Sunday, May 20, 2018

day 10, Vietnamese Women's Museum

The museum was in the top of my list of places to visit because I was especially interested in how women's contributions to society and culture were showcased considering Viet Nam's most famous military leaders were Hai Bà Trưng, three sisters. I was delighted to see a well curated collection with three permanent exhibits divided upon the role of women in the family, the role of women in history, and women's fashion. The curators collected items from women in every ethnic and socioeconomic group to build a full picture of the role of women.

That's a bride under that mantle

"Women in Family" was easily my favorite collection and the display was very well thought out, beginning with a circle of life theme showing ethnic women's times as girls, women, wives and mothers. Several central Vietnamese ethnicities are matriarchal, adding roles of leadership to the life cycle. The first part of the collection featured marital traditions, which were of interest to me, having recently celebrated my Anglo-Vietnamese wedding. I made sure to point out the dowry list that SB's family was remiss in providing (I'm still waiting for that pig).

Even more interesting were the birth rituals, from seeking spiritual advice for pregnancy, to practices around pregnancy, birthing, and the care of new mothers and newborn children. Some ethnicities treat the umbilical cord as sacred and save them in a family cask. Many ethnic minority groups utilized herbs that aided in lactation or fighting infection, and various herbs provided nutrition. Basic understanding of germs and infection was shown in rituals and customs that prevented non-family members from visiting preceding and immediately following childbirth, and through rituals of caring for a woman in labor.

The last part of women in family collection highlighted the roles and tasks of women in daily life. Typically women cultivated the land, planting and harvesting food as well as milling and preparing foods for meals. Women wove baskets for holding seeds, fishing, and foraging. Women also were responsible for weaving, sewing, and making pottery; this was all undertaken alongside raising children.

"Women in History" mostly focused on the women resisters of colonial rule and later participants in war. There was a lot of propaganda but in this case it was necessary for context and to tell the story. The displays were very well put together and thoughtful; especially of note were the diaries and stories of the medics and youthful leaders. I wish that there was more of the history before the 20th century. I would have liked to know more about Hai Bà Trưng who fought Chinese occupation and ruled in AD 40, and I was surprised that their story was minimally featured.

The "Women’s Fashion" collection showcased the various traditional fabrics of Vietnam's 54 diverse ethnicities. Not only were different production methods used, but groups used stitching patterns and colors to identify themselves. We saw examples of embroidery, batik, applique, and weaving. There were also display cases featuring jewelry made from betel nuts, shells, and elaborate designs on precious metals. At the end of the exhibit were modern dresses on display, including an áo dài from the designer of my wedding ensemble. If  I could, I would take home a sample of every ethnic group's fabric; they were all so beautiful. SIL thought that some of the embroidery, particularly the Hmong cross stitch, was very similar to traditional embroidery in Guatemala.

My grandmother once had black, lacquered teeth like these northern ethnic groups!

Friday, May 18, 2018

day 10, Hoàn Kiếm Lake and Ngọc Sơn Temple

Despite dealing with an indifferent creature manning the information desk, we managed to make our way around Hoàn Kiếm Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword) to the Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngọc Sơn Temple).

According to legend, in the 15th century, a magical sword fell into the possession of emperor Lê Lợi, which he used to defeat the invading Ming Chinese. In 1428, Lê Lợi was in a boat when Kim Qui, the Turtle God, surfaced and asked for the return of the sword, named Heaven's Will. Heaven's Will belonged to Long Vương, the Dragon King. Emperor Lợi named the lake that the Turtle King emerged, Hoàn Kiếm to signify the event of the return of the sword, and the turtle and sword disappeared into the depths. A turtle emerges from time to time to remind Hanoians of hope but the sword has remained hidden.

In the center of the lake is the Turtle Pagoda, which is often depicted to represent Hanoi, much like the Japanese bridge is the symbol of Hoi An.

Ngọc Sơn Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain) is located at the north of the lake, on an island known as Jade Island. It was erected in the 1700s in honor of 13th-century military leader Trần Hưng Đạo who distinguished himself fighting against the Yuan Dynasty. The temple was expanded to honor scholar Van Xuong and Confucian master Nguyen Van Sieu.

