It is difficult to believe that I am leaving HCMC. For the last few days I am there, I will have to sell my motorbike, a 1979 Honda Super Cub named Maude. Just last weekend, I was convinced that Maude was dead. I had driven Maude to a buddhist learning center which was approximately 10 km away from my apartment. Given Maude’s capricious and geriatric constitution, this meant a 30 minute drive filled with a general sense of uncertainty in the best way possible. The buddhist learning center was called Tu Viện Huệ Quang, and once we arrived, I ducked into the bookstore searching for copies of a philosophy book my grandfather (father’s father) had written when he was a teacher/poet/humanist in Vietnam. I found a stack of my grandfather’s book (which happened to be on Descartes and Eastern philosophy). The bookstore within the learning center was situated at the bottom floor of a narrow two-floor building. We did the obvious thing and climbed up the stairs to the second floor.
On the second floor there was a group of monks enjoying an afternoon tea. Our presence was confusing and ambiguous. In my much-improved Vietnamese, I explained to the monks my purpose for visiting–to purchase copies of my grandfather’s philosophy book. The monks then became incredibly hospitable and generous. We were asked to join their teatime, which featured a lovely display of teas, fruits, and candies. We were given a tour of the library, which was in a different building than the building which housed the tearoom and bookstore. The library was a real treat. Shelves and shelves of Vietnamese literature and non-fiction from various decades. Seeing this was inspirational and motivational. At this point, we were struck in a heavy downpour and accompanying deluge. Feeling like we were overstepping our stay, we decided to leave. However, Maude would not start. I tried every trick I had learned from riding her the past two months, but to no avail. In yet another expression of generosity, the monks at the learning center called us a cab and we temporarily abandoned Maude. I seriously thought this had signified the end for her.
Two days later, I return to the learning center to retrieve the Maude’s remains with the qualified hope that she would come back to life. But any kind of hope was overly optimistic. One of the monks saw my second sad attempt at resuscitating Maude. She called her brother who arrived with an improvised toolkit and a natural instinct for fixing motorbikes. He changed the spark plug and used one of the screws on his bike to fix mine; Maude was alive again and in a melodramatic way, so was I.