August 2nd at San Francisco airport, China airlines delayed the flight for 3 hours due a big storm in Taipei. I didn’t depart until 3:55am. It was cold at the SFO, and I don’t bring any warm jacket this time! The delay made me very tired and I had had difficulty sitting comfortably on the plane. Finally the plane landed in Ho Chi Minh City on the 3rd and it was late! In the very same day at 3pm, Tuan, Van, and their three children, Carolyn, Theo, Ben and a group with Hung joined me at my place and we departed for the West to Kien Giang Province and stayed there overnight.
During the journey, we stopped by a nice restaurant, and had a wonderful vegetarian dinner. We ordered 6 clay-break-pots of rice (rice that cooked in a raw-clay pot until crispy red-hot and when served we must break the clay pot before serving the crispy rice and it tasted crunchy and good.) Carolyn chose to break all 6 clay pots, which was interesting and amazingly watched by all the diners and servers and even the owner in that restaurant! We then arrived Rach Gia and checked in a moderate motel, (Carolyn, Theo and Ben stayed in one room and they didn’t know how to turn on the air conditioner so that, they slept in a warm room!) In the morning at 5:30am, we woke up and it was difficult to get the teens ready for the charity activities! Ben was the one finished and ready first. He and I shared sipping a cafe den da (black ice coffee. The cold and bitterness of the Vietnamese black coffee helped us to wake up faster! He then gave the café to his dad to try, so three of us share one glass of café đá.
August 4, breakfast at 7am. After finished “vegetarian phở” in the restaurant at Rach Gia, we went to the river and boarded the boat. After the boat we transfer to 2 smaller canoes. These canoes sailed us to the shore of the school where we ultimately delivered scholarships to 39 underprivileged students at 2 schools: Vinh Thanh and Ban Thach Elementary Schools in Giong Rieng, Kien Giang with the family of Tuan and Van, Carolyn, Theo, Ben and other members who tagged along. These scholarship winners are underprivileged children, aged from 7-12, who had to work a half semester of an academic year for the rice field owners and they got paid about 10 pounds of rice for the entire harvest season. They could not go to school full time like many other children. We found that the kids rarely get promotion to the next grade of their education requirements. We decided to fund these kids so that they would not have to leave school and go to work and so that they would attend school for the full academic year. Tuan (Tony) Nguyen and Van (Andrea) delivered scholarships and gave the children tests on reading and spelling and the mathematics quizzes according to their grade levels.
Carolyn, Theo and Ben and other members were passing out books, writing pads, pen/pencils and treats (chocolate and candies) to 100 children in the Vinh Thanh elementary school. We finished at noon, and then boarded on canoes again to go to another location. After landing on shore, we then must take scooters in order to reach Ban Thach Elementary school. There were 80 children there, and 20 of them were receiving scholarships, but they were hungry due to waiting from 7am. So, many of the children went home for lunch at the time we reached the school. (They were told to come to the school at 10am, but they came and waited from 7am). We had to wait there due to the children went home for lunch!
After delivering scholarships and treats to students and gifts to teachers, we visited Ms. Thi Muoi, the woman with paralyzed legs, who donated land next to her house, for us to build the Ban Thach elementary school in Giong Rieng. We donated $100 to her due to her poverty and handicapped condition. Over her many years, Ms. Thi Muoi has had someone who loved and married her. Her older sister gave a moderate country wedding. She became pregnant at the age of 40s. Her husband wanted to sell the house, which Ms. Thi Muoi inherited from her parents. But she said no, and he left her. She now has a 3-month-old son and she was saying that her husband, and in-laws never asked how the boy is, so she decided to forbid the in-law visiting, if it ever happens; (so far it has not been happening, yet!). I advised her that “In the even that if others are not compassionate towards you, you should be compassionate towards them, and let your son have his father visit his son, and his grandparents or his father’s relatives visit him. That would make the boy happy later on, he will not wonder why?” Her eyes flashed bright with a surprise and a big smile!
