Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Japanese Bridge

This old covered bridge in Hoi An seems to be a bit of an enigma. Nobody seems to be know exactly when it was first built or when and how often it was reconstructed over the centuries. 

Foreigners know this as the 'Japanese Bridge' recalling a time when this small canal separated the Chinese and the Japanese quarters of the trading port. It is thought that the bridge was built as a symbol of friendship.

The Vietnamese know it as the 'Pagoda Bridge' because the bridge contains a small temple like many examples of chapel bridges in Europe.

It is said that the Japanese established the original shrine to appease Kashima the Shinto thunder god who had the power to quell Nazuma the Earthquake Catfish Monster by placing a stone on it's body.

Nazuma whose head is in India and tail in Japan was said to be the cause of earthquakes in Japan.

I had a look at other temple or chapel bridges and it seems  that Yorkshire has more than it's fair share! I also found some in St. Ives (Cambs) and Bradford on Avon and glorious example in Lucerne.  

Interestingly, it is possible that the Japanese bridge in Hoi is perhaps the most modern of these examples many of which date back to the 14th century.
St. Mary's Chapel - Wakefield
Bradford on Avon
The Chapel Bridge - St. Ives (Cambs)
Our Lady of the Bridge, Rotherham

Le Pont D'avignon
The Chapel Bridge - Lucerne

Thursday, 17 January 2013

12/12/12 at 12:00 with 120 beautiful brides

As reported in Than  Dien news / Vietweek 14/12/12

One hundred and twenty couples celebrated the country’s biggest ever mass wedding in Ho Chi Minh City to mark a once-a-lifetime date: 12/12/12.

It will be the last time in almost a century – not until 01/01/01 will it occur again – that the number is the same in all three columns.

The organizers, the HCMC Youth Union’s Center for Support of Youth Workers, said mass weddings may have been held around the world on this day, but the Vietnam event was special because the brides and grooms were all poor people who could not afford a wedding.

The couples offered flowers at the statue of President Ho Chi Minh in the downtown area before arriving at the Grand Palace Wedding and Convention Center for the wedding.

Huynh Ngo Tinh, the center’s director, said many factory workers in the city are poor and the economic situation made it harder than ever for the marrying couples to organize a proper wedding.

“Though life could be very difficult, love exists,” he said, adding that his center has organized such mass weddings for a total of 222 poor couples in the last five years.

Grand Palace offered lunch for 1,200 of the couples’ families and friends, the Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam (Vietcombank) gave each couple a gift of VND2 million (US$96), and other sponsors donated wedding rings and flowers and other services.

The wedding party was held at noon to sneak in one final 12.

The couples are all factory workers in HCMC and nearby provinces, but hail from provinces all over the country.
Du, a Can Tho native, said: “We repeatedly planned to get married by ‘next year,’ and there have been many ‘next years,’ but we could not carry out the plan.” 

Nguyen Cam Tu and Phan Thi Quy, who were among the lucky couples, are deaf and mute, and could only share their happiness through their eyes.

Kim Huong, owner of Kim Huong Gold Enterprise which gifted the rings, said: “I myself have overcome a lot of difficulties in life. I understand how they feel when they love each other but cannot wed because of poverty.”
The event enters the Vietnam Book of Records as the country’s largest mass wedding.

I just wish i had been there!  I had always wondered what mass weddings were all about. I find this story really heartwarming.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Postcard from Vietnam 4

All markets are fascinating, colourful and a treat for all the senses and we all have our favourites. 

I love Leeds Market, of course, for its gloriously colourful Victorian, cast iron architecture, the fish alley with is beautiful displays of the British catch all laid out on crushed ice, Butcher's Row with it fancy dressed meats and the vegetable stalls that supply all the ethnic groups in Leeds like the Jamaicans, Chinese, Polish and even Ethiopian. There is the Nigerian tailor with her technicolour clothing and exotic 'medallion man' mock purple snakeskin shoes, the retro record and video shop with its dodgy knock-offs, and all the other wonderful fashion, luggage, cakes, deli, eggs, game and toys to mention but a few of its marvels. 

