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
A temple gate
The local speciality: goat meat
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.
Paddling past a tomb
The limestone cliffs
One of the caves through which we went
A sunny moment, a stunning view
More little boats
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.