It’s not all about the pho 

I’ve been dreaming of Vietnam since before I could remember. And I’m finally here.

One thing is blatant upon arrival: my mom’s and my own traveling ways could not be more polar opposite.

I mean I should have known. My mom would cringe when I would tell her stories of where I lived and where I ate while in India. 

She happened to see the video of Jordan and I riding on the top of the packed bus through the winding narrow foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal. She freaked out, and gave me that oh so common lecture. I need to make smarter and safer decisions, this is why she worries so much while I’m gone, etc. 

Last month I got an email from her with a link attached. It was a CNN news article titled: “Overcrowded bus tilts, plunges down a hill in Nepal; at least 30 killed”

I just didn’t respond.

If you’ve traveled you realize that a lot of the overwhelming fear we’re taught in th U.S. is simply not true. Shit happens no matter where you are. I mean, the notion that you’re so much safer in the States than anywhere else is laughable to me. 

You’re more likely to get sick from our GMO-laden food and random animal parts mass manufactured and processed in your meat. And you’re more likely to get shot at a movie theater or at school.

Should you hide at home in fear of those things? No. And we don’t. Why should we hide in fear over the hypotheticals we build up in visiting foreign countries?

Life is too short.

Anyway, so I will never win in that argument against my mom, but I’m realizing how different this trip will be.

She laughed when I made all my DIY bug repellant, because “we’ll be in a hotel, Baby.” That’s how she and her friends roll. 

At this point in my life all my hostel or couch surfing-type living situations have been the most memorable. Where you meet travelers and locals and such. I feel like staying in a hotel keeps everything so distant from the people and the culture. 

That and I won’t get the chance to struggle with learning the language and talking to people (which is honestly one of my favorite parts) because my mom always speaks for us. An advantage, but a disadvantage to the whole experience in some ways.

One of the things I’ve been looking forward to the most is the food.

Last night, when one of my mother’s best friend’s sons picked us up, he asked if we wanted to get pho. I said, hell yes! So we went.

It definitely tasted a bit different but the broth was delicious. As I went to add the condiments and extras, I was shocked. My mom told us not to add any of the fresh herbs, no lime, no sprouts. “I don’t know where it came from and where it was washed and if the water is clean.”



Later that night my mom suggested to us all: Maybe we will stay away from the street food and local food.


That’s when I spoke up. I mean, come on! What’s the point? I get that my dad is older and so is my mom. I get that you should always be careful. But I’m eating what I want. I say we live a little. 

I mean, if she only knew the hole in the wall dumps I’d eaten at during my Asia trips. Tiny shacks. Over crowded. Cockroach chilling on the wall over yonder. 

I have a strong feeling that my “let’s live a little/YOLO” message failed to go through. Or was ignored. We shall see. 

Nonstop my parents are clutching their bags and telling us to do the same, as the fear of thieves is a main concern walking through the streets. You know, I know there is truth to this. But the constant reminders and the overwhelming fear is not what I’m used to.

Sophie, the granddaughter of my mom’s friend who also picked us up last night is 18. She speaks fluent English so I spoke to her a bit last night. I had my phone out, taking photos, and she told me to put it away. She said it’s not safe anywhere to have it out the way I do.

Now I can’t take a million pictures like I always do?

So as I laid my head down to sleep last night in my bougey-ass hotel room (A/C broke and mom is pissed), I was only focusing on these negatives and how very restricted this family trip would be with my parents running the show. 

But then I realized: that’s not what this trip is about.

Last night we drove by my mother’s route that she walked to school. She lit up. I told her I want to walk the same path. She showed me where her sister got in a motorbike accident and broke her elbow, pain she still feels in that right arm to this day. That used to be the movie theater I would go to with my friends, she said, pointing out the window.

And suddenly I am coming up with these visions of my mom. 

I remember the old pictures of her as a high school student, with braided pigtails and in her Catholic school uniform. A young, solemn face in that black and white photo. 

But I’m picturing it now, laughing and shouting as she walks with her five best friends home from school. Along these streets, past these stores. Years and years ago.

Where did she live? Where else would she go? What does her school look like? 

How did the war change her life? How did her family split up? How did her friends all find their way back to one another? How does she feel being back?

And this morning I wake up eager to discover more precious pieces of my mom. 

That is why I am here.


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