An American in the Family

by on September 29, 2008

Vietnam Fruit Street Vendor


Me at fruit market: Mangoes and Sweet Sop (custard apple, Viet cherimoya)

There was great anticipation in my arrival to Đà Nẵng because Cousin Diane was bringing home an American!  Just ask Little Su Hy (age 3) who had been telling all of her friends there is an American in the family.  Almost anywhere you read about Americans traveling to Việt-Nam, you’ll hear of tales of how warmly they are welcomed; the war a long forgotten and forgiven memory.  Our trip to Vietnam taught me that this welcoming isn’t merely extended to travelers, but exponentially more so to family add-ons.  At least it was for me.

I was greeted with smiles and hugs, and a few looks of happy curiosity.  The incredibly cute and feisty Su Hy couldn’t stop staring at me, “the American”, but when prompted to go over & say “Hi” she’d vehemently shake her head “No” as if you’d just asked her to give up her candy.  I didn’t feel too bad because she did it to Diane the whole time, too.  Within minutes, the family had swallowed me up and made me one of them for our entire stay in Đà Nẵng.

su hy in DaNang Vietnam Cafe

Niece Su Hy staring at me, “The American”. I saw this stare the whole time!

Most of the family doesn’t speak much English, and unfortunately I don’t speak much Vietnamese beyond food, numbers, and “thank you.”  Diane translated and explained when needed, but as the week went on, less and less was needed.  Jokes were exchanged with a few simple words or gestures, and we all had fun helping each other learn one another’s language.  Diane was the incredible teacher helping all of us retrain our mouths to make a decent pronunciation of the foreign words.  After a scant 5 minutes of trying to properly pronounce Vietnamese words, my mouth and jaw would be tired and fumbling.  It was like having to relearn how to speak all over again.  On the English spectrum, we helped them learn the difference between saying “ace” and “eight”, all important pronunciation in a games of cards.

The cousins in particular embedded us into the family.  We hopped on the the back of their scooters and explored Đà Nẵng the way only locals can.  We played cards and chinese checkers in cafes, some of which were more hip and stylish than anything I’ve seen in the U.S., hit all of the open markets allowing us to find incredible photo opportunities and score a few great buys, and we ate and ate and ate the street foods.  Did I mentioned we ate there, a lot?!  Bańh xeò (crispy crepes),  seafood Nhậu (Viet style tapas w/booze),  Râu Cau Dưà (agar dessert with coconut milk), many kilos of Chôm Chôm (rhambutans), Xoaì (mangoes), and other tropical fruits. We even ate green colored oranges. It’d take an novel to cover all the different foods we consumed, so I’ll spare the details (for later posts) and just say that everything was tasty and super fresh.

Chinese checkers DaNang Vietnam Cafe

Game of checkers and iced tea at Katynat Coffee House

Bonding over Vietnamese coffees (café sữa đá, café sữa nóng, café đen, etc…) and cold beer, chatting and joking while cruising on the back of the scooters while we navigated the swarm of Đà Nẵng traffic, trekking into the jungle hoping to avoid leeches and malaria, and eating at some of their favorite places on the sidewalks and in the cafes, it was quick and easy to love my Viet family.  I admired their humor, intelligence, and saavvy.  They are an incredible clan that I am happy to be one of. - Todd

Todd with Cousins DaNang Vietnam Seafood Nhau

A much deserved seafood Nhau after the long jungle trek. I was about ready to waive the white surrender flag, can’t you tell? We ate SO MUCH FOOD! This was our third food stop for the evening, and not the last!

Previous Viet-Nam posts you might enjoy reading and viewing:

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

1 maybelles mom (feeding maybelle) September 29, 2008 at 3:36 pm

This rings so true to me. When we go to India, Maybelle’s Dad, also called an American, has the exact same reaction from my baby cousin (about the same age as your neice.)

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2 Marvin September 29, 2008 at 3:44 pm

Great story, Todd. And very relatable to me and my wife. When we were in the Philippines, I also had a young niece probably around the same age as Su Hy, and she also had a curious stare for me and my “American” wife. She kept her distance from us for the first few days, but she eventually warmed up to us and even let us play with her toys;) A big difference though is that English is more or less a second language in the Philippines, so I’m sure you had a harder time to communicate in Vietnam.

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3 Lisa September 29, 2008 at 3:45 pm

I think anyone would be proud to have you in their family Todd. How lucky you were to meet them all and vise versa.

