29 PICTURE ALBUM
Sunday, February 29
Steve: This was one of those days that we're sure we
won't forget. We continue to find that serendipity brings us our most memorable
experiences, this time an unplanned visit to a village that we simply passed
along the road. As we drove this morning on our way to a ceramic village (that
we never ended up making it to), Stan noticed a festival of some sort. We
stopped the car, and Tan was confident that we'd be welcomed
in the village where the festival was happening. He also warned that if we
stopped we'd need to be willing to spend some time there. Tan turned out to
be very right about this
As we walked toward the village, we saw several men and women in colorful
and traditional robes participating in some sort of temple ceremony. We heard
chanting, accompanied by the sound of a large drum and a gong outside. As
soon as we arrived, we were warmly greeted by two officially-dressed men.
We later learned that one was responsible for planning the festival and the
other was the senior government official in the village (the "Party"
representative). Very quickly, we realized that we were in for a special experience.
First, we were invited inside the temple to see the ceremony, joining a group
of older men sitting on the floor for some tea. We learned that the temple
was built to honor a famous
Vietnamese general (Nguyen Cong) who defeated the Chinese in 1543. The ceremony
was asking the general's permission to hold a festival in his honor starting
in 4 days. We watched as the women lit candles and incense, stepping in unison
while clicking teacups, and making offerings to the general. The actual ceremony
was a very serious affair, yet the men (all seated on the left) and the women
(on the right) in attendance were
all relaxing and socializing with each other.
After learning about the temple, we moved outside and sat at a table along
with various officials and residents of the village who gathered around us.
An official photographer showed up and started taking pictures. With Tan as
our translator, we learned about the people and their village (called Tram)
of 2,500 people, and they asked questions about us. They couldn't
stop talking about how honored they were to have had us as visitors. They
told us that no Americans had ever stopped by this village before. There were
repeated smiles, handshakes and hugs from everyone, and we were quickly told
that the village wanted us to be their special guests at the much larger part
of the festival that happens in 4 days (unfortunately, we'll be in Laos).
We then proceeded to the village's pagoda, where we met the resident monk.
She had just completed her studies, and was extremely warm and friendly. Along
with our entourage of village officials, we went into the pagoda where we
were given incense that we used in making a prayer and offering to Buddha.
The monk then gave us a mini-lesson in Buddhism,
explaining the meaning of the various statues inside the pagoda. Many of these
statues were adorned with fruit and other offerings that we saw people bringing
in as part of their prayers. The pagoda itself was very beautiful, and had
just recently been restored.
After leaving the pagoda, we said that we'd like to make a small contribution
to help with the continued restoration of the pagoda. Our donation (100,000
dong, or about $6) was warmly received, and I was asked to pose for the
local photographer (with the village officials in the background) as I handed
the money to the monk on a plate. All very official.
Next we were told that the village wanted us to partake in a "lucky
meal" with them before we left. How could we refuse! We were taken back
inside the temple, where the ceremony had now completed and people were gathering
to eat. But prior to eating, it was first things first. Before we knew it,
we were all given cups of locally produced rice wine, and were participating
in a large and increasingly raucous group toast. Of course, we were expected
to drink the wine
in the same the way the locals do - bottoms up (Paula successfully pretended
to down it all at once, while David and Katie were given a reprieve and were
allowed to sip the wine).
Our cups were quickly refilled, and we then approached the group of older
men on the other side of the temple - Tan suggested that it would be proper
for us to go and offer them a toast. Now things got very funny as the men
started laughing and joking loudly in Vietnamese. One man repeatedly shouted
"Hanoi! Washington!" and then said something like "Best Friends"
(in Vietnamese). He obviously had partaken in quite a few cups of rice wine
Included in this group of men was the 96 year-old village elder, and we took
some great pictures
Next we were escorted back to our table (which they had set up especially
for us since they didn't think we'd be comfortable on the floor), where we
were served sticky rice and salted pork. We've had some sticky rice before,
but this was the stickiest. It had to literally be cut with a chopstick acting
as a knife. It actually tasted great, and made it much easier for using chopsticks
(we were pretty sure that there were no forks here
). As we ate and drank
the rice wine, our plates and glasses kept getting
refilled - this obviously made the people very happy. The atmosphere during
our meal was jovial, and we continued sharing stories and learning about each
other. Katie was particularly pleased when told how tall she looked for her
As our meal came to a close, the man who was responsible for the festival
told us that he wished they could have had more opportunity to plan for our
visit. He said again that he hoped we could come again in 4 days for the festival,
and that they would try to make up for any mistakes they had made today. We
couldn't believe it! We started the day as
unannounced visitors, and they were now apologizing to us for any lack of
hospitality. Meanwhile, we're literally amazed at how wonderfully received
we were today.
