Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Long So'N Pagoda in Nha Trang

Another wonderful unexpected discovery with a history of protest, violence and death. But once you climb what seemed to be an interminable staircase, you arrive at the top and nature smiles; bougainvilleas abound. Children play under funerary urns, without giving a thought to their significance. After all, it's a great place to catch some shade. 

The real marvel is hidden from view upon arrival. A word of caution to anyone that cannot climb more than one flight of stairs: do not attempt to go to the top. There are 152 steps to climb, and in hot weather, it can be dangerous for some to undertake the ascent; there is a sign that discourages people with medical conditions from climbing, and it should be heeded. Luck came for us in the way of a bottle of water, which is absolutely necessary, and several rest stops on the way.  The young man at my side was impossible to shake off, no matter how hard I tried. I wondered how many times he had made the climb in order to get a few dong?  
A huge, silver replica of a reclining Buddha waits at the top of the stairs (24 meters tall), which for us was a consolation prize for having missed the golden one in Bangkok. The view from the top is spectacular: you can see the entire city, the water, the housing, the shacks and the beautiful flowers. As we were taking photos, some curious young man appeared with shades on, and was ready to pose at a moment's notice. I called him the "little Elvis".

 and here's my Elvis:
Not to do any evil. To perform what is good. To keep one’s own heart pure. These are the teachings of lord Buddha. 

Indeed, these and other teachings are found scripted on the walls of Nha Trang’s largest pagoda in both Vietnamese and English. At any one time here, there are at least seventy students who are future monks, and eighteen orphans who serve as guides and above all, postcard vendors.

Two girls approached us as we were making our way up the stairs to reassure us so as not to worry, that they were not hawkers but rather students, and they wouldn’t be harassing us... except for the postcards. This is the way to make a contribution to this community, as they will not accept cash in any shape or form. There is so much to see here that it was great that a young man decided to serve as our guide.

The Pagoda was first built on Mount Trai Thuy in 1886 and named DangLong Pagoda. In 1900, the Pagoda was damaged in a storm and was rebuilt down the mountain in its present location. It  was built to commemorate the monks and nuns who died while fighting against the Diem government.

 there is always work to do here; whether renovating or repairing.
Part of the monastery was damaged during the American War. 

Also visible are various buildings which are part of this establishment with their peaceful, tiled roofs, their sculpted ferocious looking dragons, and the prominent inverted yellow swastika which our guide hastens to tell us was a peaceful symbol and has nothing to do with Nazism.

By oneself, evil deed is done. By oneself, one is defiled. By oneself, evil deed is not done. By oneself, one becomes purified. Purity and Impurity are done by oneself. No one can purify another.

There are dozens such adages which adorn the walls of the main building, and one cannot help but read them all, and reflect upon their meaning.  The words continue to dance in front of my eyes, and they never quite leave me, as we continue our visit through the main hall: this area has been modernized and rebuilt several times, and serves as a memorial to the Buddhists who gave their lives to support the US-backed Diem regime of the 1960’s.

 The Memorial Building

There are very ornate mosaic symbols and decorations on top of the buildings. The combination of tile and glass is a Vietnamese specialty, which we had already seen in the ancient capital city of Hue.

All tremble in violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill or cause another to kill. 

And also:

Should a seeker not find a companion who is better or equal, let him resolutely pursue a solitary course; there is no fellowship with the fool.

We meet a very old man who seems in contemplation and is glad to engage in some words in English with us. His face breaks into a smile when we tell him we are American. He allows us to enter a very special room where chairs and tables are set in such a way for meetings. Around the room are framed photos of the various heads of the "congregation", and the years of their reigns.

huge white Buddha sits atop a gold pedestal

One does not get a sense of what must have been very turbulent times, when monks martyred themselves against their government. At this elevated haven, there is a serenity and calm, and marvelous views of the city of Nha Trang below.

As one continues to walk along the paths and staircases, there might be a young monk in deep study; or a smiling little girl playing with siblings.  But the special room which is normally not open to the public bears witness to those who died.

The fool worries thinking," I have sons, I have wealth". Indeed, when he himself is not his own, whence are sons? whence is wealth?

Let's Eat - Thuy Dong Restaurant

According to my guidebook, Nha Trang is considered "party central". American soldiers came here for R&R during the war and must have loved the beach. Chuck had already been here on a photo shoot, and insisted that we go back and look at the water, put our feet in it, and enjoy some fresh air without the heavy humidity and heat we had felt all along the trip. Walking around has always enabled me to discover buried treasures.

This is Tran Phu Street

The main drag by the waterfront is Tran Phu Street where one is likely to find lots of guesthouses and hotels. On the corner of Le Thanh Ton and Tran Phu was a spacious restaurant, with no doors on three sides. Far from luxurious, its appeal came from the wonderful breezes and great music choices. We had spotted pizza on the menu and decided that we were finally going to give this a try!

This is also Tran Phu Street facing the water

It's tough to get bad food in Vietnam. I must have said this to you before. This charming restaurant, is sort of half-outdoorsy and half not, in that there are no closures, but there's a roof above. And it sits right across the street from the wonderful XQ Arts & Crafts Center, which I wrote about here.

To the right of the restaurant, I could see an ad for rooms at less than $10 a night! A few other people were seated, but the ones that always catch my eye, and a disapproving one at that, are the couples where an older man, usually a Westerner, is flirting and lunching with a native female who could pass for his grandchild. Sorry, folks, I’m just a bit hard on this reality, even though I have seen it countless times during my trips to Asia.

 there's always someone at work anywhere you go

About 30 minutes after we've been seated, we are informed that pizza will not be available until 4pm, which means another 2 hours. The menu is extensive enough that we can make another choice, and it’s rather easy. Pasta with seafood it shall be for Chuck, and I’m going for the seafood salad. And while we wait, let’s have that diet Pepsi that is a rarity in some areas. Entrees start at VDN35,000 (which is about $2.25 or so).

