Nha Trang and its auras. Childhood, friendship, and a promise I have yet to fulfill again, for I have not came back to dig up the coconut.
A personal narrative.
Thể loại: English
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24 Feb 2008 Cập nhật:
27 Feb 2008
Genres: Personal Narrative
Summary: A trip back to Nha Trang, reliving and reminiscing childhood friendship.
It was a cool night, with the scent of the ocean breeze was brushing over the city of Nha Trang. Nu and I walked along the sand, side by side, digging our toes into the mud brown grains and dodging oncoming waves. Nu is the only real friend I have now in my home country. She spent her last night of my vacation with me in Vietnam during the Chinese New Year of 2006. I call her Nu because that was her nickname, like my nickname at home is Milou. Only I, my parents, and her family members call her that. Her mom and my mom have been best friends since high school, thus we’re close buddies as well.
My home town is the south capital of Vietnam, TPHCM (Saigon for short), and is very much different than Nha Trang. The city was crowded and polluted, bustling at all times, like a poorer version of New York. Nha Trang could be considered Virginia Beach, I’m guessing, since it’s not the most famous but not unheard of either. It was a nice tourist attraction, where the food and expenses were cheap, the environment was clean, and there was a beautiful ocean view.
I stayed in Vietnam for about two months (through winter break and the time beyond that), but only visited her for three days. They were the last three days of my vacation too; I forgot why I came so late.
Of course, the whole three days I was there were probably the best days of my vacation, partly because I’m an ocean lover. Also, I will never forget seeing her cry when we met again after so many years, after I hugged her when she was out of her school’s gates. Her dad was laughing at her, and her reaction surprised me.
Our parents did not allow us to go near the beach when evening came, for under the sand there could be needles and sometimes bad people would hang around once night fell. Despite its shallow shore and tall palm trees, the beach was a place children avoided after seven.
“We should go up,” Nu said shakily, running and jumping further away from me as the bubbles sizzled from a new wave.
“One more minute,” I begged.
“NO, we’re going up there,” she stared at me sternly and frowned, hands on her hips, her voice thick with the unique Nha Trang accent. “I’ll buy you smoothies and we can browse one of the main shopping streets, I want to look at some CD’s and earrings, and I’ll show you some vendors that sell fried fish balls.”
I chuckled at her childish expression. The night wasn’t long, so I cast a glance towards the vast stretch of black and blue water, then put on my slippers and followed her up to the large pavement.
There were no cars, rarely a taxi, the people either walked or rode on their scooters. Scooters are a popular and main form of transportation in Vietnam, for it is too crowded for cars. Even on scooters, people were in close proximity with each other when on the roads. Nu, fourteen at the time, already knew how to drive her mom’s Suzuki, illegally.
We met her friends riding their bikes when we settled on the walkway, and even though they seemed like fifth graders, they were courteous enough to realize that she wanted to have some time with me alone, and I was thankful.
We walked past two streets, talking about her life and mine, and making comparisons. We talked about boys, about family, about our ear piercings (I had eight back then, so she was jealous, in a cute way), and anything that came out was like a half-formal conversation between two acquaintances. You might think we are very close, but in truth we are not. We had a good childhood, but besides a few visits to her town from my parents in the past, we hardly shared anything that would make us miss each other tremendously.
Now as I’m typing this, I think I miss the town more than her. I felt kind of bad, because she treated me so nicely, nicer than how I saw her treat her classmates and friends. I never got the chance or thought to ask her what I am to her, I did not notice.
We drank smoothies, real fruits blended in some sugar, condensed milk, and ice, the size of the cup like a small size of Starbucks. The cup was made out of glass, old style. The smoothies maker was actually a pushing cart/roller, with a machine inside and all the ingredients and equipments needed. Although the real owner of the cart lived inside the house across the street from where the cart was set up, her daughters, who were Nu’s neighbors, were the ones who took charge of the stand. We sat down on low baby plastic chairs with plastic tables. The floor was littered with napkins and squeezed lemon skins and cigarette butts. I wasn’t disgusted, though, because sanitation in Saigon was much worse.
We met a “hot” guy, by Nu’s standards, who was her friend’s boyfriend, and she asked me a funny question. She straightened her palms and aligned her hands in a chopping position. Then she spread her arms apart about her hip size (imagine robot) and asked me with her left hand wiggling. “This is like way bad,” then right hand, “and this is like smoking hot, where is he?”
I slurped the cold liquid real hard because she was staring dead at me while I stared at him sitting there anticipating my answer (such an arrogant nerd). At first I thought, I’ll give him some props, and would point to her right hand out of sympathy and respect (he was in his twenties), but then she smirked, lips quivered as if holding back a laugh, and I immediately changed my mind. I “chopped” the space past her left hand, and she cracked up. While his face was blank, I could tell he was obviously embarrassed. We paid for our drinks hastily and said goodbye to him, but he ignored us.
She didn’t stop laughing once we were back on the road. I couldn’t help but laugh with her. It was still a few venues off from the CD and jewelry store, so she started telling me her stories about her school and the junior high students there. I’ve known this for a long time, being a student myself back in the days before I emigrated, that kids in Vietnam, while more obedient and respectful, tend to be more immature. They are more innocent and less knowledgeable of adult factors compared to Americans. When I went back there, based on my looks and my height (I’m considered tall for a Vietnamese teenager) along with my actions, people always thought I was older. Some even thought I was over twenty, which was depressing and disturbing to me.
Her stories consisted of crushes among the students, about perverts on the streets who drove by her and tried to flirt with her but she cussed them out, about how some girls in her school were so dense, and many more things. She is a very witty teenager; you can never beat her in a verbal argument, even in cussing she could always twist the words around and shut you up. The Vietnamese language is more complex and intricate than western languages, so puns and word plays are easy to make. Her stories about the perverts and their conversation were so funny I laughed until there were tears in my eyes. She said I’m a weird one, to laugh at such things, but the way she described her situations were so hilarious to me.
