many harsh things about her to your mother over the first few days, post-confession, as my thoughts came full circle, but have since kept quiet. First, it was out of respect to your mother as it caused her undue stress. And, now, there’s nothing more to say.

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