Archive for July, 2007

 
July 05
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I finally got my 10 year wish to come true.
I got to visit my home country for the first time in my life, and to go there with my 70 year old father and the rest of my immediate family.
This is our chronological story of two blissfully hot weeks in the motherland.
Welcome to Việt Nam.


 
July 05
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We’re here!!!!!!!! Between the 6 of us, I am pretty certain that I was the most excited. I’ve been begging to visit Vietnam for 10 years and it has finally happened. Now I can allow myself to visit other Asian countries!

Upon arrival at the airport, one of our million bags went missing. I wasn’t surprised; we only brought everything on this side of the Western world back. Thank goodness our personal luggage were all there, and only the extra bags with donative gifts were missing. We had about 3 or 4 huge suitcases that belonged to Cha Phi, filled with medicine (gee, i wonder why it got lost), donation clothes and materials. One of those bags went missing so we took forever and a day to get out of the airport in Hanoi.

Once we cleared that up, we walked out to meet our driver, priests, and thàys. They brought 6 huge bouquets of flowers all for us, so much that we didn’t know what to do with them. We went to the hotel and then to lunch…completely forgetting the flowers in the car. The poor things burned black and died right on us that day.

We got to Cưu Long hotel, one of the best 2 stars in Hà Nọi, and mom realizes that her purse is still at the airport. She and the driver head back while the rest of us head to Lake Hoàn Kiếm (Thanh Long)to start sightseeing asap.

This is us sightseeing. Literally. =)
Hoàn Kiếm is gorgeous, with a red bridge running from one end to the other. The story goes that Le Loi, in the 15th century, borrowed a sword from the magic turtle that arose from the lake. The nobleman led the people to victory against the Chinese Ming dynasty. There are still a few mammoth turtles in the lake but the oldest and largest one is on display in the Tortoise Tower, commemorating the event.

That night, we drove to Châu Sơn monastery to eat and sleep the jet lag away.

 
July 05
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We arrived at Châu Sơn at 830 pm the night before.
The next morning, expecting to be able to sleep until noon, we were woken up at 7 am by ALL the priests. They expected us to be at mass by 1030, after breakfast and a tour of the big church. Mass was Lễ Tạ Ơn Gia Đình and after mass, Cha Hòa, Cha Hùng, and Cha Cố Thảo took us on a tour of the church grounds.

Breakfast was a feast. We had rice congee with fish and dill…and the BEST instant coffee of my life. The brand is G7 and I am determined to bring home a few boxes of these…just in case America does not have them. G7 is completely manufactured and made from Vietnamese coffee so that is another reason why I am in full support of this brand! Not to mention that Vietnam is the second largest coffee exporter in the world.

We saw the architecture, the history room, the bedrooms, and the gardens. We even saw the parts that are still under construction. The new kitchen that will serve not only the priests and students, but also the community, will be done soon enough.

Châu Sơn is in the middle of the jungle in Northern Vietnam. The only way to get to it is in a xe ôm or small automobiles … and the roads are not marked. One knows his home only by sight and memory. However, all around Châu Sơn, there are barracks where 5000 Việt Cộng soldiers are currently training. The monastery is under constant scrutiny and harassment form the nearby camps. They have to keep a perfect document record of everything they have because they could be called out on any little thing.

The real estate of the church has been mostly taken away by the Communist government. Currently, we are trying to regain as much land as possible for cultivating more rice fields to feed the people. However, winning such a case is very difficult task and both the American government as well as the Việt government are reluctant to give anything back to the people.

We took pictures of all kinds, both color and black/whites until we were called back down to lunch. After lunch, we hiked up 299 steps to see the cave of Mary in the mountains beside the church. 500 people can accumulate to the top and mass can be carried out up there.

 
July 05
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The same day, we hopped on a family boat to visit Đức Mẹ Đồng Đinh. She is a version of La Pieta and she sits on a small island in the middle of a river and was made famous by, ironically, a few drunk communists one night. She was beaten so bad that her head and hands fell off, Jesus’ head and feet are beaten, and the flowers laid out for Mary were strewn all over the island.

Karma takes its place after all. All three beaters encountered very bad luck afterwards. One died, the other was badly injured in a motor accident, and the last one fell ill to a fatal disease.

