I pray in Chinese

This is the altar my family created in memory of my grandfather Kham Quach. The majority of those incense were planted by yours truly. (Photo by Hoa Quach)

Buddhists have a custom. When a family member dies, an altar is created for that person in a household dominated by the members of the same sex. When my grandfather died years ago, it was understood that my father, his son, would build an altar for him in his home.

I took an unconventional approach to the altar in my parents’ home, created in memory of my grandfather. (Then again, my entire life has been unconventional, dealing with the culture clashes of being a Chinese-Vietnamese woman in an American world.)

Conventionally, an incense is lit at my grandfather’s altar in the mornings, on the anniversary of his passing and on days set aside to acknowledge our friends and family who have passed. Unconventionally, an incense is lit when I feel the urge to share my thoughts with the man.

I pray at his altar. I go there a couple times a week and I pray my heart out. I sit in front of the altar with a lit incense and I tell my grandfather every little detail of my life and every concern or wonder that floats through my head.

I do it in Chinese, throwing in English words when I can’t think of the Chinese substitutes. I’m not sure why, as I was never close to my grandfather growing up… his old traditions even pissed me off at times. But now, he is my go-to guy. I see him as my protector… probably because he was the head of my very large family and led the way when they moved here from Vietnam as refugees- even my strong-willed father gave in to my grandfather.

I’m not a prayer though. I don’t pray to God or any other higher powers who are often discussed. I’m just uncertain as to whether I believe they exist. But, I believe in my grandfather.

I believe, despite him leaving the world years ago, he’s looking down on me and he appreciates the thoughts I share with him even if it’s unconventional and even if I had never shared with him so many details of my life prior to his passing.

One of the more recent times I prayed to him was when I left the San Diego News Network. Despite knowing that the departure was in the best interest of me and the company, it was difficult to soak in the idea that I would no longer see my colleagues who had become a part of my family in a struggling journalism industry. I asked my grandfather (in Chinese) to guide me in staying positive and to help me work harder to keep journalism alive.

It was a different type of prayer I shared with him, that’s for sure. I may have gone from praying for straight As in flip-flops to a grown woman in Jimmy Choos praying for an industry to survive, but my perception of the altar and the grandfather remain the same.

More importantly, the feeling that runs through me remains the same too. I feel refreshed and revived after a prayer, as though my grandfather will help me ensure everything will be OK.

Knowing my grandfather, he’s probably laughing at how this particular American grandchild of his replaced her diary with his altar. And of course, all his thoughts about the situation are in Chinese.

*Parts of this blog are included in the memoir Hoa is writing. If you have questions about the working book or her life, please contact her. Until then, keep coming back for more snippets!