Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Nuns Chopping Firewood, Ho Chi Minh City

I found this beautiful old photo that I took back in 1996.
I don't remember where this particular nunnery was, but it was somewhere in the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City. It was in a side street, and by chance I was riding past in a cyclo and I got the driver to stop so I could check out the temple. When I peered in through the closed gate I saw the nuns hard at work chopping firewood. One of them let me in to the courtyard, and they all giggled as I photographed them at their hard, hot work. One of the sisters put on a proper outer robe and took me into the prayer hall so I could pay my respects to the Buddha.
In Destination Saigon I write about this industriousness much in evidence in nunneries in Vietnam. Traditionally, women's communities have attracted less lay support than men's, and so the nuns have always relied on some form of industry to keep their temples going. The chopping and selling of firewood is quite unusual work - though I do know of a men's community in Phu Nhuan who have a full-scale lumberyard in operation! Nunneries more typically manufacture incense, produce vegetarian delicacies for re-sale, make rosaries, sew religious clothing, produce and copy Buddhist CDs and DVDs and operate vegetarian restaurants. Ironically, this has seen women's communities grow prosperous, particularly in the bigger cities.

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