We spent the weekend visiting my sister and her family in Northern Virginia. Usually when we visit her, we venture into Washington, D.C. to see the sights. However, this weekend the city was preparing for the inauguration and many roads were closed. We also assumed that the National Mall and its fabulous museums would be crowded. I wanted to try a new experience with my children and their cousins, so I needed to be creative.
So, we took a trip to Vietnam without leaving Virginia.
How was this possible? Easy. We visited the Eden Center in Falls Church, VA.
Eden Center looks like a typical shopping center– except its entrance is covered by an Asian Palace arch and flanked by stone dragons. Once you pass under the arch, you truly feel like you are in another country. There are 120 Vietnamese shops and restaurants all in one shopping center.
Vietnamese is spoken everywhere. English is sometimes understood by the shopkeepers. Luke said he felt a little shy because he has never seen so many people from another country. We definitely stood out. The majority of shoppers were Asian.
This was a perfect opportunity for me to remind my children that they just learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. in school. We shouldn’t judge people by their appearances. There is no better way to teach tolerance than to expose children to other cultures so they can see for themselves that we are all the same inside. That is why I am so glad we are doing our New Experiences project again.
Our first stop was Viet Royale, a restaurant that is frequently named one of the best places to eat in Northern Virginia. We ordered crispy vegetarian spring rolls as an appetizer, which we all enjoyed. Then we ordered three dishes to share: a vegetarian crepe, grilled shrimp and scallops with vermicelli noodles, and skewered beef with vermicelli noodles.
All three dishes were accompanied by lettuce and Thai basil. We really weren’t sure what we were supposed to do with the lettuce and basil. The basil was in bunches and the lettuce was presented as a pile of leaves without dressing. I suspect that we were supposed to make our food into lettuce wraps, but the kids enjoyed eating the basil right off the stems. I was so proud of how adventurous they were. Luke is typically picky, but he tried everything. He loved using the chopsticks. Once we finished our meal, we were served a plate full of orange wedges. It was a simple and delicious ending to a great meal.
Next, we wandered around the mall. Leah was excited to see many Hello Kitty items for sale. We also saw lots of items to decorate for Tet, the Vietnamese New Year.
One of my favorite ways to spend an hour in a foreign country is to visit a supermarket. You can learn so much about the daily habits and regular diet of a people by walking through the aisles of a market. While the Eden Center may be located in Virginia, we really felt like we were in Vietnam while walking through the supermarket.
Luke enjoyed showing his cousin the entire aisle dedicated to rice noodles. Leah liked looking at the candies that were for sale. I was intrigued by the many teas I had never seen before. While we tried to keep an open mind, none of us enjoyed seeing the whole roasted ducks and pigs hanging by their necks in the window.
Our last stop was a bakery where we tried bubble smoothies. These were crushed fruit with tapioca “bubbles” inside them. All the kids liked the smoothies, but Leah did not like the bubbles. I agreed with her. I don’t see the appeal of a gelatinous ball in the middle of such a tasty smoothie, but most people seem to love them. They are very popular.
We walked back to the car sipping our smoothies and talking about our favorite parts of Eden Center. My favorite part was spending the day with my children, my sister, my niece, and my nephew.
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