Anak semua bangsa, I remembered this phrase when I heard Mita speak Bahasa Indonesia. Mita is the adopted Indonesian name of a young Vietnamese person I met in a small alley in Saigon. I remarked to her that I rarely hear a Vietnamese speak such fluent Indonesian. Mita replied that her curiosity about cultures and religions led her to explore Indonesia. She lived in Surabaya for a year and fell in love with Indonesia.
Most South-East Asian teenagers are keen on Korean or Japanese popular culture, but often in Vietnam, I meet young people who are interested in Indonesia, India or Myanmar. They are the true “Anak semua bangsa” - the child of all nations (the phrase is the title of a novel that is set in Surabaya). Suddenly, I miss another Saigon friend who loves Indonesia. We sometimes used to go to the Indonesian/Malaysian enclave to eat Mee Goreng. And I miss Indonesia. What time is the next flight to Jakarta?
The eyes have it all - As I move through different lands, one observation I have is about eye contact. Almost always, eye contact, or the lack of it, is directly proportional to the affluence of the place. In richer places, I find that strangers do not make eye contact unless they are in a defined space and it is considered alright to talk - for example an event or a meetup. In less affluent places, people easily make eye contact.
Whenever I see a striking pair of eyes, I remember a story by Ruskin Bond called “The eyes have it”. The story is about a blind man who briefly meets a girl on an empty Himalayan train coach. He tries to hide his blindness by making small talk about the scenery. As the girl leaves the train a few stations later, a new passenger arrives. In author’s words:
The man who had entered the compartment broke into my reverie. ‘You must be disappointed’ he said. ‘I’m not nearly as attractive a travelling companion as the one who just left.’
‘She was an interesting girl’ I said. ‘Can you tell me—did she keep her hair long or short?’
‘I don’t remember’ he said sounding puzzled. ’It was her eyes I noticed, not her hair. She had beautiful eyes but they were of no use to her. She was completely blind. Didn’t you notice?