Saturday, January 29, 2011

America's Catfish and more outside stuff......

Last night, I rented the film Catfish; an unassuming, independent film that I think all Facebook fans should see. While I found myself annoyed at the precociousness of the actors, I watched it to the end. The film is directed, acted and produced by a team of brothers from New York. One brother starts a online relationship with a women from Michigan. They eventually meet up and the movie turns into a psychological, disappointing, predictable but interesting happening. A very well crafted and intelligent film, the ending is what grabbed me. The star of the film is the almost retarded husband giving the film the powerful message that wrapped up the movie into a fable of sorts. The film turned out to be sad, sweet, corny but redemptive.

Above, is a performance that we saw on our way back from the Bac Ha market; close to the China border, located in the far northwest of Vietnam, we stepped into this temple ceremony. I cannot say what is going on except that it was a delightful entourage of regulars and gawking tourists while this dancer enchanted us. The interior was filled with incense and it made me think of an opium den which was at one time a huge market for the hill tribe peoples until the Communists took over.

Above, are the water puppets, formally called roi nuoc and we saw this performance at the Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi. This is a thousand year ancient art form and it takes the puppeteers three years to train for this craft. You can see the puppeteers standing behind the bamboo fence as he stands in waist level water and operates the puppets from long poles. Many of these skills are kept secret and passed down from family generations. This art form was created by the rice farmers and because of the heavy rains, they started using the water as a dynamic stage. In the video, you can see the band accompanying the performances. Several of the vignettes are about pastoral traditions and legendary folklore.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

journal entry - back to Hanoi, 1/5/11

Ken and I do lots of walking around the city of Hanoi; we have visited several of the museums and much of our time apart from this activity is spent observing the street life. It has been very chilly, cold with damp breezy gusts of wind - I would say in the low 50's and today I understand that they closed the schools because of the weather.

Early mornings, I try to get out and walk around Hoan Kiem Lake with the rest of the residents of Hanoi. This settles me for a decent (partial more like it) night's sleep. Our room becomes a shoe box at a certain point if you spend too much time there but it is efficient. The Vietnamese are very stylish; gorgeous shoes, heels, boots and lovely fashions can be seen in the shop windows and the women are usually decked out in contemporary feminine dress. The area where we are staying is called Old Town; with motoring motorbikes, sometimes a clogged nuisance in the streets and to your psyche. Some of the streets get so jammed with these machines, their incessant noise, and they seem to own the city.

Yesterday, I stumbled onto a cool temple with services going on and I caught a lively assortment of the neighborhood religion. At this temple there were five stations of Buddhas, people bringing alms, food, money, many saying their fervent prayers as heavenly and steady smoke plumes of smoldering incenses were sent off; burnt offerings from the huge urn that is usually in front of the temple yard making for a hazy view became almost toxic. These exchanges bring me to patiently sit and observe. I don't connect to their ancestor worship or their Buddha's but I do know, that upon entering this environment, this quad, I do experience a sense of peace and a time to reflect. I acknowledge this spirit world and I find myself feeling indebted to something greater than the surface and to the worldly.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

journal entry - Sapa/Bac Ha Market, Vietnam

The soft sleeper to Sapa from Hanoi was nice, however if I got any decent sleep it wasn't on this train. The trip lasted eight hours; you received a sweet pillow with an embroidered pillow case and of course the standard blanket. Throughout the night, I seemed to ride along and hear the engines start and stop, pull and grind. It couldn't be considered sleep but more like the thinnest layer of conscious reverie.

Sapa is cold - damp, and a fog engulfs most of the city. Today, it was considerably better with the parting of clouds and I got some rays of fresh sun. The vistas are stunning; mountainous terrains of rice paddies dotted with farming shacks and peaceful to many tourists who make it off this beaten track. Traffic is at a minimum and you can comfortably walk along the large streets.

Sunday, we headed to the Bac Ha Market; it entailed some driving and lots of sitting, but we were amongst other foreigners and I thought that travel is good about that - warm, familiar Western bodies gives you comfort and stamina. A couple of Brits were particularly nice to talk to.

The Bac Ha Market was outrageously beautiful with winding muddy roads and coursing down the streets were the ethnic tribal minorities, all beautifully decked out in their native dress. It was gorgeous to see their embroidered bibs of colors, broad black dark skirts hemmed with multi colored bands. Some wore leggings and on top elasticized with other bands of colors laced with dangling beads. Their head dresses were checked scarves or red kerchiefs. I thought this scene was a brilliant statement and I never came so close to the real thing. Lines of these women were on the streets; some assembled together talking while others were buying from vendors and selling vegetables.

The most compelling sight was above the marketeers on a flat plateau raised above the sprawling village. There were several dozen water buffalo ready to be sold. These docile creatures were indeed sweet, kind and gentle. I found myself weaving in and out of the animals comfortably. There was a small calf nestled to his mother, afraid, shaking at all the commotion. Men and women hung around chatting and it seemed a good mood everywhere. You could make a 360 degree turn and see the magnificent landscape. It was imperial and majestic; the deep dark green from the rains dotted tiny villages inside and outside the mountains, the fog and low hanging clouds added to the charm. The mountains had these jagged formations, curving here and there with sometimes a steep, odd jutting triangular shape that seemed different from other hills that I am use to seeing. This has been my favorite part of the journey so far.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Monk's Walk, Hoi An, Vietnam

Our travels led us to the south central area of Vietnam to Hue and Hoi An where we experienced warmer and milder temps. It was a relief to experience some heat away from the blustery cold damp winds of Hanoi. One morning, we rented bikes and decided to ride through the village paths. Often, while biking or walking I would look over top of the town and would spot a pagoda and that is how we stumbled upon this beautiful temple. Some of the temples had adjoining monasteries and the ones that we frequented were often bathed in quiet and held this aura of the contemplative world; exuded a gentleness of spirit apart and separate from the folly of daily life.

Upon entry to a pagoda, Wat or temple, there is usually a courtyard of wonderfully sculptured trees called bonsais and the grounds are flanked with a few stupas, a main temple and sometimes surrounding the courtyard is the monk's quarters, their studies, the kitchen, library and other places of worship; some rooms laced with alters held fascinating tributes to the ancestors and other Buddha icons. I was lucky to see an old monk doing his services and lighting incense walking from one room to another. In the main temple, where I filmed this, the monk chanted and worked on the bells making sonorous vibrations. Enchanted, I stood transfixed and captured this visual and sacred jewel.