I am amazed at how different Vietnam is from Cambodia and Thailand. They have three very distinct cultures and peoples. Now granted I have only really seen Ho Chi Minh City and that is hardly a fair representation of all of Vietnam just as Phnom Penh is not a picture of what all of Cambodia looks like, but it still displays the beauty of these people. Maybe I’ll have to adopt a kid from here someday too.
We went to the war remembrance museum the other day. Used to call it the museum of Chinese and American war crimes, but changed the name because they were offending so many people. I don’t understand a whole lot about what the Vietnam war was all about, but I know that reading the information there and looking at the pictures was disgusting. They have babies in jars that were stillborn with serious defects as a result of Agent Orange and the other pesticides America sprayed over the countryside as if they were trying to kill off the weeds to ensure a good crop next season- except the target was people. And those babies that have died may be luckier than the generation that has been born with defects. I am appalled at the atrocity of America’s behavior. Why do we think it is our job to be the Savior of the world? Jesus played that role and when he told us to be like him he meant so that others would know him by our love not that we should be saviors. Point the way to the truth. Point the way.
Speaking of Jesus- cause I like to speak of Jesus- we walked up to see the Notre Dame Cathedral. . . There’s a statue of Mary out front. She’s stepping on the serpent’s head- which I thought was pretty sweet. The travel book said there are no stain glass windows in the cathedral because of World War II. They must have replaced some of them because I saw several. I liked the one of Jesus helping the Vietnamese people. Seemed authentic. He’s the God of the Jews and the Gentiles. He’s the Savior of everybody the whole world over. I was trying to figure out how they could get it so close though- Catholics in general- get it so close, but miss it. And does that break God’s heart? That they would make it to knowing that Jesus is the Savior- right, but Mary’s a person, highly blessed among women whom God chose to be the mother of his son. When we came out afterwards one of the most disturbing things I saw was a group of people praying to the statue, some venturing up to touch the base. Some weeping real tears. I don’t know a whole lot about Mary, but I’d say she had some solid character and when she saw her son dying on the cross and telling her this friend and disciple was now going to be her son and take care of her I think it broke her heart. I’d have to say she was proud of her son though- what mother wouldn’t be. And I think she would be weeping now if she knew that people had missed it and were praying to her. So close, but not there.
As I was inside the huge ceilings rose high above me. America is missing something in ancient architectures simply because we haven’t been around that long. You can find God in these massive buildings magnificently designed, but he also dwells inside the heart. . . That’s where he longs to know us. As I looked at the windows and as I imagine all the saints that have gone before I realized I’m part of something much bigger than myself. This thing called Christianity- this belief in the God of the world spans across numerous generations and stretches out across the globe. Jesus is our Savior and because of him we can know God. Pretty cool.
After we saw the cathedral we were strolling around that part of town. We decided to see what was playing at the theatre and turns out two days a month there are performances by the Ho Chi Minh City Ballet, Symphony Orchestra and Opera and that night was one of them. So we donned our best apparel for the evening. Now, I was really excited because it was a two hour performance and I was thinking I was going to get to see some ballet, some orchestra and some opera all of which I like in proportion, but as a two hour performance maybe they can individually be a little much. Turns out it was just the ballet and some contemporary selections which is exactly what I would have chosen if I had to choose. The HCMC Ballet performed some excerpts from a ballet based on a Byron poem. Pretty amazing. In the opening it seemed like they combined ballet with tap somehow and I was ready to watch for hours. As I was watching different dancers leave I was thinking about what their lives might be like. Do they enjoy what they are doing? Is dancing really fun for them? Is it more like the athletes in the Soviet Union? They are talented dancers- so small and muscular sometimes the bones and tendons showing were a little distracting, but not so much. It was a beautiful way to spend a stormy night. The finale had the younger students at whatever academy they’re studying at perform as well. They were cute. The second half was some contemporary stuff. The dancers were talented, but some of it was a little too modern or suggestive for me. I wanted the girl to realize she should just leave the guy, stop going back to him when he’s abusive and know your identity is not based in what that man says about you, but rather in who your creator made you to be. I liked the contemporary soldiers dance most. And when the windows of time started throwing rice across the stage I knew it was the last number of the night.
