Hello! I hope it is as beautiful an evening, or morning, there, as it is a
delightful evening here. The sun is now dropping to the horizon, the last glints
of sunbeams glinting on
the lawn. As she falls to earth, behind the houses neighboring mine, the faded clear magnificent sky promises another cold night.
Now, the reunion is just a dream. A wondrous film
passing before me. Just another past memory, yet, the sound of your voices and
the images of your faces are still pure bliss. The sweet and vital voices of
every CPG member and/or family, including those coming from different corners of
the globe to rekindle the relationships once suspended by the impossibility of
circumstances, reflected their pristine beauty. There is no music more blissful
is distinguished by its well-organized public
transportation: buses, ferries, light rails, and train. It is becoming a very European style city,
very cosmopolitan. There are some very nice areas of Sydney. I so much enjoyed, beside adorable Ngo-Tien-Hung, the bus and ferry rides around the city. We experienced so many pleasures; the first being the AMP building, 43 stories high, the tallest in Sydney 33 years earlier. This was the location where the Commonwealth Office of Education had welcomed Hung and the rest of the 1965 Colombo Plan Group students on its top floor terrace. As Michelle Le said in her words of admiration for all of the members for their hard work and perseverance 33 years ago, "It does not seem like an easy task to qualify for a scholarship to go to school in a foreign country and you all did so!" I have no need to elaborate. We took some good pictures of the AMP building for mementos. Needless to say, things had changed quite a bit; the AMP building was no longer the tallest building and access to the top floor terrace was no longer available.
We also visited the Australian Square; a high point overlooking the Square is actually a very tall and round building. It is a marvelous spot, both by day and by night, with all of the lights twinkling like a Christmas tree. Then a trip to Bondi Beach marked the highlight of the day. The weather cooperated, there not being much wind, but just enough breezes to feel the natural environments, to sniff the wonderful air under the gorgeous sun. The swim in the fresh ocean water and the basking in the warmth of the sun afterwards made for an almost perfect vacation… almost. Perfect would have been to have more time later to stay longer and hang around with the De Nhi Thien-Xung’s group and welcome the New Year in Sydney with them and the Colombo friends.
We meandered around the city the next day. We visited
the shops and drank coffee, or tea, in street-side cafés. We loved the different
varieties of Australian fish and chips. We visited Hay Market, wandered around
Circular Quay, a great place for some photos. Hung bought some souvenirs for his
relatives. I bought a sweatshirt with Aboriginal Art Design. We then took the
ferry to the Taronga Zoo to see the Kangaroo’s and the Emus, the Koala, the
Cockatoo, the Kookaburra, and other small exotic Australian specialties, such as
the Quokka, a small Wallaby. I could sense that Hung very much loved it here.
These familiar wonderful environments must have struck him with some pangs of
nostalgia! We had to admit it; we were two hedonistic pleasure seekers. It was a
pity Hung did not have time to re-visit Kings Cross!
|De-Nhi Thien-Xung Naval Officers Association in Sydney|
Special thanks to the De-Nhi Thien-Xung Naval Officers Association in Sydney who welcomed us with a dinner and dance party at the Southern Star restaurant during our second evening. Xuong came to pick us up. It was such a joyous time that Hung had with his comrades, the first time since so many years of separation. With that feeling of comradeship being part of a team gave the whiskey, a little bit too much, a great taste for having been earned.
Some of us danced during the evening. Particularly, Tri-Hong was having a great time. He breathlessly invited his comrades to order more whiskey, without success, and more exotic dishes, an added dimension and zest to welcoming a long-lost comrade coming from a faraway land. With a display of eloquent speech demanding for more liquor, he at times took control of the stage, and maneuvered gracefully around the dancing floor and danced with them, one after another, with an almost primeval pleasure. It was not easy to put into words. It was as if there had been an untapped energy within, a heat that could only be assuaged by the height of an ultimate fulfillment.
On the way back to our room late that night, Bich and
his wife took us sightseeing, including the Pride of Australia, the Harbour
Bridge. We made small talk, exchanging stories of our lives from two different
parts of the world. Hung was exhausted, from the liquor, but managed.
Dinh took us several places the following day, with his
two cousins, Phuc and Thuan. We visited shops in Cabramatta and Banktown. It is
a cosmopolitan area with lots of Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, Japanese,
Thai, Malaysian, and even Tibetan shops and restaurants. We were excited to see
new faces and new places. We had lunch in a Vietnamese Pho noodle soup
restaurant. We ended our excursion with a trip to the Southern Star restaurant
to make a reservation for our Reunion dinner night. To make going places easier,
Ban was also another "chauffeur" of ours. He switched gear from right-handed
driving to left-handed driving in no time at all.
During my vacation, my passport and credit card wallet
disappeared from my suitcase, which were left in my room.
When I realized I had lost them, someone said, "You must have misplaced them somewhere in your room." And then another said, "You must have lost them somewhere else."
