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  • Elizabeth Cochran

Soil of Saigon

My first time in Vietnam, and I made no plans rather to just go with the flow. I feel as I am just wandering around in this country. Aimlessly is not how I am wandering, but the outcome of this wandering is still left undiscovered. I am a wanderer and through all of these countries I have meddled through markets, an array of languages, cuisines, cultures, and people there is something rather heavy, yet thrilling of landing in Vietnam for me that must be felt. It feels as if I have landed here with a completely blank white slate. Getting back to the start, redefining everything of what I thought about myself before. The doubts, shame, or guilt of what I thought it meant to be Vietnamese, mixed, half, half caste... all of this is dissipating. I feel no shame, I feel liberated and unbothered. A moment of feeling like a warrior of past ancestors. I feel like resilience, like a fresh breath of air, flowing, and feeling the freedom of life.

Yet, my first interactions with foreigners asking me a simple question, "Who are you", it puts me through an entire spiral of ideas... "Who am I" I think to myself... long pauses in first impressions, leaving people to think I am ditzy, flighty, and out of this world perhaps. I haven't ever felt as if I belonged to this world anyhow. Its as if I am this old soul, that has been here for centuries, filled with curiosity of how people live, meddling through social patterns that are foreign to me, but should feel familiar. What is identity, what is culture, what even does it matter are things I can't seem to shake whilst being in Vietnam. Who are you, what is your name? I think to myself I have many identities given to me, defined for me, nicknames from countries I have resided in, but do they have any meaning to me? What I knew of myself, has been knocked down in such a way, that I have introduced myself to some as Linh instead of Liz. When people ask where I am from I say, Thailand. When people ask what language or languages do you speak I respond a bit of a lot of some languages. Even though this is confusing, foggy, and I am in this in-between transition period I enjoy this space. I question even if it matters where I am from. At this point, I feel culturally different as if I don't fit into a single mold of a country. The countries have left a mark on me that remain with me, whether that be language, ways of life, or just simple things. i don't mind if they reside in me, become a part of my expression. It shows that I have lived, immersed myself totally in my adventures. That I have little pockets of memories to bring with me around the world to show and share with others. With the influx of immigration, more and more mixed persons globally what even does it matter to fit into someone's mold of society, constructs, race, or skin color categories. To categorize someone into a single box, is rather deliberating and limiting. People are far more multi-faceted than this if you let them be free to decide, to express, explore, and have an openness of this construct of identity. People are meant to be limitless, expandable, adaptable, and ever-changing. I feel even something as simple as our daily conversations of "Where are you from", What do you do for a living" are limiting our minds to expand furthermore into a growth mindset. I view it more so as it limits yourself to think of yourself through only one lens. The lens deprives us from seeing the actual looking glass into another realm or dimension of the human experience. Maybe because the East and the West lives within me I perceive it differently, but other mixed persons get what I mean. Someone might have a face of a country, but a heart of something else. What fascinates me about me human is that we all are the same, but yet so vastly different and complex. Multi-faceted beings, some earth, some water, some air, and some built with a fiery passion. All of the elements coming together to create a sort of human chaos of emotions, expressions, ideals, and lenses of life. To be human is to feel the ups and downs of our experience of changes, uprisings, pleasure, and pain. We come to realizations, moments of stagnation, exuberating happiness, or peace even, moments of intense rage. All coming together throughout our lives to expand, compact, grow, and flow.

A flow of letting life happen to you is what I have let happen, flowing with the wind. I was living in Thailand prior and it was an abrupt change, leaving me unable to process it fully on leaving people behind and leaving behind that version of me. I find myself pondering my time intensely in Thailand, as it was my home for three years. I experienced a spiritual awakening that I find hard to bring to reality or into words that will grasp the actual happenings of this event. I reached a zen "thien" of an intense nearly six months isolation period on the magical island of Koh Phangan, Thailand. I lived a version of this island untouched, untethered by the Western tourists, and left to understand the jungle and island life of local fisherman's, hunter and gatherer mentality, and escaping monkey chasings. It was the version where the pink dolphins kissed the sun again and little baby turtles hatched in their most vulnerable state again on the biggest party beach in the world. Life began to flow again here back to its original spiritual state. The original simple island that was habited by fisherman, monks, and locals who observe only the seasons of life. To flow with the moon, enjoy the sun, feel the heavy rains, let it all pour down, and soak in the sun when it shines. The moment my feet landed on the soil of Saigon, I felt a rush of waves that were dark and overbearing to my heart. I heard voices, I was in a heightened state of vulnerability that noises were too much. The environment was a rush that came over me that felt heavy. I reached a moment of realizations and visions of my father's motherland. The terror, the fall, the abandonment, and deep rooted fear instilled that resonates with many Saigonese maybe even today. I felt heavy in my heart, wanting to burst into tears, but not even sure why. These emotions were not even of my own, but I stood there frozen trying to come to my senses, what do I hear, smell, where are my legs, feel my body, and wiggle my fingers. Then when I grounded myself in my own body, my emotions, and my state I felt at ease. I could feel the excitement of being in this country for the first time. Ready to soak in all the moments of first time being here as I can never experience it like this again. I freshened my face with ice cold water to feel awake again. Okay, okay. I am actually here. Something I imagined for a lot of my childhood. What even is Vietnam, what is this land my father was from, what does it even mean to me. I wandered around the airport, overstimulated and really in my head. I arrived to international arrival gate and said no words to the officer. I showed the documents of entrance and was dead silent. I got my stamp and stared at it, no one was behind me I realized and then I nodded and continued. People in the airport greeted me using Vietnamese, bringing up waves of insecurity for me and also joy at the same time. I felt as if I belonged, yet didn't at the same time. I wanted to articulate myself in Viet and just be on my way. Deep breaths, it will be what it will be. I see 333 all over the airport. When I step foot outside there are butterflies floating around my head, feeling like I am being kissed by these gentle creatures. I recognize now the courage it took to return to this motherland and experience it on my own. I looked to taxis thinking imagine if I was returning to a family here, but when my moments of insecurity arose a friendly soul would come to keep me company, ensure me of my journey, and support me. I had long conversations with a few Saigonese locals of taxi grab drivers, street side drink sellers, banh mi shoppes, and even random people on the street. This shared moments shaped my mindset and encouraged myself to be gentle and also feel as if I am a part of something in Vietnam. I realize now that life works itself in mysterious and perfect waves, I wouldn't have been ready to arrive in Vietnam two years ago, without my experience of a six month "Thien" (Peace or Retreat) in Koh Phangan, Thailand. I can float above the cosmos, get lost in thought, and get lost in the darkness if I forgot the meaning of light prior to "Thien". Now, I can bring on these waves with a cue, or an awareness of being in them. The human experience of feeling the waves and noticing that they are nothing and everything, yet a disconnected reality. That is only something to be felt for the time being, then let it dissolve into the sand. Dissolve into the air droplets, that will change form, regenerate, and create new beings of life. So to this I say cheers to myself a chariot, flowing through the wind, with bravery, sensuality, and pride for an unknown motherland of coming to the motherland with an openness and trust.

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