The Three Doors into the Temple of Chua Bai Dinh

We enter the temple beneath the big wooden swastika
Stepping carefully over the huge threshold.
(To step on it is bad luck).
'You will notice', our guide informs
'That there are three doors into this temple.
But only one is ever opened.
They represent Heaven, Earth and Hell.'
An American man laughs nervously
And wants to know which world we have just stepped into.
Our guide looks unsure
But then brightens and tells us this is Earth door.
He points ahead to a big bronze statue
Of a rather fierce looking gentleman
With long beard and long spear
Glaring down at us.
'That is Zhong Kui, the God of Death
You will meet him after you die
And he will decide where you will go,'
Our guide says.
'Heaven or Hell,
Depends on what you have done in your life.'

I have included a photo below
Of the throng passing before Zhong Kui
Though I don't know what his judgement was
Their faces are of not those 
On their way to Paradise.


His knees worn black from the hands of good luck wishers

The Temple at Chua Bai Dinh

In days bygone, temples and churches were built
By kings and wealthy merchants who figured that
A little investment here on earth
Would pay handsome dividends in the afterlife
And perhaps wipe the slate clean
And cause the gods to overlook
The misdemeanors undertaken
To get their wealth in the first place.
And so temples and churches
Pleasing to the eye, awe-inspiring to the spirit
Serve first for holy men
Then later as time goes by
As people look no longer to future heaven world's
The rich men's monuments become tourist attractions
And entrance fees are charged
Souvenirs sold
And the present day owners settle for monetary rewards on earth
Rather then uncertain heavenly ones.

A private company in North Vietnam
Perhaps at the sharp end of such matters
Have done away with the first step
And with ten million dollars spent
Have created a vast temple complex
Using reclaimed materials and local craftsmen
To harvest the proceeds of second step.

The result is pleasing to the eye
And awe-inspiring to the spirit
For as Art imitates Life
People come here to pray
And bow down to the hundreds of statues
Of Buddhist arahuts and Chinese gods
And burn incense
And the bronze knees of the patient saints
Are worn smooth and black
By the hands of the pilgrims.


On the road to Bai Dinh

The clouds lie heavy
Oppressive and grey
And the dust rises from the concrete
To meet the surly sky.
Outside the bustling city
Life is lethargic and stifled
Like a blade of grass
Trying to grow up through tarmac.
Our bus driver sounds his horn incessantly
As is the custom here
And fellow road users
(Mostly big trucks)
Blare back at him
But the poor in their flat conal
hats walk quietly
With slow steps along the dusty roadside
Or pedal their rusty bikes
Carrying their meagre wares
Or simply sit on the verges
With 2 or 3 pineapples
Spread before them.
The houses are small and ramshackle
Built of stone with terracotta roof tiles
Like medieval village houses in Europe
Or they are 5 or 6 stories high
But curiously never more than a room width wide.
A shiny black Mercedes S class
Overtakes our bus
The driver in a tearing hurry.
The suffering of the poor
Is a slow, weary acceptance
Of what is now and probably will be tomorrow.
But the suffering of the rich is a hot quick thing
Of what isn't, of what should be
And of what MUST be tomorrow.


Hanoi Social Club

Hanoi Social Club
A place where Social means
That it helps society
In this case, they help people
From disadvantaged backgrounds
And train them to become exceptional chefs and waiting staff
And the result is,
Some of the best vegan food
In south East Asia.


Hanoi (Old Quarter)

One thousand years of being a capital
Of countless foreign invasions
From East, from West.
And still the old trees
Line the narrow streets
And the people, polite and courteous
Drink endless cups of tea
Outside crumbling doorways
And drivers sound their horns
For no apparent reason
And sidewalks are for parking motorbikes
And street vendors to place their wares.
I step inside an ancient Chinese doorway
To a mysterious Chinese temple
And find myself in a leafy, shady courtyard
Where the constant din of the street
Fades away.