A couple of days after Phil and I moved into our apartment, we decided to “make a Metro run.”
Our apartment came furnished, and we were even provided some dishes and silverware.
Now please look around your home (in your mind, if you must) and picture all of the items that you own besides furniture, dishes, silverware, and clothing. Look in your kitchen cupboards. Your linen closet. At what you have hanging on your walls. In your garage and your basement. In your junk drawer.
We had packed everything we had with us into four suitcases. We didn’t have most of the stuff you just pictured. Well, our apartment did come with this housewarming gift from Obama and Vietnam’s president, Truong Tan Sang.
How kind of them!
But our cupboards were empty, and we couldn’t eat out forever.
We borrowed a Metro membership card from Phil’s sister and brother-in-law and made our way to the superstore, which resembles something of a Vietnamese Costco.
I don’t like grocery shopping. I have a silly crippling fear that I’ll forget something that I need and will come home only to be compelled to head to the store again.
Combine this dislike with an upset stomach (my body was still getting used to Vietnamese food) and accompanying crankiness, a giant grocery list, and a behemoth of a store with an unfamiliar layout, where most food labels are in a foreign language and math is required to figure out how much money you are actually spending.
Poor Phil. Luckily he is patient and had been in this store before, and we had timed our trip during midday, when most Vietnamese nap through the heat.
Our two and a half hour “Metro run” was quite the slow-moving, exhausting, frustrating, fascinating adventure. We found Dove shampoo and conditioner—a brand from home!—but the labels were in Vietnamese. Luckily I remembered that Dove shampoo opens on the top of the bottle and conditioner on the bottom. We couldn’t find the spices and asked an Australian parent from Phil’s school that we had bumped into where they were. Once in the correct aisle, we struggled to identify most of the spices that we were hoping to stock up on because they came in bulk sizes and different forms. How dependent we are on labels! We gave up on cumin, cinnamon, and a couple of others. Phil saw a rat scurrying through the bulk rice section—so we opted for the pre-bagged kind. I had to check out the beer section and was fascinated by the selection of Belgian beers. Yes, Trappist beer makes it to Vietnam. Near the end of the trip, while checking out some $1 floor mats in the home goods section, we realized that something in our cart was dripping a red fluid. The ground beef was leaking. We left a beef-blood-stained rug in the aisle, deciding this was a sign to call it quits and head for the register.
We made a bit of a scene. In addition to our leaky beef, we were buying so much stuff that we went over the 5 million dong (~$222) limit for an individual purchase. Three sets of Vietnamese customers attempted to get in line behind us, looked at our cart, and moved to a different register in short order. Phil paid the 5 million dong bill, and I bought our remaining items for 26,000 VND.
Then we had to get it all home. On a motorbike.
Phil had the foresight to bring some large reusable shopping bags, but we couldn’t carry all of this on his bike alone. We had large items, like a trash can and a rice cooker and the all important case of beer. So we paid 50,000 VND for a delivery man to pack most our goods into a styrofoam box on his bike and follow us home. He didn’t speak any English, but seemed to be trying to joke with us from his bike on the ride, motioning for me to get closer to Phil—an impossibility with the bags of groceries piled between my legs. He came with us in the elevator up to the fifth floor, set the box in our living room, and had the good sense to leave without it, motioning that we could keep it. I wouldn’t want to wait for us to unpack it either.
Throughout the rest of that day, Phil kept opening our refrigerator, looking in, and closing the door again without grabbing anything. Same thing for our kitchen cupboards.
Finally, I asked him, “Whatcha doing?”
“I just like seeing our refrigerator stocked,” he said.
The next night, we skyped with Phil’s mom, and, while giving her a tour, he made a point to show her the fridge’s contents.
Its fullness signified that this was our home now. Our first place together. Our mix of Western imported apples and mustards and Eastern cuts of meat and yogurts represented the cultural mashup of our new haven, meals yet to be cooked in a style to be worked out.
I quit a job I enjoyed at Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and left my family, friends, and beloved dog to join my boyfriend in moving across the world, in search of adventure and new experiences. I arrived in August 2015.