Understanding Vietnam: Its History and Culture
Then there was Huong Son Sacred Mountain! There is a lot to say about this site. First off, the group was properly warned about the epic journey that lay ahead; however, of course none us took heed the wise words of the professor. The bus ride to this location was very long and I got to know my fellow peers’ shallowness even better. I also saw a U.S flag hung upside down and I pointed it out (because I thought that was very disrespectful) but apparently that just me because no one reacted to my comment in any way. Actually the one Vietnamese student on the trip reacted by laughing, I think at my reaction and not the fact that the flag was being defaced. Then there was the first boat ride to get to the mountain. Personally I don’t like the water, whenever I say that everyone on the trip is shocked everyone because I have lived on an island my whole life. SO WHAT, I STILL HAVE THE PERSONAL RIGHT NOT TO LIKE THE WATER, DON’T I? (All caps for my angry to this miner matter, because it’s a stupid assumption to believe that anyone who has lived on an island has to like water.) Overall the boat ride, and the others post this initial one hasn’t been bad or –too– unsafe, just nerve racking.
Anyways, back to the mountain. Probably the most important thing to address first is the reading for this important location. The article for this site was by the professor, Huong Son Temple, so everyone made sure they were well verse on the text, even if the reading itself was a hurdle to get over (reading/ comprehension wise). The historical facts about the place were important but not as interesting as the tale/ legend associated with it. From my understanding, there was a childless king who prayed to Jade Emperor for mercy to spear him a child. The Heavenly Emperor blessed him with three, but this ungrateful king was not satisfied. This is because all of his children were females and be really wanted a son. The story gets more interesting when then king starts to go out of his way to force the last child, marry but she wouldn’t give into his demand and he puts her through cruel punishments, even tries for kill her, to follow his orders. If only the king had known the great things that his daughter would have accomplish, maybe he would have treated her differently for at one point she saves his life.
This daughter, the third child of the king, Dieu Thien, was special since the moment she was able to make her own decisions. She had refused to eat meat and just didn’t want to get married; even if her sister’s husband were ill suited for the thorn to rule her father’s kingdom. Dieu Thien had to undergo a lot of physical test by from her uncompassionate father. She was placed in monastery to do the work of ten servants, but seeing that she was blessed she received help from the animals around her. When her father noticed that this labor wouldn’t break her spirit he sent her to another location to do even harder work and she completed it with glee and joy. He was so upset by this, that he ordered the location to be burned down, with his daughter in it. As the legend goes, a white tiger rescued Dieu Thien and she started her journey on the path that was for her. She climbed the mountain and within the nine years that was she was up there, she received enlightenment. When her father, the king, became ill she was able to transform herself into a monk and the man didn’t even recognize his own daughter; nevertheless, she healed him. By the end of the story, the royal family went to see this monk and right off the back the mother saw that the monk was her daughter in disguise. The whole family repented and was grateful to and for their enlightened and blessed family member.
One thing that is important to highlight about his tale is that it has strong correlation when an old Chinese myth. However, the story also sends a strong message to the Asian countries where this legend or a version of it is present, including Vietnam. For according to the reading, this story is one that many people throughout the country knew, both rich and poor. As a matter of fact, many of the people, especially the poor could recent this legend by heart; a legend that sends mixed messages. This is because there is a negative and positive attribution placed upon women in this story. First there is the matter of females being less desired compared to their other gender counterparts. This fact is evident from the reaction of the king when he thought that he was cursed with three daughters. Yet the tale switches the importance of women then with this third and blessed daughter, Dieu Thien, ends up turning into an enlightened one.
As interesting as this tale and factual information within the reading is, it doesn’t compare to the journey up the Perfumed Mountain (too bad that documented scent wasn’t there anymore). The group was fortunate to meet the abbot of the temple before we walked up the mountain. He blessed our offerings, our journey, and us. He also bestowed us with treasures, a medallion and a book of his work. Then we were on our way. The group separated at the foot of the mountain and I was with one other student. Only one person was ahead of us and the others were far behind, walking in a cluster. Both of us needed to be away from the clan because they are annoying! However, we got extremely lost, on a mountain that we were told only have one path. It just so happens that over time, more and more trials were either developed or discovered and we took the most difficult one. Of course the natives on the mountain found of our presence entertaining and amusing but by this time, I have come to block out their naïve-ness and rude staring/ acknowledgement. My partner on the other hand was just starting to understand what I was feeling in the beginning of the trip, for she soon became the object of scrutiny. We took many turns, made hand gestures at some of the locals for direction and eventually we found our way. By the time we got there, I was drenched in my own sweat, hungry, and upset (understatement).
