The Archbishop’s Door, Hue

This beautifully carved wooden doorway is the entrance to the residence of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Hue. The image shows just a section of the double doors of the house inside the residential compound. I saw the door from the street, the gate was open, and I wondered inside to take a photo, having no idea at the time what the building was. A groundskeeper appeared quickly to inform me where I was. He was very friendly, we spoke for a moment, I took several photos and left. The door is a magnificent piece of woodworking.

Curious, I looked around online. The Archdiocese of Hue includes the city of Hue and surrounding countryside. It serves around 67,000 Catholics, a little over 3% of the local population. I was surprised to learn that only some 7% of Vietnamese are Catholic, I had thought that figure was somewhere between 10% and 15%.

The current archbishop, Joseph Nguyễn Chí Linh, took his position in Hue in 2016. Born in the north of the country, as a boy he fled with his family from communist controlled northern Vietnam to southern Vietnam in the 1950s after French colonial forces were defeated by the Viet Minh and the country was divided. He received his training in Vietnam and later earned a doctorate of philosophy from the Catholic University of Paris. Before moving to Hue, he was appointed bishop of Thanh Hoa, the province of his birth, by Pope John Paul II. He is now 73 years old. Alas, he did not invite me in for coffee when I meandered into his front yard.

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Buddhism with Vietnamese Characteristics, Da Nang

The Buu Dai Son Pagoda (Chùa Bửu Đài Sơn) is one of my favorites in the Da Nang / Hoi An area. It sits facing the sea (my back is to the beach and the East Sea) several kilometers from downtown Da Nang on the seaside road heading to the Son Tra peninsula. Like many Buddhist sites in Southeast Asia, Buu Dai Son is garish and colorful, in this case in a distinctly Vietnamese way. I looked but could not find the date this pagoda was founded or the date its current structures were built, though I have no doubt the buildings are of recent origin. At the same time, there is no question that the designer was inspired by historical sites like the Eastern Guard Tower in Hue and numerous other traditional Vietnamese structures, both religious and secular in origin, scattered throughout the country.

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North Gallery, Angkor Wat Temple

After walking to the big open area in the center of the main Angkor Wat temple, this stunning building, which cannot be seen from inside the temple, is off to the left (with the temple entrance at your back) and through a couple of doors. In front of where I stood to take this photo, there is stairway down to the grass area. I found a map of the Angkor Wat temple complex online that labelled this structure the North Gallery. That name does not really reveal what the function of this building was.

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Angkor Wat Temple, Cambodia

I just spent a week in Siem Reap (Cambodia) and this gave me a chance to revisit some of the sites that are part of the vast Angkor Wat temple complex just outside of the city. Angkor is a truly magical, awe-inspiring place. I was with my brother visiting from the US on my first trip in 2018 – we hired a licensed guide and heard a great deal about the temples we visited. How much of this was part of the historical record and how much was fanciful is for someone other than me to know. In any case for this visit, I teamed up with my friend Ansel living in Siem Reap these days. We dispensed with a guide in favor of our cameras. We walked and climbed around several temples and shot a lot of photos, only a few of which, in my case, will see the light of day.

On our first day out, we headed for the main Angkor Wat temple, arriving before six in the morning, hoping to get one of those iconic images of the sun rising behind the famous domes of the main temple. Instead, we got a mostly cloudy sky with a bit of patchy sunshine. The light was actually lovely, but there were no sunrise shots, much less spectacular ones.

The image here spent a good deal of time in the digital darkroom. The sun was behind and to the right of the entrance way to the temple. The original raw file showed the foreground temple building in deep, almost black, shadow against a washed out, almost white, sky in the background. Fortunately raw files allow significant adjustments of shadow and highlight areas without compromising image quality beyond repair – I shoot all raw for this reason. There are, however, limits to what even a raw file can take, and this image is at the borderline. The front of the temple has a lot of digital noise to the detriment of clear, sharp details. But for a small, compressed jpeg image, quality is still acceptable.

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Temple for a Chinese Deity, Saigon

Erected by Chinese from Guangzhou in southern China, and first opened around 1760, the Ba Thien Hau Temple – actually the official name of the site is Ba Thien Hau Pagoda (Chùa Bà Thiên Hậu) – is located in Saigon’s Cholon area. It is a place of worship for Mazu, who is recognized by some Chinese as the Goddess of the Sea.

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