There have been many times in my life when I had to say goodbye – seems like its a staple, a landmark, an end of a chapter to a new beginning. It all started when I was little, and I was lucky enough to leave behind Vietnam – at the time was suffering from extreme poverty and sanctions after the war.
I had to say goodbye to all my family. My aunts, my uncles, my grandparents and all of their siblings and neighbours and friends. it was thought that my mother will never see her family again and we would grow up in a cold country without anyone but my father. That there would be no rice, no noodles, no fruits, vegetables that defined our diet. No more Pho. We had to leave everything behind. People made us jumpers. My mum bought a bottle of fish sauce, the last she thought she would ever be able to have and a bag of rice.
Even though I was five, I still remember leaving and how sad it all was to see my whole family line up and waved us off at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, the image of them getting smaller and smaller in the distance as the door closed as we walked onto the flight lounge.
I knew they were crying their eyes out as if they were saying goodbye to us at a funeral. We thought we would never see them again. At the time, if you were able to leave, you were stripped of Vietnamese recognition. We became refugees, asylum seekers – never to be allowed back.
As policies changed, the Arts Council Of England bought me back to Vietnam when I was 21 years old in 2000. At the time, the country was still very underdeveloped, raw like how I left it. I made a documentary about returning, called ‘Pho‘, After going around the film festival circuit and UK and European Tours, winning Best Documentary at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2001. It will be screened at The Chelsea Arts Club on 4th April after all these years.
How apted it was that 10 years ago, my passion was also with food, even though I didn’t know it at the time. I will be travelling back to Vietnam in April to focus on recipes, food and how it is the way of life.
Since, I was five, it seemed like I said goodbye to many people I loved, including my father who left us, to favourite teachers at summer holidays, then to friends who didn’t go to the same school anymore, to my stepfather who passed away suddenly, to lovers and friends who moved away from London.
The saddest thing is when they walk away and you can see them getting smaller and smaller, till they turn the corner, till they disappear and all the history you shared with them becomes only memory stopped at a halt. Or they get into a car, they would look at you one last time or they would not and no matter how bitter or sweet your history was, it is always a sad goodbye, sometimes you remember a funny moment you shared and you wonder if they have the same.