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Gone with the time

By Nathalie Sokolovskaya

For Giang who once told me there is no time

N wildly right she was

The seasons like wind ,the seasons like clouds

All streams stretch their hands to meet the high sea
Night waits for the light
Rain longs for the first ray of the sun
Let river be boat ,let clouds be sails
May fog drops have date with buds in the rain.

Never ask,never wait

But come, then forsake
The seasons change lives as they change leaves,
which got dry.
Overpowering time,
It’s only the smile of the bottomless sky ,
That makes the eternity shy.
Trinh Cong Son.Four seasons /Bon mua
Translated by N.Sokolovskaya

A relatively long residing in unfamiliar environment in permanent contact with people grown
in different culture with its original notion and perception of time,space,casuality ,with its rich
variety of exotical traditions and customs, with often unexpected and inexplicable for foreigner
code of conduct may produce very different effects on poor resident from vivid interest and
acceptance to cultural shock up to say so Kwinke swelling. Depending on one’s personality,
curousity and level of one’s tolerance.And sense of humour,of course.Anyway a bright bouquet of
moments to remember is guaranted.I would never forget my anecdotic experience of the first
contact with rural time perception in the Northern Vietnam.
I was riding from Tay Thien Pagoda back to Tam Dao hill station with a friend as a
passenger.The darkness has just descended on the surroundings so sweetly peaceful by daytime.
We passed through a small village ,dazzled at its total emptiness and motionless The only
lighting came from TV screens inside houses .The road went deep into the endless corn fields.
The bloody moon has suddenly risen from the horizon. The situation was already pretty tense
for nerves when wicked petrol has gone. That’s when 2 rather grown-up persons with a healthy
sense of reason were literally cramped by dreadful “collective” illusion of Stephen King’s
notorious children of corn to come and devour us. No hope for escape .The cauchemardesque
feeling of a fall into some surrealist hole with no time,no reason,no cause.The paralisys lasted
the full eternity ,that subsequently happened to be some 15-20 mitutes. Then some
compassionate kind-hearted fairy sent us a man on a motorbike.So corn children were left
without dinner for that sinister evening.It was 19 o’clock.The formless monster that frightened
us to death appeared to be a harmless agricultural rhythm of life and farmers ’ time perception
,oriented on the needs of corn fields.
That’s how the unexpected meeting with unknown lifestyle quakes one’s vision of world at its
very basis . But for remuneration one ll probably get some clairvoyance that ll let him see the
mystery under the cover of the apparent. Or one ll drop in the philosophical mood.That is also
not that bad as a élan of a soul.
As the meeting with the unknown definitely sharpen the vision of the world : reality turns in to a
game,rules of which are defined not that much by the Nature,but more by The Culture.
Few would be surprised at the idea that Not everyone in the world views the concept of time in
the same way. In fact, some cultures don’t even make time a part of their lives. Some cultures
are wary of time passing by, while others run their lives by the clock

Time,apparently synchronized ,counted and dosed in hours,minutes,secondes at the first

glance,in fact turns to be far less obedient to human invented rules,often behaving like a foot of
a logic,sprained all of a sudden right on the red carpet of vanity.The mathematical time that
strechs from the past to the future uninterrupted turns to be a fragile shell of something
unknown.Not only is it varying greatly in different contries but also within one region.The time
of a writer or painter that got up at 2 pm specially to have his time for him and to stay tete a tete
with the whole universe has nothing in common with that of a night bartender.What is a second
of Presidents life against the last second of a suicider that already stepped of the platform with
one foot?
Time is like a giant kaleidoscope with myriads of multi-colored pieces laying in ornaments
depending on who revolts it , invented by someone,not deprived of the dry wit. Its totally
mysterious in its motivation:on the first day of long waited vacation one, awaken 30 minutes
before a plane he bought a ticket for , take off for some wonderland of sandy beaches ,
manages to cover the full lenght of Saigon megapolis to arrive to the airport just in time his
lower filet part be pinched with doors of transfer bus(note,from inside of the bus ) but the same
person needs months to give his old parents a phone call.

