The gray roads slid by monotonously as the shuttle hurtled down the road to the airport. Twenty-two hours later, the green oceans, looming mountains, and clear skies of Saigon appeared outside of my window. After exiting the departure gate, I froze, caught off guard by the single thing I never expected to find in Vietnam: Air conditioning. I was relieved that I would not melt during my visit.
Dragging our suitcases, my whole family all piled into many small xich lo, or “cab bikes,” to get to our first hotel, the Xuan Mai Hotel. I sat back, expecting a pleasant ride, full of sightseeing yet I was once again bewildered that Vietnam has no traffic signs or lights.
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Traffic rules were simple, just “go with the flow.” Cars, motorcycles, and bikes always appeared to be on the verge of colliding with each other. After 30 minutes of terrifying “close calls” and a driver who maniacally cackled at our obvious fear, we arrived at our hotel, where all the children staggered out of the cab, trying to grip something that wouldn’t zoom off and crash. In Saigon, my favorite place to dine was Pho 24 where I ate a hearty bowl of authentic Vietnamese beef noodle soup. The night time in Saigon was a lot of fun because I shopped and learned how to bargain for the lowest price.
The next day, we boarded a small, rickety plane and traveled to Nha Trang which I assumed was another boring town. But, when we arrived at a 5-star hotel with a breathtaking beachfront view, I was amazed. It looked like paradise. My first adventure was scuba diving which would have been much more enjoyable had I not been required to remove my glasses. Seeing only blurs of colors was not the best scenario, but the silence underneath the water was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. The next morning, another water activity had been planned: parasailing. I was ecstatic as I had always wanted to go parasailing, but once again they refused to let me wear my glasses for “liability issues” and “safety hazards.” Still, the feeling of soaring through the air made it one of the most exhilarating moments in my life.
In the following day, we headed to the city of Hue for Festival Hue, an annual celebration that brought all types of artists together. We also came to honor my great-grandmothers 100th birthday, which was a miracle because she was living in the rice fields, with no medical supplies or indoor plumbing. I saw her extended families living together in a simple 4 room house. My great-grandmother occupied the bed and dozens of family members gathered around her. My grandmother sat beside her and handed out red envelope “lixi” or “lucky money” to all the children. The sight of different generations on different continents coming together showed me how not even a thousand miles can sever a family’s unity and love.
It was in Hue that I saw the temple that my ancestors had built and where they were buried. At this burial site, I learned that my ancestor was one of the advisors to the last Emperor. We couldn’t leave Vietnam without stopping by the orphanage. I remember handing out toys to the children who showed so much strength and love for each other despite of their living conditions and circumstances. It was this trip to Vietnam that made me proud of my strong family tree and treasure what I have been blessed with in America.
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