Saturday, September 08, 2007

Reflections of Our Vietnam Trip (Part 1)

Irene Tsai refects on our friendship and our reunion trip to Vietnam and sends this report from Toronto which will appear in this Blog in two parts. Please enjoy.

Back on the Canadian soil, I am sipping my first cup of genuine Vietnamese coffee, reflecting how lucky I’ve been.

My first job after university wasn’t my high school teaching job. I started out with a very cushy job with Ontario Hydro (now Hydro One) as I wasn’t sure I wanted to go into teaching yet. With my first few pay cheques, I bought myself a decent stereo system. It was Sansui G4700 with two big loudspeakers, 200W each. Music was very important to me in the ‘70s. While hooking up my new stereo system in my living room, I suddenly heard the shocking 6 o’clock breaking news, the American exodus in Vietnam!!! I dropped everything, glued my face to the monitor, watching the desperate crowds hanging onto the swinging ropes hanging down the ascending helicopters, massive chaos, screaming and shouting. That was an unforgetable evening, April of 1975. Visiting Vietnam one day had always been on my mind since. I was living downtown at the time, leading a carefree single life, no husband, no kids, no responsibilities. Thirty-two busy years later, not only I’ve changed job, I have also retired from my high school teaching job, my curriculum leader job, have even gone two-third into my second career, been divorced for 15 years, my daughter has just turned 29, leading a happy life of her own in Geneva. And I myself have moved back to the city from the suburb consciously and subconsciously, living on the Yonge subway line the second round, feeling young and free all over again.

I must say life is good and mother nature has been pretty kind to us all. Hey, life is just so full of charming and strange surprises and happenings. ‘This is the best time of our lives, you better enjoy it’ as pointed out to me by that insightful Fay Lo Au Man Chung awhile ago. How time has changed many things for us, and how our lives have evolved from doing ok, to good, and then to really good, over the last 40 years. I just can’t believe that not only I’ve finally made it to Vietnam, I have also made it there with my dear old friends from far and near, pals from 40+ years ago!!!! And the strangest thing is that I do NOT feel 40+ years older whenever I am with them. Unlike Yau Lop Poon and Martin Kwong, I glanced left to right, up and down, puzzled and looked close and around, I just don’t see the same things they see. I don’t see people with gray hair, I don’t see faces with wrinkles, I don’t see anyone wearing bifocals either. Sitting next to La Bay and Sammy Leung, I don’t remember them as doctors, chatting to Ng Man Tung, I don’t remember her as a pharmacist. Talking to Fay Lo or laughing hysterically with Kan Yu Tung, I don’t remember these are some God damn international entrepreneurs. Joking with Ho Kit May or burning Lau Ki Chun, I don’t remember them as some smart or shrewd accountants, and naturally I never ever remember my role being an educator either. Well, you can tell me I’ve failed my eye test alright. I could only see the sameness of my good old friends. Chan Hing Wah is the same Chan Hing Wah, talks and walks the same way as before. Chi Sin Mei’s the same calm and cool chick except I couldn’t find her chubby cheeks this time. Mok Lo Gwoy had only changed his glasses, still the same Lo Gwoy… no more, no less. I seem to still see the humble-looking model scholar from 1B, Martin, leaning at the door of our 1C classroom during the morning breaks, signalling the tiny La Bay or that little smart ass Sammy Leung to come out for their regular private chats. The trios had always looked very suspicious to me. Frankly, everyone is still very unique and original, fun and inspiring to me after 40+ years. Like what they say, “Once acquainted, never forgotten”.

August in Vietnam? There weren’t a whole lot of options weatherwise. By default, we were all YUET NAM SIU JU (sizzling roast pigs). We were all sun-kissed and sun-hugged to death. Our daily walking sauna baths were indeed quite challenging, especially the ones who have lived in the cold countries for the past 40 years, Needless to say, sweating bullets all day is just an understatement, we were literally drenched in our own sweat every minute of the day. Pretty gross, eh? Some were covering their necks up with wet Ho Chi Minh towels walking around town with bright red cheeks, we were definitely making a fashion statement on the streets of Vietnam. Nobody would have recognized us anyway behind those huge dark sun glasses and our very Gucci and sure Georgio Armani outfits. But, despite the intolerable heat, we were all having tremendous fun throughout the entire trip. Hey, Yau Lop Poon, you should have come along. There were no mosquitoes, and no childhood bullies the whole trip, because 50% of that team had returned to the windy city and the other half was too busy getting drunk and stuffing his face with duckling eggs, Vietnamese style! Hehehe!

We flew into Hanoi, did a city tour relaxingly, checking out some old temples, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Museum, President Palace, City Park, etc. before we took a boat cruise out to the beautiful Ha Long Bay, which is about 170 km east of Hanoi, near the Chinese border. It is one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders, over 1,600 islands and islets, forming stunning seascape of limestone pillars. Ah Ping (our 1st tourist guide) said that people consider Ha Long Bay more scenic than the famous Guilin in China. What do you think of that?

Click here to read Part 2 of the report.


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