THE WRITERS POST
VOLUME 7 NUMBER 2
A MOMENT IN HANOI
A TRAVELLING NOTE BY
Que Son, pseudonym of Ho Ngoc Son, who was born Nov 25, 1960 in Da Nang Viet Nam. His first published work, One Spring morning, appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of The Writers Post.’One Spring morning’ is a segment of his memories about events of spring 1975 as they took place in Da Nang, his hometown, seen through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old boy. ‘A moment in Hanoi’ is his second appearance in The Writers Post. He is living in Brooklyn, New York.
THAT MORNING IN DANANG I WAS SITTING WITH MY BROTHER IN A GARDEN café by the river and I asked him if he wanted to take a trip with me to Ha Noi. He said he would be happy to accompany me. He had not been to Ha Noi for more than twenty years. My brother told me the first and only time he was there was when he was a student, being sent to the capital for a month to be trained as an electrician. For me I was curious to see how the city had changed after all these years. All the talk about economic reform, the embrace of capitalism and the boom of entrepreneurship made me wonder if the city had transformed, becoming brighter than before, perhaps? The last time I was there was ten years ago on my first trip back to the country. By that time I had been gone for 12 years, thinking that once you left the country, you would never have a chance to come back. But the political situation had changed and the country now welcomed returnees.
It was a sunny morning. People said it had been raining for many days and the sun had only come out yesterday, the day I came back to the city. I was lucky as far as the weather was concerned. But it was the monsoon season and the rain could come at any time, without warning.
The café I was sitting in with my brother was actually a big front yard of a house with numerous gigantic bonsais of a wide variety. Tables were arranged among the potted plants that created a relaxing atmosphere. On the other side of the road and across from where we sat the river ran leisurely and its green water glistered with sparks of white light. The birds were singing, competing with the café’s music. As I watched drops of dense black coffee dripped from the filter into the cup, I thought about how to make my days here as comfortable as I could. Da Nang was my hometown where I was born and raised and the last thing I wanted was to feel apprehensive about coming back to it. And I found that it was not easy to feel 100% at ease while here in town. But I would do the best I could. Mother’s health had been improving, thanks to my brother’s care, and that would make me feel somewhat better. My trip home this time served only one “mentionable” purpose: to observe the end of the mourning period for my father. I had not been to any of his memorials since he passed away almost three years ago and I felt that I had to make this trip. Mother had also written to me and D, asking us if we could go home for the occasion. I was also taking timeout from a frustrated life in New York. So here I was: home
Two weeks later, as planned, we were sitting in the Da Nang’s train station’s coffee shop waiting for the Ha Noi express which was scheduled for a fifteen-minute stop here on its way north from Sai Gon. I like this small coffee shop and I had come here to sit a few times before. It was usually quiet because most of the time there were no people coming and going. The only times it became crowded were when the trains came and went, which usually happened in the early morning, at noon, and in the evening. At those times people waiting for the trains would come into the shop to sit; and as the trains left, the shop would become empty again and that was when I chose to come in. I felt less anxious here because in this place I could be alone, away from the house that was usually noisy. Sometimes I would sit for an hour before another person came in. Sitting here I felt somewhat secure, that I would not be seen as easily if I had sit in a café on the streets where there might be lots of traffic. From here I could look at the spacious and quiet waiting room of the station. It was always clean: a totally different picture from twenty-five years ago, after the war ended. Back then, train stations were scenes of human miseries. A majority of people scrambled daily for their next meals, making a living was a difficult task, and survival was the order of the day. There were just no words to describe the pain, but memories of those days were still vivid on my mind. I was a detail in that picture of misery. I was immersed in it.
One day during that period, while in the station waiting for the train with hundreds of other tattered people, I walked into the station’s public bathroom and found a girl no more than 13 years old being violated by an old guy in a standing position. My presence did not deter them from continuing the act. I was sure the girl would be fed or given some money after that.
Back then I often left home to travel south using the train, having no purposes other than to get away from home, from the madness that was adolescence, to ease the pain of growing up. My unannounced, unpermitted travels caused my father and mother much agony. One time while on one of those mad trips I was jailed for traveling without permits; and my father, after a month worrying and searching for me and after finding out where I was, had to bribe the prison guards to get me out. Also, I usually sold things in the house to have money for the trips. But I did not think it was stealing because I thought whatever belonged to the family belonged to me too. I did not feel bad about it, not even now when thinking back.
