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Our Homeland Still Exists...

By Frank Trinh

Ðọc bản tiếngViệt của bàiviết này...

At some ephemeral moment, a man’s soul feels derelict in the worldly labyrinth. There he stands, in the maze of busy streets, wrapped in the heinous glances of unfamiliar faces. No woman’s hand, with long tapering fingers, waves to him. Today’s speech, indeed, has no fascination whatsoever. The roads and the streets all run in circles forever circling. Inspiration … at the sight of the halo of the moon in the cold of night. Inspiration … at the parting moment when one is embarking on a romantic trip of a life time.

I will leave and bid farewell to the city streets,
Leaving behind those woeful months,
I will go to a distant, far-away place,
To look for you, my lover of times of old.
To see you smile and kiss you passionately,
On your lips, your hair and your lashes.

My recent trip to Vietnam was a decision to find some space, to seek to forget what I had longed for. Whilst in Saigon by chance I met the songstress Y Lan (she was with her new husband), at the Saigon Prince Hotel on Nguyen Hue Boulevard. I had the opportunity to say hello and I inquired about her mother’s health. I told her that I had met Thai Thanh (her mother) and the South Wind Troupe (Thang Long Choral Group and the outstanding Tran Van Trach) in the flesh in 1953 at the Haiphong Opera Theatre. That year, the tour of Haiphong and Hanoi by the South Wind Troupe from Saigon was organized by Uncle Man, who was the owner of Do Thanh Restaurant on Luong Van Can Street, Hanoi, helped by my father, who was a close friend.

At the time, the South Wind Troupe performed for a few days in Haiphong, so a few friends of mine and myself gained admission by ‘sponging’ on my father. Thai Thanh, Thai Hang (deceased) and their Choral Group were fantastic. I was intrigued by Hoai Trung (deceased) and Hoai Bac (deceased), who performed so hilariously in the musical comedy, Mr. Ninh and Mr. Nang. I was so fascinated to see Khanh Ngoc in her musical skit “Going to Huong Pagoda”. Tran Van Trach, (deceased) with his long wavy hair, was at the time considered extraordinary in his ability to report on international motorcar race events by mimicking the sounds of Formula One racing cars. Also the range of his singing voice reminded one of the famous French singer Tino Rossi. What a trip down memory lane!

At the Youth Cultural Activity House in Saigon, I heard the male singer Quang Minh tragically singing: "Nostalgic feeling" by the well-known composer Cung Tien:

My heart is crazy about missing you,
Oh! Where are you? Where is my old flame?

I went to Do Son by privately-owned chauffeur-driven car from Hanoi. I’ve seen Do Son Beach which is over half an hour’s drive from Haiphong.

Without going to Do Son, there's no way of knowing what it’s like,
Once you go there, you will realize that it’s nothing compared to your Do nha*.

In Dalat, former hometown of the late musician Trinh Cong Son, the late composer Le Uyen Phuong, and female writer Le Hang—still the present home of female poet Le Khanh whose famous work is “I am the girl destined to be ugly”—I took the risk of placing my hand on "the Forbidden Fruit" of Venus at the Valley of Love in a public park but:

Looking at you while in pain: The Pain of a Stone.
Looking for you in the rain: The Rain turning the tree’s leaves red.

My pain in love was no less acute than Tran Dan’s pain for his country:

On my travels I didn’t see any homes or streets!
Only could I see the rain pouring down on the red flag!

From Hanoi, I took a coach to Lang Son. Who amongst the Vietnamese people ourselves has not learnt these lines by heart since our very young years back when we sported a single tuft on our shaven heads?

Dong Dang has Ky Lua Street,
There is a woman called To Thi, there is Tam Thanh Pagoda.
Who would like to go to the Lang Son township with me?
It would be worth all the pain of labour your mother suffered to bring you into the world…
Holding a bottle gourd of rice liquor in one hand, the other hand holding a meat roll.
Enjoying myself so much that I have totally forgotten my sweetheart’s reminders.

On March 5th, 2003, I went up to Dong Dang, but I definitely did not find Ky Lua Street there. Ky Lua Street in the flesh lies right in the heart of Lang Son township, next to the Ky Lua Market. The legendary woman called To Thi is located about two kilometres out of town. She no longer has the natural shape of a woman carrying her baby, waiting for her husband to come back, because quarry workers have damaged her by taking stone from the statue, so say the local people. However, the more likely scenario is that To Thi was 'injured' during the time China “taught Vietnam a lesson” in late 1979. The Government has since intervened and ordered the reconstruction of the statue by redefining the shape with cement. The legend of To Thi, a tragic case of committing unknowing incest, hasn’t left me with any deep philosophical thinking. So, even though:

Holding a bottle gourd of rice liquor in one hand, the other hand holding a meat roll.

There’s no such thing as:

Enjoying myself so much that I have totally forgotten my sweetheart’s reminders.

I spent three days in Haiphong, my birthplace, which is a harbour city about 100 kilometres southeast of Hanoi. I spent half a day visiting my maternal home town, Ha Dong, about 15 kilometres from Hanoi. My elderly relatives have now passed away. Who mostly remain now are my cousins and their offspring. I stayed in Hanoi, the cradle of thousands of years of culture, for one week altogether. While riding in the car on the way to Thuy Khue to visit an acquaintance at the Sommerset West Lake Hotel in West Lake, the former Buoi/Chu Van An High School was pointed out to me by a relative.

