Yesterday started off innocently enough. I got up early to head down to Ben Thanh Market. I know I’ve said it’s a tourist trap, but occasionally one must make one’s way there, especially when one is looking for a specific item that nobody else in town seems to carry. One of my Twitter buddies swears the best spice vendor in all of Saigon has a booth there though I’ve yet to go pay them a visit because I know I’ll go hog wild and buy some of everything they offer. Yesterday I was on the hunt for duck livers, quite a bit actually (about 500 grams worth, around 1 lb) since I got it in my head to make a pâté for an upcoming event, and I’d been told by a reliable source that I could find livers from a certain vendor at Ben Thanh.
Duck livers and a kilo of chicken livers procured (total price a whopping 30,000 VND - about $1.30), I set forth on the way back home. Friday morning traffic was in full swing. The usual cacophony of motorbikes revving, bus turn signals pinging, truck honking. As I was coming up to the intersection of Nguyen Du and Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, near Independence Palace, I looked up to see a Buddhist monk right smack in the middle of the intersection. Hard to miss him in his saffron yellow robes. He was crossing the street, going up Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, and I realized with horror that the signal had not yet changed so traffic was still flowing at full speed. The monk crept through the intersection at a snail’s pace, slowly putting one bare foot firmly down on the pavement from heel to toe before raising the other foot up to bring forward. I thought for sure he would get hit by a car or bike, but miraculously he didn’t. Traffic flowed around him, like a school of fish, and not one single person honked. It was so surreal. I stood on the edge of the sidewalk, clutching my bag of livers with my jaw hanging open and noticed a group of tourists on the other side of the street with comical expressions on their faces. One of them lifted a camera to commemorate the surrealness of the moment, and for a nanosecond I thought to do the same but decided against it. Sometimes when you accidentally peer into a person’s soul, you feel awkward snapping a picture for your Instagram feed.
When the light changed and I was able to cross the road with no issue, I quickly caught up with the monk, still moving at a snail’s pace, and glanced over at him as I passed. He was clutching a large bowl to his chest and seemed to be staring not directly ahead but at a point a few feet in front of him, completely immersed in his own self, and not troubled with the world around him.
I’ve read about walking meditations and begging bowls, but it didn’t appear that he was begging. He reminded me of Catholic pilgrims on the Chemin du Calvaire, walking barefoot up a rocky slope (such as the one in Cap d’Antibes near my cousin’s house) so as to feel closer to God. I would have liked to quietly follow him to see his progress but the livers needed refrigeration, so I silently wished him luck and veered off towards home and pâté making.