By Tessa Sari
Northwest Asian Weekly
At 11 p.m., Cuong “Armstrong” Bui picks up the telephone. He dials the international code 011, followed by code 84 for Vietnam, and then dials a series of numbers he knows by heart. On the other end, a woman picks up the phone.
“Hello, con (dear),” she says.
Bui, a student from Vietnam, has been living in Everett for almost two years. For him, living in the United States signifies a time in his life when he is growing into adulthood and learning to be independent. However, adulthood doesn’t mean leaving his family behind. He never forgets to contact his mother via telephone.
“I contact her about once a week. I can say we are very, very close — as you know, I am an Asian,” said Bui, joking a little about the tie between a mother and son that many Asians have.
“I always contact my mom through the phone directly because she is a business woman, so she normally does not have time to use Skype or Yahoo! [even though] she is familiar with the technology,” said Bui, who studies at Everett Community College. “However, [this is in contrast to] my dad, [who] does not understand [technology], and he doesn’t want to know,” said Bui.
Due to the time differentiation, Bui always remembers to arrange his clock. “I always have to schedule the time in order to talk with my mom. If, in the U.S., it is 11 p.m., then in Vietnam, it is 8 a.m.”
The time difference doesn’t really matter to Sora Yun and her parents, who are in Seoul. Yun, who lives in Des Moines, said it’s easy to find time in her schedule to contact her family.
“My parents have their lives, and here, I live a different life [from them]. We just live with doing what we are supposed to do, in different spaces. I usually talk with them while they are working [in Korea], so if they have time [during their work day], we have a conversation, which is usually between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. here. My parents and I both have computers [that are] logged in always, so the time difference isn’t that hard for us.”
Yun’s transcontinental relationship with her mom wasn’t always so easy. When Yun decided to leave Korea for opportunities in the United States, her mom was anxious.
“My mom says that it’s sad that I live far away from her. She worries about me so much all the time. But she [also] believes that I can achieve what I want to do here, and she always cheers me up. I’m very close to my mom. If something [good or bad] happens to me, I usually talk to her,” said Yun.
Yun talks to her mom via Skype at least once a week. “I enjoy using Skype rather than using [the] phone or anything else. The reason why is that my parents [and I] can talk while seeing each other’s faces — we talk face-to-face. That’s more touchable,” said Yun. “Actually, my mom doesn’t know how to use [the] computer well. Because of that, my father always helps my mom [with] Skype.”
Zhora Frieden, who works in a tax consultation firm in Lynnwood, said she uses Skype and the online phone from Yahoo! to talk with her mother in Lautoka, Fiji Islands.
“I have to talk to her every week or two. If not, she gets worried. Sometimes, I just call her when I miss her, even if we have talked just the day before,” said Frieden. “She doesn’t know English very well. Otherwise, we would be able to text, too.”
Frieden, who has been living in the United States for the past five years, said she’s very close to her mother. She usually tells her mother about the ups and downs of life. Frieden said her mom is not just a parent, but also a friend, sister, mentor, and idol.
Frieden’s mother, Kamrul Nisha, said even though she misses her daughter, she understands that Frieden has to move on. Nisha has never been to the United States before, but said she will keep supporting Frieden.
“We talk about her life, mostly, and what she goes through,” said Nisha. “She talks to me freely about anything that makes her happy or sad. We also share stories from her hometown here in Fiji and about her relatives that she was close to and misses so much,” said Nisha, through an e-mail that had been translated.
Nevertheless, using technology to keep in touch with loved ones is not always convenient.
“Sometimes, because of the weather, our phone gets disconnected … or maybe because it’s a long distance, then she has to call again and again,” said Nisha. “Sometimes, she calls back, and sometimes, I call her back.”
Frieden said she misses the personal connection. “Like hugging her and telling her, to her face, how much I miss her … sharing the small and big happinesses, being able to irritate her until she runs after me with a spoon,” Frieden said, laughing. “Little things like that, which makes life more interesting.”
Meanwhile, Yun said, “The biggest disadvantage of living far away from my mother is that I can’t touch my mom. Sometimes, only talking isn’t enough.”
That could be the reason why Yun’s mother, Boonsoon Jeong, said, in an e-mail, that if she can invent a new technology, she would create a free flight ticket machine for her daughter.
“[It’s] so that Yun can go to Korea any time she wants, even for one day, to meet her family face-to-face,” wrote Jeong. ♦
Tessa Sari can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.