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Danang: "Totally Awesome"

July 25, 2003

Danang
Vietnam

Dear Family and Friends,

The flight from Nha Trang to Danang was uneventful. At the Danang airport the drivers persuade me to hire a taxi for the trip to Hoi An.

My very first stop is a music shop where I buy six CDs for sixty-five cents each. I hope they play.

We visit the local Caodai Temple, attractive, yet a distant second in size and beauty to the one I saw in Tay Ninh outside of Ho Chi Minh City. Dressed in long white robes, the priests welcome me, ask that I attend their prayer service, and encourage me to take pictures.

The next stop is the Champa Museum. The guidebook says, "The best sight in Danang. Founded in 1915, the open-air collection of Cham sculptures is the finest in the world. Many of the sandstone sculptures are breathtaking."

The Hindu artifacts here date from the 7th to 15th Centuries. I wander among the pantheon of gods and goddesses, communing with Skanda, Siva, Uma, Ghanda, Brahma, Surya, Ganesa. I attend my second wedding ceremony of the trip. This one is carved into the base of a 7th Century altar. Heavenly dancing maidens present flowers to the newly-weds under the guidance of two gandara musicians.

The last stop in Danang is Marble Mountain -- really five hillocks which were islands ages ago. Teenage girls clamor, implore me to ride with them on their motorbike, if only I will visit their shop later. One cheery girl asks, "Where are you from, mister?" I say "America." With a great smile, she responds sincerely and enthusiastically, "Totally awesome!"

This modern colloquial English surprises me. I have my big laugh for the day. Later I thought that my young friend did not realize, as I did, since I had already visited more places in her country than she could ever hope to see, that it is her country, it is Vietnam that is "totally awesome."

The largest of the five mountains of Marble Mountain has a number of caves that were first used as Hindu, then Buddhist sanctuaries. Most of the caves are small, but all have shrines and altars. Statues of Buddha are carved into the sides of the caves. I climb and crawl around with my pocket flashlight.

The most dramatic cave is a cathedral-like chamber lit by an overhead opening to the sky. My jaw dropped when I entered. This "spectacular chamber" is filled with huge Buddhist and Confucian statues and wall carvings. I didn't want to leave.

The last visit on the mountain climb was a tall pagoda, on a hill, overlooking the South China Sea -- China Beach to be exact.

Awesome. "Totally Awesome."

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