I only brought one copy of Magical Thinking with me, but several people have asked to see the Vietnam poems in the book, so I had six copies made. The local copy shops do a credible job of reproduction. About $2.50 a copy.
Pouring rain. Hammering rain. The it stops & the sun comes out. When I go out it will rain again. It’s about 80º. In any case, I’ve been cooped up for two days–feels like a week–with a stomach bug–bụng ốm in Vietnamese: almost an onomatopoeia! I knew I was recovering when I began to imagine eating some fruit. Vietnam is so full of fruit that after a while it becomes invisible. But when you notice it, the variety and abundance are astonishing. (Here is an overview of what’s available, though it only scratches the surface. And here is 40 seconds of video that catches the feel of the streets.)1
So I knew I was getting better when I began thinking about fruit. But you don’t want to stuff just any fruit into your bụng ốm–some will actually make you worse. Begin with bananas, which are full of minerals & fiber. Bananas, bottled water, and Vinamilk yogurt will get one through most food-borne intestinal disturbances. With one exception years ago, the combination has always worked for me. That time, I needed to take a course of Cipro & then probiotics & an electrolyte solution that is somehow both sweet & salty at the same time. Actually, yesterday, after I was mostly recovered, I went to the pharmacy to lay in a supply of loperamide in case of emergency (best to avoid until your system has cleaned itself out), along with the standard probiotic & the nasty electrolyte powder (don’t be fooled by the orange on the packet). I was surprised when the pharmacist asked if I wanted a packet of Cipro. “Không có toa thuốc bác sĩ?” I asked. (Without a doctor’s prescription?) She laughed and said something that may have meant, “Oh, yes, a doctor!” then she laid the blister-pack on the counter, so I got some Cipro, too. I’m not going to take any of this stuff now except the probiotic, but if I need it later, I’ll have it. Somehow, though, I usually only get bụng ốm once each time I come.
Finally, a word about yogurt. The largest industrial company in Vietnam (barring foreign & multinationals) is Vinamilk. It is a kind of miracle food. The stuff is highly sweetened & highly processed–Westerners might be tempted to turn up their noses–but it can be transported throughout a tropical country with inadequate transport & refrigeration. It is also full of probiotics.
Sữa chua is Vietnamese for yogurt & to a non-Vietnamese the word looks a lot like sửa chữa, which is actually a different word, in this case meaning “fix” or “repair.” But if you have bụng ốm, sữa chua will help sửa chữa your problem. Plenty of water, bananas & Vinamilk yogurt make an excellent first line of defense against travelers’ stomach problems; if that doesn’t work, there does not seem to be much the pharmacist won’t provide.
If you have recently followed me on Twitter, be advised I can’t access Twitter from VN (except indirectly by posting to WordPress, I think). I’ll follow back when I gent back to the states in December.
After dinner on my first night in Hanoi I went across the street to Chùa Bà Dá (Stone Woman Pagoda). The main hall was closed for the night, but the ancestor altar behind the main building was, as always, open, so I paid my respects there. The site’s religious associations go back, at least, to the 11th century. The story goes that while digging the foundation footings for a temple, workers found a stone shaped like a woman: whether the stone was a sculpture or a naturally produced object is unclear in the accounts I have read. In any case, the object was considered sacred, and the stone woman was set up as an object of veneration. A fuller account is presented here, but the animist impulse blended, over the centuries, with Buddhism, especially the Chan form that came over the northern border from China. During the revolutionary struggle against the French, the monks of Chùa Bà Dá supported the Communist insurgents, though I have not discovered what this support consisted of. In any case, in 1945, Hồ Chí Minh visited the pagoda and encouraged an early form of engaged Buddhism.
To a Soto Zen student, the phrase “stone woman” will surely suggest Master Dogen’s “Mountains and Rivers Sutra,” 1 in which the enigmatic line, “A stone woman gives birth to a child at night” appears. 2 Just a coincidence. of course, but one with a particular resonance for me. Note: Some other “Bà” (Mrs.) temples around Hanoi.
Today I was addressed as “ba” for the first time. In Vietnamese, personal pronouns are assigned according to age & position in the family. When I first came to Vietnam twenty years ago, I was addressed as “chú,” which means “father’s younger brother”; a few years later I was promoted to “bác,” which means “father’s older brother. In both cases I was still an uncle, with the connotation of “avuncular,” but “ba” just means “father.” I suppose that now I can look forward to “ông,” meaning “grandfather” and thence to “cụ,” which is a gender-neutral pronoun for “old person.”
What is it about the Vietnamese & karaoke? I’m seven floors up & I can hear people going at it in the club across from the hotel. Must be a hell of a din downstairs.
Arrived in good order this morning, less wrung out than usual. Hot & muggy, with a rain shower this afternoon while I napped. There is a beautiful new bridge over the Red River & in general Hanoi looks prosperous. The airport, which in the past often had a certain Dantean quality, has been redone & spruced up; neat & efficient, the place was a pleasant surprise, especially in contrast to Hong Kong, where the airport–once a jewel of Asian modernism–has gotten rather tatty. Maybe the decline is related to the mainland’s economic turmoil.
The manager at my hotel remembered me from a couple of years ago & since I was early, settled me with a plate of fresh fruit while my room was gotten ready: passion fruit, dragon fruit & watermelon.
As noted, I slept for a while, then took a short walk & went out to dinner. I always go to the Moca Cafe on my first day in Hanoi–not because it’s the best place, but because of its longevity. The cơm rang gà (chicken fried rice) tastes the same as it did sixteen years ago & it was pleasant to watch the stream of Hanoians & tourists go past the open windows & to hear the raw, unmelodious bell of St. Josephs.