AsiaVietnamHue

0042 Singing for the lady monks (Viet 003—new)

Hue Travel Blog

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Me and the girl-monks

Day: 030: 16, hours, 4.0 kms

Hue was just a random city I picked to make my first stop on my long journey to Saigon.   I didn’t even know that this was the capital of the ancient Nguyen Dynasty or of its great significance in the Vietnam War.  Coming across a really cool city completely unexpectedly is one of the greatest things about travelling the way I do…

Hue is also a bit of a tourist trap… but I don’t mind--  in fact, I quite willingly accept the service of a very eager guide who puts me on a shuttle to a nearby hotel--  much cheaper than what I’d paid for in Vinh or Hanoi, so I just couldn’t resist… Nearby were little travel agencies that booked sightseeing and adventure tours, restaurants serving Western food and bike rentals…

I take a bit of time to get settled in, find an ATM, and rent a bicycle… then I’m off to discover the city.

Houseboats in Hue
  This time I’m taking my guitar with me to make sure I don’t miss any good parkbenching opportunities…

My first leg is across the bridge, out beyond the walled in forbidden city, on into the hinterlands down a muddy road into the countryside… Nothing super interesting so I go ahead a head on back to explore the old walled city.  First I take a little pause by the canal to take a video clip with a cool row of scrappy houseboats in the background.

The Walled City, once reserved only for the Nguyen lords and their families, reminds me a bit of the Forbidden City in Beijing--  though not as grand, of course.  It suffered a lot of damage during the war and neglect by early Communist rule--  but now is being nicely fixed up as a tourist attraction.  A cool place to stroll around with various ornate wooden buildings, towers and pools… It’s good to see something that reminds you that there’s much more to Vietnamese history than the Vietnam War and Communist rule…

Once outside, an enormous flag tower, with a flowing red flag quickly brings you back to the present State of Vietnam…

I head on back across the river, on back through the modern town, to a vast green area on the other side… it looks from a distance that there are some ruins or something there, but there’s not much to see… Then I head on down the road to see if I can find a way to a cool white stupa on a hilltop.  I make two attempts to follow paths up the hill, only to find dead ends…

I don’t have many more daylight hours, so I’d better keep going and see what else I can find.  I’m feeling a tad bit frustrated--  it seems like there’s so much to discover around here, but I’m not quite able to find it all.  Maybe I should have just broken my taboo and do one of them guided tours…

And then it happens.  A discovery that will put Hue in the my Top Ten forever.

As I cruise through the countryside on my little bicycle, I notice a sign pointing towards a jungle path indicating that there’s a monastery in that direction.  Hell, might as well check it out…

I plunge into the jungle and ride on for a ways until I reach the gate.  There are a couple of flower and incense vendors at the entrance, but overall it seems very quiet and abandoned.  I drop off the bicycle and head quietly inside, hoping I’m not offending anyone by bringing a guitar in here…

There’s a slightly Indiana Jones’ish feel with these ancient building somewhat hidden in the thick green… I tiptoe my way through, immersing myself in the mystical atmosphere. 

Suddenly I see a group of brown robed, bald monks approaching.  I bow politely… then look up again… what?! They’re girls?! My heart races for a moment… I’ll bet I’m in real trouble now… I’ve entered without permission to a female monastery!

Then I look up at the girl who looks like the lead monk… but she’s not angry or upset… instead she gestures to my guitar and says to me in English.

“Can you play a song for us?”

I just about fall over.  It’s one thing to get a song request from a Moroccan fellow loitering on the corner… it’s something completely different to get a song request from a group of bald female monks in the middle of the Vietnamese jungle!   Moments like these come only once… and I will not let this one go to waste…

I sit at a nearby table and play one of my parkbenching favourites: “Stay in this Dream”.  At the end, they are clearly pleased, but nobody claps.  Apparently, that’s just not something they do, instead they raise their hands and swivel them back and forth at the wrist--  the official monk way of showing appreciation.

And then things get even better.

“Tonight we’re holding a special party to celebrate the Tet New Year for the villagers.  Would you like to stay and play some music for us?”

Once again, these sorts of experiences come only once in a lifetime… so there’s no way I can turn this one down.

So as I wait for the festivities to begin, I mingle with some of the monks.  This is actually a co-ed monastery--  there are boys here as well.  One fellow who speaks English fills me in a bit on the history of the place.

During the early days of Communism, this particular sect of Buddhism was driven out of the country.  In fact, their spiritual leader still lives in exile in France.  But now, there’s a new openness in the country, and expat Buddhist missionaries are now returning to their country of origin to preach the message of their faith to a new generation.  I’m inspired by the fellow’s zeal and sincere faith…

Finally, it’s time, and we all sit on the ground in a clearing in the jungle.  Food is brought and distributed.  Since I’m the guest every one around me shares what’s on their plate with me… Which is a pretty cool gesture except that… these slimy balls of dough with some sort of leafy vegetable in the middle aren’t settling all that well… As my bowl gets fuller and fuller I start really hoping they won’t be offended if I don’t finish it all…

Then the party starts.  There’s a dragon dance and games for the children… Then it’s my turn to sing.  I pick up my guitar and step forward and sing “Everybody Needs Somebody”, gazing out to the sea of bald heads and the surrounding jungle…

One of my favourite concert moments, ever.

Finally, the festival is over and I bid farewell to all my new found brothers and sisters with whom I’ve made an instant bond.  I ride on into the darkness, almost in a daze at this super cool experience I’ve just lived.  I pedal slowly back into town, up and down the streets, churning with children out lighting firecrackers and doing little mini-dragon dances celebrating the lunar new year…

Finally it’s time to say goodbye to an unforgettable day.


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Me and the girl-monks
Me and the girl-monks
Houseboats in Hue
Houseboats in Hue
Hue
photo by: Paulovic