Friday, 1 June 2018

Vietnam, day 19: In Which Pineapples Are Tricky

Hoi An, Vietnam
1 June, 2017
After a few days in Hoi An, we finally decided to visit some of the old houses and assembly halls that the town is famous for. 
Shortly after setting out for the morning, we passed by a group of young men and women who were dressed up nicely posing for photos. I wondered if it was their school graduation, or perhaps even a wedding.

For breakfast, we leisurely supped on french toast with pineapple jam, fruit, and tea at What Else Cafe. Though the day hadn’t heated up much, it was still nice to have the shade of umbrellas. 

On this day, we were determined to visit as many of the old houses and halls as we could, having been negligent in this area on previous days. The first we saw was the House of Tan Ky, which has housed seven generations of the family. We were given a brief history of the house by a guide, and provided with an informational booklet. Apparently, Le Tan Ky was “born an orphan at a very early age". 

The architecture was a mixture of Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese styles. While the house had many points of interest, one that particularly drew my attention was the columns that featured Chinese characters comprised of swooping abalone birds. Nearby was a case full of curiosities, including a Confucian Cup: a ceramic vessel that can be filled up to 80%, but not more or else the full contents flow out of the bottom. It’s not really intended to be drunk from, but rather stands as a metaphor for not being greedy. Even after reading a couple of explanations, I cannot understand how the physics of it works, but something something hydro-static pressure.

From there, we used Google Maps to find the Fujian Assembly Hall, but the app was foolish and led us around in circles. And that was supposedly one of the best halls! Alas, we had to abandon that particular quest. 

We did, however, find the Trung Hoa Assembly Hall without issue. Built in 1741, it's one of the oldest halls in Hoi An and originally housed Chinese immigrants, as well as serving as a place of worship for Thien Hau Holy Mother. 

Next up was the House of Quan Thang, which is three hundred years old. Ducking into the dimly lit interior, we had our ticket clipped by an extremely aged man. Unlike the House of Tan Ky, there were no tourists here, just us and the family.

In one room, we saw a kid doing his homework, with a fan whizzing away next to him.

The old man showed us a couple of the rooms, and then produced a worn notebook for us to read from. He was clearly learning English, and had written a long string of words such as 'shove', 'shovel', and 'pineapple'. He asked us if we would pronounce them for him, which we did. It seems that 'glove' and 'love' were difficult to get the hang of. Yannick asked if he could take the man's photo, and he gave us a very sweet smile. What a guy. 

The Tran Family Chapel was not a house nor a hall, but rather a place to worship the family members who had passed away.

Every year on the anniversary of their death, the family member's box is opened and incense is lit for them. After a brief wander around the chapel, we were given tea and very dry biscuits and then shown into a room where old coins and souvenirs were sold. 

Just down the road and along an alley, we found the famous Ba Le Well. Said to have been built in the tenth century, the water from this well is supposedly a bit magical (and stories of fairies persist). The keeper of the well is an elderly man who draws water from the well every day and delivers it to poor families. They use the water to make tea and soup - without the coveted well water, the traditional watercress soup is allegedly tasteless. Whispers that the well keeper is almost as old as the well itself are based around the supposed youth-giving effects of the special water.

At lunchtime we met up with Bridget and Jance for another round of banh mi at Banh Mi Phi! While eating, we were distracted by a cute and joyful baby at the next table. We soothed our spicily burning lips with cold soda water.

Practically next door was Ancient House, which was by far the largest of the ancient houses we had seen. Over 250 years old, the house is that of the Hong family, and I'm not sure why they decided to do away with having a personal name attached to the house, preferring to go with the most generic title possible. But even so, the house felt far from impersonal. We were shown around by a woman who explained to us a cool shutter system that was in place on some of the doors that allowed light and air to come in, but not prying thief hands. 

As well as a 92 year old woman who was having a rest in one of the rooms, we saw another boy doing his homework. The boy (Tom) became very interested in Yannick's camera, and once it was handed over, he snapped a billion photos as we passed from room to room. In the gift store, Bridget found a silver ring that she liked, while I bought a patterned top suitable for the hot climate. We were invited to sit, and shared green tea and more of those incredibly dry biscuits with the family.

Our tourist itch having been sufficiently scratched for the day, we returned to our hotel to rinse off the sweat and then paid Art Spa a visit. Over the previous days, we had been touted many times for spa experiences, but decided to look up reviews of the spas online before picking one. This turned out to be a good idea, because Art Spa was amazing! Yannick opted for a half hour head, back and shoulders massage, while I went all in and had a full-body tranquility massage. We started off with a relaxing foot bath, and then moved onto the massage tables. I wore paper underpants. It was my first ever professional massage, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Afterwards, we were treated to homemade banana lollies and green tea (the tea was frankly disgusting, but we didn't mind because the experience was still overall amazing). We made sure to give Art Spa a glowing review.

That evening we chilled out and watched some Vikings episodes on Netflix.

Today's post was almost called: All the Halls - An Historic Day of Assembly