While we were at the shrine for Dieu Thien, the professor did his religious thing (which meant nothing to me, but of course our oh so cultural sensitive group stood by in amazement, TAKING PHOTOS, oh these Bobcats are a special bunch.) We eventually made our way back down the mountain, which was 1/16 of the time it took me to get up there. Things continued to get interesting; the professor had wanted the two of us to follow him back to the temple to get the bags that were left there. Before I turned around to do so, a large group of Vietnamese men was looking at me and showing all thirty plus teeth (smiling). Some of them proceeded to come over to me and I started getting very nervous. Before I knew it, a group of short men, many of who was wearing a green military like hat (very popular in Vietnam) and there was someone in front of this cluster with a camera. By the end of the day I was worn out and the next event on the calendar was sleeping on a boat.
Of course I was not happy about this day. I told my parents about this before I left the states and they assured me that my comfort and safety was more important than an experience. To me surprise, this wasn’t an ordinary boat and nowhere near what I had in mind as for a mental image of this boat. It was a very exclusive, recently built, luxurious floating house. We aboard our Vietnamese wooden yacht and made our way to Ha Long Bay. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the beauty of this location, it’s one of those places that you have to see for yourself. The hundreds, maybe even thousands, of mountain-islands and Sun Cruise (the name of the boat) sailed through the amazing scenery a the speed of molasses, it seems as though I was in a Discovery Channel documentary or one of those survival shows that is so popular on television nowadays. After a divine lunch on the boat, we visited a breath-taking cave and the whole time, the group was joking about taking “modeling” photos and so forth.
The boat ride was fine and we were on it only for one night. However, I woke up early in tears, feeling homesick, and still questioning my purpose in Vietnam. At this point I was still trying to answer the thousands of intimate questions that were racing through my mind. Eventually I left the room and walked out onto the rainy deck to continue reading Clarence Thomas’ book. It was during this time alone that I started convincing myself that my family and I must be blessed because how many Jamaicans, from Papine nonetheless, can say they were on a boat in Ha Long Bay.
After we got back to our hotel from Ha Long Bay everyone was scrambling to complete their first journal entry; I was in a panic too. After handing in my journal, I felt free; for the next two days we had off to explore the city of Hanoi. Originally, I wasn’t going to leave the hotel because I was so sick of being pointed to and laughed at by the people in this city. When it came time to get ready to leave, I decided not to go on the planned event with a group of Vietnamese kids (who wanted to practice their English with us). Instead I was going to go with two friends, who left me at the hotel due to miss communication. This must have happened for a good reason, for when I final saw them later on in the day, they reported that their time was horrible. There was one other student in the hotel and we made plans to just explore. We just ended up roaming the city, and it was a great day.
This was when I truly started to warm up to this country (I still may not like being here, but after this day, I no longer wanted to catch a flight home). It is actually funny how well our day ended up turning out. The one goal that we had in mind was to get a cheeseburger; we were craving “American” food. On our search, my companion mixed the locals and their bargaining customs (something I am not use to all, and kind of despise). We later on accomplished our one goal, even though it wasn’t as satisfying as I build myself up for it to be; overall it was fine. The both of us decided that aimlessly walking around the city was the best thing to do and if something or place caught out eyes or interest we would stop. After walking for twenty minutes, we found a mall and I bought a few things there for my brothers and myself. We then planned on meeting up with the group, but that plan fell through. By the end of the day, I was in a happy place; maybe it was because I was happy with all that I bought. The bottom line is, by the end of the day off I officially decided for myself that I was going to see this trip through and through no matter what happens.
As for our second day off, I just spent the whole day relaxing in the hotel. It’s not that I didn’t want to go out and explore Hanoi more, it’s just that I was tired and weak physically and mentally and I just needed a day to rest; to make matters worse I started feeling ill, so staying in the hotel seemed like the best plan. According to our always changing schedule, the days following out days off where going to be just as interesting as the ones before; however, there was going to be a lot of bus traveling involved because we were going to start making our way to some central and southern parts of the country.
The scenery down to Hoa Lu was very beautiful. It just so happens that this city was the first capital of Vietnam; I don’t believe the group went in the actually city for where we were staying seemed very rural. (Actually, I am positive we didn’t go in the city, for later that night a local (Thao) treated a few of us to coffee.) While we were in Hoa Lu we only visited two historic sites. The first one was the caves and then we went to a temple in the mountains. The boat ride to view the caves was very scenic. I got a chance to row a little and it was hard work; so that fact that our native rowers were women just proved to me that women can do jobs that are stereotypically male. However, there was also a fourteen-year-old boy rowing a boat next to ours so I could just be weak. The caves that we saw were used by the Vietnamese to ambush the French, and now it’s used for tourist pleasure. The temple, on the other hand, was more interesting than the others that I have seen because of the location. It’s as though it was a protected thrown with an amazing view. According to the professor, it was strategically place there for several reasons. One being its peacefulness, and then there is the matter of is the fact that it was surrounding by mountains for protection from the weather and the smaller mountain in the heart of where we were staying (directly in front of the temple) also had symbolic value.