The villagers criticized her for having a child when paralyzed, saying it was not smart. To me, it is a blessing. She has her own child and can be happy and cuddle with a bundle of joy…and the boy later in life will be her leg? Majority of villagers are Cambodians who listened to my conversations with her, and they smiled when they heard my positive ideas about her child. Actually that was a lift for her heart since that moment. She said to me: “Master, your approval and blessing my situation, I am no longer concern about what others are saying”. I replied, “Good, let pray the Buddha bless you and may your child always be protected”.
We again took scooters as a public transportation and returned to the shore where we left by boat. Our group had 11 people; however, there were only 6 scooters, so every scooter had to drop us at the point for us to wait for the rest. When the scooters returned and brought them to us, we took the boat back to the shore where we got off our bus that morning. If they left me there I will be lost.
We returned to Ho Chi Minh City on the late evening of the 4th and everyone was tired. Tuan’s family departed to Bangkok for pleasure on the 5th. I went to Pleiku and Kontum Provinces.
August 7th, I went alone to Pleiku/Kontum and worked in 3 leper camps
I had the Catholic convent help to delivered medicine and food, (antibiotics, tums, pain killers and vitamins, rice (2550 kilos or 6000 pounds), noodles 8000 packages, fish sauce 260 bottles, sugar 130 kilos, shampoo 260 bottles, soap 260 bars, dried fish 260 kilos, clothes 150 pieces, and candies/chips, to 150+75+30 leper families. The total population in 3 camps is 450+60+90 persons respectively.
It was raining hard, and the road we traveled on was slippery due to mud and water. Our truck suddenly turned sideways and my heart throbbed! Due to the cloudy weather condition, and wet and slippery road, I was worried we might get stuck in a muddy hole or accident etc, and finally we got to the campsite. There I met again the woman who lost her nose in her younger age, her face is now wrinkled and her hair, greyed. The man that I tried to help 20 years ago came and talked Vietnamese well. He had leper’s disease at that time, and decided to lie in the graveyard and wait to die so that his villagers wouldn’t have to carry him to the graveyard. But we managed to help talk him into going to the city to check into the lepers section in the hospital in Qui Nhon Province, where he is now healed and has a wife and 4 children!. One eleven years old girl showed me her skin marks that she asked if her condition is a lepers starting condition. It was hard for me to say yes or no, I told her to live very clean and avoid contact and try to go to the city to a hospital. There were many similar cases and I can help as much as possible during my trip. Thank goodness, there were no problems with police. I finished visit leper camps on August 8th.
August 8th-Evening. It was a nice surprise for me, as I was invited and given tribute by the Catholic Bishop Michael Hoang Duc Oanh and the Catholic Convent’s Sisters and members of the City of Pleiku and some from Kontum for my 20 years service to the lepers! Bishop Michael Oanh was a very eloquent Catholic priest, who immediately shook my hand and said: “You are good, Su Co (Female Master). My two brothers are now full-serving vegetarians and I am not yet. You must help me and tell me how. I was please to hear that Bishop Oanh’s family is on a vegetarian diet. Bishop experienced death in a coma one whole day…and then he decided to come back to life to receive his Bishop ship before dying! I was amazed about his condition and his positive spirit.
When the Senior Sister, Me Be Tren, and I, arrived at the main Catholic Church, (another Sister drove us). The weather was pouring wet, and stormy! The Bishop and his two priests took me outside with the High Sister Theresita. Someone handed him an umbrella. He asked Sister Theresita to do him a favor. We looked at the rain, and didn’t want to go to the church. Then he handed the umbrella to Sister and told her: “I will meet Sư-Cô in the church.” Then he ran under the pouring rain to cross the parking lot to the church. At his 70’s years age, he did so neatly that we could not react to his quick and sweet way. We had no choice but to use the umbrella to cross the parking lot to the church where he presided over a special Mass service.
