Travel Recap: Vietnam, My Motherland
My first travel trip recap is the country of my origin.
Growing up, I didn't travel as much as I would have have liked. It just wasn't in the budget for my family. Travel itself is expensive and tickets to the motherland are NOT cheap. When my aunt started looking for someone to head to Vietnam and bring my grandparents back to the states, I jumped at the chance. Once I knew it was a certain thing, I began counting down the days. I was constantly wondering what my motherland would be like. Bánh mì and phở all day, every day, with Vietnamese coffee for dessert. Everything must taste so, so good because, come on, you're eating it in Vietnam. This would be my first time back since I was a month old, and it had to be perfect. I was too excited for words.
On March 8th, my little cousin (traveling partner) and I boarded our plane. After 13 hours and a quick stop in South Korea, we landed in Hồ Chí Minh City (Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh or Sài Gòn to the locals) at night. My grandparents picked us up, fed us phở, and we stayed the night in a hotel. It was extremely cute and yellow. The following morning, I could already feel the hot sun through the window and I knew my motherland was awaiting me.
Hồ Chí Minh City was by far my favorite city, because not only were people friendly, but when I would turn my camera to them, they didn't look away. Hồ Chí Minh City residents are bold and I could tell the hustle was nonstop. After breakfast and a quick stroll through Chợ Bến Thành, a market that sold everything you could think of, we headed out on the road to Tây Sơn, Bình Định, my mom's old stomping grounds. Along the road we stopped for fresh jackfruit and rambutan, the sun beating down on us. I always had my camera with me, snapping away.
We reached Qui Nhơn, the city where my father grew up, after nearly a day's drive. Another quick stop for breakfast and around 3-4 hours later, we were unloading the van into my grandmother's house. I was barely there for 5 minutes when I realized that flocks of people had shown up in front of the house, spilling into streets, dodging motorcycles and bicycles. It seemed word had already spread that a Vietnamese sister from the states was coming home. I was greeted with compliments and kind words here and there, but the most common reaction was a quizzical look. Although I'm a Vietnamese citizen, I'm as American as they come. With thicker curves, pale skin, and a face that reminded the entire village of my mother, I drew quite the amount of attention here. Most folks stared at me, but only when they assumed I wasn't watching. Needless to say, it was an interesting arrival.
During my time in Tây Sơn, wherever my grandmother went, I went. This included a lot of errands, a lot of shopping, a lot of eating, and a lot of driving. The more notable things I did in Vietnam was my trip to Tây Sơn's Quang Trung Museum, standing at the edge of the South China Sea at Nha Trang Beach, heading to Khu du lịch Hầm Hô for a day in the mountains, and having the chance to visit my father's mother's resting place. I would have to say that that was my favorite moment in Vietnam. Coincidentally, the same day I went to visit her was the anniversary of her death. We had stopped at my father's cousin's home first, buildings tucked in the back alleys of Qui Nhơn. They showed me the room where my grandmother spent her last days, a cramped space on the second floor. My cousin then led the way to the colorful cemetery. All the graves were painted bright colors, and truth be told, I liked this better than the dreary stones that fill American cemeteries. It was a beautiful resting place. I brought my grandmother some fruits and flowers, lit some incense, and said a prayer. I'm sure I've been in her presence before but I was too young to remember and sadly she passed away after we moved to the U.S. My dad had asked me personally to pay my respects before leaving Vietnam and at first I did it to make him happy, but after leaving the cemetery, I felt so raw about it. I heard that she suffered until she passed, and it broke my heart. If my grandmother was alive, I know I would have loved her very much. I think that she would be very proud of myself, my sisters, and my brother. No one is perfect, least of all my father, but I also think she would have been very proud of him and the man he has become. If I had to choose just one memory to keep with me from Vietnam, I would have to say this is the one moment. I would do it again in a heartbeat, and I would come to Vietnam again just to visit her.
I will say despite the positive, there were negatives. For starters, it was crazy hot. All. The. Time. For another, I was constantly gawked at like I was on display and boy, did it get old. And last, but not least, I was pretty sad I wasn't able to experience it with my brother and sisters. But, despite all the worrying that I was different looking and feeling like maybe they didn't think I was Vietnamese "enough," I fell in love with my motherland, for the very first time. I was able to appreciate it, not having grown up in it, and enjoy all the food, hard work, color, and life that Vietnamese people are still breathing into my motherland. They say you miss home if you haven't been home in awhile and I whole heartedly agree. Vietnam wasn't what I expected it to be and the people were definitely not what I imagined them to be, but after nearly 2 weeks I left my country full, my camera and heart filled to the brim.
I don't feel that there are really enough words to describe my journey. So with that, tạm biệt, Vietnam. I will be back.