Nha Trang, Vietnam
So I come to find out that K is writing a Journal on the trip. No pix cause I (of course) take waaaaay better pix than he does, but I have to admit that he writes waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than I.. So I am going to start plagiarizing his Journal and use parts of it to help describe the history etc of the places we will visit from this point on..
Before reflecting on Nha Trang, it is worth mentioning that in order to understand something of Viet Nam it is important to realize that for centuries Viet Nam was actually a southern province in China and hence influenced by China. Chinese and Vietnamese are closely related languages, linguistically speaking, although Chinese is written in characters and Vietnamese is written in Latin letters, thanks to Dominican monks who came to Viet Nam in the 1600’s and who tried to write a translation of the Bible into Vietnamese so that the locals could read it. The Vietnamese language has an alphabet of 29 letters, using diacritical marks to indicate tones on certain vowels and not having certain letter sounds in the language). That said, however, as we move south in Viet Nam to its central area, we begin to see signs of India’s culture and religion in Viet Nam as well.
From Hong Kong our first stop in Viet Nam was Nha Trang, a city on the east coast in the central part of the country with a burgeoning population. Nha Trang is blessed with a lovely coastline, and the city’s beaches are fast becoming a resort area for both Vietnamese people and foreigners. The presence of Russian tourists in particular, can be heard in hotel lobbies. Russians are not well thought of by the Vietnamese who work with them, particularly in the tourist industry. They are seen as unruly, loud, cheap demanding and denigrating to the Vietnamese people. Contrast this with the Vietnamese attitude toward Americans, whose country fought a war in Vietnam that ended in 1975. Nearly 40 years after the end of that war, there is remembrance but absolutely no animosity in evidence against Americans.
The Taxi Driver who took us around for the day.
As in other parts of Asia (Hong Kong and China in particular come to mind), there is little discernable unemployment in Vietnam. If someone doesn’t have a job, it seems that he CREATES one for himself as the welfare systems here don’t provide much in the way of support. He sells something as an itinerant street vendor, selling socks, costume jewelry, souvenirs, food – whatever it is – in order to earn money. One of the by-products of this is that if you’re a foreigner and you go out, particularly to tourists sites, you are bombarded by hawkers trying to get you to buy their wares, and they are very persistent. If seems as if some of them have motor scooters and follow tour buses from point to point, pitching passengers when they get off the bus, gradually reducing the prices of their wares as the tour progresses.
Viet Nam has the worst driving and traffic situation of anywhere that I can remember. Most of the vehicular traffic is small motor scooters under 175 cc (so no Harleys or other “big, bad boys”). Here traffic signals are truly only a suggestion, as drivers think nothing of driving in both directions in all traffic lanes, driving through red lights without stopping or even slowing down, and to the foreign eye it seems that confusion reigns supreme. However, it apparently works for the Vietnamese, as drivers do slow down to go around pedestrians trying to cross the street in the midst of all this insanity, and I didn’t witness any accidents. To their credit (and FWIW, although from personal observation it does not seem to be the law), many if not most Vietnamese motor bike drivers do seem to wear helmets.
Nha Trang has two sites in particular worth visiting: the first is the _______ Pagoda and the White Buddha there, and the second is the Cham Towers, built next to a river that runs through the town. The White Buddha was built in the last century to commemorate the Vietnames Buddhist monks who immolated themselves in protest against the Viet Nam War. In Nha Trang we begin to get a feeling why this part of the world is called Indo-China. On ground level is pagoda with swastika markings that shocked me the first time I saw them out of Nazi context, which was in India in 2005. Here in Viet Nam the swastika design on a decorative stone panel erected in front of the pagoda served as a reminder of the Indian/Hindu influence on Vietnam. The pagoda itself had, in addition to statues of the Buddha, wall panels atop the pillars supporting the pagoda, depicting what I assume were scenes from the life of the Buddha which are well-known to ardent adherents of Buddhism. Outside the pagoda and to the right, with a path straddled on both sides by green plants of all kinds, began a series of many steep stairs that were to lead to the immense statue of the White Buddha (so called because the entire statue is white). Although I didn’t count the stairs, there must have been close to 300 of them, and I had to pause and rest several times in my ascent to the Buddha statue. About 3/4 of the way up there was a gigantic bell which was chimed by a thick wooden gong attached to a permanent structure that allowed the gong to move like a pendulum, and that was operated by a monk. A number of people actually sat on a bench under the low-hanging bell, so that their upper torsos were actually within the hollow of the bell, and the monk would chant something. Perhaps there was some special vibration or echo that was unique – I never could find out. Up at the top of the stairs appeared the ubiquitous souvenir hawkers (these apparently made the trip up and down only once a day), and after quickly disposing of them I paused to look up at this enormous statue that looked as if it had been completely covered in baking flour (more likely, some sort of plaster). At the rear of the Buddha was an entrance to a small Buddhist shrine that looked as if it could contain perhaps 6 people. I did not take off my shoes to enter this shrine but did manage to get a photo or two of the interior. As I was about to leave the White Buddha I noticed that the ground surrounding the Buddha statue was decorated with a lovely partially-yellow lotus flower motif. I am sure there is some special significance to the lotus flower and to the fact that it seems to be around whenever the Buddha is present, but I haven’t yet learned what that significance is…..
The other attraction of interest in Nha Trang, from an historical-cultural perspective, is the Cham Towers complex. The Cham Towers were built in the 700’s and 800’s AD by a group known as the Cham people. These towers are made completely out of red brick. Of course over the centuries many parts of the buildings have been degraded, damaged or destroyed, and apparently the Vietnamese government has restored them in what appears to my untrained eye to be a reasonably good job.
The Cham Towers clearly reflect a part of early Indian/Hindu culture, based not only on the design decorations on the towers but also by the figures sculpted or frescoed onto the towers themselves.
The multi-dexterous goddess? Shiva, with his/her? 8-12-16 hands, appears on a pediment above the entrance to one of the towers. One of the most remarkable sculptures, if one can call it that, is the face of a Hindu deity carved directly out of protruding brick in a kind of reverse bas relief.
The face actually protrudes from the line of the building. The towers appear to have been constructed to contain shrines to the Hindu deities but have long since been “repurposed” to contain shrines to Buddha. All the Buddhist shrines are active, working shrines, with monks attached to them as caretakers and ritual officiates. Near one of the towers was a Vietnamese woman with a large hand weaving loom at which she was working, weaving the fabrics out of which she made and sold bags and purses on the site. She had what must have been 25 yards of hand-woven materials curled up in a kind of ball, waiting to be made into salable goods.
One last thing about Nha Trang – many of the buildings showed the French colonial influence that comes from the French occupation of Indo-China in the 1950’s-1960’s (I believe these are the dates). Of course these buildings are stylistically much different from most of the buildings, so they stand out clearly. In Nha Trang what appeared to be the largest of these buildings SEEMS to be something like the local concert hall, as there appear to be statues of musicians and actors standing on one of the raised patio entrances to the building.
Another building that is highly unusual in Nha Trang is a tall, conical building on the beach that contains among other things, a War Memorial Museum. Of course this interested me, and I tried to go inside but was turned away by a guard, who claimed that the Museum was closed today – a Sunday.
My (Nina’s) 2 favorite things I saw today was LUNCH, a woman was walking along the beach with this large pot full of seafood, already to eat!
And… this one is for you, L’via! Can you guess what she is doing??????????
Saigon next stop!