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Nettie and I have just crossed the border into Cambodia today, and last week we were in the fabled and notorious Mekong Delta (see picture link at the end of this blog), and the week before that we were in Saigon. Of course, the city of Saigon is now called Ho Chi Minh City, but it will remain forever in my 60’s era brain as Saigon, which is how most South Vietnamese seem more comfortable calling it.

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Saigon is a gigantic city, larger than Los Angeles with almost triple the population at over 10,000,000 people on a good day. Obviously, it’s a crazy piece of the planet…noisy, kinetic, smelly, dirty and shiny new at the same time. In other words, a thoroughly modern Western city, unlike Hanoi, which was much more…well…Asian…with the overlay of a decidedly Eastern Bloc Communist patina.

The week before that, we were in Hoi An, a small though touristy jewel nearly midway between Hanoi and Saigon. And it was here, in old town Hoi An, that a simple movie-like scenario played out, one that keeps recurring in my mind, a kind of silent movie sequence that symbolizes for me much of what I’ve come to think about the unified country of Viet Nam, North and South, Hanoi and Saigon…the whole shebang.

Scene 1

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Nettie and I were sitting on a park bench set in a rare, open space in the middle of Hoi An. A single bicycle was leaning against the curb.

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A woman came along pushing a food cart, selling Dau Hu, a sweet soya bean pudding. The bicycle rider collected his bike and rode off. The woman with the food cart settled into a small red chair where the bicycle had been.

(If you look carefully, you can see Nettie sitting on the park bench I just left to take these pictures.)

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The woman set out another red chair and waited. Waited for what, I wondered?

Customers, of course. She had created a mobile cafe that was now open for business.

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And sure enough, a Vietnamese family soon drifted over…mother and father and young boy, grandmother and grandfather.

They helped unload more red chairs to form a sitting area.

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They ordered Dau Hu for the whole family.

They sat down. They laughed. They enjoyed themselves. They graciously let me take their picture on this pleasantly pastel Sunday afternoon.

War has come to this country many times over the centuries. The Chinese. The French. The Japanese. The French again. The Americans. The Cambodians.

Peace has come too…

In Viet Nam, famine and plenty in their turn also have come and gone. Monsoon and drought. Season upon season. Century through century. Struggle and tranquility. Life and death. Day and night. And at the center of it all, Viet Nam remains a nation of families and the traditions that bind them so tightly together, traditions as simple and meaningful as Dau Hu in a quiet moment on a shady street.

This Vietnamese family finished their Dau Hu and put the red chairs away. The lady with the food cart soon packed up and drifted off to another spot. The little park was empty again.

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I looked around for the first time at the park itself and noticed a statue at the back. It looked to be a depiction of a Caucasian, which seemed odd to me, out of place, a white man with a beard celebrated here in Hoi An.

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I walked up next to it and was staggered to see the inscription below the carved image: Kazimierz Kwiatkowsky. A Pole! Here, in the center of this tiny fishing village of Hoi An was a commemorative park in honor of a man from the country of my father’s birth.

How very strange that Annette and I would rest on a bench randomly at this very location. Who was Kazimierz? That was my immediate question. And why was he of importance to the people of Hoi An?

When we got back to the hotel, I looked him up on Wikipedia of course.

Kazimierz was an architect who came to Viet Nam in the early 80’s, he fell in love with the historical traditions expressed in their architecture, especially the Purple Forbidden City of the Imperial Palace in Hue, a palace Annette and I had visited a few days before.

Kazimierz Kwiatkowsky dedicated his life to preserving that palace and the traditions of Viet Nam that it embodied. He became an architectural conservator. For this, they honored him with statues in Hue and here in Hoi An.

I settled back in my chair as I read the Wikipedia article, phantom connections swirling in my head. I couldn’t then and I cannot now tie them all up into a neat ball of string…but nor can I let it go of the strings. That Sunday afternoon keeps coming back to me…

The lady with the food cart formed a locus for the family to enjoy themselves. Nettie and I enjoyed their enjoyment. Looking over all of us was Kazimierz, who was known as Kazik, which is a common nickname for Kazimierz, and which just happens to have been the name of my father’s oldest brother, an uncle I never met.

Kazik is at the left, my father at the right. Click.

Kazik is at the left, my father at the right. Click.

Kazik Zajaczkowski lived through WWII in Warsaw, Poland. I used to think of him often as my father talked about how much he missed him. I thought one day I’d go to Poland and meet him. But by the time I made my trip to Poland, Kazik was long since dead.

And yet, here today in Hoi An, I suddenly felt as if he were at my side, watching over me in of all places, faraway Viet Nam, a country that has for decades drifted in and out of my consciousness just as Kazik has.

I can’t explain it, and I don’t need to. I shall just play again the silent movie of that lovely Sunday afternoon Hoi An whenever the need arises, and let the quietude it engenders wash over me.

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To see selected photos of the Mekong Delta click here: The Mekong Delta and its People

 

 

 

 

One Response to Silent Movie – Dau Hu And My Uncle Kazik

  1. Laurei says:

    OMG again I am in tears. Isn’t it amazing when we simply allow the Universe to “line it all up” for us? You allow for the “seeming impossible” to randomly happen, but more importantly, you SEE it when it does. Thank you for sharing your journey with me.

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