leaving, we walked around the temple and had an opportunity to see two craters
from bombing during the Vietnam War. Apparently this area suffered significant
destruction (it's only about 2 kilometers from Hanoi's main air field, which
is also where the American POW's departed in 1973). The people here are obviously
of how they've rebuilt their village.
The village officials escorted us to our van, and we exchanged final smiles,
hugs and handshakes. We also gave the group our website address so that they
could see pictures from our visit. This was a wonderful experience for us
were now late for a 10:15 appointment at the home of a famous Vietnamese artist,
Dao Xuan. Dao is a friend of Tan's, and Tan was able to make arrangements
for us to spend time to meet him and see his work. Dao lives in a traditional
mountain home that has been brought to its current location, about 20 minutes
outside of Hanoi. The home and its gardens, adorned with several of his sculptures,
are unique. Ironically, Dao grew up as a member
of the government police force assigned to monitor the work of artists in
Vietnam. He has now become a famous artist, and his paintings and sculptures
have been exhibited all over the world (including many times in the U.S.).
Hanging proudly inside his home is a New York Times articles that discusses
Dao's life and current work.
We enjoyed our visit and seeing some of Dao's work - he paints in both impressionist
and surrealistic styles. Our time here with a modern and very successful artist
was a very stark contrast with our morning spent in a traditional village.
Next was a trip to Hanoi's countryside. We started in a small fishing village
that has been built around a small man-made lake. Hanoi residents like to
come here on weekends to escape the city. The village is set among orchards
of fruit trees, and contains several huts where people enjoy picnics, card
games and socializing while fishing with
bamboo poles that are for rent. David and Katie tried their luck, but could
only manage nibbles from small fish that were adept at removing the bait from
our hooks. The group next to us managed to land a very large and feisty fish,
which was fun to watch.
We drove a bit further on a country road, and soon found ourselves in the
middle of huge fields of flowers, rose bushes and vegetables. This is very
rich land, and supplies many of Hanoi's markets on a daily basis. The fragrance
of flowers filled the air, and we enjoyed
walking among the fields and speaking with the women who were planting some
crops and harvesting others. We learned that their profits are 6 times greater
than what they would earn farming rice. However, this farming requires much
more labor, so these people work much harder for their money.
On our way back to Hanoi, we stopped in one more village, and were amazed
to find another festival in process. There was a similar ceremony underway,
but this one was obviously larger and more elaborate. As was the case this
morning, we were quickly invited inside, and we were served tea
and fruit. In discussions with the Party leader and the man who coordinated
the event, we learned that this temple and the annual festival are dedicated
to a famous doctor of philosophy (versus the general who we saw honored this
morning). This village is home for 18,000 people and has two universities,
so it's actually considered a suburb of Hanoi. We made a contribution, had
photos taken (again by an official photographer), received several bags of
fruit and rice as gifts, completed several rounds of hugs and handshakes,
and were on our way
Our final stop today was in Lenin Park, back in Hanoi. Stan took us there
so that we could see some local recreational activities. In addition to regular
badminton, we saw people playing a version with their feet - it was amazing!
There were also many people engaged in soccer, jogging, unusual stretching
exercises, and some very fit boys doing calisthenics on various exercise apparatus.
One thing we've noticed is that there are very few overweight people in Vietnam
- the large number of active people we saw today is probably a major reason
We headed back to the hotel, exhausted but thoroughly satisfied with our
wonderful day. Now that we've spent four great days in Vietnam, we have a
totally different perspective than when we came. Vietnam was one of the countries
that we were somewhat apprehensive about visiting - just the word "Vietnam"
conjured up very negative images in our minds. Now that we've been here, we
realize that this is a livable country (at least here in Hanoi) with warm
and friendly people.
Tomorrow we'll spend our last day in Vietnam venturing out to the mountains.
In the evening we'll be flying back to Bangkok in preparation for a flight
the next day to Luang Prabang in Laos.