Hoi An, Vietnam
I woke up today and got ready to see the city of Hoi An; downstairs in the hotel lobby, I had the staff purchase a train ticket to Hanoi (scheduled for tomorrow) for me. First I bought a ticket for Hoi An’s historic sites at the ticket booth on An Hoi Bridge (the ticket allows visitors to enter in to five historic places in the ancient town); I then walked to the Quang Trieu Assembly Hall, which was built by the Cantonese in the 19th century as a meeting place and a temple for the worship of their gods and goddesses (such as Quan Cong, Thien Hau Thanh Mau (the Thien Hau holy mother), and the god of fortune); the assembly hall is built from wood and stone and constructed with the combination of Cantonese and Hoi An building style. I walked through the assembly hall and the garden in the back looking at all the statues of dragons and gods, as well as the reliefs on the walls. Next, I visited the Museum of Sa Huynh Culture, which has many original artifacts in its possession that were excavated in and around the city of Hoi An; unfortunately there were not many on display in the one room open to the public and the most interesting objects were three-pointed earrings made from stone and glass, as well as burial jars. After that brief visit, I then walked a short distance on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, bypassing the Japanese Covered Bridge (since I snuck on to it yesterday and didn’t feel like wasting part of my ticket to walk across it again), to the old house of Phung Hung. This house was built in Vietnamese, Japanese, and Chinese styles and was nice to walk through, but it was set up as an excuse to sell souvenirs to tourists; when I told my tour guide for the home that I wasn’t buying any souvenirs, she immediately lost interest in me and quickly wrapped up the tour; also, there were not many historic furnishings in the house (once again, mostly souvenirs), so there wasn’t much to see at this stop either. I then walked east near the water way, passing the Japanese Covered Bridge again, to the Central Market before going to the Phuc Kien Assembly Hall, which was built by the Fukien Chinese in the late 17th century as a meeting place and temple; the assembly hall has a triple gate, a vestibule, a sanctuary, a rear house, and left and right wings; it is also where people come to pray for their safety, offspring, wealth, and happiness, especially during festivals. I then walked back through the ancient town and found a place to eat lunch; I had ram cuon (deep fried spring rolls with Indian taro, carrots, shrimp, pork, potatoes, and spices), and ga xao hat dieu (stir-fried chicken with cashews, fish sauce, garlic, peppers, lemon, and onions), and a beer – sadly the meal was very lackluster. After lunch, I walked back to the hotel, had a cup of Vietnamese coffee, and rested for about forty minutes inside my room.
At 13:35, I left the hotel and walked north to the Lifestart Foundation to attend the arts and crafts class I scheduled yesterday. Once there, I met two women from London who would be attending the courses with me. We were introduced to our painting instructor and then he walked us down to the waterfront where we boarded a boat that took us the short distance to Can Nam Island; when we docked at the island, we then walked to the art studio and began our painting class. For our project, we were to paint an image of a Vietnamese boat on the water with a grass plant in the foreground and birds and the sun in the background; first we used practice sheets of paper as our instructor took us through each step and then we went to work on traditional paper to complete our masterpieces – they turned out . . . decent (I wonder: if I approach painting the same way I do photography and just make lots and lots of paintings, maybe a few of them will turn out well enough to display and be proud of). After that lesson, we left with our artwork and took the boat back to Hoi An; from there we walked back to the Lifestart Foundation, said goodbye to our painting instructor, and then went upstairs to make miniature traditional lanterns; the wood skeleton of the lanterns were already built for us, so all we had to do was glue four pieces of Vietnamese silk on to the lantern and cut off the excess; we then completed our projects by gluing ribbon on the tops and bottoms of the lanterns. Once our courses were completed, we were introduced to several disabled women who work at the Lifestart Foundation and shown the different types of crafts they construct to sell there (the foundation is a nonprofit organization designed to help these women and other artisans who work there, and all money from sales go directly to the people who created the product). Even though I told myself I wouldn’t buy any souvenirs on this journey, I could not resist spending some more cash to help these people, so I bought a wine bottle cover made from Vietnamese silk. Overall this was a great experience and I enjoyed the painting and lantern making classes very much; I was also happy to have a miniature lantern and painting to take back with me; although I’ll probably leave the lantern with the hotel since it would probably be crushed in my travel backpack. I then thanked the staff at the foundation and said goodbye.
Next, I walked to the Hoi An Traditional Art Performance House to see some folk shows, but the shows had already started, so I walked around the town during dusk before settling on a restaurant to eat dinner; after sitting down, I opened the menu and was surprised to see the high prices for each meal, but being stubborn, I decided to stay seated and eat here anyway; I had complimentary appetizers of chips with salsa and a slice of a sardine on top of diced tomatoes; I then had my main course of steamed rice, steamed vegetables with garlic, and chicken stuffed with pesto and covered in a garlic and tomato sauce – of course I also had a couple of beers (it was happy hour). After dinner, I walked past the stalls selling traditional lanterns to get a picture in front of them and then I walked back to my hotel room to relax and type away on my laptop. I then went to bed.