I was born and raised in the countryside of Vietnam, but then came to a large city to pursue higher education and a career.
Looking back at my whole life, I sometimes feel it is so much like a composition, with a hooking introduction in the rural area, the harsh and challenging body fighting in the city. With that in mind, I truly do not want to drag this body in a large stressful urban area forever, without a satisfying conclusion back to the countryside.
Yet at the same time, I realize that the ‘hometown’ in my mind is something so far from my reach, like a person aching to see the first love just one more time even though highly aware that it is impossible. After all, life is not a dream!
Also, I discover that my concept of ‘hometown’ seems to change with time. Basically, it means a place where a person was born. But broadly speaking, any location in this country shares the same name of ‘Vietnam’, with similar scenes of serene rice fields, green tree groups, tranquil rivers, starry skies, flickering fireflies at night and the same nostalgic scents of wild flowers and weeds; with the same characteristic of sincere care and tolerance among neighbors.
“Be it the sea or the mountain, home is where the heart feels peaceful” (translated from the poem by Chinese poet Bai Juyi). This has always been my favorite lines. A hometown should be able to gives a person calmness, bliss, and tranquility.
Bearing that in mind, I chose Long My Commune (located in Dat Do District of Ba Ria – Vung Tau Province) to spend the rest of my retired life. The place is quite near Phuoc Hai Sea and Minh Dam Mountain, which means I can enjoy different natural landscapes conveniently.
Moving here, I do have a chance to revive my childhood farming habits, happily getting away from the noisy and stressful life of the city.
Then I discover one particular interesting behavior of watchdogs. It is normal that each house in the rural area has one or two dogs to safeguard the property. They are quite kind and good-looking, yet are able to bark harshly, especially at night, provoking other dogs to do the same. “One dog barks at something, the rest bark at him” (Chinese proverb) seems to be the case here.
At first, I felt quite annoyed, thinking that I did not do anything wrong, neither was I look like an ill guy at all. How could dogs bark at me so harshly like that?
After some time living in the neighborhood, I started to understand the logic behind. Actually, these dogs are very sensitive to smells. They can discover the smell of strangers from a long distance, and thus barking as a warning.
One afternoon not long after I had moved to my new house, as I was riding my bike to a weeds field, I saw a dog from afar. It detected me and began to bark loudly. It was such a funny sight to see a dog showing its ready-to-fight state from such a long distance, as if I could fly over and steal its owner’s property right away!
Then when I spent more time in the neighborhood, these dogs seemed to regard my smell as a familiar one. They now stop barking whenever seeing me, and even wag their tail as I come near.
What about my children and their adaptation to the rural environment? They gradually get used to the idyllic unique scent of the countryside, coming from cow dung, rotten logs, or weeds. And now they can explain my action of using a dried bamboo stick to ruffle into the weeds early in the morning just to enjoy the scent.
In our garden, there lives a large gecko. The first time I saw it, I was frightened. Night after night, when everything is covered in darkness, its voice echoes in rhythm like a highlight being programed in advance. The sound was a bit scary and made me sleepless sometimes then. But strangely, when I need to come back to the city for a few days, it is that sound that I miss the most.
“Oh how I miss the sound of that giant gecko at home!”, I once exclaimed to my wife. She burst into laughter before teasing me “Oh it’s okay as long as it’s not the sound of any charming girl! I allow you to do that, so go ahead!”
Strange as it may seem, I can now sleep better when being surrounded by this magical sound. Maybe it is because the gecko has made the night less lonely to me.
It is said that geckos bring about good luck. I quite agree, as having a gecko around means your place is close to nature and far away from pollution.
I have grown different kinds of flowers and trees in my garden. My friends gave some as well. Among them is a honey locust tree. Looking at the tree now, I can imagine a scenery where the wide shading of its leaves cools my garden on hot days, and where its fruits hang happily from the branches waiting to be picked up, or even the scenery of my wife roasting honey locust, creating an attractive particular scent.
Oh it seems any rural scent coming from our nostalgic memory is able to make our eyes watering.