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Between Two Worlds
The moon hung in the sky like a giant firefly, unfurling a white carpet on the South China Sea. I stood alone on the Non Nuoc Beach, remembering how my eleven-year-old grandfather had once explored these very beaches to deliver unexploded French bombs by bicycle through half of Vietnam. The four day trip had been three hundred miles through the jungle, eating whatever they could find…
Bao spotted a fat rat. “Breakfast!” he yelled. “Con chuô?t!”
With rocket speed, Bao hurled a stone from his slingshot, knocking the rat unconscious. The other boys gazed enviously at the tasty rat, their tummies rumbling from lack of food.
“Don’t worry,” Bao said. “It’s for all of us.”
The other boys were already furiously rubbing sticks together, eager to roast the only food they had had in two days.
Fifteen minutes later, the delicious scent of roast meat tickled their noses.
“Roast rat!” Bao said proudly, holding up the juicy rodent for all to see.
The boys’ mouths watered as they watched Bao cut the rat in twenty equal pieces.
“Me, me!” the boys cried, holding out their hands for a share.
I’d never consider a rat a delicious treat, for I’d never known hunger. There was something about coming home, about standing on this mountain that reminded me of what was truly important. I stood between two worlds—my American identity of In-N-Out burgers and surfing the web and my Vietnamese heritage that stood inside this mountain. I know my grandfather fears I will forget my roots. How can ph? and an occasional Chinese New Year compete with Call of Duty and the lure of the internet? But as I sit here, I see what I’ve become, and who I want to be.
Towering over the beach were the Marble Mountains—a range of five hillocks, once islands, that were named after the five elements: Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire), and Tho (earth). Five is a sacred number in ancient Eastern philosophy, the number that represents thinking and life.
The Marble Mountains had once been the treasure chests of ancient Khmer warlords, protected by monks and statues of Buddha, Buddhavista, and Monkey God that still stands guard today. The real treasure was not the gold that still lay sleeping in the mountains, but the spiritual gift each visitor received. Climbing the 108 steps to Ling Ung pagoda to sit before a golden wheeled contraption that once was used to communicate with the gods, I touch the divine. Mounting the steps symbolizes man’s slow arduous journey to Nirvana, and as I listen to the pagoda bells dance in the wind above the whispering sea, I find serenity.