My memories take me back three summers ago to a time when I was just a mere thirteen-year old girl from San Diego, California. I remember holding my mother’s hand as my family made our way through the Los Angeles International Airport to reach the Cathay Pacific Airlines area. My heart continued thumping with fear and anxiety. I did not know which was scarier: being surrounded by thousands of strangers who all seemed ten foot tall or traveling across an entire ocean to meet numerous relatives I never even knew about.
Eighteen hours later, we arrived in Vietnam at the Ho Chi Minh City Airport. The moment I stepped off the plane, a huge heat wave hit me right in the face and drops of perspiration began to form on my face. I thought San Diego weather was hot, but Vietnam’s weather was ten times worse. We quickly located our luggage and exited the airport. We got into a taxi and drove out of the airport’s parking lot and into the streets of Vietnam.
On the drive to my grandparents’ house, I saw hundreds of Vietnamese people riding on bicycles and motorcycles coming from every direction. Although it differs from the American system greatly, I found it intriguing. When I got to my grandparents house, I noticed that all the houses were built closely to one another allowing scarce privacy. Most Vietnamese homes have thin walls and thing metal roofs, but I was fortunate. My grandpa, formerly high-ranked police officer, had enough money to create a decent home with indoor plumbing, upstairs, wooden floors, a stove, and a sturdy roof. The hours passed quickly, and soon the banquet to welcome my family started. About 30 relatives and friends crowded in my grandparents’ home to enjoy the festivities. I was fast asleep before it was even close to being over. My first day in Vietnam was officially over.
Despite my original impression of Vietnam, the next five weeks passed by unexpectedly quick. I was able to visit tourist locations, such as the Nha Trang Beach and the Dam Ri waterfalls in the town of Bao Loc. Even though visiting those sites were great opportunities, what really changed me was being able to experience everyday activities. On a daily basis, my cousins, older siblings, and I would walk around the neighborhood to buy savory treats from local venders. Each Sundays, around 4pm, the whole family would walk a block down to the local church for mass. For dinner, we would go to my uncle’s restaurant where he would cook us noodles, rice, and beef. Occasionally, my older cousins took my siblings and I on motorcycle rides around Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, to see the city’s night lights and feel the cool night breeze. These were the moments that made feel the warmth of happiness that I initially never thought was possible to find in Vietnam.
In Vietnam, I had little access to computers and other electronics. I realized that electronics were unnecessary to keep me happy and entertained. Spending quality time with my family and exploring a completely new surrounding was what I really needed. Vietnam is a genuinely, beautiful place even though it may not have as much sparkle and pizzazz as other countries. What I learned from this trip is that the little things in life add up to a bigger picture and that is what’s most rewarding.
It is now the year two thousand nine. I am the same girl, but with a new outlook on the world.
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