“He who carries giant satsuma tree on back of bicycle must take great care on journey”.
Clearly he never said that, although I think it’s still sound advice.
I never thought I’d be quoting the 2564 year old Chinaman in a gardening blog, but I have taken a shine to some of his pearls of wisdom. Today’s celebrities might like to take note of “do not worry that you are not well-known, but grieve at lack of talent”. Being an eternal but rather grumpy optimist, I rather like the sentiment behind. “Is goodness indeed so far away? If we really want it, we should find it at our very side”. I should ask myself that question more often.
So, to the point. In the scooter-choked streets of Hanoi is one of the showpiece historic sights of Vietnam. Founded in the 11th century, Văn Miếu – Quốc Tử Giám was the largest and highest education centre in The country. The Văn Miếu section of the establishment was dedicated to Confucius and his scholars, and Quốc Tử Giám was the National University of Vietnam during the country’s feudal period.
The buildings and precincts are beautifully preserved today – a tourist attraction as well as a place of worship and prayer for anyone seeking greater wisdom and intelligence. I prayed very hard. It’s difficult to tell exactly what’s original, restored or nearly new, but the whole place has a genuine air of antiquity. The five interlinked courtyards provide a tranquil and shady retreat from the busy roads outside. Most of the shade is provided by twisted banyans and lofty mangoes, and once inside the hustle and bustle of the city seems a million miles away.
We were lucky to visit shortly after the Lunar New Year celebrations and during a Buddhist month of celebration. The normally green grounds were dotted with golden chrysanthemums, the trees strung with scarlet lanterns and the courtyards dotted with ornamental citrus trees. The yellow flowers and orange fruits represent gold coins and wealth and are typical new year decorations in public places and private homes.
Anyone who has been to Vietnam with know that there is nothing a Vietnamese cannot carry on a motorbike. Nevertheless we were flabbergasted to see 8ft potted orange trees carefully tethered to the back of motorbikes, gliding serenely around street corners as if they were weightless. My attempts to get a photo of one of these proved almost as dangerous as piloting the motorbike. After almost dropping my iPhone out of a speeding taxi window I finally gave in. You’ll have to use your imagination, but to help, here’s a static version. Much safer, but not nearly as impressive.
Apricot trees with their bare branches and bright pink blossom are equally auspicious, but most prized of all is a tree that was described to me as a golden apricot. I am not sure that’s botanically accurate but it was very pretty indeed and visitors jostled to have their photograph taken beside it.
Equally indistinguishable is this giant, grapefruit-like fruit which was once reserved entirely for the King’s consumption. It’s now available to lowly types such as myself, and tastes sweet and refreshing. The curious shape is artificial – the developing fruit is constricted so that it develops the shape of a Buddha. I’m sure you spotted that straight away.
In the quieter corners of the courtyards, there were bonsai versions of Podocarpus, Ficus and Banyan, under one of which sat a tiny ceramic Confucius, no doubt dreaming up more words of wisdom.
Finally, yours truly, posing like the professional tourist I am!