|Although the idea had been in the air since before we left, my father's definite visit to Vietnam came in on a relatively short notice. A busy summer at home - what with unforeseeable and regrettable knee injuries, baby births, grandparent initiated trips to Disney World and the perennial summer school nightmare - it seemed like events would keep the old man from making the trip. But, lo and behold, the email comes through the wire that he is, in fact, booked on a flight and although earlier than expected, will land in Ho Chi Minh City on the 27th of July.
Eight months on the road, away from home and family can begin to make you long for a familiar face and a taste of those so far away. It was with great excitement that Mandy and I greeted the news, and the only sticking point was the reality that we would, after all, be leaving our friends and our work in Khao Lak and Laem Pom. All in all, however, the leaving seemed appropriate and timed well and we began to say our goodbyes and make arrangements for our trip to Vietnam.
With the timing being what it was, and wishing to remain in Khao Lak as long as possible, we decide to book a flight to HCMC and forego the arduous (and inefficient) overland route. Special thanks to our dear friend Sanchia for helping us with our Vietnam visa - her easy-going generosity made it possible to stay on a few days longer and eased the whole process entirely - loveya hun. So with our visa sorted and plane ticket booked we were only forced to undertake a twelve hour busride to Bangkok, where we performed a rushed shop around, a few hours sleep, bumped into our friend, Esther, and made it to the airport all in one piece.
A quick flight to HCMC only took an hour out of our lives and the Air France crew was gracious despite the conspicuous absence of complimentary French wine. Our flight was due to arrive about 5 hours prior to my Dad's, so we opted to make our way into the city with the notion that he may have made arrangements for us to check into our room at the hotel. When we tell our cab driver (remember we are slinging our packs and smell like a twelve hour bus ride mixed with dirty socks and khoa san road b.o.) that we are heading to the Majestic Hotel, he laughs and says, "No, no - Majestic Hotel nice, nice. You no stay there." We smile at one another, but are sure that is the place my father had said and tell the driver, Throng, that we may not look (or smell) it, but we are, in fact, very important people.
Inside we are selfishly giddy at the prospect of staying at a nice hotel, but in honesty, we are much more giddy because we know that the two weeks with my Dad will be another set of experiences that we hadn't counted on at all. Because of the instability of his summer plans, we were of the mind that despite his best efforts, he simply wouldn't be able to make the trip. Now that we were set to meet him at the airport in a matter of hours the whole thing seemed surreal. It is important, I assume, for those of you who wouldn't know, that my father did serve in the Army during the Vietnam War and was wounded in action in 1969 for which he was award the Purple Heart. This fact alone makes his visit more momentous for him than for me, but I internalize his upcoming experience as a window into my own father's past. Over the years it is not something he has talked about and I am infinitely interested, and slightly nervous, for the what his return to Vietnam might mean for him.
I cannot, however, speak for him on these matters, nor would I try, but as our paths were now set to converge on this foreign soil my emotions began to rumble and my expectations sat, if not on the edge, close to it. That war was a long time ago, but it seems longer ago, I think, when you are in Maine and a little less long ago when you stand on the bank of the Saigon River in what is now, most certainly, Ho Chi Minh's City.
Alright - back to the hotel. Wow. The Majestic by any standard is a nice place, but after seven months and odd weeks in backpacker hostels, fan-cooled bungalows with mosquito nets for decorations, or the inside of a van for accommodation we are blown away by the marble floored and bell-boy manned lobby of this riverside hotel. And, Yes, they have been expecting us, and, Yes, our room is ready, and if you don't mind the bellboy will bring up your dirty backpacks to your room. (Do you mind, Mandy? I don't mind, Jon. Don't mind if I don't mind, Mandy.)
At ten there is a car that can take us to the airport so we can meet the old man at the gate. Right on time - his plane has hit the ground ten minutes before and we don't wait long to see him, shirt and tie a-blazing, come walking through the exit gate and into the humid HCM City air. Big hug and very happy to see him. He's been in the air and on the go for over twenty four hours and has crossed the North Pole, among other places, to get here.
It is perhaps only now that my excitement fully rises and as we ride back to the hotel and I see his wide eyes marvel at the chaos of this hectic Asian metropolis - so different than when he last saw it - I understand that the twelve days ahead will be ones that neither of us will ever forget and may just be the ones we remember most.