The sequence of the visits programmed for the Ho Chi Minh city were slightly altered so as to accommodate traffic constrainsts we therefore headed towards the Ngoc Huan Pagoda located in the Dong Koi district which we would later further explore. The bustling of the city contrasted with the peacefulness one could still find within the pagodas, irrespective of the number of worshippers.
Considered one of the most ornate pagodas, the worshiping house we visited honours the King of Heavens, Ngoc Huang or the Jade Emperor, known as the chief Deity of the Thaoist pantheon. Having been built by the Cantonese community in 1909, its rather simple façade is tiled with remarkable works of carving art.
As we walked into the outer courtyard shaded with shrubs and an ancient banyan tree we came across an incinerator used for burning the votive paper offerings, whose smoke is said to reach the ancestors in heaven.
On the right hand side there was a small sanctuary home to several turtles, which are considered symbols of good luck and fortune in Vietnam and other Asian countries.
The pagoda's interior was filled with richly carved and colourful gilded images of Buddhist deities. I was impressed by the Giant demon guardians in resplendent robes presiding over the main sancturay. Incense filled the air. Acting as the Jade Emperor's snitch Ong Tao, better known as the Kitchen God believed to know all that transpires in the home wasn't empty of offerings of food and drink, which we could clearly see upon his altar.. Phat Mau Chuen De, Mother of Five Buddhas of the Cardinal Directions had her Hindu-style effigy stood proudly flanked by statues of her five sons (underneath on the right).
From there we went onto a rather thought provoking and extremely disturbing exhibition displaying document atrocities committed by American, Chinese and French soldiers, some of which in grim detail.
From a certain moment on I had to walk onto the outside courtyard because I was highly affected by some photographs on display showing the effects of torture or the result of the chemical defoliants used during the Vietnam War.
The atmosphere was dense and we could hardly breathe - a flash back onto some of my Angolan and Macanese memories ... the stuffy sticky-like weather ... the permanent perspiring ... the growing fatigue ...