Flowers for today

I stumbled upon a marvelous vegetarian restaurant (Tinh Garden) not far from my hostel, with exquisite decor and very kind staff. I ordered a special platter of savory rice cakes - one kind wrapped in dark green banana leaves, another in smaller leaves, yet another molded into tiny cups & topped with seaweed and dried mushroom.  It was light, delicious, and fun to unfold leaves, revealing purple tofu and mushroom, or chewy rice, carrot, and mushroom. As dusk arrived, so did the too-friendly mosquitoes — I walked away with 15+ itchy bites and a beautiful memory of amazing vegetarian cuisine.

I survived the 17-hour plane flight with only initial nausea, slept 12+ hours, and had a single friendly seatmate sharing the row. She was elderly, on her way home to Vietnam from visiting her daughter in the states (from what I gather from our brief exchange). Throughout our flight, she sewed a blue and red something, her fingers nimble and sure. Midway through I was so charmed to see her curled up into the two seats beside me, sleeping peacefully. At immigration, she smiled and waved to me, and I followed her lead into the country. 

A kind man at the Vietnam Airlines ticket counter upgraded my ticket without telling me. When boarding, I realized I had a prime boarding position and an exit row seat. 

I arrived safely to my hostel, and the hosts were friendly and welcoming. There was a small snafu, with ants crawling across the comfy bed as I rested. The wife rushed to change the sheets. When the ants return, both husband and wife committed to a deep clean. They brought a humidifier with lemongrass to deter the ants. This evening, I am grateful for a clean bed. 

The person clearing tables at the Ho Chi Minh City airport cafe, quoting Thay, watering many seeds of joy and peace in me. His happiness was visible in his roots and sharing of Thay’s poetry, so full and generous.

Poem for the man at the airport cafe

He approaches with a quiet grace to clear my soup bowl 
as I invite brushstroke on paper — asks if I am an artist and I demur.

The next question flows naturally on his next round to my area: 
Are you Vietnamese? I navigate an American birth, Chinese and Japanese roots. He confirms that he is Vietnamese. 

He struggles to ask his next question in English,
returns with the word ‘poem’ on a napkin in blue ink
I nod with a smile, removing my mask. I write poetry. 

Your writing reminds me of Thich Nhat Hanh, he says,
as I flip my book over to reveal Thay’s name. The man smiles. 

Thay taught me to be grateful for my suffering. 
My happiness arises from my suffering. 
This has transformed my life. 

He steps back. We are sister and brother, he says, because of Thay.
You are not Vietnamese, but you are Vietnamese because of him. 

I feel like crying. This wondrous moment in a busy airport cafe in Ho Chi Minh City, on my way to the root temple in Hue.

He writes the name of his favorite poem by Thay on the napkin
In English: Butterflies in a field of green mustard greens. 
The first time he heard it, he cried and cried. 

He tells me that he is happy to be Vietnamese,
he gets to listen to Thay in his mother language
The butterfly poem touches him deeply, beyond words.

When I stand to leave, I place my hand on my heart and bow
He nods - a little bit brusquely - go, he says. I will clean your table.