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by Bob Kerstetter
While we understand relational caution, tact, transcultural manners and politeness, we sometimes take social risks to obtain facts and photos for a story. So it happened because of our interest in the Cham Towers located near Phan Rang-Tháp Chàm, Vietnam.
It seems everyone and their aunt has at one time eyed with envy the fertile soils, rugged mountains and beautiful sea shores of Vietnam. The Champa Empire occupied the coastal regions of middle and southern Vietnam for several centuries, bringing along with it a lot of Hinduism, a little Islam and the masonry skills to construct brick towers without mortar. The skills they developed for building these Lego-precise structures no one understands even today. Although the native Vietnamese eventually toppled the Cham—almost totally absorbing their culture by means of war and marriage—some of the religious influence attached itself to the Buddhism and Catholicism of Vietnam. You also see eight remaining towers constructed by the Cham people—two of them near Phan Rang-Tháp Chàm.
On the way to Nha Trang our tour guide pointed out two towers as our bus zinged along Highway 1. Because of the research of our female half, we knew something about the Cham and really eyed with envy this missed opportunity for photographs. So, the evening before returning to Ho Chi Minh City, I asked the tour guide if we could stop on the way back for a photo op. I figured everyone would unpack their digital cameras, step out of the bus and shoot away. So much for cultural sensitivity.
The tour guide was obviously very concerned I would be killed by the unending flow of high speed 18-wheelers, automobiles and other buses. He grabbed my hand and escorted me, alone, across the highway. Everyone else watched from the bus. I was feeling a bit concerned about the comfort of the others since bus air conditioning works better when the vehicle is moving. But then, there I was, in the shadows of these amazing towers, clicking away. A Vietnamese expatriate from Canada eventually joined me.
Back on the bus, with the help of our tour guide I thanked the others for their patience and kindness. As usual, our Vietnamese friends were gracious and pleased about our interest in their country. Apparently, no harm happened.
cjkd says: What beautiful pictures and towers!!! Sometimes being a little “pushy” works out. Congratulations!
Formerly a blog resident, this article keeps it comments for historical purposes.