i know what you mean!

December 04, 2006

Posted on: December 4, 2006

Both cats have now taken to sleeping in our bed, not on the periphery of our bed, oh no, but somewhere near the center of our queensize bed, reducing its available space to less than that of a twin’s. Last night just lying down in bed was a feat for both Son and I, because 2 cats were 2/3 way down vertically, and took up the middle 1/3 of the bed horizontally. We either had to sleep in fetal position, or if we wanted to stretch, we’d have to stick our feet out to either side, where it’s brrrrr. Son stuck leg in between the 2 cats, one leg to the side near the wall. I stuck both legs out to the brrrrr side of the bed, then changed into fetal position 5 minutes later, then changed to diagonal position 5 minutes after that, crossing my legs on top of Son’s, then back to some other equally acrobatic postion, kept up the tossing and turning until 3 a.m. at least (we went to bed at 1:30). Sometime early in the morning, I feely stretched my leg and realized that the bottom of my side of the bed was completely empty, weee. I must have kicked Crippled off the bed previously, serves him right for sleeping smack in the middle. At least Fatty was more to the side.

Somewhere in the 1.5 hours of trying to fall asleep, I remembered how Lan Phuong in 4th and 5th grade used hold my hand while we sat in the front 2nd or 3rd pew at church, and she used to pick at my thumbnail with her fingernail, picking it in the opposite direction, away from my thumb. Son sometimes would absentmindedly do that to me, and it makes me think of her immediately. I also remembered, the way things used to look as we sat there together. We observed with curiousity how the priest and the altar boys entered the open dressing room just off to the side of the main church hall. We watched as those 3 people put on their frocks, red and white for the altar boys, white or green for the priest (since those evening masses were weekdays’, no need for putting on red). Then we heard the hailmarys came slowly to an end, the upstair section behind us lit up, the piano started to play, and the choir sung as the priest entered from the side door (short cut) up to the altar. We’d sit still through all the readings and homilies, Lan Phuong continued to absentmindedly examine my hand, then settled onto picking at my fingernails. If it was a breezy evening, the wind would come through the wide open doors of the church, in through one and out through any of the remaining 7. This architectural beauty was built with SaiGon’s subtropical weather in mind. The dry leaves outside along the hallways would rustle a bit, the green leaves in the trees would sway to and fro. It was very peaceful for us, sitting in that church any day of the week. Truth be told, we never paid any attention to whatever was being said up there in the altar. It was our moments together, two young girls feeling each other’s presence in peace and quiet. We never talked in church. We just sat. We even stayed for the additional tribute song to, depending on which day of the week, Joseph or the Virgin Mary. Then we kneeled for more communal prayers after that, then we’d stand up and make our way to the Virgin Mary’s section, kneeled there and said some more hailmarys, picked a small white flower there to take home with us, and, satisfied that there was no one left reciting prayers outloud so we could join, Lan Phuong and I walked home in the dusk, chatting excitedly in that tone young girls often use towards each other.

When I remember these things, I tend to be much more sympathetic to my mom’s fanatical attraction to the church. It was, for me and for her, an escape from life. We went to church, each of us, to be by ourselves, and we felt that everyone were different at church, the plannet was a different plannet, too, and it helped us make sense of all the incomprehensibles outside the green gates that we exited after each mass. Or at the green gates. Beggards and lepers were always crying out there.

They demolished that church, that architectural wonder. The church that was built by the French influenced believers, a structure that was built like a 3-D sketch of an open book that fascinated me through my childhood, wondering why the curves, why the angles, why the different proportions. Its high ceilings with fluorescent lights, hanging fans, tinted and frosted glass windows; its many doors – one at each end, 3 on each side – so that you would feel like God welcomes you from anywhere, any manner. You could sneak upon him from behind the altar, or from the side, or face him from the main entrace, no matter. The unpretentious altar had no gilded trimmings nor fancy carpeting. The whole place was OPEN, always open, with the church being just a part of that whole landscape which included a gated garden kept for a white statue of the Virgin Mary watching over the world. The garden was filled with tall old mango trees. The church ground was filled with all kinds of tall old trees, from the ones with eucalyptus-like leaves that had spiral black pods falling to the ground to the ones with tamarin-like leaves that we could not find any tamarin pods hanging down. My family had spent endless hours on the perimeter of that church. Mom used to hide in that church when Dad was taken away to the labor camp, and the “police” came knocking, trying to evict her. Our Father Bich used to hug us, and tousled our hair, and gave us oranges (?). Father Bich died there, in one of the simple rooms on the two floors that ran along the opposite side of the church, behind the garden.

All of that wealth, culture, history, and legacy, gone. They built an enormous monster in its stead, no more garden, no more tall trees to shelter faithful lambs from SaiGon increasingly hot climate. The openbook is replaced by a prison-like structure full of engraved stones. The engravements are names of those who had donated the most money to its construction.

interesting note: I think more than 1 year ago, when I first got news of the new church being built, I googled it and actually found its Vietnamese website, in Viet Nam. Now it looks like they have managed to supress all Vietnamese religious websites, because all searches for the Vietnamese church website yielded no result. Yup.


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December 2006
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