That was what Grandpa emphasised more than twice during our Viber call last night – we couldn’t video-call because the Internet connection was just appalling – when I asked him to tell me about his TV memories.
I expected the talk to be full of vivid memories and nostalgic anecdotes evoked by the mention of certain dates, names, and places, but I got more than that. Of course, being the one person who thought it’s a wonderful idea to explain the scientific mechanisms of fireworks to a five-year-old me, he took me from one (highly intellectual) insight to another, about the role of television throughout his life
“We didn’t have television in Northern Vietnam until at least the 1970s. The first time I saw a TV, I think I was about 25, and had been working for three, four years already,” Grandpa rummaged through the back of his mind.
Television (in black and white) came to our little country quite late, because of the war spanning twenty years until 1975. With most people still having to tighten their belts, not many family owned a telly, and once you did, you became ‘famous’ to all your acquaintances.
“There would be as many as ten families all gathered to watch a tiny black-and-white screen in a tiny room in [my parents’] place. It was much smaller than my computer screen now in fact. Every time a show or the news was on, the house would be completely cramped,” he laughed, “since it was just like going to a crowded cinema”.
“… there was only very few channels – and it was all passive viewing. We didn’t have anyway to verify the information they broadcast, and it was mainly for propaganda – given that it was during and right after wartime.”
His impression as a young man of the old days’ television was in critical contrast with what he sees in the telly now. The logical reasoning of the former Math teacher he is was connecting every details, “Although even back when it first arrived, I found the TV a much quicker and more efficient way to take in information – a lot faster than reading or listening to the radio,” he noted, “after the 1986 economic transition, we got more international channels, and the world became ‘flat’, and so [watching TV] became a whole lot more active.”
“It was no longer being spoonfed with information. I, like many people, could read more on what interests us and fact-check anything we are skeptical of, because there’s the Internet to help us.”
“It’s important to keep myself updated on world news, be it education, economics, or social issues. And the entertainment is great if you can tell what’s good for you. I really like that American movie channel – what is it called now..? – right, right, HBO. And Discovery Channel, too.”
As our conversation came towards an end, I put down my pen and wiggled my strained wrist – I didn’t record the call nor did I type anything on my computer all throughout that time. Any clicky noise from my tactile keyboard would feel like an intrusion to the intangible and fragile space that Grandpa and I were sharing when we were talking; so would the awareness of a working recorder.
Then I realised, the point of having a memory conversation is much, much more than just to quench curiosity – it is to completely engage in an enriching connection with a person (be it a close one or a stranger) and with your innerthoughts.
The telly came to Vietnam a little later than most parts of the world – but to my 70-year-old Grandpa, it was better late than never. And it is the same for memory conversations. Better late than never.
P.s.: My grandpa is just so freaking cool, isn’t he?