Seeing an image today of Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain eating like –and with– locals in a small place in Hanoi reminded me of this one-man welcome committee at the Temple of Literature in the Vietnamese capital, a sprawling facility that hosts the Imperial Academy, the country’s first university.
Built in 1070, it’s one of several temples dedicated to Confucius, features five courtyards, pavilions, gardens, and a pond called the ‘Well of Heavenly Clarity’. Remarkably it has survived nearly ten centuries worth of wars and disasters, preserving many of the architectural styles that several dynasties contributed to it. According to wiki, major restorations have taken place, most recently in 1920, 1954 and 2000.
It’s a popular destination in the Vietnamese capital, both for tourists and locals. And, on the day I visited, for young women getting their portraits taken, with stylists, make-up artists and several photographers in tow.
That’s mainly what I’ll remember it for, the photo shoots. And for two other things: its bookstore where bootleg low quality reprints of classic books –both from Vietnam and about Vietnam– were available; and for sitting in one of its five courtyards, not far from the pond, rereading Bảo Ninh’s novel The Sorrow of War, one of the finest and most honest accounts ever written about life during war, brilliant and beautiful in its brutal clarity. Like drinking from a well.
And for the record, today’s Pic du Jour, the site’s 872nd(!!) straight, was taken at the Temple of Literature in Hanoi, Vietnam, on 24-Oct-2010.