After visiting the horrors of the War Remnants Museum on Sunday, it was time to take K-To to see some of the happier sites including a Buddhist pagoda in our ‘hood and the infamous Bitexco Financial Tower.
A pagoda is usually a Buddhist religious site created as a personal place of worship. They are all beautiful and ornate. Red and gold are often highlighted in these pagodas.
We chose to visit our neighbourhood pagoda called Chùa Ngọc Hoàng or “Jade Emperor Temple” which happens to be a fairly popular pagoda, according to Trip Advisor. It is also known as the Tortoise Temple in Chinese.
The reason for the other name becomes quickly evident upon approaching the entrance to the pagoda. To the right is a large pond housing more turtles than one can count. People bring turtles that they save and release them here because they believe they bring good luck. Think of it like throwing a coin into a fountain, except you’re transporting a living creature (and some of them are very large) to a pond and very gently plunking them into the water. Really, it’s exactly the same. Totally.
People say that if you want something you can come to this pagoda and pray and your wish will come true. On the first and the fifteenth of each month the pagoda is always very crowded because those days are very important days for Buddhists.
The architecture of the pagoda is mostly followed from Chinese architecture because Chinese Buddhists built it in 1929. Almost all of the statues in the pagoda are made out of polished black wood.
The main altar in the centre of the pagoda has the statue of Ngọc Hoàng and to the left is an altar of Kim Hoa Thánh Mẫu and twelve midwives surrounded by little children.
On the main altar there is an oil lamp. In order for their wishes to come true, people who come to the pagoda are asked to buy bottles of oil which they pour into the lamp to keep it burning. The lamp never goes out.
This was the first pagoda I had ever visited but ever since learning about Buddhism in a world religions course as a teenager, I have been fascinated by the Buddhist faith. Most notably, I’m impressed by the focus on the individual. For me personally, the focus on bettering oneself through whatever loving means each individual deems necessary is far more meaningful than having the leader of a religious institution shove their interpretations of “the Truth” down people’s throats.
I also noticed that the Buddhists who visit the pagoda (sometimes daily) are very embracing and inclusive of newbies. I was approached on a number of occasions to partake in the rituals and there really was no right way or wrong way to do it. Some people took off their shoes, some didn’t. Some bowed on their knees, some simply bowed deeply but remained standing. This is certainly a more inclusive tradition than the church I was raised in and that makes me sad.
When we were finished at the pagoda, we stepped out from our silent self-reflection onto the bustling street and hailed a cab to take us down to the Bến Thành Market. I won’t say much about this market but I will say this: If you have a choice to skip the War Remnants Museum or this tourist-infested, high-priced market, take a wild guess which one I’d recommend skipping.
We headed out of there just as quickly as we went in and made our way to the Bitexco Financial Tower (Tháp Tài Chính). It was completed in 2010 and for one whopping year it was the tallest building in Vietnam. It boasts sixty-eight floors and the fiftieth is home to a helipad that no one really knows what it’s used for. I’ve never actually ever seen anything land on it. But it’s good for bragging rights, I guess.
Today, we were only interested in the forty-ninth floor which is home to the observation deck. This deck is a glassed-in floor solely dedicated to providing visitors a three hundred sixty degree view of the city. In hindsight, I should have acted on my impulse to run around the deck as fast as I could before falling over with dizziness. Shucks! I need another friend to come visit so I can try it out.
The views were breathtaking and it happened to be a particularly quiet night on the observation deck which made it a great place to get lost in thought. We finished off the tour with a trip to the fiftieth floor to have a light dinner and reflect on our day. Not to brag or anything, but it was a pretty spectacular end to our day.