It is grey, drizzly and downright cold outside this morning, but the weather suits me just fine; the somber mood it brings about lends even more character to the ambiance of this already atmospheric town.
In order to explore the history-steeped area more fully, we've we've purchased a pair of tickets to visit Hội An's museums and preserved buildings. Each one gains us entrance at five different sites of our choosing, and I've been so excited about this visit that I have our itinerary all planned out. Straddling our bikes, we head out into the gray day for some sight-seeing.
Our first stop is the Ceramics Trading Museum, whose exhibits are an afterthought at best. I don't even bother to read the signs about the pottery, as there are only about three pieces on display. Really, I'm here for the dark wood paneling, the light drizzle filtering in through the open central atrium, and the fact that this place could easily stand in as a secret kung fu master training center.
A bit further down the road, we come upon one of the many Chinese community centers in this area, the Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall. It's ornate and gaudy, all reds and golds and yellows and greens. Dragons adorn nearly everything in sight, and the place is filled with hanging spirals of smoking incense that lend a spiritual air to the place. There are little altars everywhere, and offerings of fruit at the feet of papier-mâché goddesses.
After the meeting center comes the Quan Cong Temple, exhibiting more reds and golds, smoking incense, and over-the-top dragons. It, like the previous attractions, is a quiet place to wait out the rain, a peaceful place to spend a few minutes on a wet, gray day.
The temple was built in 1653 and dedicated to Quan Cong, a prominent mandarin of the Han Dynasty, who lived in the time of "Three Warring Kingdoms" (3nd century AD). He was a talented and virtuous general, a symbol of courage, loyalty, piety moderation and righteousness in the feudal time of China. Though restored many times in (1753, 1783, 1827,1864, 1904 and 1966), the temple's original structure has been kept almost the same.World Visit Guide
Wandering through the temple, and out the rear door, I find myself in a courtyard of koi ponds and moss-covered stones. Behind that, is a very small Museum of History and Culture.
Splashing over puddles, avoiding umbrella-toting pedestrians in brightly colored ponchos, we cycle over to the Hội An Handicraft Workshop. As we lean our bikes up outside, we hear a chorus of voices coming from inside. The place is packed, but we can still see an ensemble of traditionally-dressed musicians performing through the window!
Unfortunately the music stops before we have a chance to record it, but we head inside anyway to stroll around the craft workshops. Our least favorite location of the day, this place is packed with tour groups and expensive souvenirs that could be purchased for a quarter of the price in the central market. Still, we enjoy watching the weavers and the lantern makers.
For me, the most anticipated locations of our Hội An cultural tour are the historical merchant's houses. I love old homey things! We start off with the Tan Ky House, built and decorated using a mix of Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese styles. I'm excited to enter, but the home turns out to be surprisingly small, remarkably touristy, and only accessible through guided tour. We like to explore on our own, so this isn't our favorite.
Much more interesting to me is the Duc An House, a quiet home inhabited by the fifth generation of the Duc An family. One of the family members, a middle aged man, greets me and lets me wander around, occasionally filling me in on the history of the house. The man informs me that, unlike Tan Ky, his home is proudly "Only Vietnamese! No Chinese, No Japanese!"
The original front room, he explains, is an apothecary, housing an array of glass jars filled with herbal brews. When I ask what this particular concoction is for, the man flexes his arms and says "Strong! Good for you!"
My dear Ms. Julia Hood,
I thought of you all day today and wished you could have been here with me! You would have loved all of the old stuff, the architecture, the small domestic clues that reveal what life must have been like in the past. I hope you are doing well in NC, and that you're finding post-grad-school life to be of your liking!
I miss you, and can't wait to see you soon. Much love, Tara