I have often complained that the bowl of phở has become an all too easy shortcut to authenticate the “Vietnamese-ness” in the artistic production of the diaspora. With his obvious love and admiration for the North American, urban phở culture, Sabzi has embraced what I had disdained as a confining trope and made a universal statement that speaks to all phở fans, to anyone who has ever eaten in a Phở 14 (Paris), Phở 24 (TPHCM), Phở 75 (Arlington, VA), Phở 79 (Westminster, CA)….
One of my most-missed dishes is saltfish and bittergourd pork, which possibly sounds challenging, and is the food that I get most nostalgic about. When you couple many Chinese Malaysian families’ love for all things pork with an older generation Malaysian Chinese habit of believing every health scare published, it means NO SALTFISH AND BITTERGOURD PORK.
There is nothing wrong with not being able to speak a certain language or being good at something one does not expect you to shine at just because of your racial background. It is not a crime. And it is understandable how one can feel belittled and demoralised.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal outlined the backgrounds of these “returnees”. They appear to fall into four categories: (1) 1st and 2nd generation Ivy League graduates, (2) high-level employees of multinational companies, (3) entrepreneurs with already-established connections both in the West and in India, and (4) individuals with wealthy and privileged backgrounds, that can readily use this wealth and privilege to establish economically successful lives in India. They are drawn to the comforts of Indian life – servants, drivers, company apartments, private clubs. Hard work in the US won’t get them the same level of prestige and status as working as an NRI or expat hire in India.