Last Updated on January 6, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1186
Mr. Ly has had two wives and two sets of children. The first Mrs. Ly had discovered her husband’s secret mistress after he’d been sent to a labor camp during the Vietnam War, and she had fled with their daughter and two sons to America, never to return. After being released from the camp, Mr. Ly had married his mistress and begun a new family with his new wife—another daughter and two sons whom he’d named after his first set of children.
Phuong is Mr. Ly’s daughter in Vietnam, and she is excited to meet her older half-sister, who is traveling to Vietnam on vacation. Her sister has taken a more American name, preferring to now be called Vivien. From the moment Vivien steps off the plane, Phuong is impressed with her older sister’s presence. She wears enormous sunglasses and glosses her lips in a way that sets her apart from the ordinary people in Vietnam.
While visiting the family, Vivien treats them to fine dining and expensive adventures. Vivien’s mother has sent periodic photos and short letters back to Mr. Ly, telling him of their children’s accomplishments in America. She has praised Vivien’s work as a pediatrician, and Phuong is impressed with the economic advantages afforded to Vivien through her work.
Vivien has arrived with her own itinerary of all the places she wants to visit, and their father, who earns a meager living as a tour guide to vacationers, tells her that he couldn’t have generated a better schedule himself. At dinner, Vivien manages to ask the question Phuong has always wanted to pose but has never had the courage to ask out loud. With her chin cupped in her hand, Vivien questions why her father named his second set of children after the first. Mr. Ly responds that he knew that eventually his daughter would return to Vietnam to meet the daughter he had named after her.
Phuong has never been invited on one of her father’s tours, and she realizes as she sits on his tour bus for the first time that she would have appreciated at least being asked. Phuong also realizes that her older sister doesn’t appreciate their father’s special affections toward her and doesn’t seem to appreciate much about the Vietnamese culture, either. Vivien is always hot and sweaty, although she wears clothes that leave much of her skin exposed to the plentiful population of mosquitos. The sisters follow their father’s tour as he points out trap doors and tunnels used during the war, watching the tourists snap photographs.
Near the end of Vivien’s trip, she presents an unexpected gift to her twenty-three-year-old sister. Pulling a pink bag from her luggage, Vivien presents black, lacy thong panties and a matching bra to Phuong. At first, Phuong protests, saying that her parents would never approve. She eventually concedes, though, and models her new lacy undergarments for her sister, noting how thrilling the contrast is between the fabric and her skin. As they crawl into bed, Vivien confesses that she had believed that the trip would elicit feelings of love for their father. Instead, she has realized that it’s difficult to love someone you don’t know.
Vivien treats the family to an outing at an amusement park the following day. As they prepare to ride an attraction together, Phuong confesses to her older sister that she longs to be just like her. She wants to go to America and become a physician so that she can help people and experience the same lifestyle Vivien has achieved. Vivien sighs and confesses that her mother has concocted false stories of her children’s achievements to impress their father. Vivien isn’t a pediatrician. Instead, she is a receptionist who had an affair with her boss and was subsequently fired. She has used her severance pay and an assortment of credit cards to finance this trip.
(The entire section contains 1186 words.)
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