Da Nang and Musings on the American War, the East and the Middle East

This morning we left the beautiful Le Residence hotel and the city of Hue, and headed to Da Nang, a coastal resort town in central Vietnam.  Da Nang is much loved by the Vietnamese because it is more modern and more western than anything we have seen here thus far.  For tourists, though it’s dull and boring, the Atlantic City of Vietnam with no personality or spirit.  In short, we didn’t share our guide’s enthusiasm for his favorite city.  The only memorable part of Da Nang for us was a stop at a local coffee shop where we indulged into intense people-watching.  We saw more beautiful people, more macs, and more iphones here than in all the previous places we have visited in Vietnam combined.

After this nice short interlude, we drove to the Marble Mountain right outside the town to check out the pagoda perched up high on the mountain.  We walked up to the pagoda on steep inca-trailesque steps, and from there, Marla and I climbed the marble rocks through a narrow passage up to the very top (for no other reason than the fun of it).  From the top, we descended (on all  fours at times) down to civilization, aka stairs, which led us into a cave the likes of which I had never seen before!  All caves I have seen were grotto-like: wide and spread-out, and not terribly high.  This cave was akin to a cathedral: a flat floor, almost round, with walls souring high up to the sky.  The area was set up as a Buddhist temple with a life-size Buddha perched rather high on the ledge of the cave wall.

The ceiling of the cave had several openings from which the light came in.  This cave was used as a hospital during the war, and the mountain was heavily bombed by US fighter planes.  One bomb hit a small opening in the ceiling of the cave and made it bigger.  Other bombs destroyed the ancient buddhist temple that had stood on the mountain.  The still standing stone gates punctuated with bullet holes bear witness to the hand to hand combat that took place here.

BTW, many historical monuments, shrines and temples were also bombed and destroyed in Hue and Hoi An.  Wait… we thought only barbaric ISIS did that – destroyed national heritage sites?

We are bewildered how sincerely nice the Vietnamese are to us considering what happened here as recently as 40-50 years ago.  One of our guides, for example, told us that his father and his father’s older brother ran to hide in a trench during one of the American bombings.  His father’s brother was older and faster than his father and made it into the trench, but his father didn’t.  Like everywhere and anytime, timing is everything.  The trench took a direct hit from a bomber and his father survived while his uncle did not.  That story was related to us in a flat voice, with no emotions, as a matter of fact.  Must be the Eastern philosophy.  Quite different from the Middle Eastern philosophy because Shia and Sunni still try to kill each other over the death of Hussein ben Ali from one of these groups by the members of the other group mere 1400 years ago.

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