Thursday, July 21, 2011

Vietnamese Proverb

"Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.” - Thich Naht Hanh, Vietnamese monk

      Though the Vietnamese are not as overtly and as devoutly religious as Thai people are, and Vietnam is a much more religiously diverse society than Buddhist Thailand is, it is interesting to note how spirituality is still a big part of Vietnamese life.  Turtles and turtle imagery are everywhere, being seen as omens of good luck.  I also read that frogs are good luck, because they are so ugly that if you are kind enough to take one in or wear an image of one they will be so grateful that they will bring you good fortune.  Feeding fish is good luck, setting captured animals free is good luck (though I’m 99% sure that the people who sell you the captured birds, turtles or whatever to set free turn around and recapture them to resell to another dupe later on).

      This was never so apparent as when we visited the Jade Emperor pagoda in Saigon.  It had been touted by the guidebooks as a “must see” so I was expecting something architecturally beautiful – and I guess if you could look beyond all the trash, dogs, sleeping people and debris laying around that there were spots of beauty.  But the big attraction there is the opportunity to buy turtles or fish to put into the pond.  Inside this Taoist temple there are about a dozen different altars, each dedicated to a special purpose such as fertility.  There were a lot of the faithful there, lighting incense and bowing devoutly, ringing bells and chanting.  One particular altar had some carved wooden horse statues and the people praying there would wipe their hands on the horses and then wipe their hands all over themselves.
The Taoist Jade Emperor Pagoda

Frankly, this place seemed like something out of a "B" movie horror flick

Devout Vietnamese lighting incense and making offerings at one of the many altars

Temple-goers would rub their hands on these carved wooden horses and then rub their bodies - I guess the good luck would rub off onto them

      I also learned that in Vietnam it is unlucky to see a walk or drive past a wedding but it is considered lucky to go past a funeral (this doesn’t count for guests at the wedding or funeral, just for passersby).  The thinking is that if you pass a wedding the wedding couple is taking all the happiness and all the joy will be swept with them and away from you.  Of course the reverse of that is that if you pass a funeral they are sucking all the sadness with them and away from you, so it’s lucky.  Interesting.  The girl who told me this also said that in Vietnam if someone dies from old age everyone has a big celebration and is happy, but if someone dies young because of illness or an accident everyone is sad and wears white to mourn.
From the top of the pagoda

Incense furnace

Good luck turtle pond

Anyway, the visit to the Taoist temple was my last bit of sightseeing in Vietnam.  Back to Bangkok tomorrow for the last few days of my adventure.