Saturday, 30 January 2010


Song of Ruth

I am a stranger here
I have left my land
I have crossed your path
I have followed your steps

You told me: go back
Do not trust me
But you're a part of me
Without you, I can't be

And I know, the future is unknown
And the darkness is near
And a long journey through the desert
Lies ahead of us

But your land is my land
Your people are my people
Your language is my language
Your God is my God
Your dream is my dream
Your path is my path
Your future my future
Your heart is my heart

I know, your people are afraid
Of us, who are different
But I will build bridges
Over the abyss

And I will long back
When a strong wind comes
From the far South
Where I was born

But I will be strong
And I will survive
I want to stand with you
Hard though it may be

For your land is my land
Your people are my people
Your language is my language
Your God is my God

Your dream is my dream
Your path is my path
Your future my future
Your heart is my heart

My part is your part
My bread is your bread
Your life is my life
Your death is my death

And when the darkness comes
And your people hide from me
I will give my love, I will
Make the hatred disappear

For your house is my house
Your fear is my fear
Your silence my silence
Your land is my land

Lied van Ruth

Ek is n vreemde hier
Ek het my land gelos
Ek het jou pad gekruis
Ek het jou spoor gevolg

Jy het gese gaan terug
Moe nie op my vertrou
Maar jy s n deel van my
Wat doen ek sonder jou

En ek weet die toekoms is onseker
En die donker is digby
En ek weet ons wag n lang reis
Reg deur die woestyn

Maar jou land is my land
Jou volk is my volk
Jou taal is my taal
Jou God is my God
Jou droom is my droom
Jou pad is my pad
Jou toekoms my toekoms
Jou hart is my hart

Ek weet jou volk is bang
Voor ons wat anders is
Maar ek sal brugge bou
Daar waar die afgrond is

En ek sal terugverlang
Wanneer die wind sal waai
Wat uit die suide kom
Van my geboorte grond

Maar ek sal sterk wees
En ek sal oorleef
Want ek wil naas jou staan
Al sal dit moeilyk wees

Maar jou land is my land
Jou volk is my volk
Jou taal is my taal
Jou God is my God

Jou droom is my droom
Jou pad is my pad
Jou toekoms my toekoms
Jou hart is my hart

My deel is jou deel
My brood is jou brood
Jou lewe is my lewe
Jou dood is my dood

En wanneer die donker kom
En jou mense my ontwyk
Sal ek my liefde gee
Totdat die haat verdwyn

Want jou huis is my huis
Jou angs is my angs
Jou stilte my stilte
Jou land is my land

"Ik vind dat de wereld zonder grenzen zou moeten zijn. Ik weet dat dat een naïef idee is, maar het is toch belachelijk dat wij deze aardbol ingedeeld hebben in grenzen, en dat je daar allerlei papieren voor nodig hebt. God betere het."

Lyrics: Stef Bos
Translation: Aike Rots
Illustration: Marc Chagall, 'Ruth and Boaz meet'

Friday, 15 January 2010

Ninh Bình

The number of new posts on my weblog is usually inversely proportional to the number of things that happen in my life. The past couple of weeks were no exception to this rule. First of all, my job has kept me very busy. My Christmas holidays lasted merely three and a half days, and apart from those few days I had to work long hours. I am not complaining, though. I generally enjoy doing this work, and I seem to be quite good at it. Consequently, I was offered a new, fulltime contract, which I signed a few days ago. Meanwhile, I am working on the final version of my first real academic publication, a summary of the research I conducted for my MA thesis on the ideology of the Japanese Christian nationalist Nakada Jūji (1870-1939), which will be published later this year. A journal article on the same topic is forthcoming, too. In addition, I am going to work on new PhD applications soon. So if I neglect my weblog somewhat, don't worry. I am fine. Exciting things are happening, or about to happen.

Fortunately, now that we have moved to a quieter area, my antipathy towards the city in which I live has largely disappeared. So has much of the stress caused by traffic, noise, pollution and, of course, the impenetrable bureaucracy and corruption that frustrated our attempts to get married. While we still have not overcome all of the bureaucratic ordeals - there is always another stamp to get, another paper to find, another bureaucrat to bribe - we do feel more confident that we will be able to get the papers we want before too long, so that we can focus on the nice part: organising the wedding, which is scheduled to take place in Hoi An, this April.

Before that, however, there will be another great event: Tết, or Vietnamese New Year. Apparently, this is the most important day of the year in Vietnam. Many people return to their hometowns to visit relatives, make big dinners, eat loads of cake and candy, give money to children, get drunk and pray at Buddhist temples for prosperity in the new year. Frankly, I have no idea how my family-in-law-to-be is going to celebrate Tết, but I am quite curious to find out. And of course, I don't mind leaving the cold weather of Hanoi for a while. But I am particularly looking forward to the short trip to Singapore and Malaysia, following our visit to Hoi An next month. To be continued.

At Christmas, we spent a couple of days in Ninh Bình province, three hours south of Hanoi. While the city of Ninh Bình is not very interesting, the surrounding area is. A mesmerising landscape of impressive limestone rocks and cliffs, foggy rivers and wetlands, Catholic churches, lonely Buddhist temples* and other remnants of ancient times. Despite all the mining, digging, logging and farming, this continues to be an important area for wildlife, in particular birds. Cranes and kingfishers populate the area, among many other species whose names I don't know. The most popular tourist attraction is Tam Cốc, where one can make a boat trip on a lovely river, surrounded by gorgeous scenery. I also highly recommend Cúc Phương National Park, a beautiful subtropical forest, which houses the interesting Endangered Primate Rescue Center and centuries-old trees (as well as, sadly, large quantities of litter).

Enough said. You want pictures.

Foggy and rainy weather near Ninh Bình

The driver

A temple gate

The local speciality: goat meat

Cycling home

A countryside church

The river near Kênh Gà village

Living on the water: a boat with sugarcane

One of the inhabitants of the Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cúc Phương National Park

A magnificent creature

Environmental education, the Vietnamese way. It doesn't work: litter is everywhere, poaching a continuing problem.

Tam Cốc

Paddling past a tomb

The limestone cliffs

Catching snails

One of the caves through which we went

A sunny moment, a stunning view

More little boats

Rice farming

One more cave


A temple gate

Fishing with bare hands

The beautiful surrounding area


* The Vietnamese word for Buddhist temple, chùa, is usually translated into English as 'pagoda'. This translation is misleading and problematic. A pagoda is a Buddhist tower, the East Asian equivalent of a stupa - built on temple precincts, indeed, but not the religious institution as such. Buddhist temples
(寺) in countries such as China and Japan (but also in other Southeast Asian countries) are called temple in English, but for some reason in the Vietnamese context the word temple is only used to refer to a non-Buddhist religious institution; e.g., a temple dedicated to a Taoist god, a Confucian saint, a historical hero or a local deity. For comparative reasons, however, I think it is better to be consistent, and refer to chùa as (Buddhist) temples, rather than pagodas.