The time in Hanoi is like a bitter green tea ,that is sipped from tiny glasses slowly,very slowly
.Forcedly..As if just in order not to offend some hospitable friend who has offered it.The time
here is thick and sticky as Vietnamese coffee, it drips through small filters slowly drop after
drop, sometimes like a drop after drop on the head of a prisoner in a cell of tortures.Dangerous
for those whose working hours are not tense enough.It should be treated with great precaution
That’s my personal impression.I m not imposing.
Stingy tropical sun melts the time in seashore regions of Vietnam,like it melts pavements of their
highways, chasing indigenous people in the deep of shady gardens with a hammock as a basic
instrument of time spending,with a local dusty highway with trucks and buses passing by as a
never-ending sitcom.
These sorts of time ‘ve nothing in common with one in boiling and vibrating Saigon.That’s where
money burns the time much more than the sun do.
Hours of Vietnamese market sellers,flower sellers ,walking street sellers, small grocery’s ,
eateries owners differs greatly and can seem unbearably tough to foreigners, starting at 3-4 am
and measured by kilogramms of goods carried, killometeres of dark streets made on an
overshipped motorbike, by miles of dusty streets and small lanes walked on feet by street
vendors, by dozens of litres of noodle soup ,prepared for clients’ breakfast.
In the afternoon times hides itself in the corners of narrow streets to escape the burning heat and
let people have 2 hours of nap, often taken right on the streets on sleeping straw mats.
The midnight is when hours of workers and builders at construction sites begin.Construction
works in Vietnam is a topic worth of separate article.As the country is living through a real
boom of construction, boiling day and night and turning poor neighbours into a corps of
soldiers capable to sleep with noises compared with these of a canon shooting.Women working
at road and building constructions as coolies is a phenomenon in Vietnam I would never accept
and never get used to. The commentaries from Vietnamese readers are gently required.
The incredible engine of hard labour runs 24/24 in Vietnam without any accidental fail,
moving the enormous endless circle, circle of KIEP(life,existence,incarnation ).The meaning of
Vietnamese Kiep is rather complicated for exact definiti .It comes from Buddhism doctrine of
incarnations, richly flavoured with local believes.Looking on the present kiep the percpicatious
one can guess what his precedent life was like and what the next one would be.One is worth of
his present kiep and should be content of his kiep lam nguoi(reincarnation in human being)
which is better than this of an animal or stone.Who knows ,hovewer…
The circle of kiep is everlasting.As it is everlasting ,some wise Vietnamese citizens seem to take
their present kiep as kiep off, spending the whole days in small open- air cafes,sipping tea and
observing ironically the wild race of others for material wealth .They probably have something
to learn from.As the circle of lives is never-ending why not to follow their example.Not for all
life,of course but for a day only?Or why not to play into gamble with the time,which is more
interesting? As the time is often perfectly willing to…One of the possible options to overwit it is
to get into … the time machine in Vietnam.As Dalat,a highhill resort city in the central
Highlands of Vietnam, has one!!It departs daily at 4pm from Dalat old railway station, so
anyone intrigued has a chance to experience how it feels like to travel across times and cultures
at an hour.
The old steam-engine locomotive that carries tourists throughout times and cultures has its own
interesting story to tell.According to the city oldest residents,i t was brought to mountainous
Dalat in the early 1900s by Frenchmen on backs of culis and horses.The 300 km long railway
connecting Dalat with Saigon and NhaTrang cities has been built by French consructers
Odhera,Garnier and Bernard by 1922.It gave highhill town development its kick start and led it
to a pretentious position of the summer capital of colonial Indochina. To make the train resistant
to mountainous landscapes and hard passes it was supplied by specilally designed sawteeth like
wheels. At that time there were 2 trains departing from Dalat to Saigon and Nha Trang,always
fully packed with French and Vietnamese travelling officials. Both of them comprised 3
passenger cars and one baggage car.It took approximately 13 hours to get from southern capital
Saigon to Dalat. In the late 60th during Vietnam war for Independence Dalat railway was partly
destroyed and stopped its operation.It has spent nearly 40 years in lethargic sleep till 1997
when 7km of rails leading to Trai Mat village have been restored to serve tourists. The route is
