Soon we were on our way again, leaving The Kingdom of Cambodia to return to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to attend the concert. By now, passing through customs was nearly routine. We filled out the entry application, passed through security and then had our photo taken while our visas and passports were examined and stamped.
This time, for some reason, we had a second pass through security and had to give up water bottles and temporarily part with our backpacks. We were examined for things metal which set up a comical situation for Paul who has several pounds of titanium steel in his right leg from past hip replacements and femur repairs. The metal detector went berserk and he was pulled out of the line. He explained but it was unclear whether anyone understood a word. Not being a particularly shy man, he began to take off his trousers to show his eighteen inch long scar extending from hip to knee. The poor embarrassed customs officials began apologizing in Vietnamese in a frantic attempt to stop the strip, but if I remember correctly, Wen couldn’t resist egging Paul on!
Finally through pantomime and patience, the mystery was cleared up and we collected ourselves and continued on to our return to the Blue Diamond Hotel. After a feast at a Korean restaurant, we were off to the Korean International School of Ho Chi Minh where Maestro Simon was conductor of a concert of both western and Korean music, performed by the students of the international school. There was also a guest soloist from Vancouver to round out the international flavor. The caliber of the performances was astounding considering that several of the solo performers/composers were under thirteen years.
By now you may be wondering why we took such a convoluted journey through Southeast Asia. When we received our travel visas, we were only allowed one exit and re-entry to China before the return home to Canada. Sharon spent many hours working out the itinerary so that we would be able to take in the experiences I’ve already described to you. Having fixed dates such as the concert made it even trickier but she worked wonders and so we were able to experience many aspects of Asian culture.
We left Vietnam early the morning of April 25 on a flight to Hong Kong and then home to Guangzhou. I say home because that was where Sharon’s family lived. They included us in many of their activities and we were always treated like honored guests.
The family shared many happy, boisterous restaurant meals with the crazy seniors from Canada.We learned that food is one’s medicine, it is to be shared and enjoyed with others and it is a vital part of their culture. We also learned to leave a bit of food in our bowl if we were full or else we would be fed another serving. I know that we probably committed an assortment of social blunders but we were forgiven.
This experience of sharing family life left a huge impression on me. When I was a child, the little I had known about China came from reading Pearl S. Buck’s books. I think that even then I recognized the richness of a 5000 year old culture. In those days I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined that I would be able to experience such a mysterious place. Oddly, even though I still can’t imagine a more foreign world, I found myself very, very comfortable there. There is a crackle in the air that comes from the sense of history, of the innate strength it takes to survive and even thrive. I am so grateful I was able to glimpse the fruits of that strength.