It’s been 3 weeks since I came back from Saigon. I’ve been through jet lag, the stomach bug from hell, parts one and two and New Year’s. Yet I didn’t feel I was home until today.
I went to Mass for the first time this year and I walked in, right behind the priest and servers ready to go. I sat down in my usual pew and felt a comfort and warmth I hadn’t felt before, I felt welcomed even though no one said anything to me or seemed to notice me. I felt at home.
Even though I’ve been at my sister’s house, even though I’ve driven around and seen familiar sights, done ordinary everyday tasks like going to the grocery store and library, even though I’ve had several diet cherry limeades none of these things made a difference. I was back but I was as detached as before, separate from everything around me. It was similar to the sensation I felt after Jerry passed away and I had to go back to work. The usual routine was there, I followed it but it was as if I was watching it rather than participating. People around me seemed relieved I was okay and they needn’t worry about me. When I was sick I spent most of the time on the couch, when I wasn’t in the bathroom. My sister did go to the store for me once, for juice, and I was grateful. Olive did her part, snuggling with me and sleeping when I slept. Otherwise I was on my own. I wasn’t angry or surprised, that’s just the way it is.
There has been some delayed culture shock. The weather messed with me, going from warn tropical weather to weather barely above freezing was tough. I was cold the first week, even with extra covers. Some of it was being sick and having chills but I’m only now beginning to feel comfortable indoors without a hoodie. I still have issues with the outdoors and snow.
I went to the Asian grocery store last week and was disappointed; most of the stuff on the shelves didn’t look like what I saw in the stores in Saigon and I shouldn’t have expected it to but I did. The fresh vegetables and fruit were smaller and much more expensive, even if I knew what to buy and how to fix it I probably wouldn’t have. After Mass I went to Lee’s and was thrilled to see sugar cane juice on the menu and ordered one. Which was a mistake, a big mistake. I remembered the sweet clear liquid I drank in Saigon, on the grounds of a Buddhist temple. The fresh squeezed sugar cane juice was fifty cents and came with cute animal stickers. This stuff, this toxic thing, was overly sweet with a cloudy greenish color. It tasted like it was made from concentrate and had sugar added to it. I could have laid out a dozen diabetics easily, just by waving the cup at them. It also cost 2.75, more than four times the fresh. I tossed it and hoped I didn’t do too much damage to the dead grass.
I’ve wanted to tell people about my trip but it’s like Spock telling McCoy that he would have to experience death before they could talk about it. I’ve shown a few pictures to my sisters and dad and they seem interested but after a few minutes they are bored. I can’t describe what I saw, how it was, not clearly and adequately, not even with the pictures. The best analogy I can give is that it was like an alternate universe.
The peculiar thing is my trip made my world both bigger and smaller. Bigger, because I saw and did things I never imagined I would do, or could do. Crossing a street in Saigon with constant traffic, even slower traffic, is terrifying and I felt a sense of accomplishment and relief when I made it, while clutching Bear’s hand. This was my first world city and I was stunned by the wealth I saw as well as the poverty. Both were accepted and taken for granted. I enjoyed the food, eating little or no meat wasn’t difficult, and I tried different things, from drinks to desserts and meals. My knowledge of the world, even this small part of it, grew.
I say my world is smaller because having made the trip to Saigon proves that it can be done, by someone like me. It is still half way around the world but the distance can be met, it isn’t impossible and if I had to I could do it again. Saigon isn’t as remote now that I know it’s accessible. The memories of that week in Saigon are part of my frame of reference now. I can recall sitting in the Cafe Siena across from Bear’s school, sipping on an iced guava juice, the warmth, the sounds of the motorbikes, cars and buses, the smells, the variety of people walking on the streets, the signs on the walls, all of it. Even at that time I had to remind myself this was real, that it took me fifty years to get there and that none of my relatives could ever have imagined doing what I was doing at that moment. I let myself enjoy the moment, knowing it would be over and eventually be only a memory.
Not to say I long to go back. I miss Bear. I miss him more now that I got to see him. I don’t know when my son will come back, or for how long. I know he wants to stay abroad and will go back to Saigon. I know Oahn is a probable part of his future but we’re not saying it, not yet. I know it may be a long time before I see my Bear and I may have to make another international flight to do it. But now I know I can, that is possible and if I have to I will.
More culture shock
Diamond Plaza, Saigon and Diamond Plaza, OKC
Vietnamese Oreos, strawberry, chocolate/peanut butter and coconut. also blueberry but I ate those. Star Wars lobby card, front and back, from the movie theater at the (Japanese) Aeon Mall. My most precious and delicious souvenirs.