Returning to Vietnam was something that I’ve wanted to do since I left at the tender age of two. I have absolutely no memory of the first two years of my life. For all I know I could’ve been in Djibouti during that time, but my mommy tells me that I was in Saigon so I’ll take her word for it.
I wasn’t sure what to expect in Vietnam since my mother and my aunts and uncles seem to hate it, but my cousins who have been back love it and return every year. I won’t go into detail about why my mother’s generation isn’t crazy about Vietnam, but it has a little to do with a traumatic fleeing from a new Communist regime that stole all of their life’s work, separated them from their families and threatened their lives. Something like that. That’s all water under the bridge now so I really didn’t have any major concerns about returning to the land of my birth.
After we landed in Saigon and breezed through Immigration, we hopped in a taxi and went to our hotel without any problems. I was expecting to have to bribe an immigration official with a crisp $5 bill, or pay off some baggage handler to give me my fancy first-world backpack, but everything was above the board. No funny business at this airport!
The first thing I wanted to do in the motherland was grab a bowl of pho. I thought I’d be blown away by the authentic flavors that only the homeland could produce and overwhelmed by the rush of emotion that comes with the memories that only a good dish can evoke, but I wasn’t. The pho was bland and didn’t have the intense and complex mixture of spices that I used to smell throughout the house when my mother would make it on those days when she didn’t have work and was able to get a hefty portion of beef bones and just the right cut of beef.
When my family first came to America, we landed (by plane, not boat) in Falls Church, VA with the rest of the East Coast Vietnamese population. I don’t remember much of my time in Virginia but I have pictures of us in front of all of the most notable monuments. I do recall being surrounded by Vietnamese people and some Christian Caucasians who tried desperately to save our souls. I played one of the three wise men in the Nativity play. Good times, good times.