Sunday, six in the morning, Manila time. I slumped at a corner of the NAIA arrival area, my body wide awake but still adjusting to the one-hour time difference. MC had left ahead, taking a taxi back to his place. I, on the other hand, did not feel like going home so soon.
The terminal was quiet at this hour. It felt calm and relaxing, and it cleared my mind enough for me to contemplate on a lot of things.
Two days and three nights in Vietnam… Our vacation was so short and we didn’t do so much as I expected, but it felt like I stayed there for so long.
Back at Ho Chi Minh City, everything felt so slow-paced. I wanted to see everything. There were so many things I wanted to do, so many places to visit, so much stuff to eat and drink. It’s as if every nook and cranny, every scent, every color of the city is begging my attention, urging me to stay on and drink into the sights I behold. It’s saddening that such could not be done.
Two days and three nights was such a short time. It was enough and not enough.
Why did I come to Vietnam? Was it to see our father? Was it for a vacation? Was it because I needed a break? Was it to try out Vietnamese cuisine, as the foodie in me would do? It felt like it was all of the above and none at all.
At the back of my mind, I really intended to emulate Anthony Bourdain’s adventures there, roaming around and trying out as much of Vietnam’s food as I could. That didn’t go exactly as I planned, but what I experienced was just as wonderful.
When I first stepped into Vietnamese soil, it felt great. I was in another country, experiencing another culture, seeing a new perspective of the things I know of. Being in a new environment is indeed refreshing.
I had so much to learn about Vietnam. The language was strange, but it rolled off everyone’s tongues like they were singing. The language barrier was so difficult to overcome, and understanding each other was a challenge. Yet the people are kind and gentle, respectful of others and their circumstances.
HCMC was highly urbanized yet very peaceful, more so at night when the lights are out and every store is closed. It felt like being in the countryside, or more accurately, it was like living so close to nature, with the parks and trees and the Saigon River kilometers away from where we stayed.
Vietnam’s history is so rich, exuding a tinge of nostalgia and sadness with a sense of resilience despite all of the hardships their people went through. Their sense of nationalism is so strong, thanks to the lessons of the Vietnam War.
Of course, there’s so much to say about the food. The cuisine is healthy, the dishes are delicious, and everything tasted so fresh and appetizing. More importantly, the food is prepared with great love and care. Everyone is so proud of the food they make, the herbs and spices they use to flavor their meals, the meat and seafood they raise, the vegetables they harvest, the dishes they are able to make out of whatever they have.
Just for a few days, I made a great shift in eating habits and preferences, and it was good for me. I mean, I ate so much seafood, stuff that someone with gout and other health problems should avoid, and yet I feel great. No gout attacks whatsoever.
There’s so much to love about Vietnam, but at the same time, it gave me a lot of reasons to love the Philippines. It gave me a reason to look back at the place I came from.
Because of this trip to Vietnam, I gained a newfound appreciation of my own home, my own country, where my dreams to be a food writer were born. I learned to appreciate my country’s strengths, imperfections, and struggles. My hunger for knowledge, wisdom, and insight with regards to my own culture was rekindled.
I long for the day my country, Metro Manila for starters, would be more conscious of its surroundings, its culture, and its relationship with the rest of the world. I long for the day people would clean up their act altogether, work together, build a country worthy to be shown off to the world.
My goodness, what am I saying? There’s so much in my head right now, most of it appreciating Vietnam in all its beauty, and yet part of me is wishing to see the same in my own land. My dreams have yet to fall into their proper places.
Now that I think about it, before I dreamed of having a food trip around HCMC, I dreamed of having a food trip around the Philippines. I always say that one can learn a lot of things about a place from the stuff the locals eat. It applies now.
I learned a lot about Vietnam from what I ate. I hope to do the same as I resume my search for great food here. And I promise to go back to Vietnam and eat my way around.
I boarded the shuttle out of NAIA, the MRT, and the bus taking me home. As soon as I got off, I could smell the newly-cooked beef nilaga from my favorite turo-turo store.