July in Vietnam: The Cao Dai Holy See

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

From Mui Ne, I moved on to Ho Chi Minh City and almost immediately found myself on a tour out to the Cao Dai Holy See. Cao Dai is a new religion founded in Tay Ninh province near Ho Chi Minh City in the 20th Century. It’s a fusion of eastern and western religions and, according to Lonely Planet, incorporates elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Confucianism, native Vietnamese spiritualism and Islam. Services are held four times a day at midnight, 6am, noon and 6pm. It was one of these services that my tour took me to see.

The architecture of the temple, just like the religion, had a mishmash of influences. The outlying pagodas had a pastel wedding cake feel so typical of western fairy tale castle architecture yet were unmistakeably shaped likeĀ  Chinese pagodas.

00360

The main temple building was much the same, where a Muslim-inspired dome that sat on Chinese-style tiled roofs was detailed with vaguely Baroque styling and topped with a Chinese qilin (unicorn).

00361

The oddly disjointed design was somehow unified by the pastel colour scheme.

00362

Worshippers in long white gowns were starting to stream in, a stark contrast to the colourful temple. Outside, venerated saints looked benevolently down from the pastel blue sky dotted with fuzzy clouds.

00363

I couldn’t help my amusement at how the real weather was fair more threatening than the one painted on the walls, giving the temple an even more surreal feel.

00364

And just inside the temple was a large mural with Sun Yat-sen, Victor Hugo and Viet poet Nguyen Binh Khiem writing out God and Humanity, Love and Justice in French and Chinese. My mind boggled trying to figure out the link between them.

00371

The tourists then herded onto the balconies along the main sanctuaries, gawking at the blue skies and fluffy white clouds on the ceiling and the dragons plastered on the pastel pink pillars.

00365

To my delight, the priests were dressed in stark primary colours, standing out brightly from the white-garbed laypeople. Each colour represented a different branch of Cao Dai.

00366

The service commenced with lots of bowing, chanting and singing.

00367

I very much enjoyed admiring the blocks of different colours and how they contrasted beautifully with the very cool floor tiles.

00368

Too soon, the signal was given for tourists to leave, and we headed out of the temple past the choir singing dreamily, accompanied by traditional Chinese instruments.

00370

The time for the surreal was over, now it was time for war tunnels and Cu Chi.

August in China: Guangzhou’s Many Places of Worship

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

I blended in pretty well in Guangzhou as I look just like them and in Guangzhou people dress as they please. No one took a second look at my crappy T-shirt and loose drawstring trousers ensemble. In other towns, that would immediately brand me as a tourist.

I very much enjoyed walking the streets of Guangzhou in the early evening. There was just so much life going on: people balancing bundles of vegetables as they stopped by the market on the way home, rickety grandmas taking their precious grandsons out for an evening walk, younger people playing ball games on a grass patch.

I liked how Guangzhou had a lot of diversity in religion. There were of course plenty of temples which I skipped, mainly because of their similarity to those in Singapore.

On Shamian Island, a tiny plot of land barely qualifying as an islet, there was the Shamian Church started by the British. It was in a pretty spot full of trees, nicely isolated from the bustle of central Guangzhou.

cimg2308

Then in Guangzhou city proper, Sacred Heart Church seemed to pop out from nowhere as I turned a corner. The Gothic architecture was a refreshing change from the traditional Chinese temples or modern buildings I’d seen so far.

cimg3238

Last of all was something quite surprising. It’s probably quite hard to spot in the picture below, but this place is actually a mosque! I really dug how local architecture was incorporated into this place of worship.

cimg3237

The accompanying minaret is supposedly ancient. It is speculated to be the oldest minaret outside of Mecca although some guide books say that dates supplied by the relevant “authorities” show that the tower was built even before Islam was founded. Go figure.

cimg3235

It was fun trying to figure out from the map where the next place of worship was. It reminded me that Singapore’s religious diversity isn’t that unique after all. It was also comforting to realise that religious diversity and tolerance can occur spontaneously as happens in Guangzhou, without any artificial encouragement from the authorities.