Posts tagged Hanoi

My Religious Journey Going Backwards

I looked around at the scraggly bunch of kids dressed in their everyday clothes. I said to one of the other guys “You’d think they would put on their better clothes.” and the reply came back “They are wearing their better clothes.” Here I was at a school in the hills in the north of Vietnam wondering what I had got myself into. I was surrounded by primary school kids at a free primary school that was kept alive by the Global Languages Center GLC a Vietnam non profit based in Hanoi. These kids had nothing just the clothes on their backs that hadn’t been washed for I don’t know how long. I liked going out with this group because we seemed to end up with the poorest of the poor. This school was on the edge of a major tourist centre and they had been marginalized by society. In Vietnam there was no safety net like in the West and they were living off handouts from Charity organizations and the group I belonged too was very active in this region. I do volunteer work for a number of groups and for this group I taught English to poverty stricken kids.
I like Vietnam and I usually come here every year for up to 6 months if I can. I live in a Hostel in Hoan Kiem in Hanoi right next door to the Catholic Cathedral. I can look out the window and see the Cathedral looming up into the pollution and in the morning I’m woken up to the bells ringing at 5 am. Then I get up and join the morning walkers and go for a run around Hoan Kiem lake about 5mins walk away. On the weekends there is no wheeled traffic so we have the road to ourselves.
The Cathedral is an amazing place. During the mass you can hardly get a seat and during the Homily the priest walks up and down the centre isle talking. Here there is no English Mass so I go to another Church for an English Mass. This is held in a small chapel beside a bigger Church where they hold the Vietnamese Mass. This is basically a student church where everybody is University age and they are all learning English. Sometimes I go to their learn English meetings to give them somebody to practice their English with. That is also an amazing Mass with the Priest speaking English and walking down the center isle asking questions to the parishioners. I will mention one more church in Hanoi. This church is the most crowded church I have been too. There are rows and rows of seats outside the entrance door and along both sides of the church with outside loud speakers so the parishioners could hear the Mass. When I first went to that church I just couldn’t believe the numbers of people. I just stood there amazed. In the West church numbers are dwindling but not in the East.
Before I ended up in Vietnam I was in and out of China since the end of last century. My first Christmas in China, back in 1994 I think, was something else. I started off to go to the main Cathedral and the police had the church surrounded and the only way in was through a police checkpoint. Now I am not used to walking through a police check point to go to church So I walked to a smaller church where I knew the piano player. When I got there it looked like the little church was closed, there were no lights on anywhere. There was an old women sitting behind the closed gate and when she saw me she opened the gate and let me in. The church was nearly full and they were all sitting in darkness. Then at 7pm the lights came on and we had Christmas Mass and at 8 oclock when the Mass was over the lights went out. In those days the church was paranoid possible because of the attitude of the government. I think the church people were quite pleased I was there for Christmas Mass because the authorities would not do anything with a foreigner there and I am not Chinese. And they did say someone from the Government office came and had a look. After Church they were taking photos and I didn’t want my picture taking but the piano man said it was safe. The piano man spent 19 years in prison because he was a Catholic and when he was dying I told two priests he was dying and nobody gave him last rites. His funeral was during a usual Sunday morning Mass at the little Church as they were not allowed to do extra Masses. There were very few people there.
After that night China opened up and those days were gone. A few years later I was back in China for Christmas. I was on the bus going past the Cathedral and there were these crowd control barriers on the side of the road and they stretched for over a kilometer from the Cathedral. To get to the Cathedral to go to Christmas Mass you had to walk inside the barrier. The police were still there but they were not checking anyone and there were people everywhere. The police were there for crowd control and to keep us safe. I went to the little church again and this time it was ablaze in lights and colour. The police were there but they were just maintaining the peace. Anyone could come and go as they pleased. It was an amazing change from what it was like to now. I could hardly believe the difference.
One of the most amazing Church services I went to was an unregistered Mass on Saturday evening. All that meant was the Church had not told the Government they were holding a church service. It was not advertised so there were not many people in this huge Cathedral where the only lights were at the alter. We were all sitting in the dark in this amazing over 100 year old building, and in there was the closest I got to God. I used to go every Saturday evening then the Mass was registered so the lights went on. And there was no more amazing feeling that I got sitting in the darkened cathedral where you could not even see the ceiling as it was so dark and so high. Sometimes modernization has its disadvantages.
In the Cathedral last time I was there back in 2014 there were 6 big TV screens 3 on each side so you can see what was happening at the alter. The English Mass started at 3pm and you had to get there at around 2:30 to get a seat. Then they brought out stools and there was still standing room only. And there were 6 Communion stations in different parts of the Cathedral, and Communion was organized chaos but we all somehow managed to get Communion.
Another honourable mention was at a Trade Fair my bag was X-rayed and I had a Crucifixion Cross in my bag and they stopped and searched my bag until they found my Cross. When they realized it wasn’t a weapon they gave it back. But they did not realize it was the greatest weapon they had ever seen.
Also when I was gallivanting around Asia I used to go to Church online in Secondlife at the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island. That was amazing and even there I was part of a church community and I felt like I belonged. Also I would usually go to the prayer meeting that were held every night. When I went back to the West the time zones did not match up so I stopped going.
Back in my home country at my Catholic Church I was one of the volunteers that helped during the Mass. On any Saturday evening when I was at Church I could be a greeter, the person who hands out the leaflets at the door to the church, a reader where we read the scriptures to the people in the church, a Communion Minister where we administer either the wine or the bread to the congregation.
I go to this religion because I was brought up a Catholic, I went to a Catholic Primary School and I followed the Catholic Program through the church. But as I got older I went to different churches to see what they were like.
And on Sunday evenings I went to a Church service for ‘street kids’ and the lower socio economic bracket. And it was simply amazing, mind you anything that was not bolted down went missing and once the church was broken into and the microwave and a few other things were taken. We were sensible and left nothing in the church where as in a nearby church on another occasion all the musical instruments were stolen. Anyway at this church they started off with a meal then there was singing and dancing and preaching and it was something completely different to organized religion that I was used to. And there I had my first chance to do some preaching and I loved it. I do know my Bible and as I am a teacher I’m used to being in front of people so I just fell into place. In that church I could do things I could never do at my Catholic Church.
Going back further I was a part of the Jesus Revolution handing out pamphlets and talking to people on the street. That was my usual Friday night back in the day, but that all died out and now it is a distance memory.

