Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Back to Nha Trang

We are packing so much into each day, I am losing all track of time. Perhaps I am going to borrow an idea from my Buddhist friends and 'be here now'.

So, right this very moment I am sitting in a dusty internet cafe near our hotel. It is filled with teenage kids. There is American music playing and lots of cigerette smoke. The keyboard sits on a filthy pull out shelf covered with cigarette burns. My guts are churning a little, so I may have to cut this short! I will say we have been remarkably lucky with regard to our intestinal health. No major problems so far. The food here is great. I have never tasted such fresh seafood in my life, which is ironic considering I am from New England.

This morning we took a boat ride up the river that empties right next to our hotel. It was amazing that after only a few hundred yards, the hustle and bustle of Nha Trang was replaced with the most idyllic countryside. We saw amazing birds of all descriptions, including one with a fantastic irridescent green tail. Tons of various herons and egrets. Water buffalo and cattle grazing by the banks. Very few people, as they must have all been off working.

At one point we passed under a rickety wooden bridge that my husband confessed he rode over on a scooter on his last trip. He said that halfway across, he got scared, but couldn't turn back, so he crossed over. As we passed under it, I realized it was shear madness for him to cross!

This has been an amazing experience. So much has happened. There are simply no words to describe exactly what this has been like.

I tried to go to church in Da Lat on Sunday, even though the only service is at 5am. I was worried I would oversleep, so basically was awake all night. The plan was that I was going to go with my wonderful nephew, Tam. At 4am, I got up and got dressed, trying not to wake my kids. Nguyen was up anyway because he has been waking up that early every day. At 4:30 I went to my nephews room and knocked on the door. I didn't want to knock too loudly because our driver was in there, too. I tried again. No response. He was still asleep! Nguyen offered to walk me to the church, but I didn't want to leave my kids alone in case they woke up. I didn't feel comfortable walking alone at that hour, either, so it turned out that Nguyen went to the service instead. It was one of those lovely little turns of events that don't seem quite accidental in retrospect.

Later that day, I walked up the church with him. It is a beautiful, weather beaten cathedral. There are bright stained glass windows and hand carved stations of the cross all around the nave. I knelt in the front pew to pray, then joined Nguyen back outside. He was chatting with an old man in the yard.

On the steeple of the church, there is a rooster wind vane. All the years he was growing up, Nguyen referred to the church as the chicken church. He was always curious about that weather vane. So he asked the old man about it.

The rooster is the symbol of St. Peter, of course. As I stood there, I was suddenly deeply moved that Peter is symbolized by his failure. His denial of Christ. It reminds me that we are all, well, human. St. Peter, thank you for that.

This coming Sunday, we have arranged for the boys and I to accompany my father in law to his church at the far more civilized (but less monastic) hour of 7:15. I think he is very excited we are going with him!

Tonight we are taking the whole family out to dinner as a thankyou for their great hospitality. And we have all of us, my parents and children and I, agreed that it is imperative that we learn Vietnamese. Already we have picked up quite a bit of the language, but it only serves to show us how much we don't know.

Nguyen just tapped me on the shoulder to tell me that he is going to walk over to watch someone who is weaving a basket boat on the sidewalk a block down the road. We watched, a few days ago, when he and his family (including the ancient mother) were hauling 25 foot bamboo out of the water and onto the shore. They had paddled up river for hours to cut the bamboo, then floated it back downriver to cut and split into thin pieces to use to make baskets. Around here, some of the fishermen use a boat that is actually a shallow, round basket, sealed with resin. The boats are about 5 feet in diameter, and actually weigh a ton, so when they have to move them on the ground, they tip them onto one side and roll them.

My guts have subsided a bit. I still can't access my blog to read comments. I wonder if the government of Vietnam has blocked blogger? I have heard that that sometimes happens in China. In any case, when I get back to the states, I will catch up.

Finally, I have to say I am tremendously grateful for this time with my parents. It turns out we are great traveling companions. We have been very relaxed and have had a wonderful time together. We keep talking as though we are going to do this together again... and I think we might actually do it.

I pray you are all doing well. I miss you guys!


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