To Hanoians today, as a mere male, if you want to become a hot item, you must meet the following requirements:

Your hair should gleam like silver,
Your pocket should glitter with gold,
Your willy, the strength of steel.

Poor me! My humble self. Trying to flex my muscle as best I can, I can only meet one of the criteria. How about you, guys?

I often say: “We go into love like a child”. You might not agree with me. That's okay. Perhaps, you haven’t met the right person that’s all. When having met, to be able to have control of your heart is no easy matter. Artists in general have the habit of cherishing things such as “the joy of pain”, “a drop of water splashed on the stony statue…”, “one moment of glory then death…”, or “It’s all or nothing”.

Why bother trying to exercise self-control, particularly when one’s foot is in the grave? Why bother when there’s a war raising its ugly head? Why bother when diseases like SARS are prevailing?

When love is like ripened fruit, when arms embrace then shoulders and cheeks are entwined, the fire of love burns bright and desire sets the soul ablaze. At this heavenly moment, the desire for the bird and the butterfly exchanging love is a natural course of nature on this earth. The boy is dreaming of the butterfly, symbolizing the female genitalia, the girl is embracing thoughts of the bird, symbolizing the male genitalia."

A man’s love flies in the direction of the butterfly,
A woman’s passion flies in the direction of the bird…

With reference to "the bird", our ancestors of yore had this to say:

A wise bird would perch on the roof of the mandarin’s palace,
A wise boy would look for his bride and a wise girl for her groom.

On my recent fact-finding tour in Hanoi, I discovered that "Wise birds no longer perch on the roof of the mandarin’s palace", but:

A wise bird should crane its neck, raising his head high,
A wise butterfly should perch on the head of the wise bird.

With regards to people's visits to Vietnam, each and every one of us has his or her own reason to be present in this land of ours. Nhat Tien, a well-known writer, now residing in the US, said this to those who critisized him:

“When I left Vietnam, I didn’t say that I would not return… And as a writer, I can’t write according to the rumours."

Former US President, Clinton, reminded the communist leaders of Vietnam:

“We can’t change the past… What we can do is to look to the future!”

An overseas Vietnamese couple defended themselves for what they did in Vietnam:

“We returned to Vietnam for a visit, and we spent money at the shops, restaurants, hotels and even gave money as gifts to relatives so that they can spend. Isn’t all that the way we make our contributions to the growth of the economy of Vietnam?"

In my capacity as an academic/language educator, I have made several return trips to Vietnam since 1991 to visit my homeland, to attend conferences, and to establish institutional exchanges. Of course, not to do business, not to visit the red light district, and not to go to a place where you can drink beer and hug girls at the same time. When saying this, I don't mean that I condemn those who go back to Vietnam with those purposes in mind. They have their freedom and I’m willing and prepared to respect and fight for their right to that freedom.

My journey to my homeland this last time landed me first at Tan Son Nhat Airport, Saigon. Afterwards I went to Lai Thieu (carousing with two former school friends), to Suoi Tien (meeting up with a former female student-turned-colleague of mine from ‘Down Under’) and to Vung Tau (revisiting the estranged lover of my close friend) where I had the chance to sit in a deck chair at Front Beach having a snack and drinking iced coffee.

Having gone to Dalat, then Cau Dat, which is half-hour motorbike ride from Dalat, I visited a friend who had a tumour of the colon… Whilst in Cau Dat, having a chit-chat amongst friends and enjoying good food and wine, a former friend Ho Hoang Quan, in an alcoholic haze, read to us a poem entitled “Oh well!” that he had written over 40 years before. He originally came from Hue, but has lived in Dalat most of his life.

Oh well… Darling go and get married!
Winter for me is already here.
Bright Winter sunshine is in the highlands,
But fairy flowers and butterflies will bid you farewell.
There are white clouds of Winter in the highlands.
I pray it won't rain till the Spring,
So that the journey to his home will be safe,
And your youthful wedding will be celebrated with much wine and food.
The pink cherry blossom blooms in astonishment,
But why shouldn't a bride have such a beaming smile?
It's too cold now, darling, just go and be married!
A human's life is full of suffering and woe…
It's too late now, darling, just go and be married!
Oh well… It's over and done with anyhow!

After Cau Dat I flew to Saigon … then on to Haiphong, my birthplace, as well as being the birthplace of Van Cao and Nguyen Chi Thien … then on to Hanoi and back to Saigon.…

I have travelled far and wide throughout my former country but:

My homeland is still there existing
But where have my old people gone?

On return to my Aussie land, the country of my ‘exile’ for more than a quarter of a century, with my unfaded cherished memories, I heard from afar the voice of The Muse echoing:

The Pain of a Stone! Do you know?
The worm lies curled up, taking a long sleep in her walk,
Within herself, love is still up in the air!

In an instant, “from thence … I felt within myself a mild burst of sunshine’, hoping for the arrival of Springtime:

The journey of life, O my Lover!
Will last and extend,
Our age is tender,
Golden dreams are at hand,
Why fear the hardships in the future?
Hand in hand we go,
Our paces in cadency,
We step high and low,
Be not fearful of the long journey!
Our future, ahead, is in glow.

Frank Trinh
Sydney, 2003


-*Do nha: a Northern Vietnamese slang meaning a wife’s private parts.

Ðọc bản tiếngViệt của bàiviết này...

Vietnam : My First Return (by the same author)

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