The train arrived fifteen minutes late, under an overcast sky. People boarded and de-boarded leisurely while the train gave out short bursts of loud whistles as if anxious to leave. My brother and I found our compartment. It was a six-bedded box and we had to share space with four other people. I was going to spend the next 12 hours in a confined environment and it made me somewhat uncomfortable. People would sit and look at each other and size each other up and they would talk and I might be involved in conversations. They might ask questions about where I came from, what my business was and where I was heading and for what purposes, all the things that I would rather not talk about. I lied on my bed, which was also used by other people as seats because it was nearest to the floor, and read my magazines, trying to block out the conversations going on around me. My brother, after exchanging a few words with the fellow passengers, also lied down and read his book. I glanced over to him, wondering why he did not engage in conversation with them, him-- a local who knew things to talk about, unlike me, an ignorant stranger. As the train started to roll, the rain came down.
So we were going to see the capital of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam. I was for wandering and sightseeing. My brother said he would focus his visit on the ancient Buddhist temples. I knew he was excited because he was going to see the temples that he had read too much about. In fact, he had an extensive knowledge of these things. A large portion of his private library was devoted to the subject of religion, largely Buddhist.
One of our fellow passengers looked like a businessman or a cadre of some kind even though he dressed in civilian clothes, and he talked nonstop, about things that were utterly uninteresting. After a while people stopped listening to him. I kept my mouth shut. Seeing my disposition, no one attempted conversation with me. Tired of lying in bed, I got up and went into the walkway outside the compartment to look at the landscapes. It was raining hard. The landscapes of Viet Nam fascinated me, especially the vegetations. Trees and plants in this area of the earth are of a wide, dazzling variety. The railroad snaked along the base of the Truong Son mountain range, the geographical spine of the country, and no more than a kilometer on the other side of the track was the ocean. Patches of green rice fields and white sand dunes with the mountains as a backdrop made the view postcard perfect.
I went to the dining car and had a coffee. A few passengers sat here and there talking and reading and staring out the windows under a weak yellow electric light; and outside, darkness was fast approaching. After an early dinner, I went to bed, popping a pill to help me into sleep. But sleep was shallow because of the noises the train made. I got up every time the train pulled into a station, walked to the window to watch people getting on and off and all the buying and selling on the platform. The rain would not let up. Then I would go back to sleep, or attempt at sleep, as the train left the station to continue its journey into the night. No dreams.
The train pulled into the Ha Noi station around five in the morning. The rain had stopped but the sky was still dark. I had got up and positioned myself at the window as the train made its way through the city’s outer area. Low rows of brick houses lined one side of the narrow highway that ran along the track, and all were still in deep slumber, no signs of people, no activities, in a kind of cold dim gray light given out by the street lamps. As I and my brother got off the train, I noticed that there was not much noise, and people appeared relaxed leaving the train, unlike what I remembered as train travel years ago when the country was still in a deep economic pit: everyone took to the railroad to buy and sell whatever merchandise that might be of some value, you could not even find a seat and you were shoulder to shoulder and belly to belly with other people and at every station there were furious buying and selling accompanied by maddening yelling and screaming. It was a time of extreme misery. The situation had improved a lot since economic reform started in the late 80’s, but even now the country was still categorized as one of the poorest in the world. The struggle for capitalist development continues.
I felt no excitement seeing Ha Noi again. Perhaps I am getting older and my mind and heart are not as vibrant and sensitive as when I was younger. That’s why aging is not something to be desired: it’s boring. You don’t feel a wide range of emotions as you did when you were younger. You are jaded because of too much experience. You might become emotionally dead, along with your dying body. Less and less things hold surprises for you. When something happens, even strange things, you would say, “Really?” and you have no emotional reaction. Looks like I am going through this stage now and I don’t like it at all.
In the dim light, we sat at what might be called a mobile teashop across from the train station, waiting for the day to break. The “shop” was a humble collection of few small plastic stools, a pot of tea, a bamboo pipe, a few packs of cigarettes and some snacks. That was all needed to be in business. We sat on the stools, facing the woman, and ordered tea that was continually poured into our small cups as we emptied them. I reached for the bamboo pipe and smoked that special kind of black tobacco, “thuoc lao,” letting out a powerfully long stream of white fume. As I put the pipe down, my head started to spin and a cold shudder rushed through the entire body. It was a brief moment of nicotine intoxication. A lot of people in this area of the country were addicted to this kind of tobacco, which I think was uniquely Vietnamese. A few guys were sitting around us and smoked the tobacco, showing looks of numbed satisfaction after each inhale and exhale.
