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Young rice, lotus leaf

(VLR) In the time of doing college study in Hue, once wandering with friends to Danang, I got acquainted a girl who also took cover from the rain in a doorway. She was taking a night English course in the Vietnam- American Association. And we kept talking even when it had stopped raining, and we kept doing so on all her way home. Then we said goodbye...

In the time of doing college study in Hue, once wandering with friends to Danang, I got acquainted a girl who also took cover from the rain in a doorway. She was taking a night English course in the Vietnam- American Association. And we kept talking even when it had stopped raining, and we kept doing so on all her way home. Then we said goodbye. It was a dark night. And what was left in my mind was an image of a lively joyful girl with shoulder-length hair huddling in a cold wet night... And we soon forgot when we came back to Hue- as a shower passing by in a night...

At the bridge slope of Nam Giao, there was a café- the café was famous because it was run by five charming sisters of the imperial family- the café was named the 5 princesses’ café. My roommate friend called it Juliette Café for there was one of the five sisters who looked alike a female character in the film remade from a work of Shakespeare’s. It was located in a large garden, staying apart from the owner’s ancient house, with the view of An Cuu River. I was living near Ben Ngu Bridge and in early evenings, I could be there after taking a short walk over the bridge. Hue at the time could offer those living away from home like us some entertainments: after wandering in a rainy night, we ended up in a café listening to music until it was very late. And in such the night, lyrics of song seemed to be so vaguely beautiful One who comes back to Ben Ngu please brings along my words, How I remember the river of Huong Binh where there were my loving old days... Perhaps Duong Thieu Tuoc composed the song in a solitary night at the same place- in the river of solitary.

At night, I used to hang out in the Princesses’ Café. I cannot remember exactly its name- Ngu Giao or Ngu Vien or what. Sipping some coffee; listening to pieces of prewar music; at times having a glance at the counter, where there was a charming ‘princess’ sitting in the light from a lamp with its pink lampshade; and returning home finally for a long-night study...

And a night later, I saw the girl who I first met in the rainy night in Danang, who came to Hue to visit her brother. She was staying at the café thanks to the relationship between her brother and the eldest ‘princess’. She recognized me after some surprise. During the time she stayed in Hue, I dropped by the café every night. The eldest sister gave us a quite private place to talk- a table next to a swing.

And the girl often asked her to play songs by Ngo Thuy Mien, with lyrics from Nguyen Sa’s poems from the cassette player. She was crazy about Nguyen Sa poems: she learned by heart almost all poems by Nguyen Sa, and she also made a manuscript of all his poems on pelure paper. I was not really surprised. At the time in the South, teenagers or students “who had not yet gone dating or just fallen in love” loved Nguyen Sa’s poems for they could find themselves or they could find their feelings in the verses. Then, there came a time to say goodbye. I was too hesitated to say a world. She came back to Danang and left behind the romantic loving verses. a person who is much interested in love poems by Nguyen Sa. At the time, I wondered why Nguyen Sa Tran Bich Lan- a philosophy professor- had nothing related to the subject in his verses (the writing merely mentioned poems by Nguyen Sa before 1960s). Ah yes... only a verse “An invisible wall is the thickest one...” has an air of metaphysics. The best verses by Nguyen Sa to me would be: If I were aroma of yWoung rice/ Whose hands would be a lotus leaf to wrap it around.

Why? First, I loved Com Lang Vong (Young Rice from Vong Village) by Thach Lam- a literature lesson I learned in my grade 6 or 7, the lesson I had to learn by heart. Its prose carved into my mind... as a sweet dim memory. Young rice is an offer from the home land- the offer from vast rice paddies. It brings along in its aroma the simplicity and the purity of the countryside of Vietnam. And thus, the purified simple snack is used as a gift in wedding ceremonies, together with persimmons- as a symbol of marriage harmony... Nothing is better than young rice from Vong Village wrapped in a lotus leaf. The scent of old lotus leaf wraps around the aroma of young rice, wraps around each grain- as it tries to keep the warmth of summer days on a lake. And... A lotus leaf is created to wrap young rice; young rice is created to be wrapped around in a lotus leaf... These proses were probably carved somewhere deep inside Nguyen Sa’s heart and then it sprung out as words of love in his poem- an impressive metaphor. I loved the image of young rice in a lotus leaf by Thach Lam, and I did love Hanoi. Literature has its own charm... young rice in a lotus leaf, Nha me (Le Mother Le’s Home), and Gio Dau Mua (Winds at The Beginning of The Season) by Thach Lam, Nhat La Bang (Picking Almond Trees’ Leaves) by Nhat Linh made me fall in love with a faraway Hanoi, made me cherish a dream to set foot on the faraway place. It is obvious literature lessons had left impressive feelings in both my mind and heart. I keep thinking there is a literary space of the childhood world that craves out both the heart and soul of an adult to be. I have to thank the literature- the one imbued with love- that

I was once taught. I keep in mind the images of my literature teacher- one from the North- and of lessons in a school in a remote place.... The class being in its silence; the sharp but gentle voice of the teacher filling the class space; I soaking myself in such a nice atmosphere; leaves from flamboyant trees drizzling down. Where is my teacher now? She is a part of my sweet memory.

3T. he girl on the swing in the Hue Garden came back to Danang with no news left being heard of. I could not utter a word of love after nights sitting in the café by Nam Giao Bridge. It was hard to utter a word- as a narrow door that an André Gide’s character can never step into. O, an invisible wall is the thickest one. I was in hesitation. The girl kept hunting my mind until I decided

to reveal my feelings: in a letter of few pages with senseless stories of the weather in Hue, I ended it with the two verses by Nguyen Sa... If I were aroma of young rice/ Whose hands would be a lotus leaf to wrap it around... Can you be a lotus leaf to wrap someone’s aroma of young rice? ... And I was waiting.

Over a week, I received a hand-written letter from the café owner... Oh Nguyen Sa! Oh my Maria! A very short letter from her: Agree or not, the answer will be given in Danang, when we see each other...

Yes, it is a souvenir or a memory. Memory is indeed unchangeable. Another reason for me to love the poems by Nguyen Sa more... for the rest of my life.

Ho Si Binh

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