Last week, with the arrival of my grandmother in Ho Chi Minh city (HCMC), just a few hours after my own arrival from Dubai, there were four generations of my family together: Wee Scotch, myself, my mom, and my grandmother.
My mom and I were born in HCMC and although she’s been back a few times to visit family, this was the first time I had stepped foot on Vietnamese soil since we fled Saigon as “boat people” (in the late 1970’s) when I was only one year old.
Growing up in New York City, I had no concept of what life was like in my place of birth except from the stories recounted by my parents and relatives. I was not taught the Vietnamese language as our ancestral tongue was Cantonese and back then, not many could foresee the importance of being multilingual. The only thing I knew about Vietnam was the food but even that was limited to what my mom could cook or what we would order at Vietnamese restaurants.
It was a dark and stormy evening when we arrived in HCMC last Saturday. I can only imagine how treacherous that weather would have been for us three decades ago when we were stranded at sea for months before being rescued and brought to a refugee camp in Malaysia where we would spend many months before being accepted by US immigration officials.
But that day last week, I was ecstatic to see rain after a particularly long dry spell in Dubai. More excited was Wee Scotch, who had been reading about rain, thunder and lightning in his little storybooks, and kept urging me to take him out from our sheltered location into the storm.
As in Dubai, the HCMC airport greeting area is al fresco and we found Auntie (my mon’s sister) fairly quickly. I am glad that Auntie and her husband were there to help us navigate the taxi process as there didn’t seem to be any orderly line and people just made a mad-dash-and-grab for any taxi that pulled up. There was a man with a clipboard but he didn’t do much except point at a taxi and scribble notes down with his pen.
As you can see from the video, the terminal lights were flickering on and off as if threatening to lose power completely. Palm fronds swayed back and forth tumultuously and I worried that the whole tree would topple over. Surely this weather is typical and the trees are strongly rooted?
Auntie later told me that by the time she returned to the airport, a few hours later to pick up my grandmother, many of the trees had been knocked down by the storm.
On the short cab ride to Auntie’s house, aka home-base for the next 4 weeks, I could hardly see anything except rain splashing onto the windows.
The weather in HCMC is the same as Dubai at the moment (highs of 90 F / 32 C) except more humid. I had been warned by my mom that there was no A/C in Auntie’s house except for the bedrooms.
Lucky for us, the rainstorm had brought about cooler weather and a respite from the hot and humid air. The night breeze was cooling and oh-so-refreshing after a long day’s travel (a 2 am flight is never any fun especially with a toddler).
When we finally arrived at Auntie’s three-story house, I carried a weary Wee Scotch up to our new room on the top floor. If heat, humidity, pollution and crazy traffic congestion was going to prevent me from exercising and running outside, at least I could achieve buns of steel from climbing those flights of stairs every day.
With Wee Scotch settled into his travel bed, I was ready to start exploring the neighborhood but I knew that that was not an option until the storm had passed.
Exploring would have to wait for another day.
Scotch was supposed to join us on this trip but due to last minute work demands, we had to cancel his plane ticket. In the middle of Skyping with him to let him know that we had all arrived safely, the electricity went out.
I worried that we’d be without power for days as had happened to me in NY last summer with Hurricane Irene. But amazingly, power was restored within a few hours (thank god because my iPhone was down to 20% power and without it, I feel like my right arm has been cut off).
As I settled down to sleep, all I could hear was the wind howling, shutters banging, and the crashing of heavy rains on corrugated rooftops. We left the windows open and it was so nice to feel fresh air blow across my body.
Hoping that the storm would soon pass, I drifted off into a travel-weary sleep.