The Old Man and the Church

Nha Trang Travel Blog

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The church from across town

The tall yellow structure was on an upstream island and too distant to identify when I first spotted it from the Tran Phu Bridge. Then days later from the rooftop patio of the Yasaka Saigon Nha Trang Hotel, I saw that it was a church. This morning the bell tower came into view once again as I island hopped up the Cai River by bicycle. I was exploring to catch sight of a railway bridge that crosses the Cai somewhere upstream. Finding it from town would probably be too easy and not as much of an adventure.

 

Out of the city and just across the Ha Ra Bridge, I turned onto a paved alleyway that seemed to double back at first. The tourist map only showed two other bridges off of that island but I found a third. It angled more westerly than the other two bridges so I crossed it.

Dinner gets a bath

 

The street was little more than two meters wide. It twisted, arced, and bent through a quiet residential area where I only saw two or three small grocery shops. The area reminded me of the narrow streets of Lamu (Island), off the Kenya coast where doors of shops and houses opened right onto the street. Here too, there was no room for cars. Bicycles and motorbikes crept a cautious pace around blind corners and maintained a calm and orderly flow on short straight stretches. They weren't nearly aggressive as riders in the city. I crossed another bridge. Each of the three bridges were smaller than the one before and surroundings became more tropical.

 

I found the bell tower that dominated the Small island's skyline.

Front of the church
Open double gates led to a large courtyard. Its perimeter was decorated with colorful statues, potted flowers, and trickling fountains. The face of the church had the styling of a large fishing boat. Facades shaped the hull, trim-work formed waves, and the bow swept upwards to cradle a white cross. A similar cross topped the belfry. I could not see stairs or ladders leading to the top which appeared nearly five stories. Views from up there might have included the railroad bridge. Four Chinese-style pagoda roofs decorated its tapered upper heights. Thick wooden doors at the entrance of the church were ajar but I did not enter but continued west in search of open river and a clear view of the railroad bridge.

 

Beyond the church I found rural vacant lots, rustic riverside homesteads, coconut groves, and plots of farmed fields.

The yard
Few people stirred. The lane suddenly ended in a corner of a small cultivated field where two hysterical dogs barked wildly. There was no way out; no way to continue without trespassing private land. As I doubled back the way I came, a man emerged from a wooden shack to heed his watchful dogs. I shouted "Sin loy!" which means 'excuse me' or 'I am sorry'. He did not respond but the dogs quickly calmed.

 

I aborted the railroad bridge idea and doubled back to a rustic shack that I had passed along the river. An elderly man in pajamas sat cross-legged at a rock corner-post of the yard. The middle-aged man sitting beside him might have been a son or nephew. A rusted tin roof lined with a blue plastic tarp provided shade for their straw mat which spread on a knee-high platform.

Friendly posers
Two younger men worked morning laundry in an aluminum bowl at an outdoor water tap.

 

Their hard-packed dirt yard extended wide- right up to the road - so I parked the 107 a respectable distance from the elders. When I held out my camera and pointed toward the river, the white-haired patriarch beamed a yellowed one-tooth smile. I moseyed toward a gray wooden fence at water's edge and the younger of the two followed. Intrigued by a rickety homemade bridge that spanned a narrow channel, I began to climb onto it until a hefty two-foot-long brown lizard slithered under its upper slab walkway. We were joined by one of the boys who mimicked the click of a camera then gestured a resulting picture size. The two were happy to have a photo taken and eagerly huddled to study the sun-glared image on the camera screen cupped between my hands.

The patriarch

 

 The old man grinned and signaled a seat on the straw mat. I offered a cigarette but he did not smoke like the others. He nodded to the dried wounds on my left leg so I pointed to the Martin 107 then demonstrated its collision with a motorbike with an easy brush of my palms. He smiled again. Of the three generations, none spoke a word of English. I asked the patriarch if he spoke French but he didn't understand mine. He would have probably served in the military during the French occupation of Vietnam. I wondered how long he lived along the river, how he had made his living, and if the others there had followed in his footsteps. Their history would be fascinating but the language barrier was a hundred per cent rock-solid and iron-clad. We sat around pointing, gesturing, nodding, and grinning a lot.

 

 

KeikoCreative says:
I guess is an enjoyable moment when language is a barrier between conversation, with the signs can really crack some laughter:D
Posted on: Jan 25, 2010
nicolecarp says:
You write so well and descriptive, love to read your adventures..
Posted on: Jan 20, 2010
sylviandavid says:
Dan.... wonderful story... wonderful pictures... :) sylvia
Posted on: Mar 04, 2009
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The church from across town
The church from across town
Dinner gets a bath
Dinner gets a bath
Front of the church
Front of the church
The yard
The yard
Friendly posers
Friendly posers
The patriarch
The patriarch
Three generations
Three generations
Hai Dao Bridge
Hai Dao Bridge
Slightly warped Hai Dao Bridge
Slightly warped Hai Dao Bridge
View from Hai Dao bridge
View from Hai Dao bridge
Approaching the church
Approaching the church
Colorful entrance
Colorful entrance
Statue in the courtyard
Statue in the courtyard
Church statue
Church statue
Church fountain
Church fountain
Guarding steps to church
Guarding steps to church
Beyond the church
Beyond the church
The third bridge
The third bridge
Supplies
Supplies
Cleaning small shellfish
Cleaning small shellfish
The fourth bridge
The fourth bridge
Along the Cai River
Along the Cai River
Nha Trang
photo by: rotorhead85