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Friday, December 3, 2010

Saigon and the Jade Emperor

The view from our hotel and (right) the alley below

We made it to Saigon (yes I know they named it after Ho Chi Min but we don't call Beijing Mao Tse Tung City do we?) after a wild train trip from Da Nang, in which I had acute bouts of lucid dreaming of the most shamanistic kind and Christine lost sleep when a boyfriend of one of the girls in the compartment burst in in the middle of the night to give her a guitar.

We arrived in the dark of early morning. Fortunately even Saigon had only a couple of platforms because Vietnam is linear and has only one vertical train line. Outside, still in the pitch dark, the touts tried to get us into an unmetered taxi for $10 US, but I spied a long line of spanking new metered taxis, and we took off for the Pham Ngu Lao backpacker area and paid only 20,000 dong, or about $1.25 for the ride.

There we had a long struggle in the early morning to find a cheap hotel in one of the budget alleys off the main street, finally ending up with Giang and Son for $12 a night with free breakfast and internet. This was the one we had originally earmarked after taking another right next to a construction site with hammering through the wall and having to ask to move rooms again because the air con wasn't working.

We are planning to try to take a two day river tour to Cambodia for about $22 each, which is standard fare, through the Mekong Delta to Chau Doc the border town where we stay the night and then go on by river boat to Cambodia and Phnom Penh, getting a visa at the Mekong border post. More of this next posting!

Our little alley off the main road by the park

A series of images of the main street in Pham Ngu Lao area
running alongside the park, and the park itself

The side roads off the street by the park had a number of tourist shops and travel agents.

The neighbouring side street

One street back from the park

A buy to order art shop. Notice the picture inset top left
from Tashi One in Lhasa is a partial clone of the one upper right in the shop.

A Vietnamese noodle dinner (left) and a superb bowl of Phu noodles (right) on the main street

Last night I really blew the whole game, by going out and buying a complete Vietnamese orchestra, all beautifully inlaid with dragons in mother of pearl, having become mesmerized by a female musical group playing in the mausoleum of literature in Hanoi. I got a Vietnamese koto or samisen, called a Dan Tranh, the 16-string duclimer which is both a harp and a zither, a proper violin with snake skin, Dan Nih, a Vietnamese monostring chordphone or Dan Bau, which is played on the video in the Hanoi posting, complete with an electric pickup which folds in two for traveling, and finally broke the camels back with a stone xylophone, actually made of bathroom tiles but the idea goes back to the year zero, all for the rip off figure of $140 US (down from a dizzying $180) complete with carry cases. How we are going to get up the Mekong in small boats with all this stuff is anybody's guess.

I have since used these extensively in a number of Nino music tracks.

The Vietnamese orchestra I bought from Hong Nhong below

Today we made another reckless fling on a motor bike to see some of the few enchanting sights in Vietnam's commercial capital. Firstly I took off to the wharves and found my way through the heart of the capital.

Scenes of Saigon harbour

I then carried on to the Jade Emperor Pagoda, one of those colourful ornate Chinese Buddhist shrines full of mad statues of grotesque heroic monsters with people reverently offering josticks and letting sparrows go from tightly packed cages. The traffic was if anything less chaotic than Hanoi with long avenues with traffic lights regulating the flow.

It was VERY hard to find the temple, as it is tucked up a tiny side alley, even when you have the Lonely Planet map right in front of you, but its is one of the BEST sights in town!

Images of the Jade Emperor Pagoda

Here is the entry we put into Wikipedia about the temple as it lacked a detailed entry:

Chùa Ngọc Hoàng (The Jade Emperor Pagoda) is a Taoist Pagoda located at 73 Mai Thi Luu Street, District 3. It is also known as the Tortoise Pagoda.

Built in 1909 by the Cantonese (Quang Dong) Congregation, the lade Emperor Pagoda (Phuoc Hai Tu or Chua Ngoc Hoang; is one of the most colourful pagodas in Ho Chi Min City, filled with statues of divinities and heroes made of reinforced papier-mache representing characters from Buddhist and Taoist traditions. The smoke of joss sticks and glow of candles fills the air.

