An Evening with a Vietnamese Family

April 7, 2010

Tricia Houston

Tonight was a special evening. Four weeks ago I met a woman, Tho, who worked at the World Vision Baby Home in Gia Dinh District. She gave me a book to give to her sister, Mai, who lives in Saigon. When I met her on Sunday, she promised to pick me up to help buy an Ao Dai and to experience a Vietnamese meal.
Mai sent her son, Ky Anh, to translate for her. Ky Anh arrived at the hotel promptly and before his parents who were driving in traffic to my hotel. He was a young man who studied in Singapore but was back in Viet Nam for awhile. Ky Anh wanted to help me as much as possible. He asked me where I was from. Then I started to talk about my orphanage, Hoi Duc Anh, and how it is now a school for the blind. Ky Anh offered to look at the address I had for the school. He explained to me that was very close by my hotel. “Do you want to go to it now?” he asked me and I was unprepared to visit a place that was home for me for seven weeks of my young life. I agreed to go and look at the buildings.

Mai, Ky Anh, and Mai’s husband drove me to my former orphanage. It has an entry way and a huge courtyard. I got out of the Toyota, and stood in the middle of where I lived as an orphan. The buildings were two levels with orange on the bottom half of the walls. There were pink doors to the various rooms of the school. I saw a sign that read massages. That was a business that operated nearby. I asked Ky Anh to ask the main entrance person if I can come back with another adoptee tomorrow for a tour. The man approved my return visit for tomorrow.

Then we went to get an Ao Dai made for me. We did not go to Ben Thanh Market to shop but far away from that ward. Mai explained that it was cheaper away from the tourist areas. We walked into a store that had many sparkling decorations on their fabrics. I did not like those patterns. Then we visited another shop where the young woman set out the purple fabrics for me to choose. I chose one with flowers flowing from the top to the bottom. Before I knew it, the young woman took us to another shop across the busy street. This was very Vietnamese. Apparently, a mature female owner owned two shops. Mai said that the owner was rich. I listened to the rhythms of the Vietnamese language being exchanged between her and Mai. To my surprise, Mai treated me to the Ao Dai. Ky Anh told me, “Yes, let my mom do that.” Mai wanted to purchase the special keepsake from my homeland for me.

Finally, Mai’s husband drove us to the restaurant, 94 Restaurant, for a traditional Vietnamese dinner. Since arriving in Saigon, I have only been to places that serve tourists, which are not traditional Vietnamese restaurants. Ky Anh led us into the restaurant and pass the two women cooking the food outside on the sidewalk with burning work spaces and hug pans filled with orders, and we went up to the second floor. It was a tiny non-smoking area of the restaurant. I thought it was strange that the non-smoking was above the smoking area, and one could still smell the smoke from below. It was a room with minimal decoration but a fan and air con on at all times. We had a crab themed dinner of crab soup, fried crab claws, crab meat with noodles, and spring rolls with crab meat. The first taste of the crab soup, I said, “Mmmmm,” out loud. Mai asked me if it was good and I said yes. The fried crab claws were nicely cooked with the meat melting in my mouth. Everything was great! It was a traditional Vietnamese meal in that we used one tiny green bowl and plastic green chop sticks for the food. Of course, the soup was in a tiny white bowl. I held my bowl up to my mouth as I shoveled the crab meat and noodles in my mouth. That was how the Vietnamese eat.

I asked Ky Anh and Mai questions about Vietnamese culture. Ky Anh went to school in the city and wore a school uniform, a requirement at Vietnamese schools. Children leave home to go to high school in a different city or country. Ky Anh left home at age 14 to go to school in Singapore. Recently, he applied for universities in America and hopes to move there next year.

A cultural difference between Viet Nam and America was that after the university, if the son gets married, he and his new wife live with his parents. I found it interesting that Mai kept asking me if I was married because I lived on my own in America. For a woman my age, I would not be living independently from my mom in Viet Nam.

At one point, I asked Ky Anh if women work after they get married. He said it depends if the husband has money or not. If he has money, then his wife does not need to work. To come to find out, Mai was a successful business woman in Saigon. She opened her own business selling gardening supplies. She has now retired.

As I was talking with my hands, as I sometimes do, Mai took my left hand and sighed. Ky Anh explained that she reads palms. I allowed her to read mine. She said that I am always thinking and I had a hard life.

It was a great dinner with many lessons of my birth culture. This was what I wanted from my trip to my homeland.


All comments of post - "An Evening with a Vietnamese Family":

:Haha! I'am the first! Yeh~

Thank you!

Add a Comment / Trackback url

  1. #1  Linda Sansom

    Tricia, You are our eyes, ears, taste buds, heart strings. It is wonderful to read your writing and to be there with you. Keep up the good work. You will return home a different person, I am sure! But always a wonderful friend and daughter and teacher! Linda

    10/04/07 23:12

Show all Show 5 so far Close all

Comment begin from here or jump up!