August 9th I returned to Ho Chi Minh City. While I was waiting at the Pleiku airport, there was a family (1 couple and her older brother) that approached me and requested me to sit down to have tea with them at the cafe shop at the airport. I did. The people told me that they are Catholics and appreciate my help to the Catholic sisters there in Pleiku. After we landed in HCM airport, the woman came to me and asked if I would kindly give her my scarf (which I was wearing around my neck) I gave her my scarf, and then she said: “To get something from you for a souvenir is like to be touched with love!” I smiled, said nothing and took a taxi home.
August 11th as planned, we left at 6am and went to a Buddhist temple that has 200 BuddhistNnuns in Dong Thap Province. We made offering of tea, cookies, candies and money to the high venerable monk and donated $US100 to a nun who fell and broken back. The venerable asked a question to our youth: “What is the most important thing in this life?” He later replied, too: “The most important thing in this life is ‘life’; if we die then everything will stop or be finished, and we could not do anything anymore. So doing a good deed is important to do while we are still alive or have a life.” The venerable helped us and placed an order for three boats of fish for us to free them. 2 boats were ponds raised fish, they were so happy to get free in the big “Cuu Long Rivers”. We freed 1.2 tons of marine animals with a group of 11 people, which included Tuan/Van’s family. They were very good. We freed about hundred thousand fish. (They had to carry big baskets-full of big fish, between 13-20 kilograms-30-45 pounds/basket, and poured the fish into the middle of the big rivers; Song Cuu Long-9 Rivers join together. A special compassion character manifested to my surprise; Theodore, who was so tender to the animals while he freed them…he was a good example. When a small fish jumped out of the basket, he used his bare hands to catch the fish and plunge it into the river, but he was so tender, he was afraid of hurting the fish…so the fish again jumped out of his palms! Van, his mother yelled: “Theodore, don’t hurt the fish, and he reply, “No, I won’t do such thing!” To hear he said that melted my heart.)
I didn’t bring enough money! But we did it anyway, since we knew these fish were from small ponds and rose for food. I asked everyone to help chip in. When we returned to the temple, there were three tables of wonderful vegetarian food with young nuns who were waiting to attend to us. The food was so delicious because it was prepared and cooked by the young Buddhist nuns of the temple. We felt so happy and blessed.
August 12th, the children had to wake up at 4am (can you imagine?) NO one wanted to get up that early. However, they had to, because we would have to go very far to the mountain on a rough road and return same day because Tuan’s family had to catch a plane to go to the north the next day. The children got into the 16-seat van and they all fell to sleep until breakfast time. We stopped at a very good and clean place. The children were rested, I had vegetarian food and they ordered phở bò and cafe sữa đá, so after that they all woke up fine. We were very late On a rocky rough road, we saw two mountain men in their brown uniform waving the the International Buddhist flag…we yelled, “Stop! Those must be the people waiting for us.” It was correct. They led us into the village by scooter and we followed them and there were about 400 montagnards people from the leper colonies were waiting for us at the temple. The Temple is head by two Buddhist Nuns (one was very ill, the other nun told me that “She was going to depart this morning, but I told her that you are coming from the Obama!, she came back and waited for you in her chamber!) They received us formally with flowers, candles and members singing. The nun was saying: “Dear Venerable Bhikkhuni,I am respectfully receiving you and your gifts. You are from the President Obama to visit us in the mountain jungle like this is such an honor!” She kept repeating Obama’s name. Anything we gave her, she said from Obama! She must like Obama! We knew she was joking! I laughed and everyone laughed. After a hot pot delicious lunch, we observed the Buddhist chanting and practice of the mountain people. We distributed a mountain of goods to the Mountain people: Ben distributed 250 pounds of sugar, Tuan distributed 6000 pound of rice, Theo distributed 10,000 packages of noodles, me and everyone else distributed 600 pounds of dried fish, distributed 500 bottles of soy sauce, 255 shampoos, 300 soap bars, thousands of candy bars, Van distributed 250 pieces of clothes, toys, and shoes. Everyone was working so hard to finish the good deed. My compliment for the parents who did a super good job in this trip to help educate the children, and they sure have had a good pleasure /charity trip. On the way returning to Ho Chi Minh City, the road was so dangerous that we saw 2 deadly accidents on the road. For this we are thankful to the Lord Buddha, Bodhisattvas and all deities and protectors that blessed us and led us the way for us to accomplish everything we planned.
