Sunday, December 24
I’m here at 5am. The sisters chanted the sutra this morning at 4:20, but I was already awake. I welcomed the ringing of the bells and the calm rhythm of their voices in the next room into the solitude of my morning watch. The prayer only lasted about ten minutes. Now I can hear roosters welcoming the morning in their own way outside our walls.
Our host, Lientho (“Lee-en-tah”), is a thirty-something Buddhist nun who is the friend of a friend from Hope Church in Michigan. She has given us the “Master Suite” (her master is visiting the US and her room is available) and so we have a private bathroom and air conditioning!
“When I was young I always had questions,” Lientho shared with us last night after vegetarian spaghetti. “I wanted to know, why are people born? Why do they die? When they die, what happens? How do they feel?” She told us that her extended family up north did not understand her desire to become a nun. “When I saw a dog killed for food, I did not want to eat it. But my family would urge me, ‘Eat! Eat!’ I did not want to. My family thought that only people who failed in love would become nuns. But I really wanted to!” She told us how she lied to them so she could come back south to take her vows. “I told them I missed my mother, my friends–but really I was thinking about joining the Buddhist nuns!”
The temple is not large; it is a neighborhood place, five sisters total, just off an alleyway in one of the many streets on the north side of Saigon. The taxi driver from the train station called her three times to find the right directions.
It’s our first full day in Saigon, having arrived at about 5pm on the train from Phan Thiet four hours north. Our decision to go back north by train meant we wouldn’t finish our route by bicycle, and we wouldn’t see some of the southern coast we’d originally planned on. The lady at the ticket counter issued a ticket to put our bike on the train, but I told her it was a two-person bike–very large–and showed her a picture; she issued me two tickets. Our tickets cost 187,000 VND a piece ($10 USD), and the two bicycle tickets came to 340,000 VND ($16 USD). Even though it facilitates our travel, I always have a hard time paying someone to transport our bicycle.
Dan, our friend from Michigan, met us at the train station in Saigon with Lientho. He insisted that we take a taxi back to the temple–which was over 10 km (6 mi) from the station. It was gracious of him to pay for two taxi’s–one for our bike and one for our bodies. The traffic was thick, the way was not exactly direct, and although I wanted to ride the bike, I realized Dan had saved us a lot of stress and probably three pretty good quarrels along what probably would have been at least a two hour journey through the city. I told him so; he said he’d send me the therapy bill in the mail 🙂
We arrived to the temple as some of the nuns were finishing their prayers. I asked Lientho if she needed to be praying with the others. She smiled her straightforward way and simply said, “no.”
Now the Saigon morning grows, and I intend to find out what it will become.