ACWP Post-Event Report with Linh Ton Nu

The Heart and Soul of Hue
By Linh TonNu Marie Curie Class 75”   Spring 2008
Translated by Khiem Ngo Marie Curie Class 75”
I get to return to Hue!  As an expat longing for her beloved homeland, the supposedly short flight from Ha Noi to Hue seemed just as long as the trans-Pacific flight from San Francisco to Saigon.
Phu Bai airport welcomed us home with a hot and tranquil summer afternoon.  The road from the airport to the hotel was this time completely dry, lined with green and lush vegetation and trees on both sides, a complete contrast to last year’s gloomy and devastated inundated landscape.  Like the feelings of anxiety and nervousness just before reuniting with an old friend, I proudly showed my family the directions to BLOOM restaurant. 
On my last trip to BLOOM, the floor was completely covered with flood water.  BLOOM today has made a complete turn around and couldn’t look better under the bright sunlight of summer.  I could not recognize the surrounding streets which I had passed by boat to and from the restaurant for many times from last year .
I felt a tug at my heart as I met the children coming and going into the restaurant.  I was also a bit daunted as I wondered whether the road we embarked for these children would be as promising as we had envisioned.  There was yet so much to do and many challenges to be met.  I hoped the children would hang in there with us and stay the course. 
I also hoped that I, and along with other ACWP volunteers, would be able to return to this city more often to provide support, to continue to bridge the lifeline across both shores of the Pacific Ocean, and finally to realize our personal dreams that one day these disadvantaged children would become productive, self-sufficient, and upstanding adults in society.
The cool breeze of Hue finally arrived late in the afternoon; Tran enthusiastically guided us through the Forbidden City with her familiar Hue’s accented spoken words and promised to take us to Quang Thai School tomorrow.  The summer of Hue can be brutally hotter with the seasonal West wind.  We had to leave early in the morning to avoid the peak summer heat during the day.
On the way, our car drove through long, narrow, winding and dirt roads.  We could see modest country houses behind groves of green trees on both sides of the road.  The peaceful landscape reminded me of a poem by the famous late Han Mac Tu:
“Vườn ai mướt quá xanh như ngọc” - Whose lush green garden as jade is it?
“Lá trúc che ngang mặt chữ điền”  -   Full of bamboo leaves hiding your beautiful face.
An hour had passed and we finally arrived.  During the trip, I was a nervous-Nellie bouncing back and forth with every road bumps and holes with anticipation to our destination.  My anxiety was eased however by much laughter and bantering in the car and especially by Tran’s insightful and heartfelt customary remarks about life. 
As we discussed deeper, I was however very alarmed about Tran’s casual account of how she managed ACWP’s projects by going into remote countryside, without regards to her own personal safety.  The village of Quang Thai is at least 4 hours ride on a motorcycle from Hue which Tran rode daily, without apprehension, to keep watchful eyes on the construction of the school’s library when adequate funding from Lycee Marie Curie’s alumni was received.
Under the harsh burning sunlight (I had earlier thought that dying would be a better choice than living in these conditions), my eyes welled up upon seeing the library being constructed from the ground up. 
The fresh layer of cement could still be seen on the wall of the classroom and the water filter reservoir was being built right beside it.  My face was drenched; I wasn’t sure if from the sweat or the tears. Perhaps both.  I thought about the long distance compassion and love from all my friends who have rallied and put all their effort behind a noble cause, to provide financial support to a place that without ACWP, nobody would ever have heard of. 
This place, I pray, would be a start for the children to dare dream of big dreams. This place is where they can learn freely with joy for the new books. This place is where they could, even for a brief instant, forget about their misfortunes and unhappiness which weighed heavily on their lives.
As I stepped outside of the classroom, I found the dilapidated rest rooms desperately in need of repair.  I promised Tran I would double my effort to raise more fund to make Quang Thai School even a better place. 
As I stood under the clear blue sky, in the middle of the open field, it all dawned on me: the human miseries in this place, the mission of ACWP, the generosity and kindness of my friends, the countless volunteers and sponsors in all corners of the world, they are all parts of a beautiful mosaic of colors, but it would require a clear vision and lots of love to put them together and to create a master piece of a painting. 
I’ve always loved and remembered this quote from a Trinh Cong Son’s song: “to truly live, one must have a heart and soul”.  I’ve seen that “heart and soul” in many people but I was still not satisfied until one bright morning when I finally and truly discovered that “heart and soul,” just as I imagined.
The daughter of Hue, growing up in this unforgiving land and likely suffering from many natural disasters in her life (between the seasonal devastating floods and scorching heat), has acquired many qualities: she is normally reserved, profound and sharp witted, very patient, thrifty, calculating, as well as enigmatic, courageous, sentimental, warm, and passionate.  This lady is especially soft hearted yet remains firm at the same time, full of love for beautiful poetry and literature, can be perfectly summed up in this saying: “seeing her is to never leave her sight”.
Representing Hue’s daughter and borrowing from Trinh Cong Son’s song “Heart and Soul”, I found it all in Tran, the ideal Heart and Soul of Hue.
Gently riding on the river Perfume amidst the whirring sounds of the motor boat in the background, I listened attentively to Tran and Chuong’s debate about the fate of a typical Vietnamese woman in her homeland and the fortune of her countryman in the U.S.  Indeed, I felt so fortunate and appreciative of all the blessings in my life.
As I experience life’s constant tumultuous ups and downs, all the chance and destined encounters, I deeply appreciate it all, ACWP, my dear friends, and my loving family.  They, and others who have paved the way before me, all have helped in many ways in allowing me to walk the path I’ve chosen, to share my great fortune, and to give me the right direction in my life.
For what I’m doing with ACWP, I feel like a grain of salt dropped in the ocean water.  But if adding that grain of salt can make a difference to one child’s life and is completely within my power to do so, I would still do so.  It has brought me great happiness.  I hope to ever perpetuate and cherish that happiness.
Đây Thôn Vĩ Dạ
by  Hàn Mặc Tử

Sao anh không về chơi thôn Vĩ?
Nhìn nắng hàng cau, nắng mới lên,
Vườn ai mướt quá xanh như ngọc
Lá trúc che ngang mặt chữ điền. 

Gió theo lối gió, mây đường mây
Dòng nước buồn thiu, hoa bắp lay...
Thuyền ai đậu bến Sông Trăng đó,
Có chở trăng về kịp tối nay? 

Mơ khách đường xa, khách đường xa,
Áo em trắng quá nhận không ra...
Ở đây sương khói mờ nhân ảnh,
Ai biết tình ai có đậm đả