We carried our conversations into the CD store with us, thought I do not remember the name. I expected them to have at least some Vietnamese music, because my dad’s family owns a CD shop in Vietnam, which sells Vietnamese music and has a small section for world music. The shop in Nha Trang, though, had nearly all American music, old American music I should add. It was strange, to hear AC/DC’s music in such modern day and my own country. I wondered if people in the shop understood the lyrics. I asked the sales clerks for bands like Shinedown, Nickelback, Lifehouse, etc… and they did not have those CD’s.
We got bored quickly, because I wasn’t interested in low quality CD’s (some were fake too!!), and Nu has no affinity for American music; she just wanted to show me the place and the guy who worked there, because he was cute.
We browsed the jewelry store a few blocks down. The cashiers were unfriendly, but Nu did not care and was captivated by some of the jewelry featured. There were some cool pairs of silver earrings, and I bought earrings that looked like nails. Instead of those big holes that people who gauge their ears have, these nails earring are actual studs. The front is half the nail with the head and the back, which was the other half of the nail, was the holder. I thought they were really funny, so I bought them. They cost me around 14,000 VND, so they were like around 80 cents.
After I bought the earrings, we passed through the crowded venues without looking anywhere else. Most of them I had visited the two days before, and neither of us really needed anything. It was not like I didn’t know anything about the life style or Nha Trang, I’ve been there a few times before, and have seen most of what there was to see. Talking and walking and watching people was more fun than browsing childish stores that attracted preteens.
When it was near ten, Nu started to worry because she was afraid of staying out late and that her parents might not be happy. She planned to head home (and of course drag me with her) right when she found out it was past ten. I stopped her though, and asked her if we could go to the beach one last time; because I had to leave early the next morning on the bus to get back to Saigon, then go to the airport in the afternoon.
She stood still and contemplated for what seemed like ten minutes, then looked at me straight in the eyes. She said nothing; I just stared at her wide-eyed. When I was about to ask what was wrong, she abruptly turned around and started walking away.
“Wait, where are we going?!” I asked, catching up to her.
She pouted then smiled for the nth time that night, “The beach, where else?”
“But your dad will get mad!”
“It won’t be that long, he’ll understand,” she said cheekily then rubbed her arms. She was wearing a halter top and shorts. The sun in Nha Trang can burn the skin on your back during the day, but the temperature drops low when night comes. I was not cold, but she was.
“Hey, look at me,” I said. I bent my arms within my jacket, inserted my elbows in the sleeves, and flapped like a duck.
She burst out laughing, “You look like a flailing crippled man.”
It might sound mean to disabled people, but at the time it was very funny. She couldn’t stop laughing, and eagerly wanted to try doing it herself.
I lent my jacket to her and she mimicked my movements, and that time it was me who laughed, more crazily than she did. People on the streets were staring at us like we were some kind of lunatics on drugs or something, but we didn’t care.
I inhaled deeply once we got back to our starting spot, and was ready to run down to kick the waves when she suddenly tugged my collar.
“What?!” I wiggled free of her grasp.
“I have an idea,” Nu said, eyes twinkling.
I said nothing and waited for her to continue.
“Let’s bury something, an object, then the next time you visit, we’ll dig it up,” she diverted her eyes from my face and searched around.
I didn’t know if that was better than the salt water thirty meters from where I stood, but having something to remember would be nice. I would do it for her.
I agreed and about five minutes later, we chose a baby coconut we found under one of the coconut trees near the volley ball courts. We looked for a spot to bury it. All the spots along the walkway were almost the same. Except for a few restaurants and the dock, everything else was like a row of repetitions street lamps and trees.
Next to a seafood restaurant, we found a reasonable sized trashcan, right under a tree. The trashcan might be moved in the future, but the restaurant wouldn’t be, the building would still be there, and the tree won’t be chopped down either. Deciding it was a good place, with our hands and shoes, we “scrubbed” out a good size hole, half sand, half mud, enough to squeeze the hard fruit in, and covered it.
It was hard work, but worth it. Our hands were partly scratched and dirtied, along with our shoes, and I was happy. I leaned against the tree and looked around, to imprint the scenery on my brain. She can remember it, but it won’t be so easy for me.
We got home around eleven, and neither of our parents were mad. They were chatting and talking outside of her house when we showed up. My parents waited for me so they could take me back to the hotel to rest for the night. I bid her family and her goodnight before leaving.
The morning after that, I remember very vaguely, for it was dawn when I headed out to the bus in a semiconscious, sleep-walking state. I got in the bus, and fell asleep almost as my head hit a pillow provided from their service (those buses travel long distances so they were nice). My mom woke me up and pointed out the window to where Nu was standing and smiling up at me. I must have looked retarded, with my eyes half open.
Her dad was looking at me too, and Nu’s brown eyes were fixed on mine.
I woke up and ran outside. I pushed through the bodies of people and hugged her small frame. She wasn’t surprised, nor amused. She didn’t say anything, actually, but just smiled once I let go and went back to my seat.
We waved to each other as the bus headed out, until she and her dad were out of sight.
"...Gió từ dưới sông thổi lên làm vạt cỏ dập dềnh chuyển động như những làn sóng nhỏ. Người lạ đứng đó, in bóng lên nền trời xanh nhạt, trải tầm mắt ra dòng sông phía trước. Đôi chân chìm lấp trong vạt cỏ đẫm sương khiến cậu trông hệt như một nhành cây lơ đãng chuyển động.Đó, là một bức tranh tràn đầy yên tĩnh và thanh bình...."