Often times I find it difficult to describe those places and events and experiences that have the most profound affect on me and my travels. Last week’s visit to Halong Bay was a place of natural beauty that caused a bit of wordless blundering.
In these situations, I tend to use words like stunning and beauty and amazing. But what do these words tell you or me? Not a whole lot other than making it clear I enjoyed the place and that my skills as a writer lack a bit of depth.
Hoi-An, a cityscape of central Vietnam, a UNESCO World Heritage site, a site almost untouched during the war with America, poses similar difficulties. Its multi-colored-lantern-lit streets and bridges of red and blue and orange and yellow and green. Its families and children on their Sunday evening strolls. Its riverside cafes with low tables and local noodles made only here with water from one single well in one particular style. Its diverse architexture with nearly 500 years of influence from Japanese and Chinese and Indian traders that called this city home. Its bustling portside market and locally crafted boats. Its magic, all its own, does seem almost describable, almost for a moment.
Until I stepped in to one of Hoi-An’s “ancient homes” or “assemby halls” or “meeting places,” built early in the last millenium. Well these will make sense, I think to myself, these are about family and community, two things I value greatly. These, I will understand.
The assembly halls of the Cantonese, Japanese and Fujian traders come from their need for a place to gather and discuss; to come together in communion, for religion, for important cultural and societal decisions during these seafaring times of old in a country that was not their own. But these important landmarks are almost overwhelming:
ornately decorated walls and floors and ceilings . . . everything painted and designed with a meticulous touch . . . every column and corner and crevice illuminated with an artistic insight . . . 4 foot tall cylindrical incense coils burning hopeful prayers for families and loved ones . . . Chinese caligraphy that dances, spelling out poems and pictures that I can’t quite grasp . . . dragons on roof tops and in fountains wrapping their many heads and many tongues, spitting protection and oh yeah, enchantment.
Enchantment is what these places, whether cityscapes or landscapes, whether brief moments in time or month-long experiences, offer to the wandering traveler. All the adjectives in the world and enlightened descriptions of the five senses, can’t make sense of enchantment. Enchantment is a thing all its own: amazing, stunning, and yes, beautiful.