To honour the extreme leaps of faith that the grandparents took throughout their youth, the children of the Nguyens opened this eatery in hopes of surviving the legacy of their love. As told by the four children of these lovebirds, this is the story of Bố (father) and Mẹ (mother).
Bố lived off the coastal bounties of Hạ Long Bay as a boatsman. As a man of the sea, he knew the landscapes of the Gulf of Tonkin and Hạ Long Bay like the back of his laboured hands. Even when war struck, Bố would masterfully evade bomb campaigns along the water in order to transport supplies from his homeland on Vietnam’s secluded islands to the Mainland, including special trips to Mẹ’s hometown.
Born and raised in the seaport city of Hải Phòng, Mẹ grew up with an adoration for the westernized, urban lifestyle that came with the French colonial influences. She was a city girl who indulged in confectionery fusion foods like cà phê sữa đá (iced coffee) and bánh flan (Creme Flan).
Working along the boat docks, Mẹ put her heart and soul on the line to feed all the boatsmen from all sorts of cities and countries. Little did she know, she would meet the love of her life on those same docks.
It didn’t take long for Bố and Mẹ to be swept up in a hurricane of love. Bố, who was enamoured by Mẹ at first sight, started frequenting Hải Phòng docks just for her, while Mẹ always looked forward to the next time she could meet him.
While some visits were few and far between due to the ongoing war, they savoured every moment together. Within a couple of months, Bố and Mẹ agreed to get married and spend the rest of their lives together.
During the Vietnam War, the communist party persecuted anyone who owned land or was educated in order to reform the class system. This put many Vietnamese people in danger, including Bố’s family, who were both educated and land-owners. Thus, using his trusty boat, Bố attempted to organize an escape for about 115 civilians caught in the crossfires. However, it didn’t take long until the opposition found the escapees and persecuted Bố for being the ringleader of this escape.
Having been sentenced to 10 years for organizing an escape and denied access to clean water and food, Bố could only rely on his unweathered love to keep his prison days bearable. Meanwhile, Mẹ was left to raise their four children alone in a world that wasn’t designed for women to succeed.
Although the Nguyens were physically trying to survive day to day, their love was definitely well and alive. It helped that Mẹ’s fierce love for her family equipped her with the mental fortitude to work long hours that spanned from the break of dawn to the late evening.
Each week, without fail, Mẹ would have to navigate the waters of Hạ Long Bay herself and trek several miles before reaching the prison gates to give some food and supplier for Bố.
Needless to say, having to provide for four young children and an absent husband, Mẹ would barter off her personal belongings in order to acquire the bare necessities like salt and rice. Eventually, the only things she could call her own were a bicycle and her beloved sewing machine. However, family was everything to Mẹ. Her determination to keep the family together thus prompted her to take a leap of faith: jailbreaking her husband.
To prepare, Mẹ gave up her sewing machine in exchange for her neighbor’s tiny fishing boat. The neighbor, who was also a friend, sympathized with Mẹ’s resilience and was kind enough to assist with the jailbreak by arranging his boat to be docked off a secret shore by the prison.
With just a simple bicycle in tow, Mẹ commuted to the prison and waited until Bố was sent outside to perform manual labour. With equal strokes of timing, luck, and and blind trust, Bố made a swift escape and hopped on the back of Mẹ’s bike. With all their might, they sped all the way down to the shore where their children were huddled together on the small, rickety boat. From there, Mẹ and Bố fled with their children and sailed 75 days before reaching a refugee camp as stateless nobodies.
It wasn’t until they arrived in Canada where they finally found some peace of mind. Although living as immigrants is a challenge in itself that required sacrifice, hard work, and determination, the family was humbled and grateful to live in beautiful Vancouver, BC. In spite of all the chaos and strife that their parents went through, love prevailed in both Bố and Mẹ’s hearts.
Ông Bà Vietnamese Eatery
Naming the restaurant in Bố and Mẹ's honour (Ông Bà means grandparents in Vietnamese), we have opened our doors in hopes of preserving our parents’ and grandparents' legacy and recreating the warmth and love that kept their spirits alive in times of adversity.
The newly remodeled interior is designed to be a bright and inviting space to signify the ‘happily ever after’ that came after all the hardships and leaps of faith taken by the brave lovers - Bố and Mẹ so that families of all types can enjoy a filling meal embellished with fun and laughter!