We were waiting for daylight and for the station’s baggage office to open so we could retrieve our motorbike that would be our own mode of transport while in town. A man approached us and asked us where we were going. He was apparently a Honda Om driver looking for business. We told him we had our own bike. And he walked away. A few minutes later another man came and asked the same thing. My brother did not talk; he just sat, drank his tea and every now and then stood up, stretched himself and walked around. I went to the bathroom in the train station, taking care not to step on the shit on the floor. There were discarded needles in the corners. The addicts must have used the bathrooms as their shooting galleries.
After retrieving our bike, we started out to look for a hotel. Before the trip, I had done some research about the layout of the city and had a general idea about where lodgings could be found. So I told my brother to go in the direction of the river. He drove the bike and I sat behind him. The streets were still quiet and the air was heavy with moisture and darkness was still lingering. Big trees lined both sides of streets. Things looked clean and ordered. My brother rode slowly. As we came near the river, we turned toward the famed 36-street area where I was sure we could find plenty of hotels.
We stopped at a few hotels whose info I had found in the travel guides, but the prices they quoted were all higher than what I anticipated. Some hustlers tried to lure us to their hotels. After riding around for a while, we settled for a mid-sized hotel by the Hoan Kiem Lake. It turned out to be a great location: it’s right in the heart of the city and it was on a block that was made up entirely of colonial buildings. My brother said that twenty years ago, this hotel had been reserved for the high-ranking officials only. It was known to be an up-scale place back in those days, the days of war and hunger. After registering, we followed the maid up two flights of stairs to our room at the end of a long hallway. The room was a mess. The maid said the last guest had checked out only 30 minutes ago and staff had not got time to clean up the room. She said when we come back later in the day the room would be clean and ready. It had high ceiling and a large window open out to the hallway. There was a small TV on the dresser, and other accommodations were basic but adequate. This might be one of the places where the French colonists stayed when they were masters of the land. I took a warm shower. My brother stretched himself out on the one of the beds and waited for me to get ready so we could start our excursions to the temples. This was our day one in Ha Noi.
Out on the streets, people were doing their morning exercises by the lake, mostly older people. The air was cool and wet. It was now full daylight and the sky was overcast and it threatened to rain at any minute. There was more traffic. A group of young people raced by on their motorbikes, the noises of their engines filled the air furiously and violently then quickly subsided. One or two of them even showed off their skills by riding with only the rear wheel.
My brother said the temples we were going to visit were all far from the city, but none was more than 30 kilometers. He had done his research and I also had my map. We had a breakfast of sticky rice and sausages at a sidewalk joint that looked like a family restaurant. Then we set out for our trip, heading back in the direction of the railroad station. By now the streets were filled with people and traffic. Everyone rode his or her own motorbike and we were on our own bike also. We had to go to Ha Dong province whose border with Ha Noi was just a few kilometers away. After riding for a while on the main road which was choked with fuming traffic we turned into a narrow road that we believed would lead us to the Tay Phuong temple. The temple was, according to my brother, had been built about eight hundred years ago and contained a large number of ancient statues. As we rode on, things started to look more and more dusty and …primitive. The road snaked through clusters of villages made up of low brick houses whose walls were yellow and mossy with time. We passed through a couple of villages whose business appeared to be the raising of dogs for food. Cages and cages of barking dogs lined the road and occasionally shops that sold dogs that were already barbequed. Dogs were food in many areas of the world and I don’t think I have a valid argument against the use of dogs as food…no matter how hard I try. People will even eat one another in times of starvation. I myself had tried dogs before out of curiosity when I was still in country more than twenty years ago. And it was good food, though expensive. But dog meat was not anyone’s normal daily chow like chicken or pork or beef, it was recreational food, a macho specialty, eaten during drinking only.
After a slow two-hour ride we arrived at the Tay Phuong temple. It was on top of a hill that strangely and lonely situated in a flat rice field. There were a few stalls selling local specialties, mostly sweets, hot tea and a variety of souvenirs together with small statues of Buddha and Bodhisattvas. Around the foot of the hill were giant old trees. A bus carrying tourists rolled into the yard and the elderly Caucasian faces came out, looking around and stretching themselves while shaking their heads continuously to the children who were trying to sell them things. We climbed the stone steps, a few hundred meters perhaps, and arrived at the temple’s courtyard. There were more souvenir stalls and now people started calling out loudly inviting you to buy from them. We stepped into the temple and found ourselves engulfed in a kind of twilight between light and dark. And there they were, the ancient statues of bodhisattvas that my brother had been anxious to see. There were about twenty or so of them lining the walls and it was hard to see them in the semidarkness of the interior. They were, however, visible in a mysterious way. My brother studied each of them closely while I stood near the door observing the whole view. The ceiling was low, held up by rows of fat black wooden pillars. A giant golden statue of the Buddha was on the center altar, glistering in candlelight. White smoke and the smell of incenses perfumed the air. People came to offer incenses and fruits and even money to the Buddha. I walked outside. The outer walls looked new, as if they had just been made over. I too was shaking my head at the souvenir peddlers. There was no getting away from this kind of thing; anywhere there were tourists, there were souvenir peddlers and some of them were quite annoying and aggressive. But people had to make a living.
