As I reflect back on my month in Vietnam, learning about my family history and acquiring amazing food memories, I wonder why it took me more than 30 years to return to my birthplace.
Throughout my travels, I wish I had spent more time just soaking in the life of the cities. Besides Saigon and Hoi An, I didn’t get to spend much time just walking around, aimlessly exploring random streets, and tasting whatever came across my path.
With four generations together on this trip (Grandma, Mom, myself, and Wee Scotch) plus Auntie D that also traveled with Grandma from New York, and all of us staying with my Auntie Q (who has never left Vietnam), the closeness brought out some nostalgic and some painful memories. These memories were dug up throughout each day around the dining table – so much that my head was constantly aswirl with images and stories from the past.
Wherever we were, whether enjoying a cooling cup of sugar cane juice on the sweltering streets of Saigon…
… or having a bowl of Bun Mam in An Dong market…
…or eating homemade crab soup (“Banh Canh Cua”) at my Uncle Tsing’s, my mom and extended family just had so much to share with me that I started to record their oral histories as best as I could so as to not forget anything.
Hearing once again about the plight of my family during the Vietnam war and the flight of my mom, dad and I as “boat people” after the war, the one thing that struck me during this retelling was how difficult and harrowing the voyage at sea must have been in an overcrowded small fishing boat with me as a one-year old.
Yes, I have heard these stories before, but this time I was hearing them for the first time as a mother. I think of Wee Scotch running around, making lots of noise as 2-year-olds do, and I can’t imagine what my parents had to go through with me so young (Mom shared that she had to inject us babes with sleep medication so our cries wouldn’t alert police to our whereabouts in the boat’s secret compartment).
I am eternally grateful that my parents sacrificed so much for a better life for all of us.
We are now back to our separate lives – Mom, Grandma, and Auntie D back to New York, Wee Scotch and I back to Dubai – but I constantly think about the stories from the past, what to do with them, and how to preserve them for my children. I often hope that I lead a life worthy of all the sacrifices that my parents made for me.
And I hope to return one day with Scotch, who could not join us on this trip, and share with him all these memories and make new ones of our own.
I leave you with this video of Wee Scotch releasing captured birds in Vung Tao (a beach town a few hours drive from Saigon):