After our one night in Hoa Lu, went drove further south to Ninh Binh/ Dong Hoi. The highly rated hotel that we stayed in was very comfortable. However, it was swarm with mosquitoes, there were rats running all over right outside the hotel glass doors and if that wasn’t enough there were lizards running on the walls; I wonder who rated it. Nevertheless, the hotel is not the important part for our main reason for staying there was to see another set of caves. This set was very interesting though. Of course we had to take another boat to see them; by now, I was very use to boat rides in Vietnam, some of them may seem on safe, but they aren’t. The hike up to this natural Vietnamese beauty was a challenge. But after Huong Son Sacred Mountain I was positive I could take on any hike in this country. The good thing is the hike was completely worth it. The inside of the cave was very cool, temperature wise, and the walk through seem like a scene in a movie; it was almost unreal. That was all dry cave; the water cave had a completely different feeling. With bats flying over our head and little to natural light, water cave seemed like it should be a Disney ride. The Cham left behind the writings called stele inscription on the wall that was very interesting, it reminded me of graffiti, but at least this had meaning. The group then continued to explore dry cave and we say a “natural” stone configuration of the four important animals in Vietnamese culture.
Then there was another long, but bearable, drive to another city. We went to Hue and this city was clean, welcoming, and comfortable. We stayed at Asia Hotel and it was a very relaxing atmosphere. A few of us walked around the city to familiarize ourselves with the surrounding and of course during out walk we were stared at. Surprisingly this didn’t bother me at all, I have come to accept the fact that I am going to be looked at and unlike other cities that we have visited in Vietnam, the people in Hue just looked and then continued with whatever they were doing. As for the academic purposes for visiting Hue, this is where the royal Citadel is located. There was a lot of information about this location. We talked about the canons on each end of the citadel and they were mostly used for ceremonial reasons. The group then walked over and visited the main buildings starting with the one where the king or royal family would stay at when addressing the crowd. With the hot sun beaming on our backs, we continued walking the complex visiting the buildings that were still standing.
There was a lot of construction at the Citadel. It first, the construction seemed minimal but after viewing a replica of what the grounds use to be, that depicted that they was a lot it destroyed during the war. Some of the standing buildings that we visited were the library, the theater (which is still operational), and the queen’s quarters. There was also a memorial or monument building for the kings that reigned at this Citadel.
While in Hue, we also visited the King burial ground/ tomb(s). This was a lot less modest than the other tombs we have visited. The location itself, for one king’s tomb was almost the size of Bates College or bigger. There was also a lot of royal drama, or corruption rather, at this site because we learned that one king was locked away and starved to death. On our way out, we ran into an elementary class and they greeted us with singing. Though I am not a big fan of kids, other than my siblings, it was very exciting to see the joy on their face when westerns were around them. Hue was a great city and one of the most memorable parts of it was our classmate’s birthday. A boat was rented out for dinner, there was cake that was great tasting (reminded me of home), and we participated in a candle vigil tradition.
We left Hue and were off to Da-nang and Hoi An. Our main reason for going here was to see the Cham sites. The drive to Da-Nang and then to Hoi An was spectacular. I believe the route we took went through the mountain. This mountain was used as the separation point as to where the Cham land began. Being in the front seat gave me a first class view of Vietnam’s countryside beauty. Believe it or not, this ride was sort of emotional for it felt like I was in Jamaica again. Actually there have been a lot of places and things in Vietnam that has reminded me of Jamaica. In Da-Nang we saw the Cham Museum. Here we saw a map of four of the five important regions in Cham, Amaravati, Vijaya, Kauthara, and Panduranga; the look about this was being able to visualize the location (sort of) seen that we have driven through some of them. The next day we visited My Son. At the welcome center, we also saw dedication to Henri Parmentier a French architect, and fellow Frenchman Louis Finot a paleographer. There was also information on Kazimier Kwaiatkowski a Polish architect and all these men were researchers and conservator that worked in My Son. There was also life size depiction of iconography Cham lifestyle such as hair dressing, clothing types such as sampots and sarongs, ways of dancing and instruments used, and lastly, important images of decoration that was used, mostly animals like monkeys and rhinoceros. We later visited the bombed sites of a Cham village that still had ruining standing. We took some group photos then we geared up for a thirteen-hour drive, which we weren’t prepared for, to Nha Trang where we are currently located.