After about an hour we started to descend. There was another old temple not far from here that needed to be seen. We stopped to eat in a dark, fly-infested restaurant. We had beef noodle soup. In the shop there were two other men who looked like they were having a big lunch and appeared to be drunk.
The next one we plan to visit was the Thay temple. It was at the foot of a small mountain about one mile from the one we had just left. Again, it was a sudden rise of a big lump of earth and rock right in the middle of a flat rice field. It started to drizzle as we approached the mountain. A woman on a bicycle followed behind then guided us to her “parking lot” which was actually the front yard of her house. Then we walked to the temple that was visible from afar. In front of it was a large lotus pond and in the middle of the pond situated an old brick structure with a roof and four walls. I could not figure out the structure’s function, but it added a nice artistic touch to the pond and the landscape. Inside the temple, a man offered to show us around for a fee and we accepted. The structure and layout of the temple was similar to many others I had seen: three brick buildings lined up straight with courtyards in between. Inside the buildings were altars and numerous statues of Buddha and Bodhisattvas and the complex was designed in a way that allowed as little light as possible, perhaps to purposely create a subdue and mysterious atmosphere. This temple had an impressive courtyard that contains many strange looking giant bonsais. There was a large black rock with a poem in Chinese characters written on it. My brother read aloud the poem and explained its meaning to me. It talked about the illusory nature of the all things and urged enlightenment.
The rain continued to fall and the sky had become darker. We headed back to the city, taking a different route. It was a highway that allowed two lanes of traffic in opposite directions. The rain then let up and became a drizzle then rain again. Farmers were selling their products on the edge of the highway and sometimes right on it. They sold mostly corns and occasionally livestock like ducks and chickens. On the way back we saw a big modern stadium being built which my brother said would host the next Southeast Asian Games. Ha Noi had been changing and expanding. New buildings, mostly tall and thin and in a uniform style that looked Mexican to me, added to the landscape a feature that was definitely psychedelic. Near the city we merged into a sea of humanity on motorbikes, everyone trying to push his wheels forward foot by foot and the honking was maddening. There was perhaps a method to this madness, some kind of logic to this apparent chaos. But I wasn’t sure what that was.
That evening after hanging ourselves out to dry and a short nap we walked around the lake then had dinner in a restaurant in the 36-street neighborhood. We each had a cup of strong rice wine. My brother became silent and looked preoccupied. I saw the subdue look on his face but did not ask him how he felt. On the way back to the hotel, I said to him that I wish I had a home to miss while on trips like this. He did not answer or had any reaction. Back in our room we called and talked with mother. She was fine, taking her medication. Falling asleep around ten o’clock all I heard was the loud sound of the rain.
It was the second day in Ha Noi. Sleep had been uneventful, but all the times I was aware of the rain beating against the window. Toward daylight I was waked up by the noises of children, like a buzz of a giant fly. There was laughter and yelling and screaming. Perhaps an elementary school was nearby. We took our shower then went downstairs for breakfast which included in the price of the room. The large dining room was almost deserted. I had an egg sandwich and my brother ordered a noodle soup. Coffee was also complementary. I had told my brother that today I would like to be alone, that he might have to continue his visit to the temples without me. There were many other temples in the area that were on his must-see list. He agreed to the separation. For me, the temples, even though worthwhile of seeing because of their historical values, all had the same style and seeing one or two was enough. Besides, I was weary of prolonged conversation that must be conducted when I was with someone, even that someone was my brother. In my present state of mind, I would rather shut my mouth and walk or sit alone with my own thoughts.
