Lau Lum

“Lau Lum,” Mrs. Gia greeted me. Long time. 

She smiled and set a dish of banh cuon on the counter, my favorite lunch in the old days.

I laughed.  “How did you know?”

“People don’t change much,” she said in her excellent English.

It felt like it was only yesterday when I’d come to say goodbye, but it had been six years since I left Hanoi for the Philippines. Mrs. Gia looked just as she had then, merry eyes twinkling beneath a shock of black hair.

I’d heard her story in bits and pieces from her daughter Mei. “Mom is Laotian,” she’d said, “but she came here after the war. She was one of the women who worked on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Every day the Americans would bomb hell out of it, and every night she and three thousand friends would rebuild it by hand.”


What Pegman Saw: Hanoi


American expat Pam Scott wrote a wonderful book on life in Hanoi, one of the world’s great cities. A different Mrs. Gia appears in that book, but the banh cuon (a dish of finely chopped pork, mushroom, and onion wrapped in a gossamer rice sheet and served with dipping sauce) is the same.


Add Yours
  1. Alicia Jamtaas

    she and three thousand friends ~ wow! That really hit home. Those that worked on the Ho Chi Minh Trail would have either been friends or great enemies. You captured a bit of history that shouldn’t be forgotten.

  2. pennygadd51

    I like your stress on the way people stay the same over years. By implication Gia will still be the same heroic woman she was when she worked on the Ho Chi Minh trail.

  3. 4963andypop

    A casual encounter with an old acquaintance, upon revisiting a country, turns into a stirring reminder of past hardship. How does she maintain her cheery eyes, after that experience? By the way, this post is making me hungry.:)

  4. rochellewisoff

    Dear Josh,

    This left me with a warm feeling. And at the same time with an overweening sadness. As Hawkeye once said, “War is worse than hell, because in hell there are no innocent bystanders.” Well done as always.



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