Returning to Việt Nam ‘home’

MotorbikeWhen I returned “home” to Hà Nội after my summer sojourn back “home” in Southern California, my wife patted my belly – just to point out there was a bit more to pat.

Yes, the pants that had been loose in the waist are now tight.

I don’t know how much poundage I put on during my two-month break from Việt Nam; I’m not sure I want to know.

But I could feel it happening.

In the first week alone, it felt like I put on five pounds re-embracing the culture depicted in the book “Fast Food Nation”.

Cheeseburgers, French fries, burritos, the occasional doughnuts or mound of non-fat-free frozen yogurt – all helped me live large.

I’m hoping, of course, that phở gà (Vietnamese chicken noodle soup) and bún chả (a Vietnamese dish of grilled pork served with rice vermicelli and vegetables) now will make me slimmer.

But food was on my mind throughout the summer.

I took note of a couple of relevant news reports.

One was that, according to some sort of global survey, Mexico knocked the U.S. from its dubious title of “World’s Fattest Nation”.

The other was that Việt Nam had welcomed McDonalds into its own national food court, joining such all-American brands as Burger King and KFC.

Some people consider McDonalds’ arrival to be progress, and some think it’s depressing.

I tend to classify it as “it is what it is” – which in this case means the inevitable march of corporate hegemony in the global economy.

Returning to Việt Nam, I was struck by how much my perceptions had changed.

America lives large in many ways, and Orange County, home of “Little Sài Gòn,” is a prime example.

To get around, I routinely navigated my Toyota family van on a freeway with seven lanes heading north and another seven heading south, just one motorway serving the epic sprawl.

Coming home from the airport, I was convinced the driver was taking an unfamiliar road, because this one seemed too narrow.

But no, it was Âu Cơ, the dike road.

In Orange County, the car culture had me turning into the drive-thru lanes of In-N-Out Burger and Starbucks, with the odd stop at Del Taco, Wendy’s and Pollo Loco.

In my first week, I had resolved to try a place in Irvine with the improbable name of Phở Hà Nội – but never made it.

Maybe next summer.

Still, it’s good to be back in Hà Nội, although I wish I could have packed the weather which was much sweeter back in Southern California.

I’ve traded the Sienna van with 178,000 miles on the odometer for the Yamaha Nuovo with about 49,000 kilometers.

In the U.S., I was spending 70 bucks to fill the gas tank.

Here, about 100,000 đồng, and I don’t need to drive nearly as far.

Life itself seems more compact.

Back in the U.S., I got nervous when I would illegally answer my phone while driving the kids to summer school.

Here, I sometimes take all three kids on the motorbike, always wearing helmets, at least for neighborhood trips.

I get nervous driving past motorcyclists who text while they drive, sometimes carrying heavy loads of cargo.

Why can’t people just pull over instead of driving one-handed?




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s