Serendipitous Solitude in Sài Gòn (2023)

The day was early when I made my way to the “pink church,” which wasn’t far from where I stayed. I hadn’t made any specific itinerary, so it was rather an impromptu trip. The only particular reason why I picked a place of worship as my first destination was because of its supposedly flashy, curiously unusual appearance for a religious building, which happened to be in the shade typical of one of those Wes Anderson movies.

As I walked southeast, I noticed that there weren’t as many pharmacies as on the northwest side of the road. It was the night before when I made my first attempt to explore the area to find some bottled water and stuff to snack on, when I noticed that the northwest was basically overrun by pharmacies, which to my surprise existed literally in every other house on the street. I reckoned it was probably the byproduct of the pandemic. I had to turn around, walked in the other direction and passed the hostel again until I finally came across a FamilyMart, like a luminous shrine in the middle of a chaotic street market that reminded me of bits of my hometown.

In the morning, the messy street market seemed to feel a little more welcoming. It was still overrun by people, still ever-lively, but felt more bearable for passersby when under the sun.

Then the rosy-looking building, Tan Dinh Church, emerged on the right-hand side of the street. Almost commanding the entire crowded, grayish street to pay attention to her unmissable, grand, almost jaunty facade.

I found its gate and walked towards the statue of Mary that stood on the west corner. A couple of city dwellers were standing in front of her, deep in their prayers. I adored it for a while and then kept walking around the church’s complex to look for other things worth snapping some pictures of.

The door to the church building was still locked, so I followed the lane that circled the main building instead. Behind it was apparently an L-shaped outdoor seating area for the masses – much smaller than the one inside the church, but felt more intimate somehow. Probably because there were only a few rows on both sides and that each row’s bench seemed to fit just two people. At the intersection between the two sides of the nave, stood a turquoise altar with a Jesus statue protected under its small roof. A very pleasant sight, artistically wise, indeed.

I sat on one of the benches, still adoring the intricacies of the facade of that beautiful sacred place. I always have a thing for any place of worship, whether or not I understand their preachings, so there’s that. Next to me was the pink building that separated me from the bustling road where I came from. I seemed to be the only person there.

When I sat there, on the iron bench surrounded by yellow and magenta flowers in neat rows of huge planters, something came to me. A quiet one. It was the kind of quietude that I hadn’t experienced in a while, the kind that made you wonder if it’s how it felt to be consciously connecting with your surroundings.

Funny that a few metres next to me were people rushing, flooding the sidewalks and streets and stores with their chitchats, and business, and concerns, and whatnot, but the chaos stopped somewhere between our distances. All the worries and troubles of that day did not reach me. The rumble and frenzy of life paused for a bit as if giving me permission to just sit back, breathe, and recalibrate for a moment.

In the most unlikely place, that I barely had an understanding about. I felt unanticipated peace and wisdom that just passed by me out of the blue and asked me to drink some of it. The world in my head went silent and there was only one voice of myself, without any residual echoes that usually resided in the background.

I sat there for a while – just absorbing what it probably meant to feel reconnected with one’s self. To be alert enough to sense my decelerating nerves, but relaxed enough to notice the delights that flowed within. When the passing of time didn’t matter, and I forgot to care about all the places I wanted to see and things I wanted to tick off, because all I cared about was that for that very moment, I was alive and untroubled.

And then there were a series of similar occurrences. Other places of worship, despite still with a language I was deeply unfamiliar with and verses I never really heard. Under the lush, gigantic tree that sheltered the congregations who were seeking comfort in the middle of a hectic city; or across hectares of greeneries as far as eyes could see. The serendipitous solitude stayed, following me wherever my footsteps took me.

Before me, there might have been thousands, maybe millions, of people worshipping the higher power in the spot I stood at. Was it their collective faith and hopes that were left there, whose frequencies tuned in with something inside me when I passed through? Did the little thing inside me resonate with the imprints they created behind? Does it matter that we beg to and acknowledge different entities as our Creator?

In Saigon, I learned about giving myself a space to be grateful, to remember the Almighty’s grace, to allow the world to pass you by without warning if it means you are giving yourself time to appreciate the very moment. In every place that has been blessed by people’s begging, asking, yearning, and appreciating, there might be traces for you to follow, to spiritually connect with, that might lead you to arrive in the same hall. A hall so big, so unbounded, that no matter how many people are waiting there, it’s only tranquillity and sufficiency all around.

Even when you are not planning to feel those traces, you might come across them unanticipatedly somehow. You just need to find the depth at which you are comfortable listening to what they say, and free all the worries away so that they are given the chance to linger in you for a while.

To the bustling city where I found bits of comfort and stillness; ’til we meet again.

Leave a Reply