August 15th, I went to Phan Thiet, Binh Thuan, Ham Tan to participate in a ceremony for drowned victims, (there were fishermen and a young 18 years old student identified). It was hot and difficult, tired and slow…and with broken heart, when we saw 6 and 7 years old children who lost their fathers to the ocean. These kids hold my robe very tight that made me feel sad…it was done. I am glad I did everything possible within my power to help out others.
I appreciated Tuan/Van and Kim Nguyen, Natalie Tran, Mallika and other kind heart members who contributed to fund to made this charity trip possible…I am back to America for good.
Much love and Su Phu is so proud of you all, that without me you can manage the meditation classes. Good job, Dieu Chau, Mallika, Luc Phuong, Hong, John, Linh, Hung, Chot, Cuong, Phuong, Sona, Phelida, Tam, Alex, Hanh, Hau, Brandon, Emily, Dong Dieu Hanh, Anthony and others… I prayed for all of you to be well, happy, peaceful and successful in your future.
Love and compassion.
More about the night the Bishop tribute
The Bishop and his priests presented me the bouquet;
cake and a wrapped gift. I was worried that I would have to carry all of the gifts with me to the convent and to my room, so it came to my mind that I should offer all of my gifts, bouquet, flowers and cake to St Mary (mother of Jesus). The Bishop gave a speech about my presents and my work there to help the lepers for the last 20 years without tire. He also reported that many lepers appreciate the help, and then he handed the microphone to me and asked me to deliver a message for the audience
This greeting and tributing organization included Father Vinh and the head of the church of Pleiku. A senior Sister who is a medical doctor who works on HIV and other sisters came along with me from Ho Chi Minh City and were present. Everyone sang songs and clapped hands. The audience was about 90% young adult Catholics and these young people looked at me like I am someone who is a special friend of their church. This made me happy because I think it made a different bridge for young adult Catholics to feel easy with Buddhists and that hopefully it will bring friendship between Buddhists and Catholics in the future.
Next morning, the Bishop came to the convent where I stayed and conducted a mass ceremony for the sisters. I attended the mass and listened to the singing from the sisters. They all sang very well; they know music and play piano and organ melodies to accompany their beautifully voices. After the mass concluded, the Bishop went on a walk during the rain.
I returned to my room and prepared my luggage and checked out of the convent for the airport. Then during the breakfast at 7:30am, I was placed sit next to the Bishop. As a guest of the senior sister (high-mother), she or her senior assistant always attended me, and I was always placed to sit across from the high mother for the many years I went to the convent. Most of the young sisters know me and met me many years ago when they were teenagers, so they remember me very well whenever I visit the convent.
The breakfast we had was coffee with sweet condensed milk, bread and butter, fruit, porridge, and sweet rice with layers crispy of rice. The Bishop explained the conflict between the non-Catholics and Catholics and about Catholic priests and nuns and stories about such things. He somehow didn’t touch the wonderful sweet rice. I pointed to the sweet rice to the Bishop: “someone especially prepared this for you, and if you don’t eat some they will feel bad, so please take some.” He asked me if I would kindly give him some he will take it. I gave him some and he could not finish all, just took a bite, he didn’t eat much. Then the sisters brought the fresh green tea the convent growth. Because I asked the convent about the growing tea, now I had green tea served as well as self-grown coffee at breakfast. I was afraid of mentioning anything else to the nuns, because the senior sister would find and present it to me. The nuns also secretly stuck a big bag of green tea in my suitcase, which I found the bag in Ho Chi Minh City and I enjoyed the green tea every day for the whole week when I was there.
Tỳ Kheo Ni Thích Nữ Hạnh Trì
Galleries for Trip Report 2012
The next project for 2013 is to replace this bridge with a cement bridge. We need your help building this bridge, which transports 300 children-crossing daily to Thanh Hung elementary school.