When I was in Hanoi, I decided I should check out Giang Cafe, the birthplace of a local culinary invention called egg coffee. On Monday evening, I took note to try it out before leaving on Thursday.
On Tuesday, I traipsed around town, visiting the Temple of Literature and a few other spots. Hungry for lunch, I noticed a cafe I believed to be The Note Coffee – the #2 most recommended cafe on Trip Advisor in Hanoi after Giang Cafe. I walked in, and asked if they served lunch. They said no, so I left.
The day after, I took a slightly complex route to Giang Cafe. I wanted the best egg coffee in town, after all – so it would be worth the walk.
After a long journey, I finally arrived at Giang Cafe – and found that it was closed. CLOSED!!!
I turned around and trusted that the universe wanted me to try egg coffee at some other place.
I walked down the road and spotted a corner cafe called Hippie Land. I thought maybe the universe wanted me to try egg coffee at Hippie Land, since my ex-fiance vehemently called me a hippie when we broke up. I loved "hippies", but as he spewed this insult at me believing it to be the most base and vile form of subhuman, I thought maybe it was time for me to reclaim the title and own the magic of my hippieness.
Wrong. There was no egg coffee at Hippie Land.
I left the cafe, mildly discouraged and annoyed with the universe, and walked toward the Lake of the Restored Sword.
Using my inner voice as a spiritual GPS, I veered right. Then, beyond the corner and the chaos of
motorbikes, tourists, and buses, there stood The Note Coffee.
But wait – were there two Note Coffees? This surely wasn't the same cafe I visited the day before.
I walked into this Note Coffee, a beautiful little place that looked nearly identical to the cafe I had been to yesterday, save for the absence of a menu of flowers available for purchase.
"Excuse me, are there two Note Coffees?" I asked the man behind the counter.
Two other waiters approached with big smiles.
"Nooo," one of them replied. "This is the only Note Coffee."
"The one on Trip Advisor, right?" I asked, in disbelief.
"Yes, we're on Trip Advisor. We used to be #1!"
Confused, I thanked my appetite for preventing me from investing my time at an imposter Note Coffee the day before.
I ordered my egg coffee and walked up the stairs, passing KOREA written in capital letters, among tens of thousands of notes strewn across the walls, furniture and ceiling.
I entered a small enclave on the second floor, and headed toward a tattered couch in the corner, taking a seat next to a worn guitar plastered with more notes. I sat down and soaked in words from love letters written by people who had come to this place before me.
"Smile, it looks good on you," some of them said.
Others were letters of forgiveness to people who had wronged them. Still more notes were written by unrequited lovers, imploring the objects of their desire to love them back. It was a feast for the soul, and one that revealed a simple truth: love is the common experience that transcends all cultural, social and geographical boundaries.
I ruminated over the power of these messages, and contemplated what I should write on my own stack of notes. At first, I wrote two identical notes with the following lines from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself":
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
Next, I wrote a love note to my future husband, a note of forgiveness to a long lost high school friend and a couple of cute notes inviting folks to visit my blog.
Then my eyes caught a small note, plastered on my table.
Write me a letter and I'll write you one back! =)
Tell me about your hopes, dreams
fears and adventures!
Below his name, he left a mailing address in Amsterdam.
I felt compelled to write this friendly stranger an entire letter. A letter that took up six single spaced pages, written in pink – my favourite colour.
What poured out was a collection of feelings, thoughts and emotions I had kept bottled up in a big, bursting jug in the belly of my soul.
When I was finished writing to this dear stranger who gave me the permission and guidance I needed to write my truth, I was unsure whether I really needed to send it to him at all. I realized the stranger I was writing to wasn't necessarily a man in Amsterdam – it was myself.
I first read the poem "Love after Love", by Derek Walcott, after learning about it from Oprah Winfrey a few years back. I loved it because it was a tribute to the relationship with one's self, and at that time, I was newly single and all about the idea of building a relationship with myself. In theory.
But I got it now.
The poem reads like this:
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
I had finally given myself back to the stranger who has loved me all my life, whom I ignored for so long, in a room surrounded by love letters.
**This article was previously posted on my blog, VagabondHeels.com.**