Today we wanted to go to the waterpark. There are four in or near the city, but we chose the first one listed in the book because it sounded exciting- “chock full” of water rides and slides. We even were still going there after the girl who works at our guest house said it’s the old one and we should go to another newer one that is more fun. But first, this morning while I was praying I felt like God wanted me to spend today with him and I was a little bit definitely not wanting to miss going to the waterpark, so God and I were going to spend the rest of the day together and I won’t join the group for dinner or whatever they do tonight. . . So we’re driving in the taxi watching the meter rise way past the books estimate of a price for getting there. . . Doubles. And so we get to this spot on the side of the Saigon River on the outskirts of town. There’s no waterpark. There’s no remains of a waterpark. There’s some barges moving dirt around and a nice leveled muddy field. I guess Lonely Planet needs to update its Vietnam book again. So we ask the driver who does not speak English to take us to the other park. He knows where it is. It’s on the other side of town completely. We arrive after having been in the car for well over an hour. The guard at the gate tells the driver we can’t go in. He smiles and tells us “No.” We have absolutely no idea why, but as he drives us a few feet so we can read a sign . . . “as of September 12, 2007 the waterpark will pause every Wednesday.” We’re in the city for a week. . . We plan our days out at the beginning and randomly decide Wednesday sounds like a good day to go to the waterpark. I’m thinking, man, God, I should have listened to you. You really know what you’re talking about when you told me to spend today with you. About two hours and twenty dollars later the driver drops us off at a KFC near our guest house and the seven of us just spent the longest most cramped two hours in a sauna that any of us ever want to spend.
In contrary to the disappointing morning which will make a great story as soon as we realize it’s over this afternoon I ventured off for some quiet time by myself and went to the Museum of Fine Arts. I am amazed by the creativity of the Asian people. In Cambodia, Thailand and now in Vietnam I have seen some beautiful, beautiful paintings. I mean they are really remarkable. The building itself is this old building built by the French some time ago. I love it. It would make a fabulous orphanage or school, but serves well as a museum too I guess. There are all these balconies that let you look out over the streets or the courtyard which at one point was used as a tennis court, but now has different statues in it, so playing tennis would probably be a detrimental thing for those works of art.
The first floor was mainly photography. Again- they are a beautiful people. Some of them were paintings that actually looked so close to real-life that they could have been mistaken for photographs, but yeah. I can’t paint like that. There were also some random videos that stood alone or went along with some of the photographs. I don’t understand why there were bigger than life sized pictures of a man standing with clay molded all over his torso and head and then a video of him stepping up to his specially built table and making himself into a statue of a lump of clay. I guess it’s art. Maybe it’s really famous art and I just don’t get it. It reminded me of middle school when a group of students did this special art thing where they shaped their hair into all sorts of strange things with clay.
In the majority of the art from a long time ago and more recently there is a resounding theme of war- of soldiers, killing and death. It makes me want to add the history of Vietnam to the list of things I would like to research and know more about. It makes sense to me to see some of the more recent stuff show off the emotion or the effects of the war, but it seems like Vietnam has always been fighting for freedom from something or someone. The children soldiers and the women soldiers tears me up. There’s something in women that makes them fierce, but I don’t like that they have to fight. And I wish that the children soldiers could somehow have their childhoods restored to them and the images of war engraved in their minds erased.
There was a statue called the “legacy of mother.” It was pretty cool looking- sorry you can’t take pictures. It was made out of wood and had a mother holding three or four different little kids.
There was a darkened room in the end of one hallway with a projector set up on a blank wall of a lady sitting on this white board of some sort floating in the middle of the ocean back and forth for a while and then eventually it would start over. The only noise you could hear was the sound of the projector playing. I took my shoes off and danced with the shadow. Jesus be glorified.
There was ancient pottery and not so ancient pottery. And I looked at these wooden things carved centuries ago and inlaid with pearl. Kind of neat to realize that they have been creating art like this for centuries. There were rock statues too. . . Some of the pottery and rocks had carved turtles. I like turtles. And it seemed like so much of the gods were ancient. I don’t know where this nation stands in religion right now. I know it’s difficult to be Christian, but you can go to church. We drove past a Christian bookstore during our search for the waterpark today. But it doesn’t seem like it’s necessarily a Buddhist nation. There are little altars in the houses, but who knows. One more thing to read about.
Tomorrow we’re going to try to go the waterpark again. I’ve discovered I love this nation, they are a beautiful people, they eat noodles more than rice and it would be a great place to come buy a wedding dress someday.