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4 Andrea September 29, 2008 at 4:00 pm

It’s so wonderful that you got to meet the family! And it looks like you were having a fabulous time. Would love to try some Viet coffee sometime. You and Diane have me hooked on the summer rolls!

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5 sharon September 29, 2008 at 5:40 pm

Ooh, I’m drooling over your food descriptions! I can’t wait to take my “American” to Indonesia with me. I’m sure they’ll ask him if he’s friends with any NBA players :) Looks like you had a great time!

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6 RecipeGirl September 29, 2008 at 7:19 pm

How fun to be the lone, admired American in a foreign country. Sounds like it was a wonderful experience!

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7 noobcook September 29, 2008 at 7:21 pm

What a lovely story … love your travelogue! ;p little girl Su Hy is sooo adorable. I’m planning to go Vietnam next year too, keeping my fingers crossed, hee

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8 MyKitchenInHalfCups September 29, 2008 at 7:30 pm

Your niece is such a sweet heart!
That sounds like a great food trip.

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9 Manggy September 29, 2008 at 7:31 pm

This is so touching, Todd– I am sure they were very happy and proud to call you one of their own :)
I think the fruit under the mangoes is not actually soursop (Annona muricata or Guanabana, “guyabano” in the Philippines), but is sweetsop (Annona squamosa, called “atis” here) :)

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10 Rita September 29, 2008 at 8:15 pm

I am taking my (Canadian) husband to Brazil (my home country) for the first time this year. I am nervous about it, there are many culture differences…And of course, the language barrier… I hope he will enjoy it as much as you enjoyed VietNan!
Thanks for sharing such a nice story.

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11 Kitt September 29, 2008 at 10:40 pm

Awesome family! What a wonderful time you had.

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12 Happy Cook September 30, 2008 at 12:01 am

Su Hy looks so beautiful. When my hubby is India , he gets the same reaction. Then it is European in the bunch.
Now after 20 years it is still same :-)

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13 Lyrical Lemongrass September 30, 2008 at 2:03 am

It takes two to tango. Just as much as they welcomed you into their family, you also played your part in embracing their culture, their quirks and their general way of life. It’s that simple, and yet, so many people fail to realise that. You did good. :-) Can’t wait to read about the rest of your experiences.

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14 Leah September 30, 2008 at 7:07 am

Welcome home! It sounds like an awesome, grounding trip. There’s nothing like being a little culturally out-of-place to help you connect to people on a very human level, if you’re willing to let go. It sounds like you had Diane had a great visit. I can’t wait to hear more and eat some of what you might have learned ;-)

Leah

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15 evil chef mom September 30, 2008 at 8:15 am

i remember the first time i met rich’s family and i would have loved if they greeted me like diane’s family greeted you. i can’t wait to travel the world!

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16 Nan Slaughter September 30, 2008 at 6:34 pm

Okay! Now I’m caught up! Whew! Can’t wait to read more – I love the pictures and am dying to hear about the food…could a white-bread-loving-caucasian-with-a-fear-of-bugs-and-crawly-things- survive a week or two over there without embarrassing our entire nation?!? That’s my goal!

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17 Julie September 30, 2008 at 7:30 pm

Su Hy is so cute!

That sounds like a lovely family reunion. There’s something very touching about how welcomed and accepted Americans are in Vietnam.

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18 Dani September 30, 2008 at 7:56 pm

The richest families are the ones that cross cultures. I’m so glad you had a wonderful time. Was this the first trip over there for Todd? Can hardly wait to see your new recipes. It must have been really inspiring, all that food you consumed. ;)

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19 Dee September 30, 2008 at 9:20 pm

How wonderful it is to belong to such a warm and giving family. And cross-cultural, too. My son is a quarter Welsh, quarter Indian, quarter Malay and quarter Sinhalese – what a wonderful world we live in!

I’m glad you had a lovely time. And thank you both for your kind words.

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20 grace October 1, 2008 at 5:42 am

the little girl is adorable–i can only imagine receiving that stare the whole time. :) families are so important, and i’m glad ya’ll have a good one.

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21 veron October 1, 2008 at 7:04 am

The one you call custard apple , I call it atis! And how I miss eating that fruit and that includes spitting out the seed :D. Keep the pictures coming !

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22 Psychgrad October 1, 2008 at 8:29 am

Sounds like an amazing experience. There’s nothing like seeing a region/country with local guides. Love the pictures!

