Chapter 1

An old monk once shared with you the following truth: coursing through our veins is not the blood of our own but a confluence of those who came before us, our parents, their parents, and their parents before them: a map tracing the intricate, rhizomatic connections of time and of kinship.

Our skin, our covering, a blemished parchment, bears the marks of the mishaps of our life. Our cracks, our chips, our scars weave our malleable tapestry. And on these landscapes of imperfections, peaks and valleys emerge between the folds. As our flawed hands reach out to touch, they unveil the expanses of our misconnections. Yet, these gaps of inadequacy are not empty – no, within them flow salt and water, sweat and love, labor that nourishes and embraces that sustain.

But how do we measure the spaces between the folds of the skin, count the drops of sweat shed, or measure the love bestowed? How do we quantify the unquantifiable? In Vietnamese tradition, a well-recognized children’s poem echoes a potential answer: Công cha như núi Thái Sơn, Nghĩa mẹ như nước trong nguồn chảy ra – A father’s toil is like that of a tall mountain, a mother’s love an unceasing aquifer.

In Vietnamese tradition, every family meal commences with an act of simple servitude: the child takes empty bowls, fills them with rice, and offers them to their parents. This performative ritual reiterates and brings into physical form the invisible connection between labor and love. And as we cradle a bowl’s flawless surface, our imperfections etch their stories onto its impervious surfaces, momentarily imbuing it with our shortcomings. Sweat seeps and flows like rivers, painting a map of gullies where love resides, confirming the temporary connection between the giver and receiver.

Blue and white porcelain bowls are objects of your childhood memory. Adorned with high mountains and meandering rivers, they bore the images of fantastically perfect landscapes. Yours, too, are landscapes, spun not from threads of fiction but from the links that bind us, the topography of your touch.

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