I love surprising my mother. She absolutely hates it and if she hasn't got enough food for everyone involved in the surprise, she hates it even more. Thus when the opportunity to visit her while she and dad were in Vietnam on holidays popped up, I embraced it with open arms and looked forward to her being really pissed off that I hadn't told her we were coming.
My mother and father took the very brave journey from Vietnam to Australia in 1981 with my older sister, who was 4 at the time. Though Australia is home, they have been visiting Vietnam annually for the past few years now and I've been able to accompany them only a handful of those times.
While she was a little angry, my mother eventually calmed down and we spent some quality time together in the country she grew up in.
Each time I go back it's always a concrete reminder of how differently my life could have turned out and how much of a change my parents had gone through to get where they are today. This trip was only 4 days and was spent mainly with my family and their friends so I wasn't running around as much as I have but, as always, it seems Vietnam is going through a constant change. The streets are still filled with scooters with an estimated 3.5 million zipping around the country. That means crossing a road is still as stressful as it has always been. We passed an infinite amount of tourists waiting at the side of the road for a break in traffic that would never come. My rule- walk slowly. If you're scared, close your eyes and hope you've been good.
With every returning visit you can't help but notice the change. After its boom in the 90s, economic reform, and continual growth into a global market since then, Vietnam's economic progression has had a very interesting result for someone who would walk down a road in the city. On one side I'd see new designer boutiques and shopping mall developments and on the other, the same lady who sold mandarins at the bus stop when I last visited a few years ago. That said, over my visits, Vietnam's seen a huge reduction in those living below the poverty line. Without getting into the maths of it, there's still obviously millions living in poverty and the gap between the well off and poor is wide.
As my father says though, you have to look up to see things happen.
I can't imagine how emotional it is for my parents each time they return and while they talk about it here and there, I think a lot of it is personal so I just try to spend the time there with them in a way that makes them happy. And food seems to make them pretty happy.
Now, it happens every now and then when I meet someone who hasn't had Pho before and a tear swells in my eye, my heart cries a little stab of pain on their behalf, and I wonder what life could be without the magic of Pho. Just in case you really have no idea what I'm taking about, Pho is a Vietnamese dish of noodles, broth, and meat. It tastes better than it sounds and I've not taken anyone for Pho who hasn't become a convert.
Naturally, it became a daily ritual.
Whenever I hit the tarmac after a trip, I close my eyes and think about how lucky Australians are.
Tell me, if you've managed to make it this far, is there a food dish from home you miss? Just writing this I want a bowl of pho. In my belly. Now.