An American in the Family
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.
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.
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
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!
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