August 2016. Hanoi, Vietnam. (OK I went as a kid once, but I was too young to appreciate/realize what was going on, so that time doesn’t count! With that asterisk aside...)
How does a Vietnamese-Canadian prepare for his first trip to Vietnam?
Because trying not to embarrass myself is one of my favourite activities, the first step in getting myself ready for Vietnam was to sign into my DuoLingo account, ignore the reminders to resume German Lesson 1, and sign up for the Vietnamese course. I didn’t want to disappoint my people.
Now here’s the thing. I’ve been speaking Vietnamese with my parents and family my entire life, but there’s a French word thrown in there every 2 words, and I knew that that wouldn’t fly in Vietnam. Also, as a kid, my vocabulary stopped expanding as I started learning English, so I never learned to say adult travel-ey things, like talk about reservations and passports and booking confirmations and ATMs. You know, the useful stuff. So during the month leading up to my trip, I powered through the DuoLingo course. (I unfortunately did not get any help untangling the messy web of Vietnamese pronouns.)
Meanwhile, I was spending a lot of time at the library doing research and going through all the travel guides. It became clear pretty quickly that food was going to be a big focus during the trip. And while furthering my research by eating the delicious Vua Banh Mi sandwiches and listening to podcasts about travel in Vietnam, I discovered Jodi Ettenberg and her seriously information-packed website. She’s an expert on travel and food in Vietnam (among many other places), a nomad, story-teller, ex-lawyer, professional celiac, and to my surprise and delight, originally a Montrealer.
So I reached out, she happened to be in Montreal right before I leave. We met up for some bún chả at Phở Tây Hồ and I got pro tips from the expert herself :O The people at the restaurant even recognized her. I felt like I was Obama when he was eating with Anthony Bourdain. Or would it be the other way around?
At this point I’m a few days away from the trip. - I now sound fluent in Vietnamese if you don’t speak Vietnamese. - I’m armed with a list of over 30 restaurants to visit in Vietnam from Jodi. - My bag is packed (Actually, it was packed like 2 weeks before. I was excited.).
I was ready!
Here's a preview of what came next: