Choi, a Thung Chai and other thoughts on a trip to Vietnam [a draft in progress.. now shared].

A trip to Vietnam, [so far].

The Great Canadian Kitchen Party’s are a series of dinners hosted by award winning Musicians, Chefs and Athletes to celebrate three pillars of Canadian culture – art, food and sport.

Funds raised through auction, of memorabilia and the facilitation of excursions abroad, to locations far and away, provides resources needed to support art, culinary, and sporting expression in Canada’s schools.

GCKP invites people who wish to travel, to hear music, experience local food and participate in unique adventure, to Iceland, Mallorca, Tuscany, Napa, South Africa, Scotland, Croatia, Portugal and Vietnam, and across Canada, from Newfoundland, to Niagara, to peaks in the heart of the Rockies and along BC’s rugged coastline, GCKP has extensive experience, a network with access to local knowledge, and a team of hosts who take care of the details, with meticulous attention to detail, while still maintaining a sense of adventure and leaving room to explore.

Vietnam eh. Culture. Cycling and food. Exploring. I can do that. I packed a backpack and a helmet and I left all my devices at home.

When I returned I sat down to write about it, just to see what I would find. I tried to make sense of the endless notes I left for myself on the back of receipts, on random pieces of paper and in my treasured journal, and through these snippets I found a trail of crumbs marking a faint path back to moments in time, as if unpacking reminder tokens from a bags of holding.

Snippets.

lit lanterns down old dirt roads,

badminton by the river,

concrete truck playing Christmas carols on its horn serenading the Saigon Opera house and Continental hotel at 3am,

man in bear mascot costume sleeping on park bench with head resting on stomach,

frogs without heads hopping around market stalls,

cold beer with Tom Cochrane by the river in the ancient city of Hoi An waiting on tailored suits,

it’s a basket not a boat,

can I play too,

there’s something in the way she moves.

I wrote short stories on tickets acquired visiting landmarks, wrote while waiting for coffee in Ho ChiMin and long form with great theatre alone in Hoi An. I walked down alleys, I sat in parks, I took time to just sit and listen, and I drew illustrations in sketch books of scooter rides emeshed into the throng of traffic past neon signs and bright lights where traffic laws are but suggestions, Advanced driving in the traffic amoeba of people on mopeds known as the Saigon merge.

We went in search of new foods and smiling faces, to hear laughter in the streets of Ho Chi Min, to see through the smallest of windows into the infinite realm of possibilities, what is life like in Vietnam.

A land of staggering natural beauty and cultural complexities, of dynamic mega cities and hill-tribe villages, Vietnam is compelling”.

What I did see in Vietnam, is what I see here at home, just how capable we are as humans, the sheer overwhelming power of our will to endure, and our faith to live on, through ingenuity, and detachment as constructive defiance.

Ingenuity, and the will to endure.

Viet is an ethnic term indicating a linguistic distinction and refers to people from beyond the boundary, in this case of China, in the “nam” land, the Southern land.

In Vietnamese a round wicker basket constructed of bamboo lacquered in Buffalo dung is known as a Thung Chai and in the 19th century it was used to circumnavigate a tax being imposed on boats by French Colonial occupiers. The Vietnamese fisherman claimed a Thung Chai was a not boat, it was a basket, and therefor exempt, and when the French looked the other way, the Vietnamese dragged the basket to the shore with a paddle in hand and ventured out to sea, where they happen to cast a line. Paddling a Thung Chai is much like harvesting rice, you lean in and pull, drawing towards you a seed of progress. This seamless bowl evenly distributes the influence of outside forces, vibrating in sympathy of the waveform of the groove, and when the tides shift, when the wind and the waves and turbulence of the ocean, the tempests of the sea, escalate, this tea cup goes with the flow, it rides above, drifting, conserving, and retreating as its own form of progress, simplicity the greatest form of sophistication, adapt and endure, much like the Vietnamese.

The faith to live on.

With the majority of the Vietnamese population being Buddhist the symbols and artifacts of religious ceremony, the adherence to ritual and the architecture of faith was ever present in the rural Vietnam we experienced. Pagodas, temples and shrines are enmeshed into the landscape as markers of meaning making as expressions of love as a debt paid with grief - death as the mother of beauty.

Atop the mountain pass known as Hai Van spanning a spur of the Truong Son Range, with its panoramic view of the shorelines of Hue and Da Nang, drifting in the rivers, staked in the fields, displayed in homes, and with in its estuaries, on beaches and in the ancient city of Hoi An are lit lanterns as beacons of invitation.

