As I travel and search for new cultural experiences, I want to try the local foods, see how different people lead their lives, and start to understand the world as they do. Having dinner with Quynh and her family is this authentic experience. I arrive at her home complete with a small store front, several bedrooms, a kitchen, a small dining room, a chicken pen, and her big family. Quynh has 4 other sisters, all of whom live at home with their father, mother, grandparents, and two dogs. The newest addition to the family at only 6 months old is Susu. When I arrive, I meet most of the players as we all congregate in the front while the father mans the store of cigarettes, snacks, and drinks.
After a tour of the home, much playing with the baby, and getting to the know the family while using a couple of the sisters as translator’s, it is time for dinner. At this point, one of the sister’s boyfriends also enters the scene, making dinner a crowded occasion. As would happen in my family, the adults sit at one table and the kids sit at another. The parents and grandparents sit in the dining room, while the kids sit outside around a small table.
The food is traditional and at times, too traditional. I try everything on the table, and as I am eating, the five sisters continue adding more to my plate. Most of the dishes I enjoy even if I have little idea what it is I’m actually consuming, and half way through the meal, I realize not knowing is probably easier than knowing. One of the sisters puts something in my plate, and because they like to joke and try to mislead me, I assume when they say it’s a pig’s tail, they are trying to get a reaction out of me. I give them their reaction as my face cringes, but I learn that they are not joking and slowly work my way around the cartilage in the center of the tail.
The night ends where it began, in the front near the street. We drink tea, laugh, and learn about each others’ cultures and customs while I thank them repeatedly for their hospitality using the new Vietnamese vocabulary I learned during the day. Half jokingly, one of Quynh’s sisters keeps questioning me if I want to take Quynh back to the States with me. I respond with an uncomfortable smile and an enthusiastic yes. The follow up question is then do I want to take one of the other sisters back with me. Again I smile, blush, and respond that the whole family should come to California. They all laugh at me, and I feel relieved. Before leaving, we arrange ourselves in many permutations for a quick photo shoot so that we all can remember the night.
More than the inspiring sites and adrenaline-pumping activities, it is experiences like these that are making traveling so exciting.