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  • Writer's pictureFlora Le

Caves and Rice Wine

I arrived in Ninh Binh on New Year's Day. As I had not made any plans to celebrate that night, I intended to stay quietly in my hotel room.

Around 8pm, the phone rang. It was the young man at the reception. The owner was having a small party in the hotel restaurant and she was inviting me down. "Why not", I thought.

In the hotel restaurant, a dozen other tourists were seated. The owner welcomed us with cakes and rice alcohol (rượu đế). It is the most common alcohol in Vietnam, and an essential part of the local hospitality. Although it can be purchased anywhere in Vietnam, it is often made by hand. Its strength varies, but it is typically 40%.

As is customary in Vietnam, we emptied our glass to the tune of: "Mot, Hai, Ba... Yo!"

Wow. The taste wasn't particularly pleasant. But that wasn't the point.

I then proceeded to engage in conversation with my tablemates. When I turned around, my glass had filled up.

"Mot, Hai, Ba.... Yo!"

And two.

"Mot, Hai, Ba.... Yo!"

And three.

No matter how much I emptied my glass, it kept filling up. I can't remember how many I downed.

Meanwhile, I met my neighbors on the left: a Frenchman who had been around the world for over a year, and two German women. The three of them were planning to join me for the next day's visits.

I preferred to continue alone.

The next day, I took the road to a pagoda that is said to be perched on top of a mountain. On the way, I passed Trang An, a small village where you can take a river trip in the karst rocks of the area. I peeked over the fence: there was hardly anyone there. I decided to buy a ticket.

When I arrived at the dock, the attendant did not let me board. With his fingers, he told me that the boat had a minimum of four passengers. So I had to join other tourists.

As there was no one on the horizon, I decided to visit the site which was a small pagoda. I was crouching down to take pictures when I saw the Frenchman and the two German women pass in front of my lens. What a chance meeting! They had planned to go in another direction, but had changed their plans at the last minute.

This unexpected encounter made me want to continue my visits with them. We then took place in a boat.

The visit of the Trang An caves was very charming. The temperature was perfect. Company was very pleasant.

As we glided quietly on the water, from cave to cave, my companions asked me about my trip. When I told them that I was traveling alone, on a motorcycle, in a country where I don't speak the language, they gave me a rather surprised look.

Given the complicity that had been established, I confided in them the real motivations of my trip. That I was going to make this trip with my father. That he had died and that I was bringing his ashes back to his native village. That I was trying to write the story of the man he had been. That I was on the trail of my origins.

As I told my story, I could feel the emotion of the people I was talking to. It was a mixture of excitement and amazement. As I live this journey on a daily basis, I no longer realize how daring it is. But the emotion I saw in their eyes reminded me of the extravagance of my journey.

I consider that there are three great failures in life. As I said before, the first is not fulfilling your desires.

The second is not realizing your potential.

Our universe is proportional to our fears. The more space we give to them, the narrower our world becomes. But what the body and mind are capable of is far beyond our beliefs. In reality, we are only using a small percentage of our abilities.

The scope of the life we lead is dictated by the perception of our limits. But these are only creations of the mind. Exploring one's potential and pushing one's limits is an essential part of a quest for meaning.

In reality, our fears function as a compass that points to the direction of an opportunity to grow. So, we must not run away from them, we must follow them. The meaning is just beyond them.

With this journey, I want to see what I am capable of. To push my limits of discomfort, insecurity, loneliness, and vulnerability. I also want to connect with my creativity. To discover my voice and see how far it will take me.

I refuse to let my fears get in the way. I will only stop when I encounter real obstacles.

Since the beginning of my journey, I have the certainty that my father is with me. That he accompanies me and protects me. But I did not know how his presence would manifest itself during my journey.

Trung is constantly on the road, and most often in places where there is no cell phone reception. On this day, he was in the mountains of northern Vietnam, in Bac Ha. In addition, he spends six to seven hours a day on his motorcycle. So, the chances of him receiving my message and calling me back instantly were pretty slim. And yet.

That day, it became clear to me that my father's benevolent spirit was manifesting itself in Trung's caring assistance. In fact, come to think of it, he had been my guardian angel since the very first day of my motorcycle trip.

I now understood that he had been put in my path.


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