Cycling past fields of peanuts and rice we ventured into the countryside, we saw rural life beyond the main road, subsistence living in every manner of dwelling, three story modern homes, in various states of completion, and disrepair, with grand facades embellished with symbols, as temporary indications as to the existence of continuity, displaying iconology complicit in the presence of faith manifested as elaborately decorated family temples, and small shines at the entrances to corrugated tin shack shelters built into the bank of canals down old dirt roads. We rode across single lane floating bridges made of metal panels welded to floating drums, bound together with rope, and secured to the shore by elaborate scaffolds of bamboo and cable, manned by entrepreneurial attendants in makeshift cinder block toll booths laying about in hammocks smoking cigarettes and playing cards. We stopped for coconut and sugar cane drinks straight from the source at market stalls built around temples perched on wooden bridges erected as tributes to the founding Fathers of the local village, constructed atop stone pillars covered with elegant arch ways providing reprieve from the sun, a wind tunnel like breeze, a place to gather, to commune, to seek sanctuary.

We followed the Mr. Biker Saigon guides, Quinn, Tam, Anthony and crew as they led us on an adventure that may aptly have been advertised as “I wonder where this goes” except that they had carefully planned and considered the routes prior to our arrival, they checked and rechecked and made contingency plans, in case of spontaneous construction on the state owned land, or random occurrences, coincidences, the ever present diversions of Vietnam, such as a water buffalo on the road, or perhaps a ceremony of unity being performed at a bend in the river; and as we ventured beyond the boundaries of the main roads, navigating trails along tributaries and across drainage canals past all manner of livestock and thatched roof hot huts cultivating mushrooms, and merchants manning carts, road side vendors peddling solutions to needs not yet known, when we turned at the rivers bend, we participated in a wedding, our procession of pedlars proceeding past, and who sang on and kept dancing, never missing a beat, their heads turning only for a moment, as if this random collection of bike riding fanny pack wearing foreigners, were just part of the proceedings, just part of the flow.

Unattached to outcome.

In Hoi An Vietnam there is a Football club with artificial grass pitches where they play seven a side.

The leagues schedule is on the white board.

Nets and bright lights and uniforms.

And it is here I showed up,

as a foreigner,

I stood by the entrance,

shoes in hand,

and I waited,

and watched,

I acknowledged the game,

and when the team of expats called me in,

invited to join,

I checked my laces and

stepped on to the pitch,

and we did play,

And when it was done,

as we sat and we gathered,

shared spirit and story,

we saw within in each other one another,

and in our selfs the same,

and in doing so found a moment of tranquility,

of empty space.

And the following day,

I did the same,

I showed up,

again as a foreigner,

in amongst the locals,

and when the ball went over the fence,

I ran and got it,

and I when I returned,

ball in hand,

a gesture of gratitude was extended,

and again we did play,

and afterwards,

having been offered refreshment,

we sat by the pitch,

basking in the joy of sport,

and a moment of tranquility.

When I arrived at the pitch on the second day I was a lone foreigner in amongst the locals, and as much as I was wearing what could pass as a soccer kit, a black v-neck t-shirt, and black athletic shorts, with my Hoka trail running shoes on, which looked more like tank treads then soccer cleats, I might be considered, much like a geological anomaly, as out of place, and yet sport plays on, and when the ball went over the fence, I ran after it, and when I returned, a gesture of gratitude was extended but the game was well underway, so I stood and watched, and waited, and it wasn’t until the final whistle, and the “next up”, the two teams warming up patiently off to the side, began jogging onto the field, that I saw the referee regrouping on a bench and took the opportunity to engage, I ventured forward with a hello and can I play, and then the fence became a barrier, and my question was lost into the chain links between us, as if detained in cells made of metal and its static, with my gestures and body language distorted he couldn’t understand me, so he offered up his phone, pushing it under the fence, and Google translate became our intermediary, the enigma was facilitating our engagement, and it turns out “chơi” is “play?”.

We played as Buddha,

selfless,

existing beyond the story of who am i,

ones imagination,

this self generated narrative,

where we find reasons to justify what we perceive as reality.

The Buddhists simply played,

with no acknowledgement of the score,

no celebration either way,

perpetually present,

each moment in time happening at the same time,

in a state of deep now,

as witnesses to acts of intuition,

unburdened by thought.

To be continued….

Pilgrimage hotel.

cemetery side road.

badminton by the river,

concrete truck playing Christmas carols on its horn serenading the Saigon Opera house and Continental hotel at 3am,

man in bear mascot costume sleeping on park bench with head resting on stomach,

frogs without heads hopping around market stalls,

cold beer with Tom Cochrane by the river in the ancient city of Hoi An waiting on tailored suits,

Canada’s Great Kitchen Party

[and now for a random thought] When Goggle translator appeared I thought for a moment a Jesuit Priest had arrived incased in a crucible of black mirrors, to meet the children of god, and having arrived, and installed themselves without protheiticing, as this was not the mission, they learned the language, and the culture, and in doing so they occupied the space in between, between a foreigner held back by a fence, and representative of the state, to determine intention, and terms of engagement, in this case to “Choi”, to play sport.

And the contrast to the Opera house of Saigon, Ho Chi Min City, the imperial palace, a museum to war, and the day to day in 2019, the experiences of a foreigner, awake all night all day, walking in the heart of the city, riding mopeds through neighbourhoods with visions lite by neon signs, and people, adapting,