Nine months ago I came scared and unsure of the life I was to face in this country. Nine months later, although I may not profess to fully understand what Vietnam is, Hanoi gave me a glimpse of the beauty of a country I used to not understand when I was younger.
This afternoon I went out with Chi Le to buy a gift for Co Doanh in Trang Tien Plaza and bought some English books to read while traveling by train to Saigon tomorrow. I bought a copy of Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, a collection of stories by Joseph Conrad, and an anthology by Saki. We then went home by bus, which we seldom take whenever we go around the city.
I then told her that I would just go to my center to get my certificate. I was excited to reach the center and know the result of my examinations only to be told by the director that the university made a mistake and that the center would be sending me a copy of the certificate through freight. When he asked me for my address, I almost laugh at myself when I found out that I have nowhere to go when I reach Manila so I gave my parents’ address in South Cotabato instead (this sentence is odd). Thay Ha, the director gave me two boxes of Vietnamese coffee, Trung Nguyen, which is my favorite.
After leaving the center, I passed by the pavement in Ngoc Khanh street where my friend, a woman selling tra da (iced tea) and tra nong (hot tea) was doing her usual chatter. I said good bye to her and told her I’m leaving for my country tomorrow. She said good luck. I was touched.
I then proceeded to the gym to work out for an hour when I received a call from a girl named Khuyen who works in a cafe in front of the gym telling me to meet her in the cafe after I finished working out. I did meet her, but it was a very short, hurried meeting. She told me that she wanted to go with me to the Philippines. I gave her a smile and told her that I shall come back to Vietnam after two years and promised to meet her again. It’s funny how relationships are ended as soon as they are created.
Then I passed by a shop selling dresses and bought the dress Chi Le said is beautiful a week ago while we were riding her motorbike on the way to the silk village. I had to bargain with the man selling the dress telling him in Vietnamese to give me a good price because it was for my girlfriend and I am a poor student. He agreed to give it to me with the price that I asked him. I then walked to a gift shop near Ho Dac Di to have my gifts for Chi Le and her mom wrapped. These two people have been the closest to me. Co Doanh for letting me stay in her house disregarding what other people will say about her daughter and for Chi Le I whom I met in Germany two years ago and whom I thought I will never be able to meet again, but as Fate always likes to surprise us, became one of the best friends I’ve had.
Moments ago I finished cooking Maja Blanca. I promised Chi Le to cook a Filipino dish before leaving, but since I didn’t want them to think that Filipino cuisine is inferior to Vietnamese, I opted not to cook any complicated dish I know I am so bad at and instead decided to make a delicacy which is my father’s specialty.
Chi Le and I had a very serious talk about life and our ambitions. My experience of Hanoi would never be possible without her. I would forever be thankful to have met her during that cold winter day in Leverkusen and, again, on that excessively hot and humid summer morning on the street of Tran Hung Dao waiting for me to come out of my apartment in Hanoi’s old district.
I was supposed to write about her that day but I knew I would never give full justice to the beauty of her smile that time I saw her. She was wearing big sunglasses, smiling upon seeing me.
She then removed her sunglasses and said “Hi John.”
Now I realized that I really should have written about seeing her that day because it was one of the most unforgettable and beautiful images I have of a woman.
Our lives are made up of montages like these. Their meanings may not be apparent at first but we know that they sum up into a grand collection of events that we all call life.
Hanoi shall remain in my heart.