Saturday, July 1, 2017

San Diego

In the middle of my sister's graduation a month ago, my dad blurted out that my uncle, who I call Chu Ut, was dying and that he only had two months to live. After suffering an accidental fall, he was taken to the hospital, where it was discovered that he had liver and lung cancer with only 4-8 weeks left to live. My dad told my mom, sister, and I not to worry. 

A week later, my dad and I made plans to go to see him in San Diego. My dad hadn’t seen him in 23 years, and I only met him once at his wedding when I was 10 months old: it’s funny how it takes a death to bring everyone together. My dad was afraid of going by himself because of his old age, bad hearing, and spotty English, so I volunteered to go with him. We forgot to include my sister in the conversation. Thankfully, my mom, the great planner that she is, made us include my sister in the trip. I didn’t include her because I thought she didn’t like hanging out with my dad. I’m so glad my mom intervened. Otherwise, I would have been super lonely.

Booking tickets was a struggle because I wanted to spend as little money as possible. As a result, I only looked at the prices and completely disregarded the times. I had to cancel the flight I purchased because we would be wasting an entire day if we flew Friday afternoon. I went into panic mode, and luckily my sister took over and rebooked the flights with her prior flying experience.

Two days before our flight, my cousin Brian texted me saying that our uncle had only three days to live. He died later that night. Mom was worried we wouldn’t be able to see him before he passed. She’s more heartbroken by his death than her own grandmother’s death because he died so young. We joke that he was afraid of my dad yelling at him. My sister never got to meet him. I never got to apologize to him for unfriending him on Facebook because I thought it was creepy how he told my dad I was pretty or for never calling him back on Facebook messenger after he called me countless times (I just don’t like it when people call me on Facebook because I’m not sure if it’s a video or voice call). I regret not trying to get to know him. My cousins say he was a good uncle and role model. Although if I had known he was a life long alcoholic and smoker, I would have realized his mortality and made more of an effort to get to know him. Years ago when they were roommates, my dad remembers going to sleep, seeing my uncle with a six-pack, waking up, and the six-pack being gone. Thankfully my dad is only a social drinker, but my uncle needed alcohol to sleep.

I think I last spoke to him on my birthday when my dad called all his siblings in America and wished them a Happy Thanksgiving and subsequently asked them to wish me Happy Birthday because Thanksgiving was the same day as my birthday. I’m not 100% sure if I did talk to him though. If I did, then he sounded perfectly healthy. No one expected he would be dead seven months later: the youngest of seven children, dead before his own mother, and leaving a twenty-year old son to fend for himself.

The day before our flight we learned that his funeral would be three days after our last day in San Diego. It would be too much for my dad and I to request extra time off. We couldn’t believe we would miss him alive and dead, but luckily, we were able to say our good-byes at a fee of $145 to see him early on our last day in California.

Uncle was dead, but there was no use in crying. There was nothing we could do now except enjoy our trip to my dad’s American homeland.

We made it through security just before our boarding time at the airport. My anxious self would not risk going any later. From Greensboro, we flew to Charlotte, where we would board our flight to San Diego. We had to trek through the whole airport to get to our gate, so again, I was afraid we were going to miss our flight. Because we got last minute tickets, we all got middle seats. Luckily, my dad had an empty seat next to him, so I was able to sit with him on the five-hour flight.

I bought him food on the flight, but he didn’t hear me tell him we had to buy it, so he chose an $8 croissant sandwich, which according to my sister was stale and not good. Oh well—I didn’t want him to starve. I worry about him a lot.

Brian and another one of my cousins, Kevin, picked us up from the airport along with my dad’s sister (Co Ngoc). We hugged, but it was kind of awkward because we had never met before. We were in a van so it was not very conducive for conversation between the front and very back seats, so it would take a while for us to get to know each other. I had expected to connect with everyone instantly even though my sister and I had never met these cousins, and again, I had only met my aunt once when I was 10 months old. As a result, I didn’t know at first whether it was my dad’s sister or sister-in-law (Thim 6) in the car.

Once at my other uncle’s house (Chu 6’s house), we ate some vegan banh canh Co Ngoc made. I’ve never liked banh canh, but this one was really good. I had it again the next morning. Then, we rested, but my sister and I were ready to explore! But the old Viet people were worried about our health and wanted us to chill the Cali way. Brian aka our only ride had to pick up a friend, so we waited and waited until finally they came home and took us somewhere! That somewhere was a mall -_- womp not what I had expected.