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23 White on Rice Couple October 1, 2008 at 9:19 am

maybelles mom – that foreigner curiosity is so cute. Hopefully we don’t scare them & taint their views of Americans forever ;)
Marvin – It wasn’t too hard to communicate w/ Diane being fluent. Plus smiles go a long way. Looks like you got further than me, Su Hy never did get past the head shake “no”. We just smiled & laughed.
Lisa – I’m more trouble than I look. “Todd” means sly fox, you know.
Andrea – Be careful with the Viet coffee, it’s highly addicting. We are actually going to post about it soon. Stay tuned.
sharon – The food was sooooo good. We can’t even touch our occasional junk food since coming back home. Just isn’t appealing. We’re spoiled.
RecipeGirl – Yeah. I got lots of stares and flirtations. Once you smile, nearly everyone just lights up.
noobcook – It took us forever to finally go to Vietnam together. We’re already saving to go back again ASAP. Felt like home.
MyKitchenInHalfCups – She was incredibly adorable.
Manggy – The tears were fought going home. P.S. Thanks for the correction. You are on the money.
Rita – If my Brazilian friends are any reflection, he will have an incredible time. I went to Vietnam with no expectations and an open view, and loved every moment of it. Hopefully it will be the same for your husband in Brazil.
Kitt – They were an utter joy.
Happy Cook – 20 years and still staring. I am forewarned.
Lyrical Lemongrass – Thank you. An open heart and mind. That’s all it takes. More stories to come.
Leah – Travel is one of the greatest things we can do. Take us outside our routines and see more of the world. I never come home unaffected. New culinary inspirations to come. Get ready to eat!
ECM – I hope his family realizes how incredible you are, now. Traveling is the best.
Nan Slaughter – It pretty hard to cause embarrassment in Vietnam. It seems like half the population spend 75% of the time in PJ’s, and their some of their morning exercises you would never see being done in the US. Especially in Hanoi. Super cute and dorky. I love it. I now know where Diane gets it from. She definitely has Hanoi blood.
Julie – We almost stole Su Hy and took her home. But she shook her head “no” ;)
Dani – Yep. First trip and definitely not the last. Can’t wait to go back. Can’t wait to share new cooking stuff, too.
Dee – What a great combo. Your son is representing a majority of the world in one soul.
grace – It was even more adorable because she was so feisty, yet shy at the same time.
vernon – The fruit was incredible over there.
Psychgrad – We had the best trip. We were lone travelers in Hanoi, and local family tour guides in Da Nang. Both separate and priceless experiences.

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24 Pat October 1, 2008 at 2:11 pm

What a fun and heartwarming story! I’m planning to introduce my husband to all my relatives in Indonesia next year–we’ve been married 6 years and hardly anyone has met him because of the distance. Family is family regardless of race or country of origin. Thank you for sharing!

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25 Melissa October 1, 2008 at 5:23 pm

Aw Todd that’s awesome. To be a part of another family like that. I remember feeling that way when I joined my husband’s huge family. I came from such a small one, it was a shock, but they pulled me right in.

After just 5 minutes of trying to properly pronounce a Viet word, my mouth and jaw would be tired.

Oh lordy I can imagine. I personally have the hardest time with Viet pronunciation, more so than almost any other language. I don’t know why.

And the niece? ADORABLE!!

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26 Simply...Gluten-free October 1, 2008 at 6:09 pm

Beautifully written, wonderful sentiment. How cute is that niece of yours?

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27 Jen Yu October 1, 2008 at 6:31 pm

Todd is such a cutie!!! I love hearing him speak Vietnamese :) But not as much as I love hearing Diane talk the lady down on the price of lychees! You guys are wonderful. Looks like a lot of fun hanging out with family. Mmmm, the food. I still have lovely memories of the awesome food we had at your place. xxoo

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28 White on Rice Couple October 1, 2008 at 10:34 pm

Pat – Good luck on the meet and greet next year! I’m sure they’ll love him as much as you do. Indonesia is another beautiful exotic place I’d love to visit.
Melissa – It’s been fun being part of Diane’s large family. I, too came from a small family, but after over 12 years I really enjoy being part of Diane’s large fam. Transitioning between Vietnamese and English is hard. Vietnamese is one of the most tonal languages and English is one of the flattest. You have to totally retrain how you use your mouth, throat, tongue, and air to change from one to the other. Much more difficult than merely learning vocabulary and grammar.
Simply…Gluten-free – Thanks, Carol. We’ll have to take you over there one of these times to meet her. She can stare at all of us for a week straight. And shake her head “No!” ;)
Jen Yu – Aww, Jen, you’re making me blush! D’s the mean haggler. Glad she’s on my side. We’ll have to get together and catch up on stories!

