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Yo

I’m home. I went to my nail salon yesterday and discovered that of ALL places in the big broken world, my nail friends are from VUNG TAU !!!!!! I practically hugged them (but didn’t, luckily for them) and promised like a true honkie to wear my V.T. t-shirt next time, and bring them all the books of poetry I got signed which though lovely, I don’t understand a single word of.

So I’m back home. The downside of keeping a blog is that everyone already knows your stories and then you just sound silly repeating yourself. The upside for everyone around me is that I don’t talk much about it.

I can’t explain the thrill and happiness of being home, especially that first day, which although it was December 26, felt more like Christmas than anything. Seeing Anna was pure joy at its best. When you’re so far away for so long, remembering that there is still someone out there who shares a soul with you is the only reassuring thing. The Morrisons made our arrival home really special, and I went fairly mad making excuses to drive my car again. We even took an old celebratory walk down Dorris Road, Laura of course petting all the goats and cows on the farms. (Forgot how deep in the country I live).

I’ve cleaned myself up a bit–haircut with Christina and other maintenance things which went to hell abroad. My jaw, which was dislocated my last week in Vietnam from my teeth-grinding, is now wonderfully back, and I’m actually sticking to my new diet (hahaha….but really).

I wasn’t prepared for winter–at least not how dead everything would be. When I left Georgia it was August and the leaves were still cluttering, huge and green. When I woke up for the first time in my own bed again and looked out the window and saw the dull sun and the frosted ground I felt not sadness or death but immense relief.  As though now there is no heat, no bright sun, no overwhelming smells, no competition for my attention. Just clean air–and space–and pure thoughts.

When I was in Vietnam I never dreamt of it. I mean this literally–my dreams never took place in Vietnam, always home. Now that I’m home, I dream of the same people/scenarios, but always set in Vietnam, with some ominous backdrop. I know it’s so banal (a word I will never pronounce correctly) to talk about one’s dreams, but I’m going to tell you anyway. The worst was one in which my father got run off the road by a truck, and later my mother and I sat in a small enclosed room which was placed in the center of the highway. It had glass walls so we could see all the motobikes zooming around us, and on the inside of the walls were pasted pictures of various automobile crashes.

Michaela, I told you we had some work to do.

For now——-waking happiness is better than sleeping happiness. xoxo

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Good-bye

Well, a few things have kept me going for awhile. The first was my family’s arrival. My SIT friends were just leaving and my family was just arriving. Even though, admittedly, none of my SIT friends were soul mates, we all agreed we had developed a strange bond and thus it was difficult to see them go, and to be left behind, which seems to be my life-long condition. Partha always said loneliness is the human condition, and I believe it, but for me, it goes hand in hand with being left behind. Sometimes it’s a conscious decision I make, to hang on longer than everyone else, as if I have to prove myself to a place and time.

Anyway, when my family arrived I cried hysterically in front of everyone at Tan Son Nhat. I had waited so long and so hard for it I almost thought it wasn’t real. I remembered when I arrived in Oxford and Anna kept touching me to make sure I was real. I couldn’t believe my family wasn’t crying as hard as me and for a moment I hated them, for not being as lonely for me as I was for them. And then for having a van to pick us up, and suddenly after living so long on my own in Hanoi, after taking care of myself so long, my mother was back in full force, demanding and planning for everything. I felt suddenly useless.

But still nothing can describe seeing them again, and I got over myself, and took them back in. The last day my friends were here was a stressful one, in which all my loyalties were tested. The SEA games made things harder. The first few days I felt my family disgusted with Vietnam and it broke my heart. I never wanted to be home so badly. I was ashamed of the place I had grown to love.

We traveled to Da Nang four days in and this was a relief. I thought maybe I would be able to feel some new feeling—. But our resort was on the same beach as my hotel with SIT. Internally I was suffering. The same statue of the Virgin Mary was clear even through the dense fog, and for three days straight it rained. My family still seemed disappointed, and my father implied that Vietnam wasn’t meeting his expectations.  I kept whispering, what did you expect? He had been to Africa for so long, he’d known third-world countries—what did he expect?

I’d lived a whole life that I was now being removed from by my own family. I convinced my family to make the 4-hour round-trip to My Son (the Champa ruins) in the hopes it would give them the beautiful Vietnam they’d been expecting. But our tour guide was so blunt about the war it made me a little nauseous, after four months of carefully avoiding the topic, and of being around Vietnamese who avoided it. I felt it was wrong we were discussing it—I wanted to run from it. Suddenly all the ponds and pools of water around the ruins rose coldly before me—they are bomb craters, you stupid, stupid girl. It hadn’t occurred to me—not once—before.

When I wasn’t showing my family the tourist sites around Da Nang, I laid by the pool in the cool wind, with the dark clouds, and read Alix Ohlin’s book that I bought last summer at the Writer’s Institute. I don’t even know her but it made me happy reading it, because I felt somehow I was back at Skidmore. Some of her endings seemed contrived…forced even. But I’m surprised to find that even now, a week later, all the stories are still swimming in my head. That’s the best kind of book.