not that long but provides the full variety of bright impressions .A few minutes after train
departure and one observes the total change of outer decorations :from a cold beauty of
European look like city to truly asian countryside with tiny houses, small gardens that seem to
have just escaped from some kind fairy tale, persimmon trees with bright orange fruits at a
distance of a hand, flower greenhouses and Linh Phuoc Pagoda as a final route destination.
Built in 1953 this Pagoda is one of impressive examples of authentic Vietnamese architecture.
It’s one of the brightest reflections of a fantasy and skills of Vietnamese artisans at their full
creativeness and inventiveness. The full complex comprises the 2 stories pompous main pagoda
richly decorated with multicolored mosaic of broken porcelain dishes with 5m height Buddha on
a lotus flower inside;and 6 levels tower covered with sophisticated ornaments, giving a
magnificent panorama of surroundings from the top. The tower shelters an immense bell fixated
to the very top, seen from the ground floor as the bottomless
eye of eternity and a big drum to help Buddha hear clearer prays of visitors. The whole
incredible construction is completed by 36 meters long dragon made of beer bottles and broken
dishes pieces, kneeling to worship Bouddha.
If time machine did ever exist, one of it’s best models is Dalat old train that gives passengers an
unforgettable experience of traveling through times and spaces.
Dalat is the city that strikes by mysterious atmosphere, inimitably weaved amazing
combination of old French architecture with traditional Vietnamese pagodas and even with Zen
Buddhism monastery ,by peaceful neighborhood of juicy yellow bamboo valleys and deep green
pine forests,by happy co-existence of the close past and the present. Dalat seems to turn
contrasts into the harmony, to reunite and to deflect two opposite categories-the past and the
present. It seems to know the secret of time deflection, and it has got its own time niches ,or time
bridges ,which is a better word.
Those who don’t like time machines should pay a visit to” One hundred roofs” café,on Phan Boi
Chau street(Café Mot tram mai), the incredible beton fantasy of a local architect Lu Truc
Phuong who managed to put the history of Vietnam from its very beginning into 7 stories house,
(if it could be called a house) .Come there on week days when it’s not crowded to see with your
own eyes how the time is hypnotized ,at listening Khanh Ly old records and how it surrenders
and deflects itself obediently in amazing interior ornaments of the café .Let yourself be
hypnotized and captured by the power of owner-architect’s fantasy as the time here do.
If a couple of hours in such an ambiance seem not enough for a complete impression and the
hazardous soul wants the game to go on then one should go to Hang Nga Moon Villa.
This construction,being out of any possible architectural genre, rises from the turn of the
Huynh Khuc Khang street as the fancies hallucination one could ever get .
The Moon villa, known amongst indigenous people and tourists as Crazy House, is probably the
most insolite and delirant construction in the South-Eastern Asia. The guest house was erected
10 years ago by lady- architect Dr Dang Viet Nga. Inspired by natural beauty of the
mountainous city the architect planned to build a villa that would harmonise with natural
landscapes as much as possible. The result of her vivid imagination, great inspiration and hard
work stands above all possible expectations.
This miracle of architecture a la Gaudienne represents an immense branchy tree made of beton
with labyrinths of honey-bee house like corridors, sheltering inside 10 rooms .
Each of villa’s rooms has its own friendly spirit :figure of Bear ,Eagle, Tiger , honey bee etc
placed in the center to guard a sweet sleep of their guests .The whole construction is finished
by giant beton giraffe outside as a final touch
to make the head of a visitor go –round completely.
One can broke the eyes trying to find a single sharp corner in the whole building.
Bet there is none.
The author of the villa, Dr Dang Viet Nga,is an outstanding woman, who had overcome many
obstacles, but managed to conquer her fantastic world from banality.
Come to the Moon villa and leave all the conventions of time and space aside for a night or
two.Let the worls slide. Get lost in the curving net of pathways in this sweet dream of stone
where the time has definitely lost a final game to the imagination and the creativeness!
While I were writing this article,an old 2 stories house,absolutely untouched in the morning,
next to my residence has been destroyed at zero by wokers ,with only bare land left.That is also
a question of time.

@Nathalie Alexandra Sokolovskaya.17.3.2009