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29 Christie@fig&cherry October 2, 2008 at 1:12 am

That’s so wonderful how you’re welcomed with open arms! Thanks for sharing such intimate thoughts… was a great read! Haven’t made it to Vietnam, but it’s on my doorstep (Oz) so hopefully one day… :)

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30 sra October 2, 2008 at 2:17 am

Hi Todd & Diane! I enjoyed reading your Vietnam posts and seeing the pictures. It’s sweet sop season here in India (we call it custard apple, though), and I bought three fine specimens yesterday.

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31 lifeinrecipes October 2, 2008 at 5:24 am

I am enchanted with the photos and stories of your journey. Viet Nam has been the top stop on my must-go list for years….trying desperately to make the time.

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32 Colleen October 2, 2008 at 8:46 am

Oh Todd,
You really warm my heart with joy to hear about your life’s adventures.
You and Diane are truly a Gift to our World.
Namaste & Love

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33 matt wright October 2, 2008 at 12:40 pm

What an awesome, awesome trip. Who wouldn’t welcome you into their family??? They would be insane. Great people are hard to find, but it looks like you have an entire family of them. Good stuff!

We still need more photos.. Come on, spit em out!!!

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34 Chez us October 2, 2008 at 6:44 pm

Your trip sounds amazing! What fantastic photos as well. The meeting of the family sounds like the meeting of a Portuguese family, as well, reminded me of Lenny’s family – lots of fun, food and get stories!

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35 Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy October 3, 2008 at 5:54 am

What a wonderful trip! How lovely that you were able to get to know Diane’s family. It looks like you were welcomed with open arms! It reminds me of the first time my husband and I went to visit my father’s family in Italy. Dozens of aunts uncles and cousins that we had never met before treated us like rock stars. After a few days, it was like we had known each other forever!

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36 White on Rice Couple October 5, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Christie (fig & cherry) – Ya gotta go! They love all of you crazy Aussies in Vietnam.
sra – The local fruit shops usually translate it to “custard apple” as well. Mighty tasty.
lifeinrecipes – We were in the same situation as you for the longest time. Desperately wanting to go, but unable to free the time and money. I think the years of anticipation added to the excitement. We weren’t disappointed, either.
Colleen – Thanks Mom. Love you too.
matt wright – Don’t be misconstrued. The family is insane. Nearly everyone of them ;) But in an incredibly good way. I fit right in!
Chez Us – From what I’ve heard, the Portuguese are another passionate, food loving, bunch. The sort that warms the heart and makes you smile. How fun!
Susan @ Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy – Ditto for the Italians. We loved our trip to Italy (now many years ago) I can only imagine what it would be like to be included in a family there. Mangia! Mangia!

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37 MPG October 5, 2008 at 5:51 pm

So, glad you had a blast…kinda sounds like the time my husband had in India meeting my extended family. Mangoes & Custard Apples both at once?…I am SO jealous right now :-p those are two of my favorite fruits, but I’ve never seen them at the same time, where I grew up you got them in only 2 extreme seasons…did you smuggle some back? ;) Wow! what a fun trip!!

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38 White on Rice Couple October 7, 2008 at 11:44 am

MPG – We wished we could have smuggled some back. Ohhhhh the mangoes. Different league than what we are able to get here. And the rhambutans too. At least we are able to get the custard apples of similar quality. The trip was a blast!

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39 Ann-Kat October 9, 2008 at 2:07 pm

Cheesy alert: Reading your entry reminded me of the “Pass the Plate” promos they air every so often on the Disney Channel. It basically shows us how many cultures are brought together through food. :)

In Jamaica, we call the custard apple soursop (we also call it custard apple). It’s amazing to me how one fruit can have so many different names in so many different places. In fact, I actually have some soursop sitting next to me. Since it’s somewhat expensive in the US (depending on where you are), I’m trying to resist eating it right away, but I don’t believe I can resist very long–at least not while looking at those pictures (they look absolutely exquisite). And those mangoes! Oh my, do they look delicious. You have just made me very hungry.

By the way, beautiful pictures and I’m so glad you had a wonderful trip! Color me jealous. :D

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40 Nate October 24, 2008 at 9:18 am

I kind of felt the same way when Annie brought me to Malaysia the first time. The family welcomed me with open arms and all the cousins took us around. I was so impressed by their hospitality. It’s such a refreshing difference from the “nuclear family” concept here in America.

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41 wow gold November 7, 2008 at 11:46 pm

I am enchanted with the photos and stories of your journey. Viet Nam has been the top stop on my must-go list for years….trying desperately to make the time.

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