Arrived after a day and a half in transit, my back aching and my legs a little wobbly, but in good spirits. I’m staying in the same hotel as last spring and it feels as if I’ve hardly been away. On the drive in from the airport — through the Red river swamps and paddies and orchards — I no longer have the sense of having been dropped into an alien world. Photos from the new Nikon coming soon. Time to hit the sack and see if I can get my body onto local time.
I’m sitting in the Syracuse airport waiting to get on the plane to JFK and thence to Anchorage, Taipei, and then Hanoi on Christmas day. It’s snowing, but they are keeping the runways clear and the flights are running on time or just a little late, so I don’t have the sense that I’m going to be stranded.
Sometimes the world hands you a gift. I just found out that I will be spending Christmas and the first ten days of the new year in Hanoi. I’ve been invited to participate in a conference on the translation of Vietnamese literature and its reception abroad, mostly in the English-speaking world. When I came back home from my trip to Vietnam last spring, I thought it would be at least a year before I returned, perhaps longer. I’d been a little disappointed in my failure to make more contacts and get more projects going during my spring trip, but apparently I was planting seeds that will now begin to germinate. I hope so.
I spent Christmas of 2000 in Hanoi, which is when I took the picture of the boy selling Santa Claus decorations. Christmas is not a holiday of central importance in Vietnamese culture except to the 10% of the population that is Catholic, but as in the West it has begun to be a commercial holiday even for non-believers. (In general, Catholics in Vietnam are probably more intensely religious that the followers of Tam Giao, or “triple religion,” the combination of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism that most Vietnamese at least nominally subscribe to and that overlies an even deeper level of animism.)
I am delighted to return to Vietnam, however briefly, and to meet others interested in the diffusion of Vietnamese literature around the world. And as soon as I return, still jet-lagged, I will begin teaching my course, Understanding Vietnam, at Clarkson. Though the course focuses on the history and culture of Vietnam, we use literature to illuminate and illustrate those subjects, so the conference discussions will certainly inform my teaching next semester.
In Hanoi, lots of businesses are conducted from bicycles. Here, a merchant is selling ceramics carefully tied to her bike and balanced so that she can still ride even with a load that must be a couple of hundred pounds. Most of the pottery like this is made in the Village of Bat Trang outside the city, where the industry served the court in the 18th century, then the colonial urban elite in the 19th and 20th; now, after the revolution, when there was very little production, the industry has revived in a big way, selling mostly inexpensive wares for everyday use. But the Vietnamese have a higly developed sense of style and even ordinary objects are designed and decorated with care. It’s one of the things I like best about Vietnam.
There are lots of bicycle-based businesses in Vietnam. In the late afternoon on days when there is mass at St. Joseph’s Cathedral, balloon sellers station themselves around the square so that after mass mothers and fathers can buy a toy for their kids. I snapped this picture on a street leading toward the cathedral.
I’m working on a couple of longer pieces for the blog, but until they are ready I’ll occasionally post photos from my recent trip to Vietnam.