A Religion and a War Site

Before leaving Ho Chi Minh City, we took a day trip to two extremely popular sites near the city. Our first stop was the Holy See, the largest of the Cao Dai temples in Vietnam. Cao Daiism, mainly practised in Vietnam (probably only practised in Vietnam), is apparently a fusion of the major religions, "invented" in the 20th century in Southern Vietnam. I was going to try to make this a very informative entry on Cao Daiism, but I can only remember a few of the hundreds of facts bombarded at us during the tour and read in my guidebook. Here is what I remember:
- Cao Daism is comprised of many different religions the main ones being Christianitiy (specifically Catholicism), Buddhism and Daoism.
- High priests of Cao Daiism wear different colours according to their expertise, ones with Buddhist knowldge wear yellow, Daoism and Confucianism wear blue and Catholicism wear red
- Cao Daiists pray 4 times a day every six hours: noon, 6p.m., midnight, 6 a.m.
- Cao Daiists dress entirely in white, except males wear a black headdress
- Cao Dai temples are modelled after Muslim mosques
- Cao Dai women enter the church from the left and sit on the left during prayer, men the right side
- The symbol of Cao Daiism is an eye, the eye of God that appeared to the founder of the religion in a dream, it looks like the eye on the pyramid of an American 1$ bill
- There are more tourists at the Holy See (Cao Dai Great Temple) at the noon prayer session than there are Cao Daiists
- The hierarchy of the priests follows the Catholic naming system. There highest member being the pope. They have been awaiting their new pope for over 50 years, since the previous one died without naming a successor, religious rules state that the next pope has to live to be 110 years old before attaining enough holiness to take over the position. It is unlikely they will have a new pope in the near future.
- The noon prayer session consists of 45 minute song/prayer for peace around the world and happiness to all, especially the Vietnamese

We joined the hundreds of tourists and invaded the upper balcony of the Cao Dai temple to watch the faithful enter and pray, just like being at the zoo. We escaped a few minutes after the prayers began, there's something about mass that made us very sleepy.

After a quick lunch and another few hours on the bus we arrived at the Cu Chi tunnels. A network of tunnels built by the Viet Cong to defend against American bombing. Our enthousiastic guide led us through the jungle site, showing us the various booby traps (ingenious) and tunnels. Margaux and I were the only two people in our group to crawl the three hundred meters though some of the original tunnels. Dark, damp and extremely claustorphobic, the thought of spending weeks, even hours in them is frightening. Of the 16,000 Viet Cong that were deployed in the area only 2,000 survived, but death rates on the American side were also staggering. The entire area was defoliated by agent orange in an attempt to destroy the tunnels, it was also a free fire zone, where American soldiers were ordered to shoot anything on sight. Bombers flying back from other mission were ordered to drop any remaining bombs on to the Cu Chi area.
Vietnamese villagers collected B-52 bombs and took them apart to use them for their own weaponry, they also built complicated series of tunnels to divert smoke from cooking so that the tunnels were unidentifiable. Entrances to tunnels were carefully disguised with leaves and plants. No soldiers new more than a small area of the tunnels, so that if they were captured they could not reveal too much. On further missions soldiers were sent from various tunnel areas, so that in case of emergency evacuation they would have many options to which to retreat. While Americans were equipped with the most modern weapons, the Viet Cong fought in rubber sandals using weapons built from recycled American bombs, the ingenuity and unbelievable determination of the Vietnamese is obvious to anyone who visits this site.
A few old Cu Chi war veterans run energetic presentations at the information centre explaning that the Americans were too big to fit in the tunnels, and only the tiny Vietnamese could wiggle through them (which I believe after crawling through them, and embarassingly, almost getting stuck in a tunnel entrance). At the end of the tour for a few dollars you can choose from an array of different weapons to fire in a shooting range; AK-47s, M16s and these huge automatic beasts (whose names I didn't bother to retain). We decided not to glorify guns any more than they already are, and opted for ice cream cones to finish off the day (although we did watch a fellow tour mate shoot an AK47).


YandE said...

I guess you're right Dad, but another factor that influenced was the questionable upkeep of the weapons. Not that I know anything about guns, but I thought it might discharge in our faces. Apparently the AK47s are the most loud and popular of the guns among tourists. It was unbelievably loud, that was enough to convince me of their awfulness.

Margox said...

Wow, Em remembered a lot more facts than I did! One that I liked is that they sawed the casings of the huge unexploded bombs an made bicycle wheels that, according to our guide, can support 3 to 4 tonnes (or tons, I don't know what they use here). I admit, my sense of physics is already too fuzzy to tell whether that makes sense or not. Guess all that tuition money was worth it!

Oh, and I can vouch for Em that she didn't prevent Yann from shooting the gun. I don't think any of us were all that inclined. The noise was extremely loud and the ear protection consisted of really old regular earphones, so not too effective! I shot a revolver once without ear protection and my ears were ringing for about 5 minutes!

Also, it was expensive.

Geneviève said...

you know, i know this comment doesn't really apply to this entry, in fact, it's completely out of place, but i was on the site yesterday and realised you should send in some of your discoveries (dung hotel, etc.) sorry for the out of place entry.

Super-Mario said...


Je ne crois pas qu'Émilie aurait empêcher Yann d'utiliser AK47. Je suis convaincu que Yann n'avait pas l'intention d'utiliser des armes à feu.

Encore un bon blogue.

Yann devrait en faire un blogue en français pour ces tantes.