Thursday, November 13, 2008

Giac Lam Pagoda

Giac Lam Pagoda is well and truly on the tourist beat, but I still find it an amazing place.
It is gradually being gentrified, but just a few years ago it was an abandoned and rustic corner in a dodgy area of Ho Chi Minh City where you were likely to be abused by passers-by. It has lost that frisson of danger, but it is still a wonderfully real slice of Saigonese life, an ancient suburban temple that caters to its local community.
Though tourists flock to it for its ancient statuary and well-preserved temple architecture, Vietnamese come for the Kwan Yin Pagoda at the front of the temple, which is said to be especially lucky, and anyone fit or energetic enough to climb to its top to pray and make offerings can expect some especial boons.
The temple is also a destination spot for local students, who use its shady courtyards, patios and gardens as study spots to escape from overcrowded conditions at home. Inevitably this lends the temple a slightly romantic air as young people use the guise of study to explain away their illicit meetings.
When I was here studying Vietnamese back in 1999 I used to meet a young monk here and we'd have perplexing afternoons holding hands and talking about the Buddhist scriptures. We'd take a spot by the abbott's garden, famous throughout Saigon for its collection of medicinal herbs and plants indigenous to Southern Vietnam.

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