I searched and searched everywhere, my room, my purse, and my suitcase. I could not find them. I searched for them every day, but to no avail. Then my self-condemnation began to work. I wasn't sure by now where I last had them. The whole world was in confusion. Someone once said that the whole world is illusionary. Illusion means the inability to decide what is real or unreal. With your senses you cannot be sure when things are real or unreal.
Then in the morning of my last day, before going
downstairs for breakfast, I grabbed my purse and suddenly felt them. It is quite
easy to feel the contents of my purse because it is made out of soft fabric. It
was like a fantasy, a dream. I still could not be sure about it. In this world
of illusions, nothing is certain. The reality is always escaping you, always
changing, turning into something else.
But I digress, something I can easily do. I am utterly delighted that I had the opportunity to witness the whole reunion, thanks to Hung, who gave me a lot of support. It was so much fun being with your group, who you can justly call worldly well-educated people.
It was really lovely to sit at breakfast with the group in the Student Union kitchen at the University of Sydney. It was the one gleaming high spot of the day for these old time Colombo Plan Group students to gather and reminisce, I presumed, in the thoughts of their college bygone days. It was also here one evening that I recognized Binh’s artistic work and talent. She presented copies of her artwork to the members as mementos. Hung received a copy of her painting of a cute small yellow songbird. I love the sound of Binh’s bright, bubbly, cheerful voice. Now the reunion being over, these members can sleep with a smile on their face, luxuriating in the sense of everlasting friendship, and to wake to the thoughts in the morning that life now has new meaning. Their email messages are now their binding cloth of the friendship they have for one another so close, yet apart.
I loved every moment of our activities. I loved the beach picnic at Maroubra Beach. It was very nice to meet Tuyet, Chuong’s sister, her husband and children. I liked the barbecue. The Australian beef was tasty and juicy. All the food was delicious including the Foster Beer and don’t you think that I forgot that dangerous gambling! I lost one almighty Australian dollar and fifty cents!
That evening at the Southern Star Restaurant I enjoyed
all the talented performances of our group. I very much admired the impressive
handstand performed by Tong. Then came the extraordinary Tai-Chi performance by
Hoa, the singing of enchanting songs by the adults, and the recitals of
nostalgic and romantic poems. Most melodious were the ones recited by Xuan-Thu.
Then all at once arrived the cute martial arts performance by Vivian, and the
sensational cheerleading by Amanda and Jacqueline. Last but not least, the
joyful singing performed by all the other charming young adults filled the
dining room with so much joy and happiness. The children graced their parents
with their lovely presence and harmony. I enjoyed the reunion to the fullest.
Thus, I totally agree with Michelle Le, who put it, "Kudos to all of you!"
It was very interesting, almost clairvoyant of Vivian
to burst out crying during the trip to the Southern Star Restaurant when she
perceived that she had been separated from her mother, Phuong-Nam: perchance to
have been cheated. It so happened that she was riding with a group of young
adults in one car while her mother was riding in another car. She saw her mom
and she burst out crying. She did not ever want to be separated from her mother.
It was as simple as that. It was such a pure act. Another innocent act was
displayed when Jacqueline and Amanda were running up toward NVHung, who was
standing in front of the whole group in the Southern Star Dinning Room, and gave
him a big hug. You could see they liked him so. It is so ironic that this
happened right after a suggestion that members of the CPG65 hug one another.
Unfortunately, I did not get hugged. Nor did any other non-members. But don’t
worry. The memory of this reunion vacation would dearly hug me enough now and
Circumstances brought the social butterflies, the Les,
and us together; they had also lost their passports upon their arrival at the
airport, a week before. Thus, we all had to go to the US Consulate to apply for
new ones to replace those that had been lost. We had a look around shops after
that. I bought some small items and a dress designed by an Australian couturier.
We then enjoyed our lunch at the Centre Point Tower restaurant, overlooking the
entire city. From the top of this tallest building, we saw the whole city of
Sydney. To name a few sites: the Circular Quay, the Harbour Bridge, the Opera
House, the Bicentennial Park and its newly-developed projects in progress, where
the Y2K Olympic Games will be held, and the University of Sydney. It’s a pity we
missed our swim at the Y2K Olympic Swimming Pool as planned for that day.
|Farewell Dinner at Dinh-Tuyet’s Residence|
At last it was time for the farewell dinner at Dinh-Tuyet's residence. Again the food was bountiful. There were several different indigenous dishes, meticulously prepared, by several families, not to mention the hostess’ well-liked Bu’n Bo` Hu’e^. They all looked so delectable, delightful, and so desirable. By the time the main course Bun Bo Hue was served, most people were full but still ate it. I felt very grateful to those who had made the dinner happen. A lot of work had been put into it, fairly hard work, and it was presented in a wonderful setting and ambience.
