Friday, 2 April 2010

Hue- Nguyen Lords' Tombs and Forbidden City 23.03.10

the gardens of the pagoda we visited outside Hue

the temple of the last emperor of Vietnam

can you spot the 'Vietnamese' girl through the temple door?
one of the elaborate tombs we visited

A century ago the last in a long line of emperors ruled in part under the watchful eye of the French owners of Vietnam. He had virtually no political power but the French government allowed him to be a figurehead for the people if nothing else. The catholic missionaries of the day tried to infiltrate the communities and they have had a lasting effect with a significant portion now attending church, but they were rebuffed by many- the Vietnamese had been invaded and conquered by the Chinese who they had fought off and were not about to relinquish to some Europeans. Buddhism along with Confucianism and Daoism constitutes a Vietnamese spirituality which has strong links with ancestor worship and Chinese animism. The average Vietnamese may have difficulty explaining which faith they belong to but generally they will attend a temple at least once a week and burn incense sticks on a daily basis. The Vietnamese emperors represent a lost age of wealth and ritual, many having hundreds of wives and concubines. In the cultural heritage city of Hue the old citadel sits behind high brick walls and was where Gia Long, emperor in 1802 built his forbidden city and palace buildings, the inner courts of which only eunuchs and his concubines were allowed to enter. Outside the city limits he chose a significant site in the countryside to construct an elaborate tomb complex for his son Minh Mang. The area is dotted with royal tombs and temples in amongst small farming settlements and half jungle half forest covered hills. Unfortunately with the advent of communism with Ho Chi Minh liberating the country from the French colonists in 1945, the ancient monuments were left to ruin with the belief that the age of emperors and lavish lifestyles was over. Ho Chi Minh's portrait adorns many billboards across the country along with colourful painted posters showing workers in all different uniforms, from peasants' conical hats to army greens, standing to attention alongside each other, striving for a better future. We're impressed by the scale of a procession practise we encounter outside the main gates to the forbidden city. It was in practise for the Independence Day parade on the 26th. Regiments of young armed soldiers stand in formation alongside ethnic hill tribe ladies with guns, 'Daz white' battalions of chief commanders, flag bearers and a school marching band. There isn't really a feeling of a communist state here though. The young men giggle at us as we walk up and down the lines taking pictures and the kids in the marching band are having a good laugh chasing each other with flagpoles. We meet a Vietnamese girl from Saigon who doesn't really admit the country follows communism in its truest sense. She sees it more that the government tries to help the people- it's a government for the people. We see much wealth being accumulated here in Vietnam with development in the tourist industry especially, but still the average person has to work very hard just to make ends meet. This girl we meet, she's studying for a degree but can only spend 1 1/2 hours per day learning as she has to work in a call centre to get by. She has very good english as she speaks to foreigners on the phone but still asks us many questions about the language because she finds it difficult communicating with people who have strong accents. The english language is a hard one to grasp, even for so-called english speaking people, let alone foreign workers trying desperately to understand the different ways of saying the same thing. The forbidden city and the tomb complexes have the same general architectural design in terms of layout. A symmetrical gate leads on to large courtyards with statues, or stone obelisks through to a sacred temple building housing relics and lavishly decorated with broken pottery ceramic designs or gold guildng. There is more often than not a body of water in the form of moats and lotus flower square ponds, surrounded by traditionally Chinese flowering trees and sculpted greenery. At the tombs the parkland is very tranquil, being out of the city and surrounded by forest, and the abundance of fluttering butterflies makes it fairytale like.