The people have since replaced the statue with a brand new one and she is still revered by many on pilgrimages. Pictures of the beaten Mary are still in the church on the mainland so the memory of it remains as a lesson.

The boat that took us there was owned by a family that actually lives on the boat. Four children live on it with their parents and their grandmother. The children were absolutely adorable and LOVED the camera, from both sides. They frequently tried to get in the picture, but once they figured out how to USE the camera, they were the ones taking the pictures…which was very quick. SNAP SNAP SNAP all the way home. The childrens’ names were Duc Thuy, Dung, and Dinh.

 
July 05
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Hot springs and hot weather. All we wanted to do was jump into any water we found, it was so hot. The hot springs came from the mountain and they took the water into a swimming pool in Cúc Phương. So we did. For something unbelievably cheap, we got to soak for 30 minutes and then ran buck wild for 2 minutes in the hot sun to dry off. Screw towels and hairdryers in Vietnam!

 
July 05
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We went to see the Temple of Kings, also known as Vua Lê Vua Đinh. This was the old and original capital of Việt Nam, before it moved to Hà Nội, and then to Sài Gòn. We got a tour guide and she just happens to be one of the most eloquent speakers I have ever met. She told us of the kings, of how the general named himself emperor here and was later assassinated by food poisoning. That’s why they later used the very cool chopsticks that can detect poison. These chopsticks turn a decay color when dipped into something that is not good to eat anymore, therefore letting the king know that he should not eat that. We bought a few of them but I should have brought more.

The guide speaks the true Bắc language so everything that came out of her mouth sounded like a lyrical song. I even forgot to take pictures because I was listening so intently.

I love this picture above because my mum is walking under an umbrella, of course. My brothers are along for the ride, and wandering around, and I am intently listening to my dad explain the lich su [history] of what the tour guide was saying. She spoke so eloquently in poetic verses that I had to clarify some of the words she was saying into common Viet.

 
July 05
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This is dad’s quê hương, his village hometown. He has not seen this place in 54 years but we were able to make it. We found where his house use to stand; it is now a school for little children. The part where the pond use to be is now cemented over and a house is built on top of it.

The most amazing thing about this part of the trip is that one, we were able to find the location of the house period, and that some of the original structure is still standing. Again, one remembers his own home only by the steps he takes and how many landmarks pass by. My dad, after 54 years, remembered that we have to cross 6 bridges before we make a right onto a dirt road, then walk 2 blocks in, left at the alley that leads to the church his father built, and behind it to his home. Craziness. Bác Dung’s room is still there, but the rest is replaced by a new structure.

Two, grandfather Bai Lan (real name: Lê Xuân Khanh) had 4 brothers, and built 4 houses around each other. One of the houses is still in perfect condition and is owned by a man that went to school with my dad. The old man who bought the house actually recognized my dad’s face and even said that he remembered our family because my dad went to school with girls in first grade!!! How unbelievable is that?!
We also went searching for Ông Bai Lan’s grave and actually found it with the help of the man that lives in dad’s house now. The man purchased the house when the Communists left, filled the pond with cement and built his home over the pond. Today, his son takes care of his land for him but we did not have enough time to visit the inside of the home. He wanted us to stay so that we can exchange stories but we were pressed for time, and were forced to move on to Phát Diệm.

 
July 05
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The famous Phát Diệm Cathedral is famous for a reason. One, it’s absolutely beautiful and the architecture is fabulous, inside and out. Here, we got another amazing tour guide, a young scholar of the cathedral, also very eloquent in his manner of speech. He knew the church like the Bible and he had the keys to everything…which is great since we got to go up to the bell tower. Mom and Dad even got to ring the bell once. Nine rings signify the death of a Catholic woman and seven rings signify the death of a Catholic man. Mom, in her misunderstanding, said that if you ring the bell nine times, a woman dies…but I corrected her in that when a woman dies, THEN the bell is rung nine times. If it happened the other way, I’d probably be dead!

After the tour of the church, we visited the nunnery and listened to crazy ghost stories that tormented the nuns for 18 long years. The ghost would pull all kinds of tricks on the nuns, locking them into rooms, appearing as other nuns, etc. However, no one lost their faith and left the nunnery. They all stuck it out and eventually, the ghost appeared to the head mother and told her that it will leave the nuns alone now. From then on, it’s been much better but the stories still remain and are a large part of the attraction of Phát Diệm.