Object of Adoration
This morning we toured two final stops in Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam. The first was called the Pagoda, a monastery where an order of Buddhist monks live and work. The second was the Citadel, an immense walled city where the emperor and his royal entourage (a thousand or more people) resided back in the day.
The Pagoda was a very moving experience. The monks were working at a variety of tasks - meditating, teaching, shining brass - and taking care of children. Children, in fact, seemed to be the focus of the monks' operation. Orphans are left in the care of the monks, and those who happen to be male grow to adulthood in the monastery where they receive an education from the monks and do chores. Our guide, Tuan, said that sometimes family members come to the monastery to visit the boys, and if they choose, they may take their particular boy our of the Pagoda and back to their family home at any time. When a boy reaches the age of eighteen he may choose to remain with the Order or move out into society.
The young boys, called novices, whom we observed today were clearing tables, scrubbing a concrete floor on their hands and knees - while also playing on the slippery concrete, and having fun chasing and playing with one another as they did their work.
One older monk was walking around holding an infant swaddled in a baby blanket. Tuan said the baby was a three-day-old female who was left at the monastery. He said that after she has been nurtured at the Pagoda for a couple of months, she will be transferred to a nunnery where she will be raised by the nuns. Several people were taking pictures of the jolly monk and his baby. When he saw me he came over and patted my belly and said "Happy Buddha!" Then, pleased with himself, he did it two more times and proclaimed "Happy Buddha" even more loudly.
I'm not sure if he was blessing me, or using me to bless the baby. All I know for certain is that he made me feel really good!
The Citadel was not nearly as interesting. It is immense and very elegant, but it is also aging with lots of crumbling stone and mold and mildew. The government is slowly refurbishing the facility, but it looks as though they may never get caught up. One of the things I saw that sort of encapsulated the entire experience of the Citadel was a large pile of bricks and stones that we came upon during our walk along the grounds. It was obviously the remains of a building that had recently been torn down. I asked Tuan what it had been, and he said that it was public restrooms that had gotten so nasty that the government had them demolished instead of trying to clean them. That's what I call housekeeping!
This afternoon we flew into Hanoi. The airport is several kilometers away from the city, so we got to view a lot of agricultural land and factories on the way into Hanoi proper. Our hotel, The Medallion, is located in the heart of Old Hanoi - several blocks of craziness with the small streets crammed with motorbikes, cars, trucks, cyclos (rickshaw-type affairs that have a sedan chair pushed by a man on a half-bicycle), dogs, drunks, street vendors, people squatting and cooking over small braziers, and just about anything else you could imagine. I even saw a couple of chickens navigating through the madness!
Next door to our hotel is a hostel for backpackers. It appeared to be bursting at the seams with young foreigners.
Tonight Quan, our Hanoi guide, walked us down through the street chaos and onto a bigger boulevard where he placed each of us in a cyclo. I felt like some foreign potentate who was part of the reason that Ho Chi Minh went to war, but my knee was still hurting from the fall yesterday, so I sat back and let myself be carted around Old Hanoi in style.
Murphy, on the other hand, couldn't come to grips with his inner-proletarian, and soon abandoned his cyclo and was walking along beside mine. Then a few minutes later I heard my driver shouting excitedly, and Murphy peddled by driving his cyclo with his driver sitting in the sedan chair! He was quite a sight!
Our evening's entertainment was the Water Puppet Theatre, a venue with a Vietnamese band sitting above a small indoor lake. A variety of puppets splashed around in the water and acted out various skits. It was unusual and very interesting - but an hour was sufficient.
We ended the evening at a restaurant that Quan recommended. Our seats were on a narrow balcony where we looked down the bustling street. After dinner we took a long route back to the hotel, looking in a few shops and dodging vehicular traffic. I was only clipped once, by the mirror on a sleek black car. The driver glared at me like I had hit him.
I did make one purchase on the way back to the hotel. We were in a shop that sells copies of old Vietnamese propaganda posters from the war. The one I ended up buying has a bomb falling on Vietnam with Nixon's face painted on it. Red lightening bolts are firing up from the ground toward the Nixon bomb. The caption, in Vietnamese, said "Nixon has spilled our blood and now we must spill his." It really spoke to me - or at least to the person I was in the sixties!
Another one that I really liked was a drawing of a young mother holding a baby in her arms with a rifle strapped over her shoulder.
Tomorrow we are taking a three-hour drive to Halong Bay where will go on a cruise through one of the most beautiful places in Asia.
More later from the city that made Jane Fonda famous!
(Please know that America is a capitalist country, so if you want to pat my belly when I get home, it's gonna cost you!)