Hanoi and Other Homes by Sim Shen
In Hanoi and Other Homes by Sim Shen we have the theme of memories, belonging, connection, identity, change, acceptance and culture. Narrated in the first person by Shen himself the reader realizes from the beginning of the story that Shen may be exploring the theme of memories. Shen can recall the last time he visited Vietnam and how different it is from Australia. This may be significant as Shen appears to be using his memory as a child to make an identification or connection with Vietnam. Something which is very normal though proves to be difficult for Shen. It doesn’t help that Shen has spent most of his life living in Australia and has been moulded there. His formative years have been spent living in Australia.
The theme of culture is also evident in the story. Shen as well as trying to make a connection with Vietnam is attempting to draw on Vietnamese culture in order to be part of something. Albeit he is not successful. He is too westernized to be able to understand Vietnamese culture. His step children and wife are Australian and Australia is more a part of Shen’s life than Vietnam is. Which may be the point that Shen is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that just because a person is born in one country does not necessarily mean that the individual is part of that country. People change and acclimatize to their new environment. It might also be symbolically important that Shen does not mention too much about his time in Australia but does begin the disconnect with Vietnam when he is in a Chinese restaurant. He reverts to a Vietnamese accent even though he is aware this is not how he really speaks.
There may be other symbolism in the story which might be important. Shen knows his unborn child is culturally going to be different and is accepting of this. He knows his child will formulate a tradition for themselves just as he has done. This acceptance suggests that Shen is prepared for his child to be who they want to be. Just as Shen accepts who he is. Though Shen at times appears to be desperate to fit in with his environment. In fact so strong is Shen’s sense of desperation that he spends many nights sleepless. The fact that Shen doesn’t complete most of the poems that he has written while in Vietnam and accepts this mirrors his ability to accept he is no longer Vietnamese.
The end of the story is interesting because the reader realizes that Shen not only accepts the position he finds himself in but accepts that a person’s identity is made up of several things and not only where they are from. Culture is an important part of somebody’s identity just as where they are born is. If anything Shen may be suggesting that where a person is from is only a small part of someone’s identity. How a person develops in life and their experiences can also dictate with how a person makes an identification with the world. The end result is positive for Shen. He accepts and understands who he is.