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Full Circle

Day 85: Saigon to Tay Ninh

Tay Ninh, Vietnam 
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The Caodaist cathedral at Tay Ninh.
Michael Palin - Full CircleAt Tay Ninh this youngest of world religions is alive and well and the red and white trimmed, ornately-towered ochre walls of the Caodaist cathedral, rise from a wide and empty compound the size of Red Square.

The general shape of the cathedral is open-plan western-style, but there the similarity ends. The floor is on nine different levels - representing the nine steps to heaven - and from it rise columns wound round with lumpy, luridly-painted green and orange dragons. The tracery is wildly and fantastically floral with what looks like great cabbage stalks growing up around the windows. The dome at the far end is painted to represent the star-spangled heavens and beneath it is a huge globe on which is painted the single eye in a triangle, the symbol of Caodaism.

The service is very laid back. The mood is gentle and contemplative, the music precise and delicate, and quite haunting. Women enter from one door and men from the other and all sit cross-legged on the brightly-tiled floor wearing ethereal expressions and chanting gently. Above them birds swoop in and out of the building.

Irrepressible roving bands of ten-year-old salesmen lurk outside.

'What your name?'


'Oh. Your name beautiful.' An ice-cold can of 7-Up is thrust against my arm. 'You very handsome.'

'Not now thank you.'

'Maybe later. Yes?'
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 85
  • Country/sea: Vietnam
  • Place: Tay Ninh
  • Book page no: 125

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