Sunday, July 03, 2005
14D Cong Ly Street
So today the gang went out to lunch in downtown Saigon at this cool place called Quan An Ngon (literally translates to: Place Eat Well, or A Place to Eat Well). The building was very cool and obviously was old enough to date back to the colonial era. It was a villa laid out in a rectangular manner with a perimeter and then a center building leaving an arcade surrounding the central structure. The street it was on was definitely the same street as the street the old house that I grew up in was on but something seemed unfamiliar. As it turns out after we got out of the restaurant I looked and there was an adjacent alley. I thought to myself that this might be the old place so I follow it. The alley is currently being used as a moped parking lot. As I walked down about 20 meters it turned right at a right angle. As I turned the corner, I realized this was the alley leading to my grandfather's house. It was at the end of the cul-de-sac and the gates and adjacent buildings were unmistakable to me once I saw it. What I didn't recognize was beyond the gate.
I had been here only five years ago and there was no building in what used to be the driveway, courtyard and garden. The fish pond had been filled years ago and there was a cafe there last time. The thought that they destroyed the little altar at the end of the pond inside a structure modeled after the one pillar pagoda in Hanoi was distraughtful to me. There is a night club in the space where a garden used to be. The place where I climbed all over the footbridge leading out to the pagoda. I remember climbing the ficus tree next to it to reach the star fruit tree behind the pagoda and picking its fruit. The fruit from that tree was never sweet but it never stopped me from picking and eating.
We walked around the outside and even went inside. I described to Ivy what each section of the house was. Who used which room to the detail. We started walking upstairs but stopped past the second floor landing. There was a sign there. The last time I visited there were some in-laws of an uncle living on the top floor, it had been turned into an apartment. I knew in my stomach that was no longer the case. The sign read "mean dog, ring doorbell first." I didn't feel the desire to find out if they were there really. I don't know why but it was okay in any case. We started back down.
As we were just about to leave the premises I decided to check out the nightclub. We walked inside. There were only the proprietors there as it was just after lunch. I said hello and asked if we could look around. I explained that I had grown up here when I was a kid. The man was very nice and spoke to us and told us feel free to look around. Out of the right corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of something through a sliding glass door and a wave of relief washed over me. There was a small courtyard and in the far right corner from where I was standing I saw the sight of a red, relatived newly painted one pillar pagoda. With all the construction around it, they had saved the pagoda. There was a newer altar next to it for some deity of protection or luck. I went out there. There were still remnants of the stone footbridge left. The ficus tree was enormous and had hanging roots all around it. A little spot of something from another life was still left and those who have taken over that space have respected its sanctity. I didn't think about all this in that moment but now it is clear to me. A strange sense of gratitude became alive somewhere inside of my heart.
When we left the place, I was reminded that nothing lasts, all is impermanent. What we might have that would seem more permanent is not necessarily tangible. The fragile intangibles though are the things that can indeed be passed on and kept alive in out thoughts and in our memories.
The rest of the afternoon, I had very nice pleasant moments. One arising and then passing but the chaing of them are linked together. It was a rainy afternoon and I walked up and down old Catinat Street with Kevin in the rain but in my mind when we stopped to look out over the grimy Saigon river with its waters muddied up by precipitation I still remembered that this is the place where sunlight rests.