Our first Sunday in Saigon was one of the most incredible days of my life! It will be one I will never forget.
During breakfast I was told by one of the brothers I would be going out for the day with Br. Du (pronounced "You"). During our time here, we will be working every day except Sunday where one of the brothers will be taking us out to see Vietnam. I had met Br. Du my first full day in Vietnam and he and I had chatted for a little bit. I was told I would go with him to the Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica and then afterwards Brs. Patrick and Huy would join us for lunch at Br. Du's grandmother's house. When I asked how we would be going there I was told we would be going by motorbike. One thing to mention is that the community has one van and the way they, and most of Saigon, get around is by motor bike. I have never been on a motorcycle or scooter so this was going to be a new experience for me. Needless to say I was pretty scared. Unfortunately I had done my fact checking and saw that the traffic is terrible in Saigon and many people die in auto accidents every day. When it was time to go Br. Du saw I was pretty nervous but he reassured me I had nothing to worry about.
There are no words to explain what riding on a motorbike is like in the middle of Saigon. The closest description I can give is the game "Mario Kart: Double Dash" but on steroids. There were tens of thousands of motorbikes on the road, as far as the eye could see. Either we were passing people on left and right all the time or they were passing us. The motor skills needed to navigate through all the traffic is incredible. Even those that are not Christian must be praying to St. Christopher in this traffic.
Before we got to the cathedral Br. Du had us stop at a few places. We first went to his family home where I was able to meet his father, mother and brother. They were all very kind and offered me a tropical fruit called rambutans in English. It is very sweet and another first for the day. Afterwards we went to visit his aunt and sister at the Convent of the Holy Rosary Sisters. Both of Br. Du's sisters, as well as his aunt, are part of this congregation. His sister was out doing a pastoral visit but we were able to visit with his aunt, Sr. Claire. Again I was offered more food and had another tropical fruit called jackfruit in English. It too was very sweet and delicious. Afterwards we headed to the cathedral where there was an English mass. The cathedral was built by French missionaries in the late 19th century and has a Romanesque facade. After mass we headed to Br. Du's family home where I met many of his family members, including his grandmother.
Br. Du and I arrived, and Brs. Patrick and Huy did soon after. Br. Patrick and I gave each other a look and asked how the ride was, incredible was the word both of us used to describe the riding the motorbike. Br. Du's family welcomed us warmly saying it was an honor for them to have us as guests, it being their first time a foreigner entered the home. After meeting all of Br. Du's extended family, there was about 15 of them, we were asked to sit down for lunch. There was plenty of food; pork, pig's tongue, pig's heart, squid, spring rolls, and soup. It was all very good and there was plenty of it, they kept on asking us to have more. After lunch was done we had some conversation. They asked us questions about America and we asked them questions about Vietnam. Through the conversation it seems their culture is becoming more and more American, and not always in a good way. The family life, especially in Saigon, is struggling and is becoming more and more disconnected like the family life in America. The Nguyen family, Br. Du's family, was incredibly hospitable, giving freely of what they had and always asking if everything was okay. It was one of the greatest hospitalities I have ever received.
After talk and discussion we left for St. Dominic Church, another parish run by the Vietnamese Dominicans. They also have a priory there name St. Albert the Great. This is where the cooperator brothers in formation study. There are about 20 of them in formation. The church was very beautiful and had a Christian-Oriental design on the outside structure. It was a double decker church and had a loft of pews surrounding the church on three sides. Outside of the church was a mural dedicated to the Vietnamese Martyrs, many of whom were Dominicans.
We had not even started our classes for the brothers yet and already they had done so much for us. That Sunday in Saigon will be one I will never forget. I had so many emotions going on—fear, gratitude, peace—it was just an incredible day. Though we are here to serve the brothers it will be interesting to see what is in store next Sunday. Follow on to the next post as I talk about our first week of classes and the experience of teaching the brothers English.