Great military legends & Gastronomy

Trip Start Aug 04, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Sunday, December 6, 2009

This was an active weekend for me, full of wonderful surprises.

I purchased my first work of art – it is the drawing shown on the Ca Tru Theater logo. I found myself drawn to this piece of art each time I’ve gone to see the Ca Tru performances and so commissioned the artist to do a piece for me. It is painted on pressed leaves and nicely framed – the cost was probably 1/5th the cost it would be in the US especially since it is done in a very old Vietnamese art form. It looks great in my apartment and it really helps make my place look more homey and so much less sterile.

Then Saturday after yoga and lunch I went to Giong Temple. It’s located in the village where he was born. I learned that there are two temples honoring him and this is the smaller of the two. Saint Giong is a legendary hero, who defeated An invaders. To demonstrate their gratitude to the hero of Giong Village, who sacrificed his life to fight the invaders, people proclaimed him
Saint Giong. The Giong festival is celebrated here every year in April of the lunar new year.
Located here is the well that people take water to make rice to feed the people of Giong.

While walking around inside the temple I saw a group of men playing a card game and they invited me to play to which I could only chuckle because though I would’ve loved to have sat down, drank green tea and played cards with these older men, I think the language barrier would’ve prevented me from learning the game. They looked to be having a good time while I was watching but it definitely was a competitive group based on the serious look on some of their faces.

I then walked to the back of the temple to see the pagoda and learned from my friend the difference between a temple and a pagoda. A pagoda worships Buddha while the temple honors real or unreal historic heroes who rendered services to the country. People set up temples to commemorate their services. 

On the ride back my xeom driver took it upon himself to give me an unplanned gastronomy tour. We first stopped near Hoan Kiem lake in a small area of street restaurants frequented by mostly Vietnamese people. It was here that I ate and enjoyed Xoi Xeo (sweet sticky rice with mung bean paste, fried shallots, fried egg and shredded and stewed chicken). On occasion I will break my vegetarian rule in the name of exploration. This was the first time today I broke this rule. Xoi Xeo was absolutely delicious and this will be my new favorite food with Pho a very close second.

From here we went to Hoan Kiem lake where he parked and we walked to the Jade Temple. He
asked if I’d been here and I replied yes. But as we walked in I noticed an iron gate was open at the far end. Looking thru the gate I noticed a short red bridge leading to an island behind it. I hadn’t seen that part of the temple when I came last time but then it was late at night and it must’ve been closed and locked. Through the gate and across the  short bridge was an island with a small temple that honors Tran Hung Dao. By reading the scrolls hanging inside the temple I learned that Hung Dao was a Vietnamese military Grand Commander of Thang Long
(early Hanoi) during the Tran Dynasty. Born as Tran Quoc Tuan. He commanded the Dai Viet
armies that repelled two major Mongol invasions in the 13th century. His multiple victories over the mighty Mongol Yuan Dynasty under Kublai Khan are considered among the greatest military feats in world history. General Tran Hung Dao's military brilliance and prowess is reflected in his many treatises on warfare and he is considered one of the most accomplished generals in world history. Being a member of the royal family, Tran Hung Dao was a man of intellect and was an accomplished poet. From a young age, he was very fond of classical Chinese literature and was very well-versed in "The Art of War" by the famous Sun Tzu. Poetry was his first and true passion and would have pursued that course had not for the multiple Yuan Mongol invasion attempts into Dai Viet that spanned over sixty years. Military became his recourse and it turned out that his military works proved to be his most successful accomplishments.

It is noted in these scrolls that Tran Hung Dao achieved his military success with an army largely made up of poorly equipped volunteers and peasant conscripts against the mighty hordes of the Mongols who were at the apex of their power after conquering most of Asia. His strategic brilliance had contributed much to this success. He is famous for pioneering the "hit and run" warfare. Hung Dao was a master of strategic geographical war fighting, applying
advantageous landscapes to stage battles in places such as dense forests or on waterfronts where enemy cavalry were mostly ineffective.

He is revered by the Vietnamese people as a national hero. Most major cities in Vietnam have streets named after him.

From here we ventured into my nest gastronomic experience – Banh Cuon Cha. This is steamed rice crepes stuffed with minced pork or chicken (I had chicken), wood ear mushrooms, and several finely chopped veggies with a side of sliced pork sausage and bean sprout. Basically you take the crepes and dip it into a broth of sliced shallots, bean sprout and the pork sausage. On a separate plate is mint and parsley stalks which you put into the broth whole, stem and all. Grasping the crepes with my chopsticks I dipped them into the broth grasping a stalk or two of the parsely/mint stalks and began eating, Everything was so tender and tasty I had a hard time eating slowly. Mr Zung, my xeom, obviously felt the same way as his food arrived after mine and he was done before me.

We finished the day at a street café with a delicious cup of ‘ca phe sua dar’ which as you now know is coffee with thick sweet condensed cream over ice. 

Saturday’s adventure put a great new twist on the old adage “the best laid plans….”. What
I thought was going to be simple out and back trip to a temple turned into a great surprise of a day filled many new experiences.

*My next entry will cover Sunday's trip to the silk village.

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kwai_chang on

Giong, Giong, Gone. Only on Earth do we make a saint out of a guy who just killed thousands of people. Go figure. And the more I learn about Vietnam, the crazier the whole war thing becomes. I mean did the U.S. administrations realize that they were fighting a country that produced "one of the most accomplished generals in world history" who managed to defeat the great Kublai Khan in one of the "greatest military feats in world history"!?!? Probably not a good idea! And I've said it before, but I'll say it again--you're happiest when you're eating! Eat on, man! You're eating for all of us.

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