A red, wooden bridge ,Cầu Thê Húc, meaning Rising Sun Bridge, leads to Jade Island. Buildings of the island include the temple, a tower (Thap But), the calligraphy stone (Dai Nghien), the Moon Contemplation Pavilion (Dac Nguyet) and the Pavilion against Waves (Đình Trấn Ba).

Very large, soft shelled turtles used to occupy the lake but the last of the giants died in 2016. The one pictured, over 250kg, died in 1968 and was preserved in the temple. It is a shame to think that these enormous creatures may be gone forever in a fate similar to the great northern rhino, whose last remaining male in the world passed away last week. There is one known male turtle of the species in Vietnam, and one known female in the Yangtze river in China, but it might require a diplomatic event for them to meet.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

day 9, Thế Tổ Temple

Thế Tổ Temple was constructed under emperor Minh Mạng between 1822 and 1823, and was used for ancestor worship, particularly of the past emperors of the Nguyễn Dynasty. It was modeled after the Tai Miao in Beijing's Forbidden City. It is one of the most fully restored/preserved buildings in the imperial city. While the gates, ancillary buildings, and courtyards carry the architectural language of the imperial city, the interior of the temple varies with a greater abundance of red lacquer. We couldn't take photos of the interior so you will have to Google it.

Ferocious sentry animals that watch the gates

Look at that magnificent and intimidating rump

The nine dynastic urns (cửu đỉnh), cast in 1822 and are dedicated to the first nine Nguyen emperors.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

day 9, Thiệu Phương Gardens

The royal gardens were once the pride of Nguyen emperors and praised effusively in the works of Hue’s writers and poets. During the dynasty's reign, almost 30 gardens existed. Thiệu Phương garden was one of 7 gardens within the imperial city that accounted for almost a quarter of the citadel area.

A diverse collection of exotic and beautiful trees were chosen for the garden, ranging from ornamental to fruit trees. In 2014, a project to restore Thiệu Phương was launched, to replicate the destroyed buildings and four traditional wooden houses linked together by grass paths in the shape of an Asian swastika pattern. Subdivided gardens were restored with tree colonnades, canals, artificial mountains (small scale), a lake and orchids.

You can see the craftsmanship required to assemble the ceramic mosaic reliefs that decorate columns and gables. Throughout the gardens, we enjoyed the ornate patterns depicting plants, gods, and mythical animals.

I look forward to returning in twenty more years and viewing what further changes have occurred. The gardens have been somewhat documented in historic photographs and written logs, and several countries such as Germany have sponsored restoration works. Having experienced the world renowned rigor of German archeological standards, I have faith that they will faithfully and painstakingly restore their projects to the most accuracy.

Friday, May 11, 2018

day 9, Huế night and day

Huế in 48 hours was not enough time. So much work has been undertaken in the past decade, and the formerly diminished imperial city is extensive. Another change is the thriving nightlife. Visitors used to be able to take an evening dinner cruise on a small houseboat or peruse the local night market but now there are blocks of streets closed in the evening for pedestrian traffic, lined with bars and clubs. With all of the new developments, Huế's Perfume River still remains the center of life, used for tourism and commerce, feeding water to farms, transporting goods, and winding past ancient monuments and thriving, modern markets.

Parking at the riverfront might market

One of the discos luring in tourists

Three stories of beer

During the day, we enjoyed visiting seemingly endless choices of monuments. One especially famous one is the Thien Mu Pagoda, dedicated to the manushi buddha (a buddha that appeared in human form). Within the temple behind the pagoda is a display featuring the Austin Westminster sedan that carried Thích Quảng Đức to the site of his self-immolation to protest the regime of Ngô Đình Diệm in 1963. The photograph of the act, immortalized by Malcolm Browne who earned a Pulitzer Prize, is still powerful a half century later.

Thien Mu (Pagoda of the Celestial Lady )

We enjoyed a boat ride on the Perfume River, which has been the artery of Huế in different ways for many lifetimes. The river winds past the centuries old tombs and citadels of ancient rulers, serves as a conduit of trade as it did for many centuries, and now ferries tourists, the new life blood of the city.

SB, his sister, niece, and I also spent a morning wandering alone at the city walls. Most of the tourists go straight to the good stuff in the center but there is much to see where the old walls interface with the vibrant city. It is amazing to me how in this place, people live like they do in Rome, immersed with the ruins and glorious past.