Wednesday, April 1, 2009

East Meets West

What follows is a post I started in Hue, but other posts intervened, and I never got around to finishing this one. I figured I'd see what I could do now because the alternative is to start repacking for tomorrow's departure from Hanoi, and let's face it, packing sort of sucks.

There's a real mix of Eastern and Western here. Some of it is because of the focus on tourism. A restaurant will have Western items on the menu along with the specialty dishes of Hue. You see signs printed in Vietnamese, English, and French. Nowhere has the mixture of East and West been more striking, though, than the Christian monastery that we visited. There are four Christian monasteries in Vietnam, one a few kilometers outside Hue. We bicycled there with a Vietnamese friend who knows some of the monks there.

From outward appearances, a visitor to the monastery might think they were at a pagoda. There is, for example, the tower found at most pagodas. The one above is from the Christian monastery. The one below is from Thien Mu Pagoda. And this one is from Tu Dam Pagoda. All three have seven stories. We were told, but without an explanation, that seven is an important number in Buddhism. The monk who showed us around the Christian monastery cited the seven days of the week, the seven mortal sins, and the seven sacraments as reasons for the seven stories on the tower there. Still, from all outward appearances, it could be a Buddhist tower. I find this intriguing. I wonder if the Catholic church, knowing that the brothers there would be Vietnamese, designed the tower to be culturally sensitive. Or perhaps it was Vietnamese monks who designed it in the first place. Unfortunately, I didn't think to ask.

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