27 August 2005

Cho Lan

Cho Lon, (Jo Lon), is Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinese district. I believe it was its own city until after 1975, when it was incorporated into HCMC. It’s something like a 40 minute walk from my house, so I decided I’d take a taxi and save my sweating for the walking tour I’d found in a travel book.

Needless to say, I was unable to follow the map’s route that encompassed numerous temples and notable sights. But even so I did manage to stumble upon a few temples and a mosque.

The mosque was bit of a surprise for me. I’d run across one in District 1, but hadn’t even thought there would be one in Cho Lon. I noticed a side entryway and stopped to look in. The mosque stood on the right, and to the left of the driveway about 20 men sat in low chairs around tables. I tentatively gestured to a young man at the entrance, asking if I could go in. He happily motioned me forward.

Three steps led up to the mosque. Major repairs were taking place. Again, I looked around to see if it was ok to enter. Several nodding heads assured me it was all right. I knew to take off my shoes before setting foot in the mosque, and there was a sign in English reminding one to do so. Bare-footed, I stepped into the dirt that had been left by tiles the workers were digging up from the veranda. They were wearing shoes. I wasn’t quite sure about what etiquette prevailed in mosque construction circumstances, but decided on keeping the shoes off.

Even in its neglected state, the lines of the structure, with its surrounding tropical foliage, gave off a calming feeling. Could I take pictures? Again I searched around for someone to ask. One fellow indicated I should wait while he went to get someone. A healthy, older gentleman, who may very well have been the imam, came to me. His head was covered and he had the forehead mark acquired from years of daily prayers. He beckoned me forward.

I followed him to a wooden door. There he took off his shoes. I was allowed into the prayer room and told I could take pictures. Back outside, one man asked where I was from. He told me that the Mosque of Cho Lon was built in 1932 by ethnic Indian Vietnamese. After many years, they were finally able embark on renovations. I could already see that soon it would once again have gleaming tile floors and maybe some new paint.

From there, I walked up the street a way and spotted a small Chinese temple. At the entrance, I again went through the can-I-enter-take-pictures thing. No problem. I love Chinese temples. Burning incense from sticks and from giant coils suspended from the ceiling. Bright gold and red decorations; wooden carved doors and plaques; alters and statues. One is surrounded by a peaceful sensation that seeps into your being.
I wandered into another temple, but was really trying to find the pagodas I’d read about. It was getting hot, and I needed to hydrate myself. Unfortunately, all I ran into were little street stall/cafés, and they were only for men. Twenty minutes later I arrived at a huge shopping mall that was very empty. I sat down to buy a drink and look at those maps again. (No comment.)

After feeling revitalized, I set back out to explore smaller streets that were filled with all sorts of shops. I must have passed at least six stores selling Lion Dancer heads/masks. I passed a row of herbal stores, (and sneezed), and a whole street of electronics. I now know where to go to get that elusive, reasonably priced, CD player. I passed wonderful photo ops, like the truck drivers who park and hang their hammocks from trees to take a nap; and the people on the corners with generator-run tanks of compressed air to fill scooter tires. Then there was that section I ran into where the tiny cigarette carts also sold Best Friend condoms. Just where the heck was I? But in all of those places, it felt way too intrusive to start taking pictures. Maybe next time.

I am home now, with the windows battened down against the torrential rains. Usually, a storm passes by rather quickly. Not this afternoon.

May the force be with you,