The ashes on Luke’s forehead remind me that this is the start of Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter.

I had forgotten that it is Ash Wednesday (which like Easter generally is not widely heralded in Vietnam) but he instructs me, “remember, Friday, don’t eat meat”.

For non-Catholics, a primer:  there was a time when the Catholic Church had rules for eating, fasting, for women wearing coverings on their head in church.

Lent is a time of sacrifice, of abstinence and as a child I would abstain from candy.  My brother, even today, gives up things he enjoys, like beer, for the 40 days; a great way to lose weight and be mindful of sacrifice.

My childhood was filled with such rituals and meat-less Fridays was a joyful time because it meant pizza at the dinner table!

Going meatless in Vietnam requires a little effort but is easily doable.

Local chay restaurants (vegetarian) are plentiful but sometimes use the ubiquitous pork or chicken in their stock.  Filling soups like pho are swimming with chicken or ox and beef bones. And, here, like elsewhere in the world, asking for a dish without meat may result in pork, chicken, goat or other assorted critter being served, as “meat” is defined as beef.

But in a land with a 1000 mile coastline fish is plentiful.  Clams in all varieties, other shellfish, fish from the ocean and the Mekong, shrimp in various sizes from mini to grand fill the markets.

Along with seafood Vietnam is rich with fruits, familiar and indescribable; “magic” berries that turn sweet with the taste of a lemon, mango, papaya, and durian – an acquired taste so rancid in smell that it is banned from most hotels.

I wonder, is it a sacrifice and truly Lenten is you give up something (like meat) when there are so many savory substitutes?

I don’t dwell on the question. Instead I plan my day: corn flakes and banana breakfast, salad, tofu and a strawberry smoothie at lunch and, at the end of good day at work, a return to childhood and a pizza!

Maybe Thomas Wolfe had it wrong; you can go home again.


About Dr. Roy Nirschel

Thirty years experience as an educator; international traveler, occasional writer, on a personal journey. Author of My Seasons in Saigon (available at amazon.com). Upon the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States I promised to go to Mexico; I did! Carol and I are here now. In the spirit of full disclosure, I promised to go to Mexico if Hillary Clinton was elected president too. The Seasons in Saigon are over; I am uncertain about Vietnam for many reasons despite my love for the country. Now it is Mexico time.

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