Friday, 12 October 2012

A day of Jesuses

It was an early start in Vung Tau this morning to walk up a nearby hill before breakfast. This hill could be seen from our hotel balcony. Midway up is a colossal shining white statue of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus us in one hand. The infant stands tall with his arms outstretched, already aware of his own influence.  At the top of the hill and just visible through the forest is a high crucifix. This was where we were heading.

Jessica and I walked along the main road to the church, where busloads of people were being delivered for a ceremony, perhaps travelling from the countryside, or a day-trip from a factory, Jessica suggested. Nobody else had come to do this walk, however. We started up the hillside path. The steps were high and steep, cut out of the rock face. As we ascended the story of Jesus’ crucifixion was told through sculpture. We wound through the forest crossing paths with monkeys as Jesus lugged his cross, was stripped, nailed, and finally laid to rest in a tomb. I suppose the walk is supposed to give you an appreciation of Jesus’ suffering; it was very hard work! After the conclusion of Jesus’ death, the rest of the route was without artistic accompaniment, besides the surprising dinosaur towards the top. Finally we reached the crucifix that marked the top of the hill, hallelujah! We hurried down to enjoy the reward of our breakfast.

It seemed there was a pattern emerging for the day, whereby I was forced to ‘earn’ every meal through labour. The hill on the other side to the Jesus hill has a statue of Buddha at the top; this was to be our next hike before lunchtime. We took a taxi to save doing yesterday’s long walk into town all over again. On the way we stopped to see a beautiful house that was once the residence of the French Governor of Cochinchina (a colonial term for South Vietnam.) The house inside had high ceilings and beautiful views out to sea, although the interior was quite plain. Downstairs was a collection of pottery that had been rescued from the shipwreck of a boat coming from Europe.

Jesus welcomes us to the top of the hill
We headed to the cable car station, to take a trip up to see the Buddha statue on the hill-top. It turned out to be an expensive ride though; it seemed that at the top of the cable car was a large amusement park, of which Buddha was the star attraction. We didn’t think this was for us, but Jessica had another plan. On the next hill was another Jesus, and so we would climb up to there instead, making it a monotheistic day of Jesuses, and no Buddhas. By now it was really hot, so we climbed very slowly. At the top Jessica was disappointed that we couldn’t go inside Jesus. She has done this before- climbing up a staircase inside the hollow body and appearing through an opening in the shoulder. A sign around the back of the monument read “Please do not climb into hands or other hollow areas”.  Jesus’ body was not open for visitors at this time but I wasn’t disappointed; I thought the Lord would prefer it if we left his innards alone.

We returned to David’s, the Italian restaurant we visited at teatime yesterday, to have a plate of pasta for lunch. After checking out of the hotel we took a taxi journey to Long Hai, where we are spending tonight and tomorrow. Long Hai is a quieter beach retreat a half hour’s drive from Vung Tau. Our hotel is a beach-front resort with bungalow rooms. There are almost no other people staying in this huge complex, and it is quite isolated in its location, making us feel a little stranded. We spent a few hours by the pool after we arrived. I drifted off to sleep on a sun lounger, feeling a bit chilly beneath the grey sky. 

A shrine on the rocks
When I woke up we went for a walk along the beach. We walked to a pile of earthy orange boulders, around which a river channel opened into the sea. On the other side of the beach from the rocks we could see a group of young people with a camera and tripod filming a performance. In the centre a man in a white shirt dropped to his knees in agony of his broken heart. The camera swirled around him and the four or five other friends chased the cameraman around the central figure in a swooping circle so as to avoid being in the shot. We walked a little further and watched speedy, spider-legged crabs whip across the beach. The darkness of the sky and sense of desolation was very atmospheric.

Theatre troop can be seen to the right of the rocks

At teatime we sat in the empty hotel restaurant together. We were at a loose end at what to do after feeding ourselves, and after checking every TV channel back in the room, Jessica has gone to bed at 8.30 as she could not find anything else to do. We had planned to spend tomorrow doing nothing, but I think that there really is so little to do here that we will have to do something. Hopefully we will find a cleaner beach where we can sunbathe and swim, or see what there is to find in the town.

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