It has been raining since my parents left, but we are still having a great time in Nha Trang. The other night, my new-to-me sister in law took us out to dinner. It just so happened that she chose the place we have been going for coffee and breakfast every morning, so we were already regulars!
It was a great evening. We were joined by her uncle, who works for the train department. This was fortuitous, as Nguyen and I were trying to get 1st class train tickets to Saigon for tomorrow, but discovered that they were sold out. I am a little embarrassed to admit that we took advantage of the connection and let Nguyen's brother ask about securing us seats. The train guy/uncle got on the phone to try and get us tickets.
Dinner wasn't really dinner, but more a series of stunningly delectable appetizers and tons of beer. At first we were fairly moderate, having a round, then another. The Vietnamese drink their beer with ice, but Nguyen and I drink it straight. Luckily it was good and cold. We prefered Saigon to Heineken. The dishes served ranged from very simple (stir fried corn kernals with chili peppers, pork and green onions) to complex (shrimp spring rolls wrapped in a kind of rice paper netting I have never seen before. They were incredible.) We had little clams with garlic and panko breadcrumb topping, cuttlefish steamed and served with soy sauce, stir fried noodles (for the kids... they are now, officially, addicted to them) and, well, beer.
As the evening wore on, I noticed that my lack of Vietnamese seemed less and less important. We were laughing and relaxing and having a grand time. The train guy, it turned out, wasn't a typical lower ranking party guy at all. He was brought up in the South and vehemently opposed the communist government, even trying to escape the country several times. Once, he actually almost made it, but had a change of heart as he realized that he would never see his mother again, so he came back and decided to make the best of it. And he has been very successful. Now he pins his hopes for the future of his country on his children and their generation. And as Vietnam is the fastest growing economy in Asia, I'd say he has reason to be hopeful.
The waitress brought a case of beer and left it at the end of the table. I start splitting beers with Nguyen so that we are only drinking half what my brother in law and the train guy are having. And still, my lightweight husband starts getting pretty plastered. But he says to me that this is a right of passage that he missed because he had to leave the country when he was so young. I laugh and agree to help him stagger back to the hotel later.
"You can put this in your blog," he says. And here it is.
Where are the kids, you ask? For the last couple of nights, they have been invited to spend the night at my in laws. We were happily suprised to find that the boys have a 10 year old cousin who is visiting from Australia with his mom and baby sister. Vincent is a very sweet boy and the kids get along famously. And older cousin Tam watches over all of them. So they are safely off at Pop's house.
The restaurant is beautiful. It is really just a big thatched roof with rust colored columns and a big tile floor. In Vietnam, there is very little distinction between the inside and outdoors. It surprises me that there are no walls at this place. Everything is just wide open. There is a patio with a canvas awning which abuts the sea wall, so we are just feet from the pounding surf. It is one of the few places in Nha Trang that you don't hear the roar of traffic, which is why we have grown to love it for breakfast. And the bathrooms are beautiful! They are housed in a separate building. I told Nguyen that if I ever build a house in Vietnam, I want it to be like those bathrooms. Brown tile floors, ochre yellow walls, a thatched roof and dark wood trim.
Finally, Nguyen says he is ready to go back to the hotel. We survey the damage. A case of beer bottles, several empty plates... big, big, smiles.
And 4 first class train tickets to Saigon.