Well, well. Behind on my posting again, as you can see. I’m currently in Hoi’an, have been for several days. For the first two, I managed to somehow aviod succumbing to the shopping demon that lurks in each and every lovely little street in this city, contenting myself with wandering aimlessly enjoying the sights. It really is remarkably charming here – the influence of the ancient Chinese is everywhere, in pagodas and bridges and meeting houses and even private homes, but the fin de siecle French colonial style has made a strong mark as well. Between the architecture, the lovely colored lanterns, the smiling faces, and the food (really, the food is outstanding), I barely even noticed the brightly colored silks in virtually every shop. I won’t even pretend I missed the shoes, though.
Yesterday, my will collapsed. I wandered into a shop owned by a local woman I’d met, thinking I’d just have a look, maybe get a pair of trousers or something. Let’s just say I’m going to be sending home a big fat package tomorrow morning. Yes, including shoes. How could I resist? They make everything to measure! They even draw around and measure the arches of each individual foot! Last night, I dreamt of designs.
Today, to get away from temptation at least for a while, I went out to the ruins of My San, formerly the most holy ground of the Champa Empire. The temples there date from the 4th to the 11th century, and although they are all now in varying states of decay, it’s still quite a sight to behold. Not for the first time, I wish I were able to post photos.
At one point, I was walking around one temple group examining these big craters in the ground, overgrown with grass. I was wondering why this temple group had (what seemed to be) man-made lakes when none of the others did. It turns out those were bomb craters. The Vietnamese people had forgotten about the Champa temples until the French came and started chopping down trees in the jungle, exposing the complex. By that time, it was already falling into ruin and decay – the jungle is not kind to stone, and nobody had been keeping it up for a long time. Then, during the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong used the buildings as a hiding place from American troops, who proceeded to bomb the living hell out of them. The worst part: the particular group that took the biggest hit was the oldest, which hadn’t been modified since the 7th century. It reminded me of the days in the States when soldiers stored munitions in churches, assuming that nobody would dare to attack a holy place. By the end of the Civil War, hundreds of churches across the South were destroyed. There is, of course, an enormous difference between a 100 year old church and a 1600 year old temple complex, but it just goes to show that when war is declared, nothing is sacred anymore.
On a more positive note, have I mentioned about Tet? It’s the big giant festival of the lunar (Chinese) New Year, and the biggest party in all of Vietnam. It’s the 1st of February. I’ll definitely still be in the country, but not sure where yet – either Hue (ancient Imperial city) or Hanoi, depending on how things go. I’ll keep you all posted, for sure – how can I resist two New Year’s Eve parties in two months?!?