The oldest house in Saigon

I’ve never known there was a prince living in this 300-years-old city and still stands the house. It is just five minutes walking from my place to the house of King Gia Long’s son.

The house was built in the traditional architectural style, with three compartments and wooden walls. Though it was renovated many times, it still seems to look ancient and the original structure remains unchanged.

Nowadays, it lies behind the massive building of the bishop’s palace and considered as the oldest house in Saigon.

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home”, said Dagobert D. Runes. I have to ask myself again, how well I really know my homeland.

Điểm một thời – The echo of the country

It wasn’t a fashion show though it performed “ao dai” styles from the 18th century till current time. It wasn’t a music concert even though there were traditional musical instruments and songs of “hat xam”, “chau van”, and “hau dong” (don’t know how to explain it in English).

It was a time machine which take the audiences to a journey through the length of the country, the length of time. A journey of beauty and music. A delicate touch of Vietnamese deep culture.

The splendor of Khmer Empire

I was born and raised in the Mekong Delta. During my childhood, I had been told a lot of terrible stories about Red Khmer. I used to run as fast as my legs can carry me when I met Khmer people in my village. Until I understood that not every Cambodian is Red Khmer…

When I first visited Cambodia, I was very surprised with the warm hospitality of Cambodian. The souvenirs of childhood time still leave emotional scars in my memories, but the smiling of Cambodian people did encourage me.

Cambodia seems to be a small country but behind its Angkor walls actually hides huge secrets of the past. I can see how Cambodian people are so proud for their rich heritage. The Khmer empires used to shine in the past and still bright in the heart of its people.

The legendary kindness of Burmese

One of the greatest things about travel is that we find out how many good, kind people there are.

We may hear about the legendary kindness of Burmese people when Myanmar was listed as the world’s generous country in 2016. We might doubt about that since iron-fisted military rules have just been emerging from decades, thus still far to be influenced by the modernity of the 21st century. But, as a wanderluster who has many chances to know about this incomparable country, I understand why.

My first impression about their kindness was in Bagan in an early winter morning. Since we scheduled to leave Bagan in the evening, we did not have a hotel reservation there. The cruel winter wind was like a thousand daggers piercing through my skin as we were sitting outside a hotel. The doorman invited us to step inside to keep warm. It was just about 3am and we were all tired after a sleepless night in the bus. Beyond that, the receptionist asked us if we wanted to take a short rest before going to enjoy the sunrise over the old Bagan. And the offer was free of charge! It came as quite a surprise for me to discover about the Burmese people and their kindness.

From Yangon to Mandalay through Bagan, I always received the necessary help from the local when needed. I realized that generosity is more than just giving money or food, it’s about the willingness to help strangers and to be kind to other people. Burmese people proved me that wealth doesn’t make generosity, kindness does.

When in Myanmar, I had learned another lesson of life. To be kind is more important than to be right.

The Lover’s house and flower villages in Sadec

“One day, I was already old, in the entrance of a public place, a man came up to me. He introduced himself and said: “I’ve known you for years. Everyone says you were beautiful when you were young, but I want to tell you I think you’re more beautiful now than then. Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged.”

Thus begins L’amant. A small, perfect novel that finds a felicitous and masterly balance between formalism and powerful emotional effect. A love affair between an adolescent French girl and a wealthy Chinese man in the 1920s.

“My mother sometimes tells me that never in my whole life shall I ever again see rivers as beautiful and big and wild as these, the Mekong and its tributaries going down to the sea, the great regions of water soon to disappear into the caves of the ocean. In the surrounding flatness stretching as far as the eye can see, the rivers flow as if the earth sloped downwards”.

That’s her memoir of the Mekong River flowing through the town of Sadec, where still stands abandoned the house of her refined but reticent paramour. Being known for the name “garden of Cochin-china”, Sadec is more to love than the lover’s house. The house is interesting only if we have read the book. But, the villages with endless rows of colorful flowers are much more tempting. This small, sleepy town must be bustling these days when the Tet holiday is in the air.

The way flowers are grown in Sa Dec is quite different from other places. Here, the flowers are not planted in beds but on a high shelves with canals between them. Growers have to row a boat to tend and harvest the flowers, creating picturesque scenes that would be difficult to find elsewhere.

“When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other”, a famous proverb says. I usually bought flowers with the only penny left. So a visit to flower villages in Sadec is always a must-do before Tet.

Yay, Tet is coming. The flowers are blooming. And I am so boring in a long lost holiday and dreaming about a love story in the time of colonies and the gardens of Cochinchine…

Dao Heuang market in Laos

Another market along my journey: Dao Heuang market in Laos.

It is perhaps the most quiet market I’ve ever seen. Speechless, I watched the buyers and sellers talking to each other with such a great kindness, as well as constantly showing a sincere smile upon their face. No arguments or anger. No one with a loud voice. I felt like a common understanding and a great respect existed between the locals. Market stands were so colorful and peaceful while the items were orderly arranged. As sellers used to pick out unused items to re-sell them, I was wondering who the sellers and the buyers actually were. Lao people are caring by nature, and any goods with poor quality won’t be found at the market.

Numerous metaphors have been used to describe life as a battle. But for Laotians, life has never been as easy as here in Laos. Lao PDR, or “Please Don’t Rush” is such a funny but a right way to describe the life in Laos. There, the atmosphere is very different compared to my country. This land lives in slow-motion, where locals seem to become one with the tranquil and wild nature and not to pay attention to the hours passing by.

In the early morning, I participated in a daily morning ritual of saffron-clad monks. I was so impressed by a long queue of monks, with their black alms-giving bowls. They were wandering along the street to receive offerings and sticky rice from the local people. As the first action of the day, each Laotian does not miss to give or make an altruistic act. I saw undoubted happiness in the faces of people I met there. Happiness counts more than anything else and the Lao people enjoy the present as if it was the last moment of their life.

When in Laos, I had learned a lesson of life. It is what we make it, always has been, always will be.

Dream of Africa

I have a dream of Africa
See myself in scenes from Africa
Valleys, plains and trees in Africa
Growth of black and green in Africa…

Yes, I called it a dream since I watched Out of Africa. I wish I could visit Ngong Hill, where the equator runs across, where the early morning and evening are limpid and restful, and the night is cold, where Karen met Denys and their love story began.

Although I am not a climber, I surely want to set my foot on Uhuru Peak, the summit of the Kilimanjaro. I dream of having a sunset dinner within the Serengeti’s spectacular natural surroundings. And most of all, being a moment catcher of hippo fighting, cheetah playing, giraffe walking or lion roaring…

Of course, a cup of the infamous Ethiopian or Kenyan coffee won’t be forgot.

Karen Blixen wrote on her novel: “When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself”.

Someone told me don’t call it a dream, call it a plan. It seems I already have a new year’s resolution: start planning for my Africa dream.