By Tracey Trinh
Summer Youth Leadership Program
Hearing my parents say, “Tracey, we’re visiting Vietnam” when I was nine gave me so much excitement. It was the first time I ever traveled outside of the United States or Canada, and I would meet a lot of relatives that I had only heard about. I was especially excited to meet my cousins since they were around my age. I had seen pictures of Vietnam with its tropical setting and pretty beaches, and my parents always reminisced about fresh fruit and abundant food. But as it turned out, my idea of the trip was highly idealistic.
Instead, I arrived in a completely new and different world. The people may have looked like I did, but their manners and practices were alien to me. I stepped off the airplane expecting a breezy, tropical paradise only to be struck by heavy, humid air; dusty streets; and crowded roads. In the cramped taxicab with the loud driver on my way to my cousins’ house, I only hoped things would get better. But as I descended from the car, I found myself bombarded by relatives asking me questions I didn’t fully understand. I had always felt that my Vietnamese was decent but they used phrases and words I had never heard. This language barrier became an obstacle as I tried to get to know my cousins. I would constantly have to ask them to repeat themselves or explain further. The big family dinner I had was nothing like what I expected. There were no plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables, but rather strange meats and smelly sauces. I found myself insulting my aunt’s hospitality and cooking skills as I rejected unfamiliar dishes. As everyone chatted away, devouring the supposed delicacies, I felt isolated. The immediate connection I hoped would come naturally between me and my culture and family never happened. To make matters worse, my uncle was in the process of updating and remodeling his home and was not finished installing indoor plumbing or electricity.
It was difficult adjusting to everything. As I visited the streets and cities of Vietnam, I was surprised at the amount of poverty that existed. Small children were selling lottery tickets and beggars roamed the roads in search of food and aid. The tropical paradise I fabricated was only a small part of Vietnam. I felt frustrated that my vacation was turning out so differently. When my mom told me we were going to visit an orphanage, I will admit I was not too excited. There we helped donate food and learned about the scarce resources they had. When it came time to spend time with the children, I was very apprehensive because of my Vietnamese communication abilities. Yet surprisingly I was able to connect with them through games and activities.
Finally, my parents told me that we would be visiting a beach resort on our trip. In order to reach tourist destination, my family traveled for hours on dangerous and deserted roads. When we arrived I saw beautiful beaches sprawled before me, clean tourist attractions, and towering hotels. This was what I was hoping for since the beginning. As I stayed at the beautiful hotel and paced the sandy beaches, something felt different. It was if this paradise was artificial, simply a place created to attract tourists. It was nothing like the rest of Vietnam. The calm atmosphere was disquieting, void of bustling streets and busy markets. It felt wrong to waste my chances at exploring Vietnam in a place that barely represented it truly. Despite finally getting to the tropical paradise I wanted and the breathtaking setting, I missed my loud and inquisitive cousins, and the orphanage had left me yearning to help more people. (end)
Tracey Trinh is a senior at Bellarmine Preparatory School.