Have a look at the photos and realize that both of us licked our plates clean!!

 my amazing seafood salad

 Seafood pasta with tofu
My salad had enormous pieces of conch, rice noodles, tomatoes, cauliflower, frisée lettuce, and red cabbage, all tossed and wonderfully seasoned with the unmistakable lemongrass and other citrus flavors. The seafood pasta had cubes of tofu, shrimp, and green scallion pieces and went down apparently without a hitch.

As we were eating, the owner, a woman, was directing a worker with some wiring, and every few minutes, a street vendor would catch our eye and explain her offerings, all neatly stuffed in see-through pockets of her showcase. Persistence is an art here.

 they are equipped with just about anything you can think of

Across the street was a huge sign that talked about women in art, and I asked everyone on the staff about the sign and if it meant that a museum lied behind there or if there was a special festival held about these women artists. I was bewildered that no one had a clue. After gulping down our iced coffee, we went across the street to investigate.

In Vietnam, one does not ask for diet Pepsi, but rather Pepsi or Coke "lite" or with no sugar. It is not surprising that the word "diet" is incongruous with life in Vietnam. Nobody is fat. However, if you are keen on finding these, stock up on them once you find them, as they are not everywhere. 

To the right is one of those absolutely charming beach houses you find as you amble around. Those Santa Fe colors are stunning, aren't they?

Confidence of foreigner about Hanoi - Vietnamese food

"The Food of Vietnam"  published in both English - Vietnamese, Swiss author Marcel Isaak and Ms. Trieu Thi Choi (a familiar face on women domestic science in Saigon before 1975) launched in 1998, up to now, food is still selling books on the online shopping site ebay, amazon ... To Vietnam nearly 20 years ago with the desire to discover food culture, Marcel Isaak is still sticking with his favorite job: chef in a restaurant in Hanoi.

pillow cake-Banh goi

Marcel Isaak, the book Vietnam Food - The food of Vietnam - he wrote with Trieu Thi Choi the author published in 1998 - a time when foreigners with little known cuisine of Vietnam. What fate brought him to Vietnam and take love for Vietnamese food?

When I first came to Vietnam in 1994 with a reason to explore new definition is food. Fortunately, I live and work in the city. Ho Chi Minh city for a long time. This is the opportunities brought me closer to people, cultures and the richness of Vietnamese cuisine. The discovery has overcome my feeling. I went over Saigon to enjoy and taste the dishes of Vietnam. I enjoy the most delicious food in the restaurant, so I was quite understanding about the cuisine of Vietnam. I also then began to incorporate ideas from the food essence great together. In a few occasions I met Ms Trieu Thi Choi. That is valuable experience. I admire her very understanding and gracious of herself.

Discovery Saigon is the first, why he had decided to have a strong attachment to Hanoi?

As time went very fast, is that true? I had walked over from Vietnam along the Mekong River to Red River. Each place in this country has its own special characteristics of the vision, and all space is developing. Hanoi have many rivers, lakes and many tourist sites attract different, but at the same thing that impressed me is about people of Hanoi. They highlight and create opportunities for the city to develop and forward to an incredible speed.

I had left Vietnam in a short time, then returning, I decided to "settle" in Hanoi and from work at Press Club in 2004. I did mix with Hanoi people from style to culture and customs of the people of Hanoi and the value of human life together. Hanoi is a unique city, only when you walk around town you'll always find and discover things you've never seen before ... Hanoi is developing dynamically. At the macro level, can see where there's always the tall buildings and bridges are coming up. But little things, like a flower buyer, or a  tea kiosk roadside  ..., every time I stop in there has a different feel, interesting ... Hanoi is always something quite appealing.
The spice vegetable in Hanoi market

Seems like a lot of foreigners come to Hanoi, he also became a "accomplished" man ... How does he feel about the "cultural styles" of Hanoi?

What I noticed is that people seem to Hanoi is proud of "Hanoi feature" of them, but they never to be pompous about it.

He is also interested in the traditions of Hanoi?

People of Vietnam in general and Hanoi in particular is the motto of life "drinking water, remember the source" They were very respectful ancestor worship. It is an interesting spiritual care.

In addition to these findings, surely he spent more time for the dish?

Of course. Cuisine of Hanoi surprise for me always as the diversity and richness of the dishes from noodles, rolls, rice dishes, sauces and other additives accompanying. But what made the difference for me is the quality, taste and aroma of natural vietnamese spice vegetable, spices and raw materials are pure, rich but simple. There are many mysteries inside the dish of Vietnam, which has created a unique flavor, special traditions, delicious and world famous.

The spice vegetable in Hanoi market

I consider myself as a guest of Hanoi, and I also have a simple life like the people who live here. I can not say I know more about Hanoi them, but I was surprised to find out what this place seemed very small. An interesting habit that I walk along the streets of Hanoi and observed to have tired legs until they stop enjoying noodles or other dishes in Hanoi.

He was not afraid to take street food hygiene?

I understand very angry about food hygiene. But I noticed the quality of hygiene and food safety have advanced quickly and no doubt, improvements in conditions, hygiene and food safety will be better. We are also aware of communication exist for the promotion and application of technology, new techniques in many related industries, then we will be seeing the new improved better. Consumers are the ultimate test of sanitation and food safety for the goods they purchase.


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