Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Day 27 - Nguyen Dynasty Tombs/Mausoleums

Another early day again to check out some of the many Nguyen tombs and mausoleums scattered throughout the city. Many of the emperors had these places built while they were still alive, adding their own ideas on how they should look.

Most of these tombs consist of five common elements. One, there is a stele pavilion, where the accomplishments or biography of the emperor is presented. Two, there is  a temple for worship. Three, there is some sort of structure that holds the emperors' remains. Four, there is a courtyard with statues of horses, elephants, and military personnel. Five, there are usually lotus ponds surrounding the area.

The most interesting, and least traditional of the tombs that I visited was the tomb of Khai Dinh, which mixes European and Vietnamese architecture to create a somewhat gothic structure that does not appear very inviting. Once you enter the sepulchre though, it is a definite contrast, as the room is filled with colorful mosaics made of pieces of glass and ceramic, gold plated statues, and intricate columns. Once we got back on the bus, the tour guide gave us a little bit of Vietnamese Gay history. Apparently, Khai Dinh was gay, and he did not have any sons with any of the concubines. There is speculation that the "child" that he claimed was his, and who took the throne after him, was actually his nephew. 

Somewhere in between all the tomb-hopping, we stopped at a Vietnamese Martial Arts school, where we got to see some of the traditional martial arts performed by some young kids. It was very impressive to see some of the stuff they could do. One of the students was a champion in the country and he performed something very shocking. Two spears were pressed against his neck, as he pushed through them, and we could easily see the bamboo sticks bend through the pressure. The sharp edges didn't puncture his neck, and while he was doing this, he took a glass of water to drink. Another student broke about 7 layers of ceramic bricks with his head. Both of them performed some sort of ritual to gather their energy internally before performing such stunts. 

Here is some video footage of one of the student's performances:

At the end of the day, I walked around the town and tried some more Hue delicacies, before settling on a small restaurant to have some beers. There, I met the waitress who spoke very good English. We struck up an interesting conversation about her life, aspirations, and views on love. She was a short, and dark girl, but attractive, in my opinion, in U.S. standards. She said that she doesn't feel wanted in Vietnam because most of the Vietnamese guys want light-skinned and tall Vietnamese girls. I asked her what her "type" of guy was and she said she liked tall, blonde, curly haired boys. She said she knew she couldn't find someone like this in Hue because most of the foreigners she meets are only here for a couple days, so nothing serious could ever happen. I asked her when she thought she would marry, and she said something that was similar to what I think most people in the U.S. would say. She said she didn't have a specific age, but only wanted to marry when she knew she could support herself and live comfortable. Not the traditional answer that I would have expected, so maybe there is a greater sense of independence with the women in Vietnam. She then explained that she knew that even though she has a specific "type" of guy that she wanted to marry, she knew that anybody could come into her life and she could fall in love with him, flaws and all. 

She seemed to have a pretty difficult life. She worked two jobs, as a waitress in the restaurant I was at, and as a receptionist at a backpacker hostel. This only made things worse for her in finding someone to like her. She said most Vietnamese men get jealous when she is around so many foreigners, who hug her or give her a kiss on the cheek goodbye when they see her. But she enjoyed her jobs because it gave her the opportunity to learn more English, which she loved. This particular day, she worked 14 hours. She said she used the money to help her family out, which is what most of the young Vietnamese do once they find a job. She also used the money to pay off the bank loan she took out to purchase a motorbike, which is around $1,000 USD. With all of this, she had aspirations of doing something involving cooking, but not be an actual cook, because it lacks the interaction that she so loved at the jobs she had. She hoped to someday move to Australia.

I asked her if she was generally happy. Surprisingly, she said she was, because even though she had so many obligations, she was somewhere comfortable, and close to family. Her jobs weren't necessarily difficult, even though she works long hours, so that helps, but she doesn't have much time for herself. She knows that if she were to move to Australia, it would be lonely.

I asked her more about her interests, and whether she would want to be a tour guide because you could meet a lot of people that way, but she said it wouldn't be possible because she hated history, which is a prerequisite to becoming a tour guide. This confirms what was told to me yesterday by my CS friends. Vietnamese youth don't like to study history. Such a shame since there is so much that is interesting about this country and its struggles!

At the end of the night, I took home more valuable  knowledge of the views and opinions of Vietnamese youth, who share some of the same views as I do about life and love.

Stele Pavilion at one of the tombs

Lotus Pond at one of the tombs

Pavilion with statues of elephants, horses, and military personnel

The steps to the Khai Dinh tomb

The front facade of the Khai Dinh tomb.

Inside the Khai Dinh tomb.

Vietnamese Martial Arts

Vietnamese Martial Arts

The young man just broke through the ceramic tiles with his head.

Making incense sticks with cinnamon

Banh Beo - Flat rice cakes with minced shrimp and a crouton

My new waitress friend, Mo (and my awesome Hue tee-shirt)

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