I admit the Forever21 was nice: it had areas I’d never seen before in a Forever21 like the lifestyle section, and I did finally get an off the shoulder top, but I was a little disappointed we went to a mall. We spent the majority of our time in Forever because the store was huge. As a result, my sister and I would ditch everyone and do our own thing in the store because it was still a little awkward between the cousins and us (by this time, Kevin’s sister, Angie, and Brian’s friend, Tammy, had joined us). The awkwardness started to subside when we left Forever and went to Starbucks, where I interrogated Kevin and asked him a little about his education, etc.

After a long discussion of where to go next #indecisiveasians, we settled on La Jolla Cove because it was on my list. The locals didn’t really want to go anywhere because they were afraid of traffic. There was indeed traffic, but it wasn’t that bad. We saw some sea lions. My sister and I walked down to the beach, and my cousins were attacked by a sea lion. We spent way too much time there for my liking, but we did leave eventually. Our next destination? 85C Bakery.

On the way there, Angie and Tammy asked my sister and I about our hobbies and we got to know a little about them. My sister and I didn’t realize what we did on a normal basis counted as hobbies, so we compiled a list on our respective phones for future conversations. Brian bought everyone drinks and pastries (minus me, of course, because I’m vegan), but he did offer to buy me my shirt at Forever. He’s such a good Anh/Em. Dad’s family is definitely nicer than mom’s.

I learned more about Angie, Tammy, and Brian at 85C, while we waited to pick up Kevin’s twin brother, Andy, from a bus stop. He goes to school in San Francisco, so he also didn’t get to say bye to Uncle.

After we picked up Andy, we went to Native Foods Café, a vegan fast casual restaurant Brian happened to find located across the street from 85C. We talked about Uncle and really started to bond. Brian learned my sister and I drank, and I think that was when all awkwardness evaporated. We bought alcohol after dinner at Von’s, a California grocery store, and played [drinking games] the night away.

The next morning, our cousins went to a friend’s graduation, which my dad was going to force us to go to, but my sister and I vetoed and said, “We got it.” This was our only day exploring the city alone. We went to the Science Museum at Balboa Park and got vegan donuts at Nomad Donuts beforehand (we didn’t tell dad about the donuts, so we technically lied when he asked us if we were at the park yet, and we said yes). My dad called in the middle of our museum trip worrying about us and telling us to come home early, which really irked me. I also got my period at the same time, which intensified my emotions. As a result, I became really cranky until I took two Advils and ate. I don’t know what I would have done if my sister didn’t have a bottle of Advil or if the museum didn’t have “feminine tissues” aka a pad dispenser.

The museum was kind of meh—a lot of thinga ma bobs were broken, but the IMAX movie about civil engineering made it worthwhile. My sister also made her own fidget spinner, but we missed all the cool temporary exhibits.

Next, we went to one of the few free attractions at Balboa, the House of Pacific Relations, featuring “19 cottages and the Hall of Nations representing 34 nations exhibiting culture, traditions, and history.” I was really excited to see this, but then I realized why it was free: it was very underwhelming. I thought that once we walked into these cottages, we would be instantly transported to the country we were in, but it was just an American “house” with relics from the foreign country we were in.

The gift shop at the “United Nations” was way better. That’s when my sour mood started to subside, but unfortunately, I was getting hungry and it was getting late, and I’m a daddy’s girl who listens to her dad, so we left Balboa without fully exploring it to go get food at the last place on my list, Civico 1845, an Italian restaurant with vegan options in Little Italy/Downtown San Diego.

Service was really slow like Yelp said, but the food was good and we received our check at a decent time after finishing our meal. But because of our curfew, we went home right after and didn’t get to explore Little Italy. Yet, when we got home, my dad was nowhere to be found. The hypocrisy and double standard was real.

We rested, went to my dad’s friend’s house to be introduced to his friends, and went back home. We didn’t go anywhere else because it’d be awkward to leave again. For the rest of the day, my sister and I slept, showered, and ate banh mi way past dinnertime. I ate mine with bi chay provided by the temple Thim 6 goes to.

