□ Nguyễn Trung Tây, SVD
The Corpus Christi Sunday, Year C
Rice! Rice! Oh, Rice!

Once I told a friend, “If you see me eating a bowl of hot noodles for breakfast, you don’t need to be a doctor, surely you can tell I don’t feel well. Perhaps, I have a cold or flu.”

You look at me, exhibiting a confused, perplexed, flummoxed face,

“Be real! You guys! You eat noodles for breakfast. I saw it in Saigon, in Hanoi, in Hue, everywhere, every place I had been through in Vietnam. Even I myself was served only with bowls of noodles for breakfast in fourteen consecutive days in Vietnam.”

You pause for one moment then raise your voice, “What are you talking about?”

You stop for one minute, I guess, to catch your breath, then return to the chat about the noodles served for breakfast,

“And when the time to serve lunch came, I entered the hotel’s dining room, expecting to enjoy my lunch, perhaps, served with a medium rare Beef steak, or a T-Bone Lamb, and potatoes, mashed or baked, it doesn’t matter! Being of Irish descent, I love potatoes. But, believe it or not, three bowls of rice were brought out to the table for my lunch. Rice! Rice! Oh, Rice. Rice was the only item served throughout the entire meal. Steamed rice! Fried rice! Sticky rice! Rice soup! Even the spring roll for entrée was made of rice. And seeing the dessert was brought to the table, I excitedly asked, ‘What’s it?’ The waiter bowed his head, politely saying, ‘Sir, it is the rice cake’… Well! Rice! Rice! Oh, Rice!”

(People can tell you become enthusiastically with the newly invented hymn, “Rice! Rice! Oh Rice”.)

“Waking up from my siesta,” you continue, “I went down to the dining room. The waitress in her Vietnamese outfit, they call Áo Dài, approached me, ‘Sir, can I take your order for your afternoon tea?’ ‘What do you have?’ ‘You have a choice of green tea or coffee.’ Oh, Tea! I love tea. I love green tea! I love the Oriental tea which the Oriental legend believes has the power to grant longevity to those who imbibe this heavenly tea (made from the leaves of the tea trees, grown on the top of a very high mountain, picked up by the monkeys with the white fur). This thought quickly flashed by and was processed in my mind. ‘Tea! Green tea, please!’ I replied, hoping I would be served with this special green tea. The waitress looked very young, 20? or 22?, with thick, long, smooth, sleek black hair, the typical texture of the Oriental hair that I love, disappeared. While waiting for my cuppa, I turned my eyes to the glassy windows of the room. The summer was clearly portrayed through the tropical sunny light, the very green leaves of the high palm trees, and the sticky air of the humid tropical atmosphere I could feel it. I allowed my mind to wander while waiting for the cuppa of green tea. Tomorrow I will be in Hue, and then Hanoi, Ha Long Bay… Ha Long Bay, my friends told me, was one of the best tourist places… My mind stopped wandering when I saw the shadows of my Oriental angel cast on the floor. She walked on her high heel shoes, amazingly, without causing a single sound… She was carrying on her arms, as I expected, a wooden tray on which a cup of green tea was placed. The tea was hot, I can tell, for a trail of white vapor was rising up from the cup. Next to the cup was, nevertheless, not a biscuit. ‘What is it?’ I pointed at the item. The young lady politely said, with a clear and articulate voice, ‘Sir, it is a rice cake.’”

Rice! Oh Rice! Oh Rice.

Before leaving my table, she smiled at me with a very typical Oriental smile, informing, “At 4 pm, there is a tour bus scheduled to take our tourists to a field to enjoy the sunset…”

“What field?” I was curious,

“Rice field, sir.” She added, “Our tourists always enjoy such scenery, a-rice-field-by-sunset scenery.”

And then dinner, tea time came, after the tour to the rice field by sunset. I hoped the chief had varied the menu. But, no! Rice, rice, oh rice. I was served with rice again.”

You cease for one moment. And then two… I think you finish singing the hymn, but “Oh, no”, you continue,

“You know what, Jesus’ famous saying, ‘I am the bread of life’ should have been read, ‘I am the rice of life’ in the Vietnamese culture.”

“Really…” I am surprised.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“See, Jesus is a Jew. He eats bread. His people also eat bread. In the desert, he multiplies the bread for the hungry crowds. That’s why he declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Anyone who does not eat the bread of life granted from heaven will not have eternal life.’ You guys don’t eat bread. You eat rice! Rice! Rice! Oh Rice! If Jesus was born as a Vietnamese, he might have said, ‘I am the rice of life’,” you sound like a professor in a lecture!

“I see!!!” I exclaim and then admit, “What a profound statement! I have never thought about that until now.”

“So, if Jesus was born as an Irish man…” I challenge you.

“He might have declared, ‘I’m the potatoes of life,’” you respond.

“Well! What if he was born a Pacific Islander?” I wait for the answer.

“I’m the taro of life,” you answer without pausing for one minute.

“What if he was born as an Arrernte man?” I look at a young Arrernte man who is quietly praying to Ngkarte God in Ngkarte Mikwekenhe Chapel

“I’m the kangaroo of life,” you reply at once.

“Fantastic! It is very profound,” I delight.

“But are you sure, Jesus would come up with such a cultural response regarding his famous saying?” I checkmate you.

You stop and suddenly become quiet to fashion some sort of response. As I anticipate, you eventually open your mouth, saying,

“I am not sure! Jesus alone, Jesus himself will have the accurate answer for such a question.”

You continue, “Relying on the cultural context of Jesus’ famous saying, I have speculated and come up with many cultural responses. Full stop! End of sharing!”

We both burst into laugher, for, “End of sharing” is the saying that the member of the Bible Group recite at the end of their sharing during a Bible Sharing meeting.

I turn to you, “Can I ask for a favor?”

You become serious, “Depends on what kind?”

I stare at you, “Hakuna Matata! No worries! I told you, if you see me eating a bowl of noodles for breakfast, you know I might have a cold or flu. Right?"

You nod your head, “Yes, I remember.”

I refresh your memory, “And you immediately open your mouth singing the hymn, ‘Rice! Rice! Oh Rice!’ Right?”

“Yes. Continue please,” you act as you are relaxed.

“Can I speak now?” I become serious.

“Yes, please! Be my guest,” you invite me.

I say, “Well! I have eaten a bowl of cereal for breakfast for almost thirty years, since I first set my foot in the US in 1984. And now, 2013.”

The muscles on your face are no longer tightened, but loosened. You look at me. I look at you. All of sudden, we both burst into laughter.

“I see!” you smile.

We then both sing the hymn, “Rice! Rice! Oh Rice!”

Jesus, the bread of life.

Jesus, the rice of life.

Jesus, the potato of life

Jesus, the taro of life.

Jesus, the kangaroo of life.

□ Nguyễn Trung Tây, SVD