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.


At the Entrance to Ta Prohm

This photo was taken standing just outside of the entrance to the Ta Prohm temple, called the Tomb Raider temple by many because it was a location in the film of that name. Sunlight breaking through the overcast sky provides dramatic lighting for the trees against a background of dark, threatening rain clouds. Angkor Wat and the surrounding countryside are in the middle of the annual rainy season featuring almost daily rain showers, steamy humidity, and enervating heat.

I had a 20mm lens mounted on the camera. I love this lens – another superb piece of equipment by Nikon – but the distortion caused by the very wide angle of the lens limits the situations where it can be used effectively. In this photo, I think the distortion adds tension to the composition and this enhances the already dramatic lighting.


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.


Chinatown, 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.