Tag Archives: Vietnam

Around and up and also down

Some time ago I posted an article on my liking for random walks, in which I outlined an insanely complicated method to get to places you weren’t planning to see. Recently I found another way to go to randomly explore the world, without getting up from my chair.

A few days ago, as I was preparing to leave for Prague, I tried to find some information on the city’s railway station. I can’t remember why, I have been to so many places (at least virtually) since then. I happened on a page with a 360 degree spherical picture of Fantova kavárna or Fanta’s Café, originally the main hall of the station as it was built in 1871 by the architect Josef Fanta. The picture was on a website called 360cities.net which, I have discovered, is a wonderful tool for random travelling.

I soon ended up in other places in Prague, my favourites I think being the Bethlehem Chapel, a medieval crane and the wonderful Strahov library, where the picture is so detailed that I am quite confident that I will one day spot a bookworm about to take a bite out of one of the ancient volumes.  Read more…

Ho Xuan Huong

While I was looking for information for my post about Huong Thanh, I came across a dozen other references to things I didn’t know about Vietnam. One of these was to a woman named Ho Xuan Huong (Hồ Xuân Hương) who was probably born in the period from 1775 to 1780 and lived till 1822. Ho Xuan Huong was married twice. In her second marriage, she was a vo le, a wife of second rank (“like the maid, but without the pay”, she complained). However her second husband died after only six months and after that she lived alone in Hanoi, making a living by teaching and receiving visitors, including poets, for Ho Xuan Huong was an outstanding poet herself, in fact, if she had written in one of the world languages, I think she would be on  T-shirts everywhere.

Many of her poems contain sexual double-entendres, like this one:

Weaving at Night

Lampwick turned up, the room glows white.

The loom moves easily all night long

as feet work and push below.

Nimbly the shuttle flies in and out,

wide or narrow, big or small, sliding in snug.

Long or short, it glides out smoothly.

Girls who do it right, let it soak.

This is from Spring Essence, a book of her poetry turned brightly into English by John Balaban. 

Here she is writing a different kind of poem, which I find very beautiful:

        Country Scene

        The waterfall plunges in mist

        Who can describe this desolate scene:

        the long white river sliding through

        the emerald shadows of the ancient canopy

        ... a shepherd’s horn echoing in the valley,

        fishnets stretched to dry on sandy flats.

        A bell is tolling, fading, fading, fading

        just like love. Only poetry lasts.

I have only just begun to find out about her so all I can do is point those who are interested in her general direction:

a page with the New York Times review of Spring Essence

John Balaban’s page and an interview with him about Ho Xuan Huong for the NPR programme Fresh Air

Music for eating peaches to (and papayas and mangosteens as well)

mangosteenUnfortunately, I know next to nothing about Vietnam and even less about Vietnamese music, but I have been wanting to share my appreciation of Huong Thanh ever since I heard her cd Mangustao. In it she blends Vietnamese music with jazz in a way which
joins hands surprisingly. There is a lilt in her singing which reminds me of some of the creatures which you see in an aquarium which suddenly flick their tails to move along unexpectedly or else makes me think that the line of music is walking along a plank or springboard which suddenly bounces back up when you reach the end of it. Here is a sample of her singing (From “Fragile Beauty”, another beautiful record.)

And here is her web page (not easy to navigate, you have to click on that little rectangle in the middle to open up the menu) which plays another piece of music. As I listened to this second piece of music I went to get myself a peach and sat down to peel and eat it. After a while I realised that I was cutting and eating with special attention and enjoyment. I had always known there was music for marching and there is music I put on which makes cleaning easier and there is music which helps to wind down and clear your mind and music to give you drive, but I had never realised there was music for eating fruit. It put me in mind of the Vietnamese film the scent of the Green Papaya where cutting fruit and vegetables always seems to be an ecstatic experience. I was so caught up by the peach and the sound that I didn’t realise that the music was a
loop which went round and round in circles. Luckily it was a peach and not a water melon and it only took me ten minutes to finish it and come out of my dream.