I spent a day in Hai Phong, a port city around 90 kilometers from Hanoi, last Sunday. We visited a classmate of Chi Le who is also studying at Hanoi Foreign Trade University, one of the more popular schools in Vietnam. The bus ride took us around two hours to reach the place, but not before we got lost in our motorbikes looking for the bus station located in the far end of Hanoi.
Hai Phong is a bustling city because of its location near a good natural harbor, allowing it to build a state-of-the-art international port system. However, according to my friend, the city is a boring one as it lacks culture, which Hanoi is overflowing of, she added. Which I immediately countered by saying that the city is too big for us to be able to figure whether it indeed is boring, and beside comparing it with Hanoi, which has millennia of colorful history, is unfair to Hai Phong.
The first things I noticed when we reached the house of Chi Le’s friend are the images of Jesus Christ and other icons displayed in the living room, quite unusual for a country like Vietnam where majority of the people practice ancestor worship or Buddhism. Like the Philippines where hybridity of religious symbols is taken as ordinary fact of faith, Vietnam also don’t give much attention to the unusual coming together of Catholicism and the local culture. The central figure inside the house is a Madonna and child placed inside a glass casing. The Virgin Mary wears an ao dai, the national costume for women in Vietnam and a head dress which is a version of non, and below them is a white rabbit that looks rather similar to Bugs Bunny.
Even though just five meters away from the house is a Catholic chapel, Duong, my friend’s friend, brought us to the biggest Catholic church in Hai Phong whose design reflected the Cathedral of Notre Dame in France. The inside of the church is as impressive as the altars of the majestic churches in Iloilo. I felt like I was inside Jaro Cathedral.
I said a short prayer. It was the first time I felt the comfort one feels inside a Catholic church, for a very long time. I’ve never gone inside a church for almost a year, and it felt so good to be physically inside and just feel the magnificence of the cold stone surrounding me. My faith on my god, I must admit, is not strong. If I’m asked where I will go in case I die right at this moment, I would not know what to reply, or I might rationalize things and deny the existence of both heaven and hell. This all because I am uncertain of my faith, if it exists at all.
I’ve been thinking of re-evaluating my spiritual life for I felt that it is where I am found wanting, but reasons for not doing so abound–lack of time, loopholes in the Catholic doctrines that are non negotiable, my mind in constant flux, and other things I couldn’t bring myself to write here. But I know, one day it will just come.
However yesterday, while being inside that church gave me a feeling of relief. I felt my burdens were temporarily eased and I stopped worrying for a while. I felt being born again.
I solemnly confessed all my inner struggles directly to my god and asked for some certainty, which I badly need at this point in my life. I’ve been living an uncertain life for the past years, for now what I am asking is to have something clear and tangible. I felt I was born again that day; although the experience was ephemeral, the five minutes was worth the wait of a year of not entering any church.
It was like an orgasm that is the culmination of nearly-eternal sexual abstention.