Hạ Long Bay becomes a looming character to me in my story of Việt Nam. I have never been to Hạ Long Bay until this day in March on this second journey.
I saw a landscape extraordinary to me. There were karst towers and inside them were caves. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site of 1600 islands and islets “rising from the sea, limestone pillars unaffected by human presence” the UNESCO site writes in its description.
I boarded a riverboat with my group on Hạ Long Bay and as I did, I simply wanted to take in that such a boat as this exists and that the boat was on this otherworldly body of water with towers around us. I wanted at that moment to just write a story from the well of emotions the place brought up in me. So I began to write in the small green notebook I’d written in throughout the days. I did write a story; it’s in the notebook, safe beside me. Below is not that story, but a poem I wrote about the experience of boarding the boat on Hạ Long Bay.
I Wrote a Story on a Riverboat on Hạ Long Bay
I wrote a story on a riverboat on Hạ Long Bay.
We passed like a ghost ship among limestone islands shaped
by regressions and transgressions of the sea.
I wrote a story and was overwhelmed with love.
It was cliched and disarming to feel a tenderness
uncalled. But it was there, even for our tour guide who
will later teach us Taiji and how to make spring rolls.
I love him. I love my tour group. I love the cook
even though I only saw his concentration as he worked.
I wrote a story on a riverboat in Hạ Long Bay.
I wonder about the ways the sea transgressed.
Whatever, it has left me disarmed.
Limestone is soluble and offers itself to the rain and sea.
Hạ Long Bay is in the Gulf of Tonkin which is a shallow sea.
Today I and all I love are in the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin,
not so shallow that the very name is not a drum-beat of war
that continues, if not here, then there and there and there.
Maybe this love I feel is simply an awe of life and the living.
On Hạ Long Bay, Quang Ninh Province, Việt Nam, the sea
overwhelmed the land and over millions of years created
underground lakes connected by hidden caves. I am saying,
My God! will you look at these hallowed walls of the caves
the sea made, and this crazy riverboat we’re on that looks
like it was built for the Mississippi.
I knew a soldier who never saw the north of the country.
He never knew Việt Nam contained a seascape
sculpted by nature so beautiful, so other-worldly, and the very
air whispered I love you. There is more, there is so much more.