After the meal my brother took off on his motorbike, saying he would cross the Chuong Duong Bridge into the other outer regions of the city. I wished him a good time then walked to the lake and sat down on a bench. It had become drier but the sky was still laden with dark clouds. The familiar scene was taking place again around me: old people jogging and doing exercises. A boy approached and asked me if I wanted to have my shoes shined. I said no, in a polite way with a faint smile. But I knew that if the next one came and ask the same thing I would just shake my head and not even look at him. Then came the boys and girls who sold magazines, newspapers, lottery tickets, and snacks. The head shaking ritual continued.
There was a nice legend that gave the lake its name: Hoan Kiem (Returned Sword.) After victorious against the Chinese about five hundred years ago, Le Loi returned his sword to the sacred turtle that had given to him at the beginning of the war as a mandate from heaven. And the lake was where this had happened, so goes the legend. It sounds like a smart psychological warfare maneuver to rally popular support. In the center of the lake they had built a shrine, supposedly hundreds of years ago, to commemorate the sword returning event.
Looking around I saw that I wasn’t the only one sitting alone. There was a white guy who looked like he had just walked two thousand miles, all dirty and seemed exhausted, with a huge backpack, equally dirty, next to him. He too was staring at the lake and every now and then shook his head at the peddlers. No more than twenty meters from where I sat the street was now teeming with traffic. It was rush hour and with it, incredible engine noises. A boy was trailing a couple trying to sell them postcards and he looked determined to make a sell. He cried as he walked alongside the couple, shoving his postcards at them. The couple continued to shake their heads and tried to ignore him. I followed them with my eyes until they disappeared around the street corner. That’s what people are reduced to when they are poor. The skin becomes thick.
I walked along Trang Tien, one of the main streets of the city. Some stores still retained the atmosphere of Socialism: straight cold faces of the uniformed sales people and the dark, dusty décor and all merchandises were behind locked counters. There was a Western style department store. The bookstores. Moneychangers and shoeshine boys hustled people who walked by them. I walked pass the city’s main theater, a colonial structure that had been renovated with financial helps from the French government, the old master of the land. Perhaps they wanted to preserve the remnants of their culture in a foreign land. Not far from it was a brand new hotel at least twenty stories high, built on the spot where the infamous “Hilton hotel” had been. Lots of American tears had shed there.
Then I arrived at the Museum of National History, another yellow colonial structure. With a dark yellow face, I passed for a local and paid my low entrance fee. Foreign tourists had to pay substantially more. The two-story building exhibited a humble collection of historical artifacts telling, in chronological order, the story of the nation. More than half of the objects were reproductions. Most impressive were the genuine prehistoric things, allegedly excavated from sites along the bank of the Red River. They were stone tools and weapons as well as ritual implements, including decorated bronze drums large and small. I was more interested in looking at things outside the windows, at the brick courtyards with giant bonsais and at the traffic not far from where I was. The tourists walked slowly by in groups following their guides.
After the museum I headed for the Long Bien Bridge over the Red River. It looked like I was the only person walking, because everyone was riding their motorbikes. Sidewalk spaces were taken up by merchandises and parking bikes, so most of the time I had to walk in the street, mingling with the traffic. After about half a mile a slope led me up to a train station that situated on the Ha Noi side of the river. I sat down on a bench with people waiting for the train then got up and started walking across the bridge. My other brother back in Da Nang had told me that I must walk this bridge if I wanted my visit to the city to be complete. It was a rusty old iron span used mainly as a railroad passing. There were however two walkways on both sides of the bridge. The structure appeared to be in disrepair. I walked to the middle of the span and stopped, looking at the city on the far side and at the water below. There was a strip of land, something like a small and elongated island, in the stream, and on it was cultivated field of vegetables. From where I stood I could see the Chuong Duong Bridge, packed with traffic. There were boats along the riverbanks. My other brother said he had been impressed and moved with what he saw standing on the bridge…many years back. I did not feel anything strange. Sure, I wasn’t him and he wasn’t me. He was probably in some kind of state of mind. But he was young then, and we are now all a lot older, and have become much less sensitive.
I turned around and walked back, leaving the bridge. I sat in a teashop to rest. There were people drinking tea, smoking that kind of black tobacco, and talking animatedly. I was on the border of the 36-street area, a web of small city blocks, each street specialized in one unique kind of goods and its name reflected the kind of business people were in. Like Sugar Street, selling anything and everything sweet. But that was long ago, now people sell different things anywhere they want. I continued to walk the narrow streets. The whole area was really a giant market. Colorful and lively. I was in an unfamiliar environment and I suddenly I had the feeling that did not belong here. Weariness had begun to creep in and I thought it would be nice to be on an airplane flying back to the States. At least back in the US I can be alone in a familiar setting. But here in this corner of the world, the sense of aloneness was profound and sometimes painful. I would look at people and not know how to approach them in a proper way. My language skill was not up to date. They would say things that I don’t understand and I would say things that might reveal to them that I came from a faraway place. My ignorance of current local events, my strange accent, my peculiar choice of words, and the lack of knowledge of slang all prevented me from comfortable interaction with the people. So all I did was taking in the sights and only contacted people when needed, like ordering a drink then asking how much it cost. Twenty years away from home had done this to me.
