This is Vietnam at 6:00 in the morning. I peer out from the tenth story balcony of my hotel, watching her body wake up. Here, somewhere in these winding streets, is a small hospital. This is where my story begins. Sixteen years ago, I was born and taken to an orphanage called Tam Binh. I waited here two years until my adoptive parents took me to America, the land of opportunity. Now we are back, and the rising sun marks the fifth day of our family vacation. At 8:00 we travel to Vung Tau.
As we race through the countryside, the tropical skies of Vietnam steal my attention. They are dazzling with that oh-so-perfect azure serving as a backdrop to a fleet of puffy white clouds. This is Vung Tau, three hours from Saigon. The atmosphere is drastically different here. You can breathe and the world is so clear and fresh. From our van we see the South China Sea, a living beast, inhaling the air and exhaling salty water.
Suddenly, I imagine myself, two years old, riding into this same town with my newly, adoptive parents. We gaze at the same sands. The same golden sun. I imagine my toddler hands tightly gripped onto the window’s edge as I hesitantly, yet curiously soaked in these exotically new sights.
“I’ve been here before,” I whisper to myself, “and finally I’m back.” But our destination isn’t the beach. Instead, we move along the winding street. Up ahead, a dragon is perched on the road, parallel to the sea. His back arches and falls, imitating the water he guards. We continue inland toward another guardian, though, this one guarding the land, skies, and sea.
In the distance I can see the Christ of V?ng Tàu, a Rio-esque Jesus statue, standing tall with stone steps leading to its base. Once we arrive, my family empties out of the van, Mom, Dad, and Will. We walk out onto gray stones that are cut and interlocked in an array of shapes. We disperse, each of us taking in the majesty of the area. The South China Sea is far to our left, but the expanse of water no longer interests us. Instead, we start to climb the many steps leading up to the Jesus statue.
Once we crest the top, we enter the statue itself and climb another set of stairs to reach the shoulders. The steps, at their widest, are two and a half feet; their narrowest, maybe two. There is one set of stairs for traffic going both up and down. The heat, surprisingly, is quite tolerable, despite being in a tight, enclosed space during the summer. As we ascend the minute steps, people periodically descend. We shift back and forth for half an hour in the cramped half light, rhythmically like a dance, until our turn comes. Blinking, we step into the sun.
I spin as well as I can on the tiny platform. The platform should probably only hold four, maybe five. There are six present. No matter. I, myself, feel like God. This view, normally reserved for birds, has been gifted to me. Huge ships on the sea are made tiny by distance; the city behind us is framed by emerald green hills and marked with red-orange roofs. The designers’ ambition and passion is evident as everything here is part of a magnificent masterpiece. The people of Vung Tau must look upon this beautiful world and think, ah, this is home. And as I stand here, surrounded by Vietnamese people, I feel that I am home at last.
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