Ong Ca Can + getting in touch with roots discussion below
On Friday, Nhi, Wee's Vietnamese friend, took us to Ong Ca Can, a Viet restaurant on Ste-Catherine, which also serves anything but Pho (the other one being "Harmonie d'Asie"; finally got the name right). It's another joint which our family had been to before - but a long time ago, when before the restaurant renovated to sort of become upscale-ish chic ethnic restaurant (like Nonya, Montreal's ever-nomadic Indonesian restaurant, say).
I don't remember the food so much, because we haven't been since I was in my early teens. Sweet barbecued meats wrapped in wine leaves and pork tripes are probably a specialty (and the only thing we had, which I remember having there before). For entree, we had a Vietnamese-style salad, which uses white radish and carrots as a base, and which also contained sliced pork ears. They served us individual bowls of soup, which was a cloudy egg soup for the boys, and Vietnamese congee for the ladies. It looked nothing like the congee they serve on that other restaurant on Jean-Talon close to Parc, because the one at Ong Ca Can looked like it did not contain any of the 'ugly meat', like pork stomach, blood sausage (which is sorta yummy, in a tofu kind of way) and other unidentified animal parts, but only had ground beef. Boring, isn't it? I am forgetting about other items, because the bill did add up to $30 a person.
During the dinner, I chatted with Nhi's cousin Khy, a former international student who actually grew up in Vietnam. She noticed how, among Asian people, there were a lot more Chinese; to which I absolutely counter, no way, there are proportionally so many more Vietnamese. The point being that there are not (enough) a lot of Asian people in Montreal. We also made the remark that a lot of people bearing Vietnamese names are in fact of Chinese descent. Many years ago, I thought that it was a weird thing, but then, after getting used to the idea, it is only normal that people move around, and adopt the culture of the country where they lived in for many generations. Like how people of German origin are, I heard, the dominant separate ethnic group in the States (consider some last names), even beyond English people (I'm sort of skeptical about it).
Last weekend, I was talking about this with my parents, and they pointed out how well-equilibrated we were (but then, what else would they point it out - like, no, we're a bunch of ethnocentric people). We celebrate most of the "Chinese" traditions, including Ching Ming in my case, when I think about it, or Autumn Moon, when we think about buying mooncakes... I might've started being sporadically into Asian things since cegep, and even more so with the discovery of Asian music at some point in university, but I can almost pinpoint the 2002 trip to HK as what might've crystallized this attitude towards my roots.
My grandparents (my mother's parents) lived in Canada for more than twenty years, and barely integrated. But they've tried. They routinely eat the Western food my father cooks, and ask for more (of that beef tongue dish, for instance). They also go to the pool, and made the recent discovery of those gweilos who can talk to them in Mandarin, and recount on how polite these men are, how Chinese is really taking over the world (figuratively speaking, perhaps). It might just be the language thing - they can barely speak English (I think they fake their lack of understanding of the language).
On the other hand, my other pair of grandparents are, or were (my late grandpa), perfectly fluent in French, for having done commerce in Madagascar (I guess that in Vietnam, you can get away with knowing only Chinese), and have neighbor friends. The problem for my grandmother is that everyone insist on speaking *English* to her! Not a coincidence that a few years ago, at about 70 years of age, she decided to take classes to learn La Langue de Shakespeare.
My parents were convinced that two or three generations later, we'd be fully integrated, if we aren't already fully integrated...
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