Saigon, May 05, 2013
The first time I met him was a few months ago at the Lingnan painting class. Saigon is my refuge after long trips and it is home to my artistic spirit. Mind you! It’s definitely not the most admiring side of me. I would never become an artist, but I am head over heels with the unconditional, un-biased, non-judgemental love our master has for us. It seems natural to him. “No table!” we say it in Vietnamese, meaning “there’s no argument about it”. Silly Vietnamese and our language. Master has done this all his life and he is solely 83 years of age.
But this is not about my master. It’s about Chung, a 19-year-old kid (Sometimes I have to pull my wandering self back on track). Chung was sitting by himself, away from the noisy bunch of us students, minding his own business when I caught sight of him. His whole posture paints a lonely, life-beaten, lost, and frightened mood and feel to the corner. If I could ever paint that scene, I would probably name it “Trapped”. Why on earth would someone look that miserable? Through sporadic conversations with Master and a few classmates, I learn that Chung is living in a pagoda managed by his Uncle cum Spiritual Master. That does not feel right. How could one be spiritually liberated or enlightened as some call it in such a miserable-looking body? And so I take the whole class out for lunch this time I’m back and intentionally sit next to him.
Chung is a super shy kid. He does not seem to know what to say or how to open a conversation. As we get acquainted, He starts opening up and telling me about his life. Chung has been living with his uncle in the pagoda since he was little. His father moves to Taiwan to work and sends his mom some money now and then to support the family. Mom has always been a housewife and as such could not raise him up with the limited financial support from his father. Though he goes to school during the day, his duty is book-keeping for the pagoda and thus he has to be there day in day out to receive and reconcile money offerings by visitors. Just like that he grows up and becomes a lonely shadow, performing his silent duty. He is extremely gifted when it comes to Lingnan art and at one point Master has thought about passing on the teaching duty to him as the key disciple of Lingnan school in Vietnam. The kid is lost. His uncle wants him to become a monk and takes on the duty to manage the pagoda. He is definitely not there, yet feeling obligated to do so to pay respect to Uncle’s up-bringing. And there he is, stuck in between debt and life, passion and duty, future and past….
I gave him a painting book as a gift with a small note, “Hope you find peace and joy in art and hope to see you utilize your gift in Lingnan to help others around you.” As I was waiting to board the flight tonight, his sms came in. “Thank you sister. I now know there are others in the world who care about me. I will continue to improve in art and there will be a painting waiting for you when you return.”
Sometimes, that’s all you need in life.