I still think the Mercat de la Boqueria on La Rambla in Barcelona is one of the most exciting food markets I have ever visited. It is unrivaled, in my experience, for atmosphere and amazing quality of local fish, vegetables and flowers

Hoi An food market (for there is also a cloth market ........ only for the very brave I might add) is only small but it as Vietnamese markets go it is very approachable, well lit with wider aisles than usual and it uplit by the sun reflecting off the river. There are lots of things you have never seen,  heard and smelled before but everyone is very helpful and polite. I find  the market people in Saigon a bit brusque and they always bump up the price for foreigners but Hoi An isn't too bad. They aren't saints by any means, but they are manageable rogues I think!

The old lady that was sitting beside these two colanders of flat fish probably came to market with only 10 or 15 fish in total. She will have caught them in the Thu Bon and rushed them straight to market. Most of the fish for sale is still wriggling and the stall holders keep them alive in plastic tubs or by swilling ladles of water over them to keep them breathing.  They couldn't be fresher if you caught them and whipped them onto the barbie yourself.


Friday, 11 January 2013

Postcard from Vietnam 3

My Son A1 tower
the A1 tower in 1895

When you visit the Cham ruins at My Son, you can almost feel history replaying itself like some ghostly video.  Up here in the mountains in the overcast misty silence you can hear echoes of the American planes and the relentless bombs as they thunder into the soft earth. 

This drawing of the A1 tower was created as a record of the ruins in the 1890s by Parmentier and his team. You can see the scale of the building by the little figure in the bottom right hand corner. Apparently this was not the tallest temple by far.

You can sense the despair of the freedom fighters watching from their encampments up on the 'Ho Chi Minh Trail' in the mountains behind. 

This trail was a series of ancient trade routes used by the Vietnamese from the north to infiltrate and free the southern provinces.

Up here amongst the forests where beautiful little flowers can be spotted in the undergrowth and the Lotus grows wild in the streams, you get a real sense of the beauty of this exotic country and a flavour of the history that underpins its emergence as a modern nation.

A12 and A13 towers in 1890s
A 12 and A13 today

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Postcard from Vietnam 2

A pretty 4km bicycle ride from Hoi An Town centre is Cua Dai beach popular for its miles of white sand and, increasingly, for kite surfing. During my visit in December it was very stormy out there on the South China Sea so it was more like a brisk Easter walk along Whitby beach than the exotic beach resort it is known as between April and August! 

Nonetheless, the Cham Islands could be clearly seen sitting on the horizon in a weather-scape that changed from sun to storm, mist and gloom to rainbows in the short time I spent there wishing I could find an interpid ferry man to take me across. Unfortunately, rather like the Scillie Isles most of the year round, the journey was off limits to tourists. Unlike the Scillies, there is no airport or helipad so I will have to come back in the spring - oh what a chore! 

Since 2009, these islands have been part of the network of 600 plus World Biosphere Reserves of which Vietnam has 8 and I hear they are very beautiful as well as being historically important for this region. 

They are named after the ancient Cham people who first settled them about 3,000 years ago and there is still have a small population of farmers and fishermen to this day.  

Link to list of World Biosphere reserves

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Postcard from Vietnam

Hoi An is half way up the 1,200 mile coastline of Vietnam which is about the same length as the British coastline from Brighton to Inverness. It is about 15 miles south of Da Nang  a big, modern city that is infamous for having the busiest airport in the world at the time of the Vietnam War.

The histories of Da Nang and Hoi An are inextricably linked. Hoi An (peaceful meeting place) was the major port of central Vietnam for over a thousand years until a Chinese emperor took exception to all the Europeans and Japanese trading ships that were muscling in on this wealthy trading centre. The emperor banished the foreigners to Da Nang (mouth of a big river) and the rest is history. 

Hoi An is now a sleepy historic town that somehow escaped all the bombing of the Vietnam (American) war and, together with the ruined temples of the Champa people at My Son, is listed as a World Heritage site.  

Hoi An is not just a beautiful settlement beside the Thu Bon River, it is also a place where Vietnam's culture is nurtured and the full moon festival that takes place every lunar month is just one example of an ancient tradition which, in other parts of the country, has largely disappeared.

Nguyen Thai Hoc Street