We flew from Da Nang to Hanoi and I’d never been so relieved. I nearly skipped my way along the lake showing it off to my family, feeling FINALLY here was something I owned, and could pull forward from those dark months—could pull its beauty forward and hold it up like a shield.

Still, it is strange to be a tourist in a city you have lived in and loved.

The Metropole was quite an experience, but the opulence was hard for me to stomach.

Back in Hanoi I just kept thinking of To the Lighthouse, which I finished in Love Chocolate with Carmin. I thought of it over and over. I thought of time passing, and family, and houses by the sea. I thought of cliffs and skulls and things….I thought of leaving it all behind forever.

Once back in Saigon my family seemed genuinely happy, which I was so grateful for. I needed someone to be enthusiastic for me. I took my family to Youngest Aunt’s house for dinner with Vy, and we had an amazing time. Vy can bring my mood up in a second. And we had tons of tofu and vegetarian amazing-ness. Then this morning we woke up and took the hydrofoil to Vung Tau with Vy in the morning (of course we almost missed it—sorry honey).

The day in Vung Tau was the Vietnam I’ve been wanting my family to see. Vy’s mom cooked an amazing vegetarian meal, and we had Da Lat wine, and it was lovely to be back in the palace by the sea that I loved so much the first time. We even climbed up to see Jesus. An appropriate activity for Christmas Eve ! Vy was an awesome host, as always. Saying good-bye was horrible and heart-breaking. I haven’t allowed myself to think that I may never see her again, because I just won’t let that happen. Phat is coming by the Caravelle in two hours to say good-bye.

So I fly home tomorrow, Christmas Day.  Well, Saigon certainly comes alive this time of year. I don’t think any Christmas celebration could be quite as awesome as the one this city puts on. All the colors and lights come out, and the motorbikes flood the street, like during the SEA games, but a bit calmer.

My brother’s doing jumping jacks in our hotel room.

As always I feel I should be incredibly grateful for all that I have. I am, indeed, so centered by having my family here. It puts the world in perspective, yes. And I’ve missed them so long. To have them here with me…it is the best gift.

Under my balcony the whole city is out in the streets celebrating.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the blog, at least a little bit.

“I am learning to get along alone. There’s always the universe.”

Update: Phat and I wandered the streets for awhile, watching all the people cheer and move about. They are all dressed for Christmas. I was in my -sad-I’m-leaving jeans and oxford outfit aka way underdressed. Some of the girls were thrilled to see me, some tall American, out there with the madding crowd, and proceeded to spray white foam and glitter in my face, my hair….I was so tired it just made me sad, but it was a little bit fun also. They all spray white foam to represent snow. So the whole city is covered now in these little clumps of synthetic snow. I’m going to really, really miss it.

I’m leaving glass sentences all over the floor

 

Hoi An : Again

The rain in her braided hair.

 

 

Da Nang

 

Drew pool-side @ Da Nang resort.

 

Familia

Well, my family’s been here about a week now and that is the closest I feel to holiday spirit. I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas–I’ve missed all of the holidays completely. BUT it’s wonderful having them here anyway. We spent three tumbling days in Saigon. I think it’s a bad representation of Vietnam, that city. Basically it overwhelmed my family to the point of exhaustion. Unfortunately the first night they arrived the city was celebrating a SEA GAMES victory. Translation: chaos. Within an hour of being on the street we saw two motorbikes collide, and two men skidding off on the street. I’ve seen a lot of accidents here (obviously), but none quite so startling as that. So I felt bad that was the first thing they saw. It was hard to defend the numen of the city that night, even to myself.

Righty-o. Then we had a rocky day in the Mekong—I’m not sure why so many of my parents generation are obsessed/have heard of the Mekong Delta, or what the draw is. I guess they remember it from the war….but so much of the fighting happened in central vietnam……..why this obsession with the Delta? Whatever. We went and it unfolded as I predicted. Not the fabulous jungle experience they expected—well, no.

Anyway my family got to meet Vy  + Phat and we had a wonderful dinner in the open-air Quan an Ngon restuarant (means “Delicious Restaurant”).

Thennnn we flew to Da Nang. Or as my witty mother put it, “Dang we’re going to Da Nang.” Once a carnie always a carnie! Something of the south stays with us wherever we go….it has rained all three days here, which of course I absolutely love. The weather is cool and drizzly, and I finally feel, inching north along this coastline, like I’m heading for a holiday. One should just not celebrate the holidays in warm weather. I’m sorry.

Well we have this amazing resort we are at, but cannot swim or beach it, because its quite windy and rainy. So I took my family on field trips=–Hoi an, My Son.

My experience at My Son was quite different from when I went two months ago. >> Our tour guide talked A LOT (almost uncomfortably, for me) about the American War, and I realized that all of the pretty ponds I noticed around the Champa ruins last time are in fact bomb craters from where we destroyed large sections of these 2nd century relics. Learned a bit more about Hinduism this time, too.

In Hoi an my mom and I found a silk shop and bought out the place. Got to watch silk worms spin their little yellow and white webs. Rain there, too. I’ll always love Hoi an, but it was definitly a different experience with my family.

O god. Miss you all. Flying to Hanoi……….in one hour. HEN GAP LAI