1900s – I grew up in a big city, weeds were a rare spectacle. I also grew up in a traditional intellectual Vietnamese family, I would never have anything to do with weeds. Aren’t they associated with farmers?
My ancestors were court mandarins whose background was interlaced with words. Literally, they were in love with words, especially words on the pages. And more especially, words they had actually written with their own hands. Our hands are not for pulling weeds.
2000s – I have enjoyed our garden tremendously for years. I prune plants and cut flowers, bundle branches and saw trees, but weeding is my husband’s job. I admire him for bending down to weed with his bare hands without a single word of complaint. He even enjoys the weeding. “It is relaxing,” he tells me. I have to say I weed once in a while, always with a grin on my face not really feeling any relaxation but the back pain.
2012 – The wind was still this morning. We had the drought for almost a month. Hardly were we out to the yard because it was so hot. Weeds were high everywhere. I stood and looked at them for a long moment. Then I kneeled down and started pulling the weeds. The more I pulled the more I loved pulling more. Young weeds and old weeds were snatched off the ground with their long roots intact. To get a big chunk, my knees were sinking in to keep the balance, I pulled hard with all my strength to the point my elbow made an upward jolt. With each movement of the elbow, I almost heard the hot thick air cracked by the swift current. Then, not knowing where it came, I felt the lightness on my chest – spreading – as if some burden was lifted. Before I knew it, my heart was full of joy and an immense sensation of accomplishment. I was able to pull weeds with my hands. One bundle after another, I kept pulling until the area was clear of weeds. Clean.
My mind was clear. I typed these words using the same hands that pulled the weeds – and I am glad to use my hands for both.
—– Read the Vietnamese version.
… but that is not the point of the essay!
There is a Chinese proverb, kan zao bu zhu gen, cun feng cui yu shen… if you don’t pull the weeds by the roots, they’ll sprout back when the spring winds blow. So, even scholars thought about weeds, sometimes…