Strong Emotions in Vietnam

Once again, a book dictated the country I chose to fake travel to. In August, I traveled from home to Vietnam in August 2021. I had another tough time acquiring the food. While I could probably have gone to H Mart, I don’t trust my ability to cook tofu and make it taste decent. I selected a nearby Vietnamese restaurant that had some great choices I could eat and set aside some time to go only to find it had closed. So I sat in the parking lot with my phone, searching for another restaurant. The next closest had almost no vegetarian choices, but I finally located one about twenty minutes away that had lots of vegetarian options as well as desserts.

My Choices

Meal: I started with Chả giò, vegetarian spring rolls. They were probably the most delicious spring rolls I’ve ever had in my life. I will absolutely be going back for more soon. Pho is Vietnam’s most famous dish, and I was thrilled to find some vegetarian Phở Chay with tofu. I was lucky that the takeout order came in an “assemble it yourself” way, because that allowed me to avoid the hot peppers and the sauce that was far too hot for me to handle. The tofu, fresh vegetables, sprouts, vegetable broth, and noodles were good. There was enough to last me two meals. I also treated myself to bubble tea. I really wanted honeydew, but they were out of that flavor, so I went with mango. It was an excellent choice but not nearly big enough.

Dessert: To go with the mango bubble tea, I had mango sticky rice with coconut milk for dessert. It was the perfect balance of textures, sticky and soft, and oh so sweet. I would definitely order it again as well.

Music: I asked Alexa to play me Vietnamese music, and she delivered this time with a random selection. I did some tidying up and some laundry while listening. It was enjoyable, even if I couldn’t tell you the song titles or artists. One of the many songs that played was Bài Hát Gấu Nho, the Vietnamese version of the Gummy Bear song. I was not familiar with Gummy Bear as an artist (or familiar with the series), and I thought it was strange and bizarre but fun. I laughed a lot and found myself humming it at times throughout the day.

Movie: I chose Dreamy Eyes (Mắt Biếc) to watch for my fake trip. I was looking for a movie that would show me more of Vietnam than just the war. 99% of my search results were about the Vietnam War, so this one stood out. It was still packed with emotion, however, and not the beautiful love story I’d expected to find. It’s the story of Ngan, who falls deeply in love with Hà Lan when they are children in a small village. He writes her songs. He sticks up for her against bullies. He shares beautiful, magical moments discovering nature in the forests with her. Hà Lan heads to the city for school and he follows her soon after only to find she has more interest in dating his horrible cousin than him. When she has a child out of wedlock, she sends the child back to the village, and he goes back home as well to help raise the little girl because he would do anything for Hà Lan. The story spans about forty years of their lives, and all this time he has this strong, unrequited love. There was a moment I got uncomfortable and thought the movie was going to go somewhere I didn’t want it to go. But, no, Ngan’s love for Hà Lan was pure and beautiful and unwavering. The ending crushed me into a thousand pieces. Even though it wasn’t a movie about the war, I still left feeling sad and depressed.

Book: I read The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen. And even though much of it takes place in the United States, enough of the story is in Vietnam that I felt it counted. It’s a wonderful story about a young boy, Tiến, struggling to find a way to tell his mother he likes boys. She returns to Vietnam for a while after her mother dies and visits with family. Throughout the changes and high emotions in the book, there are fairy tales. These Vietnamese versions of fairy tales I grew up with (Cinderella and the Little Mermaid) were equal parts gorgeous and terrible (as most fairy tales are). They come to life on the page as the storytelling binds members of this family together through time and across distances. The fairy tales create a bridge that defies the barriers of culture and language. And they also create a way that Tiến and his mother can communicate and share with each other. It is an amazing graphic novel, both in story and in art. I highly recommend it.