Yesterday, I walked across the big stage at the Husky Stadium to collect my diploma holder. Today, I’m frantically packing for a 19 day trip to Vietnam and Thailand. As much as I am thrilled to go on this trip, I am overwhelmed. I feel as though so many major life changing, milestone events have happened and I haven’t had the opportunity to fully immerse in or enjoy them because they are all happening simultaneously. Likewise, it feels like this trip of a lifetime is approaching too soon, and I haven’t had time to mentally prepare for it. Perhaps my excitement will kick in the moment I step on the plane.
The reason I call this trip one of a lifetime is because it’s the first time I’m returning to my place of birth since my family immigrated to the US in 1997. At the time, I was 2 years old. I have no recollection of my time in Vietnam, so although I’m going home to Saigon, it really feels like my first time in Saigon. I’ll be stepping foot into the house where my dad was raised, my mom moved into after marrying my dad, my mother bathed my sisters and I, my grandmother raised her chickens, and that once housed 13 people in one point in time. Right now, I feel nervous because though I’ll be with family whom my parents and grandmother are well acquainted with, it’ll be my first time meeting them with memory capabilities.
For days leading up to my trip, my parents and grandma have been telling me to pack, but little do they know, as an avid traveler, I’m accustomed to packing fast and light. Problem with this trip was that packing light wasn’t an option because my parents imagined another plan. Like anyone who returns to their home country, I was presumed to carry two medium-sized cardboard boxes full of cherries, clothing, over-the-counter medications, and miscellaneous items. Going back to Vietnam isn’t just a personal journey, but one that involves the whole village—both in Seattle and Saigon. Why cherries? Because they are rare and expensive in Vietnam—only those from affluent backgrounds are able to afford them, so they serve as a nice treat to all of the family and friends in Tan Phu—the district where my family is from.
Once my bags were packed, I left the house around 5:30 PM to pick up my best friend and travel buddy, Courtney. My parents and sister, Tran, insisted on driving Courtney and I to the YVR Airport even though we had already booked Bolt Bus tickets for the journey. I think the real reason is because my parents felt bad for making me carry 2 boxes plus my small luggage and backpack.
Upon arriving to Vancouver, we were starving. We went to a Chinese restaurant—I forget the name of it—but it’s the child of Din Tai Fung, which is a large, well-known chain in North America and Northern China. The food was delicious. We even had leftovers to bring onto the long plane ride that we were soon boarding. The first flight from Vancouver to Taiwan would be 12 hours, and from Taiwan to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) would be 3.5 hours. Since the flight took off from YVR at 2:00 AM, it provided the ideal sleep schedule so that we could adjust to the Vietnam time zone by the time we woke up and arrived.