Kismuth and the Way - 2019

The Prospect of Beauty

By Dipika Kohli

Ðà Nang
February 9, 2019

I'm in Ðà Nang. It's Tet: the New Year's holiday. Slow and sleepy, around here. Walking to the cafe. Not far. Just a stone's throw away. Viet Nam: a three-month visa, this time. (Learning the ins and outs of Southeast Asia-based living: nomadism, some call it. It's a long story, but it started with Breakfast in Cambodia - link at the end, if you're curious.) Five years in Phnom Penh, and now here I am, once more looking for the spots where “opportunity" runs square into “blind luck." First, Cambodia. Now, Viet Nam.

Where were we? Ah, yes. Koreatown, which is nowhere that I've stayed on the past two trips to this town. Between my temporary home and Coffeeland, as the place is called, there lies a shop. It's on my side of the street. (The place catches my eye because, inside, if you look straight back to the far wall, in hard black block print letters, it says, 'Beauty Vector.' There's a second line, beneath it, but it's smaller. I'll be sure to try to take a good look in a minute, when I get back that way. I'll pass it anyway, to get to the beach. After coffee.)

Thinking about 'beauty vector,' as I walk. Finding it rather intriguing, metaphysically, to probe into this a bit. What is a beauty vector, exactly? In Euclidean geometry, parallel lines can't intersect; in non-Euclidean, they can. Can beauty vectors meet somewhere, create points of connection, I wonder, perhaps in hyperbolic space? A million thoughts can pass through a mind, especially if one tends to get caught up overthinking things, even if traveling an extraordinarily short span of distance.

I'm here. Relaxed. It's one of the few places open every morning. I order. Watch the breezes feather the leaves. Light and shadow mingle, and it's time to let things free. Float away. Like today. Tet is for family time. Old and young gather: rose apples come out, along with sugared bits of ginger, and bowlfuls of dark seeds. (The seeds are hard to open if you're not used to them, but in a minute, someone's uncle or cousin or grandfather will show me how. This reminds me of holidays around the world, everywhere: we show up, to be together.) At times, guests like me from faraway places are smiled at. It's comforting. It's nice.

It's obvious, watching everything going on, that these are the times when one does something universally, no matter where in the world you are from, at these kinds of occasions. You go home. Six years ago, I left mine; I haven't been back. North Carolina. So very, very far now. Been reading Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again, in snippets. Wondering, as always, if that's truly true. Wise words from a fellow nomad: 'You have say goodbye to everything'. (But... do you?)

Taking to the road, again, towards I'm not sure yet and don't know for how long (again), reminds me of the last time I started out without a plan. A trip that, in a weird way, I'm still on. But maybe I'm overthinking, again. Maybe, here we are. Things change: things evolve. That's a given. It's up to us to decide which way on the vectors we want to face. Overindulging in the past, too caught up in the future? Or maybe you're here, at this point: this now. The sun is higher than I thought it'd be. Midmorning. And I've arrived.

Coffee—'Yes, milk coffee, thanks.'


On the black circle-top table, beneath a glass of the best tea I've had since I left Cambodia three weeks ago, the wind is unable to loosen 46.000 VND (about two dollars, enough, I think, to cover the drinks). A television is on behind me. There, just a few steps away from me, on the sidewalk, lies an old dog. Children. Elders. All the families are dressed real posh. This must be the big moment where people swap stories of their year, or describe their next plans. I do wonder what they are saying to one another, but mostly, I'm watching the silent space. Where, after all, the biggest conversations take place. Birds are out now. Someone has gathered yellow flowers with oblong petals around their very long stems, with a tie. I hadn't noticed those before. Stirring my tea.

A new year. Celebrating. A large tree in front of me and the table seem as if they've heard many stories this week already. It's easy to stand by and let it all kind of happen, they seem to be saying, as if I'm the one that's stagnant. Maybe I am. Maybe my vector is tied up in a knot of too much thinking. Time to go see the sea. I pick up my tote, pay my bill–the notes are plenty enough—smooth my trousers, and go.

Walking back. Walking towards the sea. Feel the breeze and air, again. Paint the dark, and with it, the quiet. Paint the light, and... lighten. And along the way, I catch it. The second line. At the store, I told you about. 'Beauty Vector'… I'm going to the beach to eat half a pomelo. It was a kind of whimsical purchase at a market the day before. It's still bitter, but it's open. What can I do? I've got it, and now, I've got the second line. Underneath 'Beauty Vector,' it says: “Beauty is already here."


Dipika Kohli is the author of Kanishka, The Elopement, and Breakfast in Cambodia. See