Mazu is recognized as the Goddess of the Sea by many Chinese people. The origins of this belief can be found in Chinese folklore. Pictured here is the shrine to Mazu in the Ba Thien Hau Pagoda located in the Cholon area of Saigon.
Chinatown in Saigon is called Chợ Lớn in Vietnamese, which translated means literally “big market” and becomes simply Cholon in English. I visited Cholon for the first time recently with my friend Mark, mostly in search of good Chinese food and to get a feel for the area. I am not sure what I was expecting, but visually Cholon does not look much different than other neighborhoods in Saigon. Bi-lingual Vietnamese-Chinese signage was the most noticeable tipoff that the area has a lot of Vietnamese Chinese living there. Unlike parts of Bangkok or Panang in Malaysia, I heard no Chinese being spoken when walking around. Cholon may have a lot of ethnically Chinese people, but today they are a part of Vietnamese society. They are not recent arrivals; their ancestors came to Saigon decades or hundreds of years ago.
The several Chinese association or meeting halls (會館) that dot Cholon were distinctly Chinese, both in terms of ambience and architecturally (though the dragons on the roof are definitely Vietnamese style). The one pictured here is the Ha Chuong Meeting Hall (Hội quán Hà Chương in Vietnamese and 霞漳會館 in Chinese). Meeting halls similar to this one set up by Chinese traders and immigrants were established in numerous cities in Southeast Asia. The Ha Chuong hall was founded early in the 1800s by people from Fujian province located along the southeastern coast of Chinese. The founders may have been Hakka people (客家) from Fujian, though I am not sure. In any case, the hall served as a place for people from Fujian to meet, conduct business, and worship. In fact, I sometimes see these halls are referred to as “pagodas” or “temples” in English, though the use of words like these seems a bit misleading to me. People go to places like Ha Chuong hall to burn incense and pray, and this may be the principal reason people come to such places today, but that definitely was not the only function of these halls when they were established. It was unclear what, if any, religious affiliation the Ha Chuong hall has. It was certainly not Buddhist, more likely Taoist or Confucian or a mix of the two.
Chùa Bửu Đài Sơn, pictured here, serves as a useful reminder that the swastika is a religious symbol with a long and honorable history. In Buddhism the swastika symbolizes, among other things, the auspicious footprints of the Buddha. It also is an auspicious sign representing good fortune in Hinduism and other Eurasian religions.
The swastika’s modern history is rather less distinguished. It was co-opted by German Nazis in the 1930s and lives on today as an emblem of neo-Nazi vermin in the United States and elsewhere.
This woman has stopped on her way to work to pay her respects in front of the Man Mo Temple. Man Mo Temple is neither Buddhist nor Taoist, so it is not clear what deity or spiritual being she is communing with. Wikipedia claims that in the past during the Ming and Qing dynasties, scholars sitting for the imperial civil service exams used to visit this temple to ask the Civil Deity to look favorably on their efforts. Wikipedia goes on to say the temple was built in the 1890s – the Ming dynasty had been gone for more than 200 years by this time and the Qing would collapse in 1911. I cannot recall the exact year, but if I am not mistaken, it was sometime around the time that the temple was supposedly built that the imperial examination system came to an end for good. So much for that. Man Mo Temple is on Hollywood Rd in the Sheung Wan area just west of Hong Kong Central.