Vietnam – Saigon

February 27, 2018

 

Jade Emperor Pagoda

Built in 1909 in honour of the supreme Taoist god (the Jade Emperor or King of Heaven, Ngoc Hoang), this is one of the most spectacularly atmospheric temples in Ho Chi Minh City, stuffed with statues of phantasmal divinities and grotesque heroes. The pungent smoke of incense (huong) fills the air, obscuring the exquisite woodcarvings. Its roof is encrusted with elaborate tile work, and the temple’s statues, depicting characters from both Buddhist and Taoist lore, are made from reinforced papier mâché.

Inside the main building are two especially fierce and menacing Taoist figures. On the right (as you face the altar) is a 4m-high statue of the general who defeated the Green Dragon (depicted underfoot). On the left is the general who defeated the White Tiger, which is also being stepped on.

Worshippers mass before the ineffable Jade Emperor, who presides – draped in luxurious robes and shrouded in a dense fug of incense smoke – over the main sanctuary. He is flanked by his guardians, the Four Big Diamonds (Tu Dai Kim Cuong), so named because they are said to be as hard as diamonds.

Out the door on the left-hand side of the Jade Emperor’s chamber is another room. The semi-enclosed area to the right (as you enter) is presided over by Thanh Hoang, the Chief of Hell; to the left is his red horse. Other figures here represent the gods who dispense punishments for evil acts and rewards for good deeds. The room also contains the famous Hall of the Ten Hells, carved wooden panels illustrating the varied torments awaiting evil people in each of the Ten Regions of Hell. Women queue up at the seated effigy of the City God, who wears a hat inscribed with Chinese characters that announce ‘At one glance, money is given’. In a mesmerising ritual, worshippers first put money into a box, then rub a piece of red paper against his hand before circling it around a candle flame.

On the other side of the wall is a fascinating little room in which the ceramic figures of 12 women, overrun with children and wearing colourful clothes, sit in two rows of six. Each of the women exemplifies a human characteristic, either good or bad (as in the case of the woman drinking alcohol from a jug). Each figure represents a year in the 12-year Chinese astrological calendar. Presiding over the room is Kim Hoa Thanh Mau, the Chief of All Women. Upstairs is a hall to Quan Am, the Goddess of Mercy, opposite a portrait of Dat Ma, the bearded Indian founder of Zen Buddhism.

Fine Arts Museum Ho Chi Minh City

Being one of the largest fine arts centers of Vietnam, Fine Arts Museum is conveniently located near the Ben Thanh Market, at 97A Pho Duc Chinh Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. The building that houses the museum was originally a mansion of a Chinese during colonial time and after – Mr. Hoa, the wealthiest man of Saigon at the time, who also owned other famous buildings in the city such as Majestic Hotel and Tu Du Hospital.

This yellow-white grand colonial-era mansion is a combination of French and Chinese styles which brings about a typical colonial feeling through its marble floors throughout and the spacious, airy rooms. It’s no wonder that the building is considered as a masterpiece itself by most people. As Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City and the country reunited, the building was reformed into a museum in 1987 as the result of a decision of the City’s People’s Committee, though it was not officially opened until 1991.

The Fine Arts Museum is indispensable for those who are keen on Vietnam arts and culture. Although the museum itself is not big and modern enough, its abundant collections can make up for these mistakes. The museum focuses on collecting, keeping, preserving and displaying fine artworks typical of Vietnamese people, especially Ho Chi Minh City and the South. It comprises three floors of exhibition space.

The 1st floor is for domestic and international arts display. The 2nd floor is where to store arts work – both paintings and sculptures of Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese artists. Some leading Vietnamese artists of the last 50 years whose paintings are displayed there include: Trinh Cung, Do Quang Em, Diep Minh Chau and Nguyen Gia Tri.

The 3rd floor holds a collection of historic arts ranging from 7th century to early 20th century, featuring Champa and earlier civilizations such as Oc Eo archaeological site in Mekong Delta. The contemporary Blue Space Contemporary Art Centre, located near the entrance, is run by the museum. There’s a warren of galleries in the basement, accessed through the courtyard in the center of the building.

While the guides point out that not much is in english, at least the titles of the painting are in english. While thw collection is small and often dark in nature the pieces do show talent by the artists. Like make other places the tilt is towards communism and tends to make the French, Japan and the US the bad guys. Ir still woth the 30,000 dong or $1.32 US.

museum throug the streets of Siago, andWe walked back from the art we stopped by the cooking school to verify the schedule for tommrow and confirm our “street maket and food tour” which will be given by by Ms. Tham.

We also made reservations at Hoa Tuc Restaurant for dinner at 1900. The menu looks great and its one one the best in the neighborhood. The restaurant specializes in regional cuisine of Central Vietnam. Some of the best seafood dishes in the area are to be enjoyed in a traditional setting with traditional music.

Pat’s still feeling a bit down from the common cold that I past her way compliments of some Britiah tourist next to me on the plane from Hanoi to Siem Reap.

Dinner was excellent. We had Saigon spring roll which we wrapped in lettuce leaves with mint and other herbs. We order two kinds of shrimp, both lightly battered and sautéd. The food wa light so we have room for dessert chocolate ice cream for Pat and grilled bananas with vanilla ice cream.

We met two men at the table next to us from the international mission board, headquartered in Richmond; small world! Sam James worked bor the board for 54 years, they were here in Saigon for a conference.

Ben Thanh Market

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