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The Old Saying “If You Give A Man A Fish And You Feed Him For A Day But If You Teach Him To Fish You Feed Him For A Lifetime” Is Very True But Sometimes Hard to Implement

The Old Saying “If You Give A Man A Fish And You Feed Him For A Day But If You Teach Him To Fish You Feed Him For A Lifetime” Is Very True But Sometimes Hard to Implement

When I was teaching English in Hanoi Vietnam I tried to help a homeless man better himself. He got fired from his job of parking motorcycles, mainly because he was useless and I was very soon going to find out how useless he really was. I met him across the street from where I lived. I used to walk past him on the way to the bus stop and as he spoke English he started talking. I mean he spoke English but he didn’t understand anything I said. A sort of a one sided conversation. As I was his only friend and he was probably my only friend I used to take him to lunch in the cheapest place I could find. He had a few psychological problems, mainly to do with self esteem, as he would bore the pants of anyone who tried to talk to him by reviewing his life history. So he had very few friends.

I used to run around this little garden and do exercises in the morning and he ended up living on a park bench in this garden, so I saw a lot of him. He left his boarding house as he couldn’t pay the rent and in the summer this garden was a good place to live. Anyway I saw a lot of him, he had no money and he was too proud to ask for any so I took him to lunch. He couldn’t get a job as he was pretty useless so I tried to work out what he could do. He wouldn’t become a beggar, he was too proud for that or not hungry enough. He would rather starve than become a thief as he was pretty honest. So what could we do. In the end we settled on polishing shoes. Now that was something he could do, I hoped. Anyway I set him up with the polish and the brushes and off he went.

Now I was very worried as my visa was running out and I would have to leave, so I had to get him up to speed pretty quick. Not an easy task. He had no motivation and for him to live he needed to polish five shoes a day, but that was nearly an impossibility. I told him what to say to the foreigner and he still couldn’t get it right. I took him round the streets and showed him shoes that needed polishing and nothing happened. Another saying crossed my mind, “You can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”

A Call To Anybody Living In Hanoi Near Hoan Kiem Lake Can You Go To The Hoan Kiem Library In Hanoi Just See If My Homeless Friend Is Still Alive, His Name Is Van. Thank you.

To find out more about homeless in Hanoi go here

And for more about living and teaching in Hanoi Vietnam click here

Church in Secondlife

Click here to go to church online

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