Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Sunday, April 05, 2015

30. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

“Ha Long Bay’s countryside and "ZenBuddhism” was the theme of our outing today. The trip started a bit late in the day, around 12.30 pm. We have a routine now getting
The Fog in Ha Long Bay
to these excursions. We made reservations in Toronto already, just reading the brochures and guessing which the best tour is. Not always the best way, but we booked something at almost every port of call in Asia. I feel this is why I travel and who knows if I will ever come back to these spots? So excursions are part of traveling the oceans. To find the best tour offered is a bit of a crap shoot, it depends on what subject you like and what you find interesting. Sometimes the choices conflict with each other as in this case. Many took a junk tour through Ha Long Bay to see these UNESCO spires and Islands. It was very foggy when this tour started off and I gloated a bit because we did not book this UNESCO tour but opted instead to visit a Zen Monastery and to visit and talk to a local farmer. Those were the two main items on the itinerary for us today. The bus ride took a long time again, something like 2 hours one way. Our first stop was the Zen temple.
Zen Monastery

Zen is a sect of Buddhism that is not very common in Vietnam. The word Zen is a Japanese word and this Zen practice of Buddhism is not linked to Hinduism. The reason to belong to this sect is that meditation is the main focus. Careful attention is given to the way you sit in Zazen (the practice of meditation), the body position, your whole demeanor seems to be important. The Zen Masters will guide you through each step, each day, each time you sit 
View From the Monastery
and meditate. He will also counsel you after each session of meditation.

Female Monks

Getting Ready to Practice Zen

The cloister we visited only had female monks. I am not sure if they are called “Nuns” or not. The facility is huge and fairly new to the area here. The sponsor of the complex is a very rich industrialist who is a believer and supports his region this way. The place is very clean and when we arrived we found all the nuns busy doing something. Nobody loafed. Some weeded the flower beds, some moved boxes, some did dishes or swept the floors, and everybody was busy.
The Zen Teacher

The tour had made arrangements for us be shown Zazen. A young woman, speaking a bit of English, taught us how to sit and practice Meditation (Zazen). We had to climb a 40 degree incline using many stairs to reach the hall where Zazen took place. Mats and a round cushion were given to us to help us sit in the right position. Instructions were given and demonstrated and then we had to, for some time anyway, just sit in this position and do nothing.

Practicing Meditation

Nothing! Only breathing in and out, no thinking! Let your mind calm down and let all thought flow out of you. Empty your mind. Like a glass of water, empty it. Just sit, hold still and think of nothing. No thinking of the future or the past. No thinking of family, kids, jobs, troubles, etc. just sit with an empty mind. Breathe in, breathe out. Do this for at least 2 times a day for 30 minutes each session. Try it, it's not easy. Well that is Zen, so simple yet so difficult.
Inside the Temple at the Monastery

Happy Buddha With All His Little Cherubs
Inside the Temple at the Monastery

Inside the Temple at the Monastery
Inside the Temple at the Monastery

Our next stop was a visit to a local “farmer“. We walked through a small village, down a long lane-way and all the farmer’s neighbors watched us walk to his house.

Bamboo Grove
Few Furnishings in the
Farm House

When I booked this tour I thought we would see a farm. Instead it was a small, simple house, with 2 bedrooms and very sparsely furnished. The house was surrounded by a bamboo grove, a vegetable garden and it had an enclosure for foul, some chickens and a few turkeys. In the back of the house were some fruit trees. That is a farm?

Always An Alter Present With
Gifts to Buddha

Not in the American sense of the word, no!

It was a normal, regular house with a bit of land around it; normal for Vietnam. No evidence of cows or pigs, goats or sheep. No rice paddies. Neighbors all along the narrow lane-way-like, dead-end road had similar gardens or orchards. I cannot say why this was advertised as a “farm”. A couple
Chickens and Turkeys
occupied the small house, no children were present. We were offered some tea in plastic cups, baked sweet potato and a few slices of fruit. It was an odd visit. Imagine a busload of big Westerners visiting the small Thai house of a ‘farmer’. The whole scene did not really fit together. It was not a natural match; especially when the farmer’s wife smacked her young dog with a severe blow on the head. We Westerners just looked on in shock, the dog cowered and the Vietnamese woman thought it was the most natural thing to do. A definite deal breaker in most of the eyes I looked into. We all left soon thereafter, got into the bus and drove back to the ship. In my eyes this ‘farm’ visit was a dud. 
We Liked the Planter


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