Just to be honest, if there’s one thing that I wouldn’t expect to happen on my way, then it was; cycling with a true christmas-feeling in Vietnam. Because let’s face it; if we think about Vietnam, we DON’T really picture them celebrating christmas. Just like ‘we’ (Europeans) seem to believe that pineapples grow on a three (just admit it, I am sure I am not the only one), we just don’t think about Vietnamese and their possible roots in christianity.
When ‘WE’ think about Vietnam we DO think about:
1) Crazy traffic
2) Eating noodles with chopsticks
3) Monks walking the streets like this
4) Old ladies wearing a hat like this
5) Local transport in many different forms and ways like this
And I can tell you after my first hundreds of kilometers on the road here: we are pretty right by all of this.
But I definitely got blown away when I passed my first churches with christmas-decorations like this:
There was no question: in Vietnam they DO celebrate christmas.
Some of them just because they like the idea, the shining lights in the dark, the cheerful christmas music and it’s full on decoration.
Some of them because it’s truly their religion.
Like many of them. As I happened to ride my bicycle in this area where there are more churches to be found than temples. During, yes: exactly our christmas days. It was a happy christmas-bubble for exactly the 300 km that I was riding my bike from Saigon all the way to the mountains of Dalat. What a funny coincidence I thought. I felt truly lucky cycling in an environment like this, as it suddenly, all out of nothing did feel like: CHRISTMAS.
It looks beautiful from the outside, but I can tell you it was beautiful from within as well.
As this is what happened when I decided to knock on a random door of a church during these christmas days, to see what would happen.
Slightly hesitating I enter this big church, decorated in its full glory, to explore the surrounding with open eyes for a place to stay for the night. I know perfectly fine how it works with temples, since I stayed in temples many times on my way. The whole of Thailand and even Cambodia I would have asked them if it was alright for this cyclist to stay for the night and it was never a problem. Usually they let you pitch your tent in one of their communal areas. You are assured to have a safe place for the night, and the best thing about sleeping inside a temple, besides having a perfect shelter for the weather, is that you get an impression of this sacred life lived inside by their monks.
As I walk to the backside of the church there is this lady coming my way. Curious about this girl and her bike. With hand and feet I tell her about my journey and ask her if they might have a place to put my tent for the night. I point at the big red bag on the back of my bike, and make a perfect fine triangle above my head, depicting a tent, Then I give them a smile as I wait for their response. Them, since in meanwhile there is this little gathering of people around me as they all seem to be super curious about their visitor. They don’t have a clear answer to my question since it’s probably the first time somebody asked them for a campground at their church. As they talk about the best possible places they could offer me, the man in the middle, tells me with the four words of english that he speaks, that it’s fine and he points me a direction. But then this lady comes in the conversation, and she points with her finger in another direction. She points to her house. So this man asks me about this idea with another two words of English. And as I give her my approval with a happy ‘ yes’, I can tell she looks very delighted.
And so was I.
She takes me in, offers me a shower, helps me with washing my clothes and as I clean and well take a seat in their living room, the man of the church is already waiting for me. Back with a book ‘Speaking English for Vietnamese’ – a book for beginners. Feeling delighted to be able to ask me some questions and start a conversation.
And so was I.
After diner we go out for a drink with all family and friends.
And then she offers me a bed. Like she offers me a place in her bed. Yes you hear it right. She offers me a place, right next to her, in their bed. As she told her husband to sleep, probably I would assume, on the couch or a spare bedroom in another room.
An early breakfast the very next morning. With bread, eggs and coffee. Do you drink coffee Janneke? Well from now on I do.
And a goodbye. As I hold her hands closely and look her in her eyes, I can tell they are filled with warmth and love. I feel touched by a women like her. I feel touched by her ability of caring, as a women to a women. A women with the capability of giving love to a stranger as if she was her daughter. Without a language to communicate or hide, all there was to share was the love from one human to another human, as we all feel the same love inside.
Merry christmas everyone.
As I continue my ride to the next town, while humming christmas-songs and cycling some serious hills at the same time, I was wondering where I might end up this night: this christmas-night?
And as I arrive at this massive church in the center of the town, I feel, again, slighty hesitated; could you find yourself a place to sleep in a church that looks more like an attraction with its huge amount of visitors then a religious place…
The answer was, yes you can. Let me introduce to you: Priest Peter. And he is not just a priest, he also plays the guitar and he loves the beatles.
And he speaks English, like fluent. Lucky me. So after I explained him a bit about my journey he told me that it was all right and I could stay at their church for the night. So we could celebrate christmas all together this evening. I just happened to be right in time to join them to their mass.
And so I did.
Most likely I was the only foreigner inside.
Without a question I was the only foreigner without a wallet inside. So when this green hat was passed by to collect some money, I had nothing to contribute. Nothing but a smile. As I pictured my parents sitting right next to me, passing me a little coin from their side, as I was just a little girl going to the church to celebrate christmas. And I smile again. As far away as I might be this christmas, far away from my family, this evening we were all together in this church, together in my memory.
Merry christmas everyone.
And after this christmas-mass it was time for a proper christmas-meal. With springrolls and french fries, a Vietnamese soup and a coke to drink, I would say we had the best of both worlds.
With a big thank you to Priest Peter and the pastor of the church. Next time as I celebrate christmas again with my family I will think back of all of you in my memory.
Merry Christmas everyone.
I hope you all enjoyed your christmas-days at least as much as this little Vietnamese girl in her cute little santa-dress.
I wish you all:
DID I MENTION PEACE?
A LOT OF PEACE!
PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP
LOTS OF LOVE, all the way from Vietnam.
The place where they do know what christmas is like,
and where their Santa Claus rides a bike.