Dad saw the ocean for the first time at the age of 17 on a trip to visit his younger brother. His heart palpitated as they approached the beach of Thuận An just outside of Huế. Before even arriving, he could see the palms of the trees and smell the salty ocean air. His senses excited. When asked, he vividly remembers the softness of the sand under his feet, warm to the touch, the sounds of the waves and the white foam as they crashed onto the beach. He was mesmerised by the convergence of heaven and earth in the horizon.
Growing up, my parents gave us as normal an upbringing as they could, marrying American culture - what little they knew of it at the time - with Vietnamese tradition. We built sandcastles on the shore, bathed in the sun, and floated on the water until our skin wrinkled like raisins.
At home, I've always known dad to seek peace by the ocean's side. He could spend hours by himself watching and listening to the ebb and flow of the tide. He loves photographing nature's course.
These photographs were taken a few days back in the coastal city of Nha Trang. His older brother was stationed there during the Vietnam War. Though this is my third time visiting the country, it's the most nostalgic I've felt. I see memories of my parents sprinkled in each place we stop by. I see their young selves running through the corridors, up and down the stairs of their homes, through alleyways and neighborhood markets they knew so well. Then I imagine the turmoil they went through, their lives turned upside down by war, their struggles for a better life and for a better future.
Despite the hardships, dad's soul is youthful, his life fulfilled. Without the bad, you can't know the good, he says. These days, he goes where the wind blows and today that place happens to be Saigon. He should have already been on a flight headed home right now, but as if answering an unspoken wish, I get to spend my birthday with him.