Well now. What fresh manner of humiliation is this?
Trung, our charming (if somewhat shifty) guide to Sapa – the atmospheric hill station in north-west Vietnam we’ve decided to explore for a few days as part of our big trip – is stepping in to parent for us.
We’ve spent most of the morning walking and are now having a pre-arranged lunch in the little courtyard surrounded by a family of local villagers.
The adults (me, my partner and her parents) tuck with polite gusto into spring rolls, pig trotters and noodle soups, but the kids (five and seven) make "are we seriously supposed to eat this?" faces, and instead have launched into a spirited rendition of the song they’ve been composing all morning, lyrics centred on "bum-bums" and "poo-poos".
"Surely time in Vietnam itself could only dial up the congeniality? After three weeks, might I return home with a pair of quiet, compliant and assiduously neat children?"
My suggestion, growled through a gobful of pho, that they knock it off, has led to defiant volume-upcrank. Which is where Trung steps in.
"Hey kids, you know, you really should listen to your mum and dad," Trung says.
I had such high hopes for this holiday, and the effect it would have on our offspring.
They’re half-Vietnamese (on their mother’s side), and for years my in-laws have been urging us to join them for a trip back here. They’ve both been in Australia for 35 years-plus, but still have family and ties in Vietnam, and visit every year.
It was going to do the kids good to connect with this side of their heritage. Not to mention see how those in Asia are expected to behave.
My Vietnamese mother-in-law has always insisted the pair of them present far more like "good children" and less like speed-freak members of a punk-rock band or the Jackass collective when under her supervision than mine. Surely time in Vietnam itself could only dial up the congeniality? After three weeks, might I return home with a pair of quiet, compliant and assiduously neat children?
But the relentless humidity, the lack of other humans their own age or television shows they can understand, plus the bewildering parade of great-uncles and second-cousins to whom they’ve been introduced – all the barked questions in a language they barely understand, the pinchings of cheeks, the touslings of hair, and the endless, endless photographs – all this takes a toll, and by day five the kids are revolting.
Tantrums have been thrown, besides blunt instruments and a few choice insults. In terms of the latter, I can put up with going by "big belly stupid-face" (hey, if the cap fits...), but no child should get away with calling a grandparent "farty-dum-dum".
By whatever means necessary, our son and daughter are intent on resisting Project Educational Holiday Vietnam, and will be as obnoxious as their cause requires. They stop short of the kind of "dirty protest" popularised among IRA prisoners of the 1980s, but only just.
And while they’ve whinged, raged, bickered and performed, I’ve watched the children of Vietnam. Never turn away food, or return a bowl unfinished. Always wait for their parent to conclude a conversation before making a request. Play quietly and harmoniously with their siblings.
Damn, just yesterday I saw a girl from one of the tribal hill communities, maybe five or six, take up her post in the heart of a tourist thoroughfare, and with her baby brother on her back, push embroidered keepsakes on every single passerby who met her doe-eye. That kid was killing it.
I can’t even get my children to carry their dirty dishes into the kitchen!
As we’re eating this meal, a one year-old has fallen off a little flyover he’s built from a plank of wood, onto the concrete floor of the courtyard, wailed for about 20 seconds, then snapped out of it, stood up, dusted himself down and gone about his business.
"By whatever means necessary, our son and daughter are intent on resisting Project Educational Holiday Vietnam, and will be as obnoxious as their cause requires."
The children here! So stoic. So resilient.
Back at the table, shifty charmer Trung is holding court.
"You know, if children in Vietnam act out, their parents kick their asses."
Mention of bottoms arrests our recalcitrant pair’s attention, and they drop the singing.
"It’s true," continues Trung. "I have a two year-old and I hit him all the time! Make him stand in a corner for a whole hour..."
Hmmm. Maybe not such a charmer.
My partner, though, now warms to his theme.
"Hey mum, do you remember how you used to make me lie on the floor when I’d been naughty, and then you’d hit me with that curtain rail?"
Their grandmother nods her assent. Our children look from her to their mother, slack-jawed with wonder, then turn their eyes on me.
My face is a study in inscrutability, with perhaps the hint of a snarl.
To my amazement, they start eating.