We left Cambodia and travelled to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It wasn’t my first time to Ho Chi Minh City. But this time, I was with a big group so that was a bit different.
The students from Cambodia were very excited. The first thing they saw at the border was the immigration of Vietnam. It looked so different from the one in Cambodia. Some of the students were very impressed. Most of the students were still wearing the clothes that they used to wear in Cambodia – some looked like pajamas. After a few days staying in Vietnam, they started to dress nicely and properly. I was actually quite impressed by how quickly they learnt.
We attended mass in Ho Chi Minh City. When the students shared their thoughts during the sharing session, they said, ‘the Vietnamese way is very different from the Khmer way. They kneel, stand and sit. Whereas for us, we sit on the floor all the time.’
I said, ‘that is not the “Vietnamese” way. It is done almost everywhere in the world. It’s just that Cambodia is different.’
One of them asked, ‘why are we different from the rest of the world?’
‘Well, you need to ask your priest.’ He then asked his Khmer priest.
After that, he replied to me, ‘Before Khmer Rouge, we were the same as the other parts of the world. But after Khmer Rouge, because the number of Catholics had dropped so much, the priests decided to let the Catholics sit all the way through the mass and that lasted until now.’
‘Do you like the Khmer way or the “Vietnamese” way?’ I asked.
‘The “Vietnamese” way.’ He said.
‘Would you like to change the Khmer way to the “Vietnamese” way?’
‘Because we are the only country that is different from the rest of the world.’
The day after that, we went to Vung Tau, which is a resort for the people from Ho Chi Minh City. So you can imagine, there are many hotels in that area. In fact, I had been there before and climbed up the Jesus Mountain. Unfortunately, when I went there a few years ago, the shoulders of Jesus were closed. This time, I was happy that I could climb up even though it was raining…
The itinerary said we would climb two mountains in one day. I actually expressed my concerns during the committee meeting. However, the itinerary remained unchanged. In the end, some people had to skip one mountain that day – it was too ‘labour-intensive’.
The Cambodian students were so excited that they ran to the top of the ‘Way of Cross’ mountain. Some said to me, ‘hurry up, teacher!’
I smiled and kept my own pace.
They continued, ‘hurry up!’
Then I said in very simple English, ‘If you run too fast, when you reach the top, you will die. But if you take it slow, you will enjoy more. Do you understand me?’
‘What did I say?’
‘You said if we run fast, we will die up there.’
I nodded with satisfaction.
Then the next thing I heard was, ‘Hurry up!’
One girl ran so fast that when she reached the top, she felt sick and started to cry. One was afraid of heights and felt dizzy and so she started crying. (They are all above 15 years old.)
When I reached the top and saw the crying faces, I shook my head and said, ‘See? You should have listened to me. Next time, take it slow and enjoy the hike.’
I like hiking. When you hike, especially when you go slow, you can contemplate and enjoy the scenery. It’s like life. If we go too fast, we will miss something. If we go slow, we will meet other people along the way. They can be your angels who accompany you. They can be people who have been there and can give you guidance. Most of the time when we go hiking, we focus on the present. And when we look back, we will be amazed by how far we have gone through and how beautiful our trodden paths have been.
What are your trodden paths like?