Beside the main doors, Mon Quan, the God of the Gate, stands to the right. Opposite him, is Tho Than (Tho Dia), the God of the Land. Straight on is an altar on which are Phat Mau Chuan De, mother of the five Buddhas of the cardinal directions; Dia Tang Vueng Bo Tat (Ksitigartha), the King of Hell; the Di Lac Buddha (Maitreya), the Buddha of the Future; Quan The Am Bo Tat; and a portrait of the Thich Ca Buddha. Behind the altar, is the Duoc Su Buddha, or Nhu Lai Buddha.

To either side against the walls, are two menacing figures. On the right a 4m-high statue of the general who defeated the Green Dragon. On the left is the general who defeated the White Tiger.

The Taoist Jade Emperor (or King of Heaven, Ngoc Hoang), presides over the main sanctuary, flanked by his guardians, the Four "Big (hard) Diamonds" (Tu Dai Kim Cuon). In front of the King of Heaven on the left is Bac Dau, Taoist God of the Northern Polar Star and Longevity, flanked by his two guardians; and on the right is Nam Tao, the Taoist God of the Southern Polar Star and Happiness, also flanked by two guardians.

To the right of the Jade Emperor is 18-armed Phat Mau Chuan De. On the wall to her right is Dai Minh Vuong Quang,reincarnated as Sakyamuni. Below are the Tien Nhan (the 'God Persons').

To the left of the Jade Emperor sits Ong Bac De, one of his reincarnations. On the wall to the left of Ong Bac De, is Thien Loi, the God of Lightning, who slays evil people. Below him are the military commanders of Ong Bac De and Thien Loi's guardians. At the top of the two carved pillars that separate the three alcoves are the Goddess of the Moon and God of the Sun.

Out the door on the left-hand side of the Jade Emperor's chamber is another room. The semi-enclosed area to the right is presided over by Thanh Hoang, the Chief of Hell; to the left is his red horse Of the six figures lining the walls, the two closest to Thanh Hoang are Am Quan, the God of Yin, and Duong Quan, the God of Yang. The other figures, the Thuong Thien Phat Ac, are gods who dispense punishments for evil acts and rewards for good deeds. Thanh Hoang faces in the direction of the Hall of the Ten Hells. The carved wooden panels lining the walls depict the varied torments awaiting evil people in each of the Ten Regions of Hell.

On the wall opposite Thanh Hoang is a wood panel depicting Quan Am Thi Kinh on a lotus blossom holding her 'son'. To her left is Long Nu, her protector. To her right is Thien Tai, her guardian spirit. To the right of the panel of Quan Am Thi Kinh is a panel depicting Dia Tang Vuong Bo Tat, the King of Hell.

On the other side of the wall is a room in which the ceramic figures of 12 women, sit in two rows of six. Each of the women exemplifies a human characteristic, either good or bad. Each figure represents one year in the 12-year Chinese calendar. Presiding over the room is Kim Hoa Thanh Mau, the Chief of All Women.

Off to the right of the main chamber, stairs lead to a 2nd-floor sanctuary and balcony.

The Jade Emperor Pagoda is in a part of the city known as Da Kao (or Da Cao). To get here, go to 20 D Dien Bien Phu and walk half a block to the northwest.

Trapped birds waiting to be released with 'good fortune' messages

After the pagoda we drove around the neighbourhood of the temple and took these pictures ...

A series of images of the region of Saigon around the Jade Emperor Pagoda

A canal beyond the temple

On my return there was the first of our tropical thunderstorms since we have been in Vietnam - a sign that planning the trip this way around has had some good pay offs in South East Asia by avoiding the wet season going to Nepal and Tibet first. After the rains, Christine came back with me to the temple and we also saw some of the standard downtown sights, from the Opera House to the Hotel de Ville.

Tonight after a dispute with the first travel agent "Viet Viet" who tried to make us pay twice for air con and a lot of pondering about funky scam operators, we finally booked a two day tour to Phnom Penh with "TM Brothers Cafe" through the Mekong delta, and crossing into Cambodia on the Mekong via a night in Chau Doc. It remains to be seen how the new musical instruments will fare on the river. We booked with them because they claim to finish at the Narin guest house in Phnom Penh - a Mecca for Backpackers moving between Angkor and Vietnam.

The cathedral

We stopped en-route back from the temple to take a series of images of the civic buildings and the central commercial area.

The Hotel de Ville (Town Hall)

Central park

The Opera House

Central commercial district

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