The roaring engines of the motor boats suddenly went silent. One by one the passengers stepped onto the platform. Here was the Holy Land. The drivers of cycle-rickshaws called for customers, and when evening came our family climbed on a cycle-rickshaw that ran faster thanks to a Suzuki motor.
Like all other roads in the western part of South Vietnam during those days, the one gravel lane running from Hung Nhon to My Luong market was adorned with national flags --- with three red stripes on a background of yellow --- and brown Hoa Hao religious flags. By that time, all Heaven's altars as well as other altars were brightened with lamplights and incense. Followers in brown religious dress were solemnly performing their rituals. I kept silence to show respect for the rituals that evoked the tender memories of my childhood.
When the cycle-rickshaw passed by the big house with a roof of leaves and walls of clay mixed with straw --- the home of uncle Hai Hoa Do that had been a haven for Northern refugees more than a decade earlier (1955) --- I could not stop missing brother Huyen and sisters Anh and Diep, the children of uncle Luu Hung, who had been my close friends during those days. They were about my age, but they had had traveled a long way from the North and had brought things that were unusual in the South, such as the popular dance “sol do mi” from the northern war zone. And I missed Sister Hang and sister Nguyet, the daughters of Uncle Ha (a lawyer), who liked to sew and embroider. These families of uncle Hung and uncle Ha later fled the country again, this time for the United States, and resettled in Florida. During that time, we went together to the elementary school near Duong Tat market. On the way to school, I loved to eat pieces of popcorn one by one in my pocket, or the compressed rice prepared by Aunt Hung. We also drank the rainwater that was contained in earthen jars by the side of every house on the road.
The fast cycle-rickshaw suddenly slowed down. The driver raised his hand to take off his hat, and all others did the same. They turned toward the direction of the Ancestral Temple and bowed respectfully. The Ancestral Temple had been the house where Prophet Huynh Phu So was born and where he founded Hoa Hao Buddhism. He was later absent and only Duc Ba, His mother, was still living there. The house looked the same, with its simple construction and leaf-roof, because the Prophet had asked that money not be wasted on elaborate construction or decoration.
That night we slept in the house of Mrs. Tu Can Duoc, a follower originally from Can Duoc, Long An province. Her family had been very rich, but they were fully devoted to the religion. They had left everything and migrated to Hoa Hao Village; they built a house in the Holy Land for practical use. When we entered the house, the very first thing we did --- following our parents --- was to burn incense and pay respect before Buddha's altar. Then we bowed before the ancestors' altars, and finally we greeted the picture of the Prophet.