This trip was going to be different. During my previous visits, I dreaded the unforgiving bipolar weather: hot as hell or raining cats and dogs. My time was usually spent locked in the bedroom with the AC on at full power. I counted down the days until I could walk through the airport gates in Seattle and return to civilization and take a nice crisp breath. I was ashamed of the relief I wished to feel but I bit my tongue and buried the guilt in the deepest corner of my conscience.
But this trip was going to be different. I was returning to Vietnam for the first time in 10 years and this time with my partner coming along. We planned an action-packed two weeks filled with the usual tourist traps in addition to spending time with my extended family.
This trip was definitely going to be different. Then my partner contracted a nasty bug right when we arrived and was bedridden during our first few days. Yep.
We both tried to keep a positive attitude but the days spent cooped up in our hotel room began to wear us down. I started having flashbacks of previous trips.
On the third day, I went out into the neighboring area in search of breakfast for the two of us. Maybe it was the result of the cabin fever, but I inadvertently wandered a little too far. After paying the shop owner for the two bowls of phở gà, the chicken version of that quintessential Vietnamese beef noodle soup, I began the long walk back.
As I made my way toward the hotel, it began to pour. The rain came down hard on my head and shoulders, but something compelled me to stop in my tracks instead of running for cover. Everything around me seemed to happen at half speed: the street vendors hustling to get their wares indoors, the motorcyclists pulling over to put on their ponchos, and the people running toward the nearest cover.
In an instant, I was transported back to my childhood and I relived one of my fondest memories growing up in Sài Gòn: taking showers in the rain, or tắm mưa. I remembered seeing dark clouds building up in the hours before, and very suddenly, relentless waves of rain gushed from the sky. While the adults rushed to recover the clothes drying on rooftops, the children would strip down to their underwear and jump in the overflowing puddles. Shop owners watched over their merchandise while pedestrians and bikers patiently waited for a lull in the downpour. Nobody seemed too bothered by these heavy showers, for rain in Vietnam would let up just as abruptly as it fell, allowing life to resume its march.
Even after the memory had faded and I was brought back to the present, I stood motionless for a few minutes to breathe in the air, to smell the rain, and to feel the heavy raindrops hit my skin before continuing back to the hotel.
They say phở gà cures many sicknesses and sure enough my partner soon recovered. The rest of the trip went as planned but that moment in the rain reminded me that the soul of my trip wasn’t in the attractions or the sightseeing. It was in my everyday interactions with the people around me. Whether it was my partner or the woman selling bánh mì on the corner of the street, I made an effort to really share the moment with them. Through these moments, I recalled my childhood and reconnected with my roots.
It’s been merely weeks since I returned home and I am planning another trip the following year. I hope to visit for at least a month next time and, of course, it will have to be during the rainy season.
Johnson Nguyen is a 1.5 generation immigrant and an engaged member of the Vietnamese community. He currently teaches at Hoa Mai Preschool and has worked with numerous
community organizations in different capacities. Johnson hopes to continue his work in the education policy field in the future