Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Brand New "Tung Son Thach" Japanese Garden in Hochimin, Vietnam

"She was crammed in by a boatload of human bodies, thinking of her father and becoming overwhelmed, slowly, with loneliness. As much loneliness as fear. Concentrate, she told herself. And she did ― forcing herself to concentrate, if not ― if she was unable to ― on the thought of her family, then on the contact of flesh pressed against her on every side, the human warmth, feeling every square inch of skin against her body and through it the shared consciousness of ― what? Death? Fear? Surrender? She stayed in that human cocoon, heaving and rolling, concentrating, until it was over."

- from Nam Le's The Boat (2008), which won the Dylan Thomas Prize

Nam Le, as a baby, was smuggled by his parents from war-torn Vietnam on a tiny boat, which landed in Malaysia and then found refuge in Australia. After graduating from the University of Melbourne, Le worked as a corporate lawyer and also started writing stories and sent them to the U.S. In 2004 Le attended Iowa Writers Workshop which taught him to concentrate on creative writing. His first book, The Boat, has 7 short stories, including my favorite "Hiroshima", dealing with a girl orphan named "Little Turnip." Today, Nam Le is a rising star.

So was Ngo Chanh, Chairman of Shoei Trading Company, the Vietnamese protagonist. His boat headed north for Japan, instead of Malaysia. Chanh, was probably in his late teens then, as he was born reportedly in the zodiac year of the wild boar. He landed in Tokyo and the Tokyo Association of Refugees transferred him to Matsuyama City, Ehimeken, my birthplace, where he got local support and shelter. There he first engaged in shipping secondhand fishing boat engines to Vietnam on a small scale and gradually expanded his business to bigger machines and vessels. As he succeeded, he returned to Hochimin, Vietnam in glory to manage plastic treatment factories in Hochimin, Vietnam. It took him more than 30 years of perseverance and hard work.

What amazed me was the construction of the Japanese Garden "con vien Rin Rin Park" near his plastic plant of about 5 acres (7000 tsubos), which opened early in 2014, 20 km northwest of Hochimin, an area called Hoc Mon District. I have a Japanese friend living in Hochimin who is a Japanese language teacher. She brought me news of the garden since she knew I was involved in the San Diego Japanese Garden. She had been in San Diego before Hochimin. She made an arrangement for me to interview Ngo Chanh on my recent Hochimin visit.

Accompanied by his son Ngo Kim Thuan, sharp-looking and debonair Ngo Chanh appeared before me at about the time Dinh Vuong (student of my friend who guided me to the park) and I finished the tour of his garden. Both father and son are fluent in Japanese.

Ngo wrote down his Matsuyama address in his impeccable Japanese Kanji. Doidacho was his address. We talked about common topics of Matsuyama. Doidacho is southwest of Matsuyama Castle, not so far from Matsuyama Shieiki, once the home of the Iyotetsu "Botchan" trains. Doidacho is the 2nd station on the Iyotetsu Gunchu Line from the Matuyama Shieki. There are sporting facilities for Matsuyama citizens such as a swimming pool, martial arts stadium, cycling track, etc. where the famous Ishite River joins Shigenobu River in southern Doidacho. His son, who graduated from the nearby sports loving Yushin Junior High, must be very familiar with those facilities.

Ngo Chanh was motivated to build the Rin Rin Japanese Park to show gratitude to Japan as well as to introduce the true Japanese culture to fellow Vietnamese. He therefore paid enormous freight, transporting 4000 tons of Japanese stones, including "Iyo" blue stones, "Uwajima" sperm-whale stones, Mikame-cho stone walls, Oshima-made stone Pagoda, drum stone bridge, stepping stones, stone lanterns, sculptured stones; 50 thick needle podocarp trees ( Podocarpus macrophyllus) and 20 pyramidal junipers (Kaizuka-ibuki) and Imabari gravel, per Yasuhito Kido, President of Ehime Kenjinkai in Hochimin.

In addition, he airfreighted 200 varicolored golden carp from Konishi Farm in Hiroshima. He hired Kiyohiro Takahashi, a professional gardener born also in Iyo-shi, Ehime, a year after ground breaking. The park, called "Tungson Thack Pak" (meaning Matsuyama Stone Park) in Vietnamese, officially opened in March with 1000 well-wishers in attendance. Ehime Governor Nakamura visited the park before the official opening and thanked Ngo for his fantastic conception and power of execution.

Looking at a map online, I expected to easily find the park, but in reality it is hard to locate. I circled around the crowded housing area for a quarter of an hour searching for it. The park is further west of Tan Son nhat Airport. I saw the Vietnamese ad pamphlet upon my visit. The "Cong vien da nhat ban" appearing on the pamphlet stands for the Japanese style stone garden. Its notoriety gradually spread by word of mouth. I was quite obsessed with pictures and knew what to expect, but standing in front of the central stone themed landscape, "spirit of stone" and "spirit of tree", I felt quite at home, serene and exhilarated and wanted to congratulate Ngo for his dream-come-true project.

He is planning to open up the park for Japan-Vietnam Friendship, Trade and Exhibition activities, attracting Japanese visitors and I'm sure it will be further developed for fun, leisure and entertainment.


Finishing this Rin Rin Park blog, I found that the pine trees were symbolic trees of the Ngyuen Dynasty, the last ruling family of Vietnam, whose capital was in Hue, near Da Nang, Central Vietnam, from 1802 to1945. The French invaded in 1858. Ngyuen Dynasty lasted until 1945, although it was under French protection and influence. I read that many of the Ngyuen Dynasty pagodas and royal tombs have rows of pine trees. "Matsuyama" (Mountain of Pine Trees) also means special fate and the park symbolizes Ngo Chanh’s second hometown.

Visit the park's facebook page.

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