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Chi Thu and Bot Chien

Chi Thu and Bot Chien

Facing Song Ha (Ha River), I sat on a wooden stool in a coffee shop to escape from the rain.   Two hours passed by, the rain has stopped but the sky was still gray.  Distorting reflections of the sky and trees, motor scooters cut through puddles on the pavement.  It was the first time during my 10 days in Da Nang that I did not feel the sun heating up everything around me.

The coffee shop was empty at 2 PM in the afternoon.  I gazed at the blurry outline of the mountains beyond the river and the unfinished high-rises.  My mind wandered—opening the lids to the jars that stored memories and stories that I’ve collected throughout my weeks in  Vietnam.


Third week in Vietnam. Saigon city.

There was a blackout at DRD (Disability Research and Development), our NGO placement for two weeks in Saigon.  Dat and I left the office early that day to work back at our hotel. It was a few hours passed noon and we both had not had lunch.  It was easy to decide what we wanted though since we talked about bột chiên (rice dough and eggs coupled with a perfect balance of vinegar and soy sauce) all morning.  To avoid having to make several turns to get on our hotel’s one-way street, we asked our taxi driver to drop us off two blocks from our hotel.  It was pouring rain.  With laptops and paperwork in our backpacks, we ran towards our hotel.  From a block away, my eyes scanned for Chi Thu at her usual spot.   When we reached the alley next to our hotel, both Dat and I exclaimed, “Chi Thu dau? Where’s Chi Thu?”  We anxiously looked at each other.  The nearby venders pointed at the alley and said,  “Go inside, her house is in there.” 

We spotted Chi Thu putting away her portable stove.  Since it was our daily routine for the past week to buy her bột chiên, it wasn’t hard to persuade her to reopen her stove for us.   She warned, though, that it would take a while to heat up the pan.  Soaked from the rain, hungry, but craving for bột chiên, Dat and I squatted around the stove and chatted with her for the next 25 minutes while we waited for the rice dough to brown.

I learned that Chi Thu lived with her family in the alley next to our hotel.  As a single mother, Chi Thu made a living selling either 18,000 dong rice plates or 12,000 dong egg sandwiches in the morning and 13,000 dong bột chiên in the afternoon until she was sold out.  Tung, her 12 year old son, accompanied her everyday as she prepared food.  Chi Thu explained that a lot of children take extra classes during the summer and although Tung wanted to, they couldn’t afford it.  Every morning, Tung stocked his mother’s cart with bread, cooked rice, and helped her filled sauce bags to-go packages.  

I asked Tung if he liked bột chiên.  He smiled and said he eats it a lot—2 to 3 times a day when customer traffic is low.  I asked Tung what he wanted to do when he grows up.   He told me he wants to study in America and promised that he will find me when he does.

Talking to Chi Thu, I am reminded of my mother.  Whether it was raising pigs or operating a one-woman travel agency to the point where she lost her voice for weeks, my mother did whatever she could to provide for me.  Their strength and perseverance in the face of social criticism and economic difficulties inspired me.  I felt warm and happy sitting next to Chi Thu and Tung.  Will Tung be able to go to America like I did?  I don’t know. What I do know  from speaking with Chi Thu is that we all have a ability to adapt and bend as the paths of our live changes.

–Anna Huynh


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