In the background with Phiet’s slow and soft music, Tien’s Circle of Friends candleholder and its burning candle symbolized the never-ending bond in our relationships and friendships. The light of the candle and its representative truth, its spiritual illumination, witnessed the bliss of the mood. We held hands, singing and circling, binding in togetherness, wishing for an everlasting eternity.
It was here that the CGP65 members established a plan
of action and a set of goals for a bursary fund. This program seeks to recognize
graduating high school students in Vietnam who have financial needs and who have
great potential for academic success in college.
|A campfire for next reunion|
The flickering flame of the candle triggered a desire
in me. I would love to have a campfire at our next reunion, whenever that could
be. I love a log fire. There is something primordial and illuminating in a fire.
There is much pleasure in gazing at the flames, dreaming and imagining. Have you
ever sat around a campfire and later crept into the snugness of your sleeping
bag and looked at the vast panoply of the universe, wondering, as we all do, at
the mystery of a light that left a star millions of years ago? It seems almost
incomprehensible, doesn’t it? It’s a time we can surrender to spiritual joy and
pleasure, the exciting moment of mystery and discovery.
Bid a personal farewell
Had I more time to spend there, I would have bid a
personal farewell to each of you at our last breakfast. But we had to return to
the US Consulate to cancel my new passport. I happily let everybody know that I
had just found my passport and my wallet. I hurriedly ate my food. Dinh had an
important engagement and, therefore, could not take us to the airport in the
afternoon as planned. Ban was going to give us a ride but we did not want him to
have to wait for us. Then we had to catch our return flight that afternoon after
the planned visit to Van-Anh and Phuoc-Truong at their house. It was, however,
such a wonderful surprise to have had the chance to say good-bye to Chuong.
|Neutral Bay Ferry Trip|
At Circular Quay, we intended to take a ferry to Neutral Bay to get to Van-Anh’s house. We went aboard a ferryboat and after the first two stops, I felt that their names sounded strange because they did not seem to match with those on the Neutral Bay sign at Circular Quay. I made Hung aware of this and after another stop, after consulting the map on the ferry, he decided that we had not taken the right one because we were heading to Parramatta instead of Neutral Bay. We got off at Drummoyne.
Drummoyne is such a tranquil and serene neighborhood. The air was so fresh. The houses were attractive with their English style gardens, having a hypnotic and peaceful pleasure. It was such a lovely morning. The flowers were bountiful and beautifully blooming, as if smiling to welcome us. Then all at once I saw a living soul. I saw an impeccably groomed and well-dressed elderly gentleman. I stopped to ask him for directions on where to catch a bus back to Circular Quay.
It would be fatal to make the same mistake twice, to
catch a wrong ferry again! At last we reached Van-Anh and Phuoc-Truong’s house.
We brought them some fresh flowers as a token of our sincere respect for them
and for their friendship. We were utterly delighted that we could finally pay
them a visit. They took us out to lunch and then took us to the airport. We met
and shared moments together and then, sadly parted.
|On the way home|
At the airport, I bought some souvenirs: a few decorative plates of various beautiful exotic Australian birds designs, some unique Australian coasters, and two Aboriginal art design T-shirts, one for Hung and one for myself. I loved the bark paintings by the Aboriginal people, but could not afford the prices at the airport. I saved this item for the next trip to Australia, when I could hopefully find a better price. I peacefully slept through most of our flight home.
A few days ago I received, in my email, a poem from Tuye^’t. Here’s the poem for your enjoyment:
Vi.nh Du Thuye^`n Qua Neutral Bay
Bie^n ngoi^` be^n khung cu+?a
Hu+ng ddu+’ng tu+.a tha`nh boong
Nhi`n nhau ma` me^ ma^?n
Thuye^`n mo^.t lu’c la.c xa
Xuoi^ ve^` mie^`n Parra
Vi` ye^u ne^n la^?n tha^?n
Nhu+ la.c va`o Thie^n Thai
I would like to thank Dinh with all my heart for
picking us up from the airport in the middle of the night and Tuyet for
welcoming us to Sydney with a very delicious home-cooked meal the next day. I
also would like to extend my sincere thanks to Ban for taking us places, the Les
and Chuong for their wonderful support, and everybody else for making our stay
in Sydney very enjoyable. We enjoyed the pleasure of your company and we hoped
to have shared our joy with all of you. Lastly, I would like to extend my
deepest thanks to all those who made the reunion happen.
|The magic of our paths ever again crossing…|
Some part of me is now missing. Yet, you are ever in my thoughts. I wonder if the magic of our paths will ever cross again, dreaming of reunions to come. It is my pleasure to write my thoughts, to have this conversation with you, the closest I can be to you, separated as we are, by the tyranny of distance and time, but you are always close in my thoughts and warm in my heart.
Another day passes, the night draws to a close, and on the other side of the earth, the sun touches the rim and your day starts anew.
San Jose, California
January 29, 1999