The heat is on in Nghe An

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Going around the countryside of Vietnam on a rickety bike reminds me of the frequent visits I’d pay my grandmother on my father’s side in the province when she was still alive.

Both landscapes take sometime before one fully takes them in.

The countryside of Nghe An is very similar to Iloilo’s except that Nghe An is more expansive and its landscape less interrupted by hills and mountains.

The heat is searing here. No wonder Ho Chi Minh is always portrayed in a loose linen top that is left half-unbuttoned. I really thought he was just very fashionable, way ahead of his time in terms of sartorial decisions.

No. One really needs to wear light here. And Ho Chi Minh’s fashion taste was more for practicality than aesthetics. Though he seems to me be very fashionable.

Young men here go around riding their motorbikes half-naked and without a helmet, in open defiance to a national law requiring all motorbike riders to wear a helmet.

What’s the point anyway of wearing one when the roads are unpaved and in the event of an accident one would definitely fall into the muddy side of a ricefield? Or perhaps it’s just the heat. One can’t go around with a substandard helmet in this heat. It will not protect the head and it just traps heat in the temple.

The heat here is evil. It gets into one’s soul and habituate there until the individual is left with nothing much but a desire to just estivate the whole day until around 6 at night only to wake up with that ugly feeling of breathlessness because of the humidity.

Nghe An despite the heat is beautiful. Ho Chi Minh was willing to die for it.

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The story of Priya

It was 5:30pm. I was walking to EDSA to catch a bus to Galleria for my gym when I saw you, meowing like most hungry kittens abandoned by their mothers do, next to an old man selling cigarettes and candies on Reliance street. I know at that very moment I was smitten by a kitten. You looked like the smallest kitten in the world, the most vulnerable. You looked at me straight in the eye, piercing me with those meaningful stares emanating from your gray irises. I wanted to take you home but I had to go to the gym. I thought that if you’re still there when I’m back, you’d chosen me as your human. I said good bye, knowing it might be the last time I’d set my eyes on you.

At 9 pm, having gotten off the bus, I climbed the overpass on EDSA and saw an eerily dark Reliance street. It was unusually quiet. Then a car approached toward my direction,  its headlight blinding me. Bohemian Rhapsody played in my mind. A silhouette of a kitten appeared before me. It was you.

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I took out my dinner from its paper bag, placed the opening of the bag in front you, and without any hesitation, you meowed your way into my life.

I hesitated twice.

First, when I put you down among the plants as I entered the condo compound. How could I have another cat when I already have two cats who make me the happiest human in the world? But an inner voice dissuaded me from leaving you there in the mercy of darkness and this cruel world. Your meowing got me. I took you home. Mimi and Tumi were playing when we got home. They didn’t notice your entering their life. I dragged you to the bathroom where you will be quarantined for a week. Seeing that fleas were feasting on you, I boiled water then mixed it with some water in the pail. I washed you with it using Mimi’s antifleas soap. In no time, some fleas were being carried away by your brown-colored bath water. Of course, your being a domesticated cat meant that you’d fight to the death to escape being bathed, but I prevailed despite the thrashing. I then clipped your claws and fed you.

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Second, when on the next day I deceitfully called you to enter the paper bag I carried you in the previous night. You innocently got in thinking I might be taking you somewhere sunny and better ventilated. You were wrong. I took you to the basement and left you in the garbage collection area of the condominium. You were crying but I did not look back. Two hours later, unable to concentrate on checking the essays of my students, I saw myself pressing the B2 button on the elevator door. I saw you hiding at the back of the big plastic trash bin, meowing, crying, your face brightening up when you saw me. I was so disgusted with myself. How could I betray you?

I carried you home for the second time. As if to appease my conscience, I hurriedly walked to SM and bought two bags of cat litter, cans of kitten food, and a mini blow-dry (I read heat can be devastating to the exoskeleton of fleas). I bathed you again as soon as I arrived home. Your fleas infestation was still bad. I knew you were horrified when I pointed at you that pink-colored device that blew hot air on you, but you stayed calm knowing that I would never do anything to endanger you. You slept quietly after.

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You have been with me for two weeks, and at the start of the second week began to mingle with Mimi and Tumi without much aggression except for an instance or two when Mimi hissed at you. But they have gotten accustomed to your scent in the house even though they never saw you as you were in the bathroom the whole time, rubbing your bulging belly on my ankle whenever I’m seated on the toilet bowl. The two bigger cats were like your big siblings. Tumi was always kind and gentle to you, letting you play with his tail. Although I noticed several times that he’s irked by it he never made you feel you were unwelcome. Mimi was your teacher. She taught you how to go around the house as if you owned it and that I’m in there to provide the two of you my service. Mimi, I suspect never served a good model, but I think she’s teaching you life skills whose value you will figure out once you’ve gotten bigger.

Just as you’re beginning to become a legitimate member of the household, your incarceration in the bathroom (due to my fear that you’ll pass your fleas and intestinal worms to Mimi and Tumi) getting less frequent, your playfulness increasing as the days go by, we needed to say good bye to each other.

I know my sister will be able to provide you a better life. She and her husband will give you a love that is as much if not more than the love I’ve given you.

Coming into my life, you’ve taught me that making a choice to love someone or something is a responsibility.
The moment I choose to care for someone I automatically assume a responsibility that I cannot betray just as easily without feeling the worst kind of remorse.

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Priya, I wish you a healthy and happy life.

Mimi and Tumi are missing you, that’s for sure. I will miss you, Priyanka. But I’d rather call you Priya.

Get well soon, Tumi

At 6pm, we were in a barely intact tricycle rushing to the nearest vet clinic in Pioneer Center. I was holding you as if you were my baby. You were crying, unable to move. Your usually pink nose turning orangey, then light brown, until it became almost white. I was supposed to head to the airport for my flight to Saigon before 7. It would have been very exciting to go to that city, after all, we named your best friend, Mimi, after that tragic bargirl Gigi Van Tran in Miss Saigon.

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But there you were, looking exhausted, almost dying. Tumi, I still want to celebrate your birthday, spend happy time with you and Mimi, give you a happy cat life, cook food for you, take more pictures of you and Mimi.

Hang on there, baby.

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