Connect the dots

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Get on your hands and knees

Had enough of the near misses by motorbikes and haggling at the markets? Get out of Ho Chi Minh city to get crafty with lacquer ware artisans, catch a service at the uniquely Vietnamese Cao Dai temple, and crawl through the fascinating Cu Chi Tunnels.

You'll see it everywhere - bowls, plates, chopsticks and paintings, mostly in reds and blacks. Although the art of lacquer is practiced throughout Asia, it is probably most famous in China, where the lacquer tree is indigenous. Patience and time is required as there are many layers of the resin that need to be applied as well as the use of mother of pearl and egg shells to make a variety of designs. We stopped by a local factory that employs people with disabilities and trains them to continue this art. 

Can't decide between Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam? Have no fear, Cao Dai may be the religion for you. Fusing the former three and having the latter two's leaders as saints, this religion, established in 1926, is only found in Vietnam. It's temples aim to fuse the many religions in technicolor fashion and just like on the back of the dollar bill, the all seeing eye is its symbol. There are currently about 2-3 million practitioners and like many religions, only males are allowed to reach the highest positions in the hierarchy. Their reasoning behind that: yang is male and yin is female; if yin were to dominate yang, well, then chaos would ensue. We wouldn't want that happening, would we? You can gawk at the noon service (with the rest of the tourists) while they bow continuously to traditional Vietnamese music being played. 

Don't get off your hands and knees just yet. We're off to the Cu Chi tunnels where an entire community literally went underground for years. These tunnels, over 120 kms long, were used by Viet Cong guerrillas during the American War. This vast network of tunnels contained hospitals, weapon caches, and living quarters for the fighters. It was successful in fending off U.S. forces with its claustrophobic passageways (big enough for the Vietnamese, but too small for the larger Western build) and inventive low-tech booby traps. With limited air, food, water and light, many died during the heavy bombing that left them in hiding there for days. The tourist tunnels, which were about 1 meter high and 1/2 meter wide and only 200 meters in length were stifling enough for me.

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