In the morning, I had vegan heo quay (also provided by the temple), banh hoi, and veggies for breakfast. Then, Brian, Andy, my sister, and I went to the mall again—this time to go to other stores—while we waited for Ba Co, dad’s aunt on his dad’s side, to come down from LA. My sister got crop tops; Brian got a smoothie, and I got a pretzel, so it wasn’t a total fail (we have all these stores in NOVA). Ba Co didn’t end up coming even though the whole day was planned for her and because she told us so late, we couldn’t drive to LA ourselves to see her.

I spent the rest of the day finishing my sister’s leftovers from Native Foods because for some reason, I wasn’t really hungry.

The rest of the time was spent hanging out, talking, and playing 13 (Tiến Lên) (I’m sure there was a nap in there somewhere). I learned on this trip that Californians call stuff differently from us East Coasters like how Chandelier/Stack Cup is Rage Cage and 13 is Killer. Kings also has different rules on the west coast. It was very interesting. And they don’t drink cider. Yet, they name their kids, Jefferson and Thomas. Those are the names of the kids Thim 6 babysits. Small world, right? Anyways, we taught them how to play 13. Learning how to play Tiến Lên is like an unofficial rite of passage into adulthood in Vietnamese culture. I’m making this up, but knowing how to play an adult gambling game is pretty cool.

I also bonded as best I could with Anthony, late uncle’s son. I tried but failed at beating him in Tetris. I met him the first day, but he really wasn’t in a talking mood. My sister and I also helped him access his dad’s bank account. Brian joked that the torch as the family translator had been passed from him to us.

I feel so bad for Anthony though. He’s like the little brother I never had. I hurt for him, and I feel like he has issues, but then again, I shouldn't judge him on the one time I see him after his father’s death—anyone would be messed up after a tragic event like that.

The day ended with late night munchies, which Angie bought on her way home from work (Angie, Brian, and I all work at sushi restaurants lol), and family stories like how Chu 6 was the slowest of the siblings and how everyone in the family was a pimp. I clearly did not inherit this from my dad.

I started my last day in Cali with a banh mi, and we finally got to see Chu Ut at the funeral home. My mom was afraid he would be in a morgue so she didn’t want my sister and I to see him and be scared, but thankfully, he was in a homey visitation room, so we all got to see him. My sister didn’t go close to him though. The nice Vietnamese translator lit incense so we could pay our respects. I apologized for unfriending him, and my dad’s heart beat rapidly, as he would later recall to his friends.

Then, we were treated to lunch by my dad’s friend, whose son, Michael, we met our first night in San Diego (he brought every non-vegan tacos). It was also at his graduation party from UCSD where my sister and I met all of my dad’s friends. The Thai place my dad’s friend chose was closed, so we went to a buffet his family used to go to all the time. It was my dad’s friend and his three children: Michael, Josephine, and Danny, who were all younger than me. Everyone was shocked to hear I was almost 25 though. I surprisingly ate a lot, as there were actually a lot of vegan options. I ate more than my dad. It was stunning. I even cleaned up the smallest bits of lo mein.

After lunch, my sister and I napped until it was time to go to Chu Ut’s apartment to help clean up and get rid of his belongings. His ex-wife, who came back to take care of him, wanted to move ASAP because she was afraid of his ghost. Anthony didn’t want to leave though. My mom just told me they’re planning to live there now, which is ridiculous considering how we threw almost everything away. I wasn’t really much help, but I just wanted to go to get to know my uncle by seeing how he lived, and he lived by drinking a lot of Sunny D. Anthony got mad because he couldn’t find something after we left. I hope he found it.

For dinner, I ate fried rice, another delicious meal cooked by Co Ngoc. Chu 6 took my dad, sister, and I for another 85C run because my sister is a momma’s girl and wanted to get my mom pastries as requested. My sister also took family pictures for my mom literally minutes before we left. Again, thank you mom because without you, we wouldn’t have any family pictures. At home, we chilled and played more 13 until it was time for us to leave. And just like that, we were on our way home.

Our flight to Charlotte was a red-eye flight so it wasn’t a big deal that we were separated on the plane—we could just sleep through it. Although I was really sleepy and kept yawning, I couldn’t fall asleep right way, which was kind of annoying. Even though it didn’t feel like I slept a lot, the next thing I knew, we were landing. In Charlotte, we finally had a long layover where I could relax after our first family vacation in 10 years and get a peanut butter cinnamon bagel from Einstein’s.

For a full review of the restaurants I visited, visit my Yelp page.