They are building a Big Buddha down the road from us.
Vietnam seems to like big Buddhas… they are everywhere. Like the Big Yabbie, the Big Banana, the Big Merino (who can forget those school trips to Goulburn, where you proudly posed coming out of the bum hole of the giant sheep in order to get a printed souvenir postcard with your images and the slogan “Just a Couple of Dags!”).
The Big Buddhas are…well…big. Size does seem to matter to the Buddhists. All over Asia the Buddhas soar to some amazing heights. The old and sometimes ancient ones of course are usually a bit shorter… the ancient building materials of wood, stone and brick did impose some height limitations…although some of them are jaw-droppingly high (one suspects the use of non-Buddhist slave labour).
The Bronze Daibutsu (giant Buddha) in Kamakura in Japan is an impressive, lofty piece of handmade metalwork that would have placated even the bossy and cursing Mr Wilson my metalwork teacher at Gymea High School ( “That piece of shit is not a fuckin’ sugar scoop Mellor…it is a shitty fuckin’ piece of crap scoop for just scoopin shitty fuckin’ crap!”….ah what an impressive role model to us boys and fine example of the NSW education system he was).
There are a few whoppers all over Asia…some sitting in the meditative lotus position, some lying down (‘Reclining Buddhas’ they are called). A few look more like…‘Stoned Buddhas lying around on the living room floor wondering where is the control for the DVD’… to me. And some are standing tall and looking out into the cosmos…usually with one finger pointed skyward… which causes thousands of folks to daily crane their necks and arch backwards to just scour the skies and wonder “what exactly is the Buddha pointing at?”. My mate Bob has a great photo of a Big Buddha pointing skyward…just as a Jetstar plane went overhead… as if the BB was pointing discreetly and saying” of all the budget airlines… I just think Jetstar is the closest to…enlightenment”. Here in Da Nang we have a few Big Buddhas.
The most famous is the Quan Yin, – the Goddess of Mercy at Linh Ung Pagoda on Son Tra Peninsula. She is made of concrete and stone and stands 69.7meters tall with (of course) 17 storeys of a stairway built inside for both observant pilgrims and selfie-stick tourists alike. Her gleaming white, beatific face has gazed out across Danang Bay since 2010 and she has now become the sort of unofficial symbol of Danang. At this point we need to sort out a small technical issue- “But hang on”, you ask….” Is she really a Buddha?”.
Ahaaaa… glad you asked! Effigies and statues of ‘Buddha’ seem to take three main forms:
(a) images of the Gautama Buddha – Siddartha Gautama, the Nepalese sage who gained enlightenment and became the Buddha (These are usually reclining, meditating, standing in various guises- and either masculine or feminine in appearance)
(b) Images of Budai…the ‘fat Buddha” or the ‘Jolly Buddha’ – he is the rotund happy Chinese fellow who is the incarnation of the Buddha in the future who hopefully will bring you good luck and fortune, especially if you rub his big belly.
(c) and; images of bodhisattva…either male or female – these are enlightened beings… saint-like beings who have attained such Buddha-like states of enlightenment that they are worshipped like the Buddha himself.Our beautiful lady Quang Yin is a bodhisattva – she is a Buddha-saint… and that means her statue still technically falls under the category of a Big Buddha. Anyway…Quang Yin …or the Son Tra Big Buddha is certainly beautiful and impressive. She stands on a spot where apparently there have been sacred rock formations for years – used by local fishermen as a place to pray for a big catch and safe voyages – and so now this modern concrete effigy stands on the same spot. The surrounding temples and pagodas and gardens are quite elegant and serene and they lack much of the gaudy tourist commercialism that pollutes so many other so-called ‘religious sites’ all around the country.
We had an amazing visit once on a very foggy morning… we climbed to the top to realise that there was only us and the Buddha head poking out over the tops of the low clouds. There are numerous other Buddhas all over the city. Some are big, some are sitting, some reclining, some meditating – and all shapes and sizes. To my mind, there are another two that I would classify as ‘Big’… big enough that they jut out above the building skylines and can be seen for quite some way around. And now there is another being built. It is on the edge of a six-lane main road, in the grounds of a big temple just up the road from our favourite little hole-in-the-wall, plastic chair restaurant. It started as a giant steel crucifix… which confused me for a while. “Honey, why are they building that big crucifix in the front yard of the Buddhist temple?” After a few days, they wrapped the steel cross in a shroud of strong steel mesh and then laid the first layer of cement. This resulted in a kind of Big Parsnip… But slowly the bamboo scaffolding surrounded the cement structure. It reminds me so much of the Lilliputians in Gulliver’s Travels.
The Big Blob is surrounded by a daily army of little ant-like figures that swarm all over. Day by day the features become more….Buddha-like. What amazes me is how they actually do it, The Vietnamese are world-renowned for their skills at cement rendering…give the average Vietnamese man a trowel and a bucket of wet sloppy cement and they will work up a detailed Rococo architrave or stucco Gaudi portico before lunchtime. Their cement skills are unparalleled on this planet. But how do they get the required perspective when they are inches away from the face of the statue and perched metres up in the air on some spindly bamboo pole? I have never understood how mankind can produce these enormous statues… do they keep having to climb down, run across the parking lot, cross the road, climb up onto a restaurant veranda and then peer at their handiwork from 500 meters away…just in order to get the height, perspective and details right? Or do they have someone relaying information from a long distance away…by walkie-talkie…or these days mobile phone… “ Hello,…is this Mr Trung? Are you Mr Trung working on the nose or Mr Trung working on the eyebrows? Mr TrungEyebrows? Oh okay. Can You tell Mr TrungNose to flare out the left nostril by …say…six inches more… and tell him the right nostril still looks like it has a big booger up it”. I don’t know. I am genuinely in awe of their work. Unfortunately so are the hundreds of cars, trucks and buses each day that screech to halt in the middle of busy traffic just to rubberneck at the emerging Big Buddha.