During the final chapters of "Escape from Saigon - a Novel"set during the last 30 days of the Vietnam War, there is a scene in which US Ambassador Graham Martin strives to preserve a magnificent tamarind tree that had been planted years ago on the Embassy grounds. To the Ambassador the tree was a metaphor for South Vietnam and the gentility of Saigon, that had become his home. The Marines guarding the Embassy had a different view. They were bent on getting as many people out of the country as North Vietnamese Army marched inexorably on Saigon. That tamarind tree was nothing more than an obstacle and they wanted to saw it down to open up an additional landing pad for the helicopters that were ferrying Vietnamese refugees, Americans and other foreigners to the awaiting Seventh Fleet offshore.
Given the symbolism of that lone tamarind tree, I became intrigued when I learned of "Rain Falling on Tamarind Trees," award-winning author C.L. Hoang's newest book chronicling the return to his ancestral homeland after a four-decade absence. "Rain Falling on Tamarind Trees," is a stunningly beautiful and personal account of the country. It was just released on November 18th and is widely available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all online bookstores, in both paperback and eBook editions.
Hoang who was was born and raised in Vietnam during the war, came to the United States in the 1970s, where he graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. He earns his living as an electronic engineer with eleven patents to his credit. Books, history, and travel are his hobbies. His first book, "Once upon a Mulberry Field," is an award-winning novel taking place in Vietnam at the height of the war.
Recalls Hoang, "Upon my return to America, I immediately set aside all other projects to start recapturing the memories of that visit before they slipped away. Now, a year later, I’m ecstatic to report that the work is finally done, and the book is out."
The travelogue is illustrated with over forty photographs, which Hoang says, "I managed to include essential historical and cultural background of all the places we had visited on the trip: my former hometown of Sài-Gòn in the south; Hội-An, the best preserved medieval port in Southeast Asia; Huế, the ancient capital of imperial Việt-Nam, on the central coast; Hạ-Long Bay, a world-renowned natural wonder; and Hà-Nội, the country’s thousand-year-old capital."
C.L. Hoang offers this excerpt from "Rain Falling on Tamarind Trees" and invites you to visit the author's website Mulberry Fields Forever.
RAIN FALLING ON TAMARIND TREES
By C.L Hoang
A little way down the block, Trí stops in front of what looks like an ornate temple gate. “This is the Phúc-Kiến Assembly Hall, the grandest example of the type of community halls built by Chinese merchants who settled in Hội-An,” he says. “Let’s go in and have a look around, and while we’re here I will pay so we can use their restroom facilities.”
Phúc-Kiến is the Vietnamese-sounding name for Fukien, or Fujian, a Chinese province. Many of the merchants who migrated here had fled from theirnative provinces in China after the downfall of the Ming Dynasty in 1644. We cross a tiled courtyard decorated with bonsai plants in ceramic pots
to enter the sprawling complex, which was founded in 1690. Besides serving as the meeting place for the Phúc-Kiến natives, it also houses a temple to Thiên-Hậu, Goddess of the Sea, who is regarded as the protector of sailors. Her statue presides over the main altar in the elaborate front hall, flanked by her two assistants: the goddess Thuận-Phong-Nhῖ, who is said to be able to hear the sound of a shipwreck from a thousand miles away; and Thiên-Lý-Nhãn, the goddess who can see that distant ship in distress. To the right of the altar is a detailed model of the sailing junk that was used in the initial sea crossing from Phúc-Kiến to Việt-Nam. Various symbolic and mythical animals—fish, turtle, unicorn, dragon, phoenix—are prominently featured in sculptures and fountains scattered throughout the temple.
Hearing commotion in the courtyard, I round back to the front to witness the women in my tour group clinging to each other, bent over with laughter. They’re all gathered outside the women’s facility, its door flung open, with Trí standing to the side holding a roll of toilet paper for anyone who may need it, as he always does at every rest stop. The woman next to me tries to explain between nervous chortles. “Valerie, she was in there taking care of business while the rest of us waited out here, when all of a sudden we heard a loud shriek. Then she came barging out, white as a sheet. She . . . she . . .” The woman shudders and makes a face. “This nasty cockroach had landed right on her shoulder! Long whiskers it had, too. . . . We all just flipped out. Thank goodness someone grabbed her and flicked the darned thing off of her.”
After the excitement subsides, we leave the assembly hall and continue down the street. It feels like a sweltering summer fair as we rejoin the throngs of visitors and saunter past shops, restaurants, and outdoor cafés along the roadsides. Also vying for a piece of the business are women street vendors who carry, bowing under the weight, their precious load of homemade food in baskets that swing from their shoulder pole. Even though Trí has warned us about street food, a couple of women from our group still stop to buy from these vendors. “Just to help them out a little,” they say with a kind smile.
At the end of the street, we arrive before a narrow gate-like entrance with a tile roof over it. “We are now at the best-known landmark of Hội-An, considered by many its emblem,” says Trí. “The Japanese Covered Bridge, also called Chùa Cầu, which means ‘Bridge Pagoda.’ You cross the bridge from this entrance in order to reach the old Japanese quarter on the other side.”
Dick Pirozzolo is coauthor of "Escape fromSaigon" with Michael Morris, Skyhorse Publishing, New York, 2017