I asked my way to the tomb of Ho Chi Minh. It was located in the area where the country’s political power concentrated. In front of the tomb was a large public square and around it were government buildings and they were all yellow colonial structures. Bands of soldiers in olive uniforms paraded here and there, among groups of tourists. The tomb itself was built in the Soviet style, a gloomy and intimidating block of black marble raised high above the ground. People were not allowed in the building today. Some kind of renovation was going on. The sky suddenly cleared up and it felt warmer.
My brother was in bed when I got back to the hotel late in the afternoon. I asked him how his trip was and he said it was Ok. He had found the temples that he wanted to see. And he took some pictures. He said he wanted to go home tomorrow and we should buy our train tickets the next morning. I told him he could go back to Da Nang first if he wanted but I wanted to stay for another day. He said that was fine with him, but the look on his face told me he did not like the idea of me staying back by myself.
In the morning we went to the train station to buy our tickets. Then he kept his and I kept mine. His train would leave at seven o’clock in the evening. My brother then continued with his temple visits and I continued with my walks. That is all I do when I am in a strange city: walk and walk and walk. Things and people on the streets excite me. There would be some deviations to the places worth seeing, but for me walking is always the main thing. Today I dropped into the Museum of Fine Art and the Temple of Literature.
Back at the hotel in the evening I found my brother packing up for his trip home. There was music down the hall where the restaurant was. It was a wedding reception. My brother said I should go home with him. I could see clearly now that he did not feel that I would be safe being alone in this town, in the hotel. And I did not blame him. He might think that I would have problems dealing with people since I am a stranger in this town. But I did not ask him straight out why he insisted that I go home with him. Mother might be worried, perhaps? I walked him down to the hotel entrance and saw him off. He should be in Da Nang the next morning around eleven. I told the hotel clerk that I was staying for another day and I wanted to pay the bill now. She agreed but could not find the receipt book. So I held on to my money, a thick stack of bills, which was a nuisance.
That night I took another walk into the 36-street area. There was a street that lit up with the glow of red lanterns. I walked for an hour, had dinner, then returned to the hotel. The rain came down again. I locked the door and lied in bed, looking at the ceiling. My brother had taken with him the small bottle of liquor I had bought yesterday. I could have gone out to buy another one, but decided against it. You don’t know what will happen when the liquor goes to your brains. That might be what my brother was worried about: I might drink then do stupid things and there was no one near to control me. But I have changed, I am not 22 years old anymore. I am older and what should I say, wiser? No, I am not wiser, I am just more fearful and more cautious, that’s all. I thought about calling the airline to change the date of my flight back to the States, probably a week sooner. I was tired. Not physically, but mentally. There was no thrill coming back to the country and family this time. It all had become familiar and as a result, no joy. Besides, I had decided before the trip that as soon as I came back to the country, I would make effort to make peace with myself. I had not done that. Instead, I let anxiety dominated my mind and I isolated myself, not even wanted to look out the windows. I did not feel completely secure in this physical environment, not even in my own mental environment. Sometimes I had to resort to taking pills to ease uncomfortable feelings. So that was it, I would go back to America sooner than I had planned. I could not prolong the days here anymore. I turned out the light, watched some TV: they continued to comment about the big fire in Sai Gon that killed 60 people a couple of weeks ago. Then I fell asleep.
The next day I continued to walk. I saw a photo exhibit depicting scenes of the Mekong Delta. There was a man standing by the entrance and introduced himself as the photographer. Then I stopped by the Quan Su temple, burned some incenses and sat in the courtyard watching the worshippers came and went. A woman approached me and asked me if I lived in Ha Noi. I said no. She then walked away. I had a whole day to kill in this town. The train would depart this evening at seven.
I returned the room, paid my bill and said goodbye to the clerk then walked all the way to the train station. The platform was deserted when I got there, only a few people standing here and there. I found my compartment, got into bed, took two pills and fell asleep just as the train started to pull out of the station. In the state between reality and dream I heard someone said it had been sunny in Da Nang in the last few days.
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