Through Caverns Measureless to Man: Exploring Quang Binh Province

Tags

, , ,

I

n Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Awakening from an unrestful sleep, perturbed by an ever roaming mind and a good hit of opium, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote these lines in a rush of creative inspiration. He may have been dreaming of Vietnam’s Quang Binh province when he wrote them.

Certainly for me, the landscape and geology of Quang Binh province have come closest to the natural realization of the romantic chasms and caves of ice in “Kubla Khan”. The area is a dense jungle in shades of green, with tall vine-entwined trees and dense foliage forming a thick canopy that conceals hundreds of caverns and the streams and rivers that course through them.  Continue reading

No Colours of Green Fields: Inside the caves of Phong Nha

Part 1 of the trip is here: Through Caverns Measureless to Man

…through the meadows homeward went, in grave
And serious mood; but after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o’er my thoughts
There hung a darkness, call it solitude
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams.

  • from The Prelude, by William Wordswoth

Wordsworth saw mountains as reminders of the divine, links for the human mind to the heavens, fearsome conduits. These “huge and mighty forms” loomed over and overwhelmed his childhood self, troubling his dreams, but they also cracked open his childhood imagination, expanding his interiority just as water flows through limestone to form grand spaces. The Romantics were drawn to mountains, seeing them as the fearsome sublime, beings that remind us of our small existence in a gargantuan world.

Continue reading

A Mary Oliver Story

Tags

, , ,

H
ere is a Mary Oliver story for you.

One summer many years ago, when I was starting my first year in college and trying to figure out who I would become, my mom and I stayed in Cape Cod for cheap at the home of a friend of hers from medical school.

Our first morning there, my mother woke up at dawn for a walk on the beach and asked me if I wanted to come. I groggily, grumpily, told her no, preferring to sleep in. I was at the age when one gets angry at being pulled along to family vacations, when there are more important things to do than take a morning walk with your mom. I had brought some paperbacks that I wanted to get through and had stayed up late the night before reading them, in part to not deal with possible conversations or forced chatter with my mom’s medical school friends.

An hour later, just as I was waking up from slumber, my mother came in, all smiles and sun happy.

Continue reading

Flooding Season

Tags

, , , , ,

The worst flooding in Saigon comes in late October to December. Black clouds roll in from the direction of Vung Tau, pushing up river like a gathering horde; the once airy sky turns heavy and dark, auguring unrelenting rains to come. In minutes the streets are overwhelmed. Motorbikes are caught mid journey. Drivers wait it out under cafe awnings, watching the streets turn to streams, streams to rivers, rivers to oceans of disturbed waves, all in a Saigon minute.

Continue reading

No City for Old Men

Tags

, , , ,

For my first few months back in this long term stay in Vietnam, I tried my hand at writing articles and short pieces for whatever places wanted them. Most English media sites about Vietnam were online zines, and the pieces that were in demand told of the country’s developing future. Editors wanted reviews of new restaurants and bars, real estate, life hacks for living in the new Vietnam, interviews with influencers, pieces advocating novel luxuries here or soon to be here.

Continue reading

Adrenaline rush in a left turn: the morning motorbike commute

Tags

, , ,

S
o a year of writing ends and a new year of teaching (my lucky 13th year) begins, for I’ve taken a position at Saigon South International School teaching I.B. English and 10th grade English. I will be driving every morning for 15 – 20 minutes from district 4 down to Phu My Hung, south of the city, to get to my classroom.

I’ve been making the drive the last few weeks for new teacher orientation, starting around 6:50 or 7, when the city seems already wide awake and buzzing with activity. Let no more assumptions be made that Saigon is a city of idleness, its citizens nostalgic loafers in cafes drinking cafe sua da and complaining of failed relationships all day, for in the morning, I join a legion of motorbike traffic shuttling workers to their places of labor.

Continue reading

Books I’ve read on my year off

Tags

, , ,

It’s coming upon a full year since I took my sabbatical, and I suppose it’s pretty much over now. Aside from giving me time to write, this break also allowed me to do more reading than I normally could in the hurly burly of attending to a full time teaching load.

Here are the books I’ve finished in my year off, and a few words about a few of them (to be added to when I have time). I should say that I’m quite positive about the books on this list, mostly because I’ll never finish a book I don’t like, and I’ve leafed through many books and put them down partway through. Life and sabbatical years are too short to waste on bad reading.

Continue reading

Monsoon season

Tags

, ,

D
ownpours at the start of the rainy season are routine, appearing and departing like the clicks of a clock ticking time. At three, the sky turns moody and darkens. At four, a downpour. By six, all is clear and the diesel thick air gets washed, the clouds hang, dripping pastel prettiness, just in time for visitors to take to sky bars and watch the sun dip into the horizon.

Continue reading

Em Chua 18: Some thoughts on the most successful film in Vietnam

Tags

, , ,

“All Americans are sluts”, said my friend Vu.

“Wait… What?” I exclaimed, assuming this was just misspoken English on Vu’s part, though he is fluent in the language.

“Yeah, Americans are all sluts, man. That’s what most Vietnamese locals think just from watching Hollywood films and shows.”

The group of male friends, all Viet Kieus and Americans, nodded their agreement. Vu was the only local in the group, and he had our attention:

“Everyone is sleeping with everyone else. Different kinds of people all sleeping with each other in different ways. We think Americans are all slutty.”

Continue reading

The Short Happy Lives of Saigon’s Creative Spaces

Tags

, , ,

I

like to visit 3A Station in the late afternoons, when visitors come to browse its galleries and shops, or take photos next to its graffiti covered walls. The exteriors of old colonial warehouses that used to be here are kept intact, extending to form colourful alleyways.  Small trees, industrial art, and painted walls refract the late afternoon light; on most afternoons, a breeze blows directly from the river and cools the alleyway. A bar at the alley’s end, The Great Hornbill, plays soft dixieland jazz or classic 80s tunes from a lone speaker running into the centre of the makeshift square. A gentle, affecting pace contrast the alleyway with the din of Nguyen Van Cu, the busy avenue that leads into it, offering respite from the ubiquitous construction noise that typify the new Saigon.

Continue reading