In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age
of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this
financially independent lifestyle, they invite you
to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli
Steve, our English speaking guide from
We heard about Saigon's Chinatown and wanted
to make a visit. We asked Steve, the tour guide at Compass Living Parkview, if
he could arrange a trip there for us.
The Vietnamese call their Chinatown "Cholon"
which basically means "Big Market." Cholon became a city in 1879, and by the
1930s it pressed against the city limit of Saigon proper. In 1931 the two cities
were merged and by 1956 the name "Cholon" was dropped from the maps, but people
still refer to the area by that name.
There is a mystique about Chinatown
Cholon is Vietnam's largest Chinatown and
during the Vietnam War, soldiers and deserters from the US Army maintained a
booming black market here. They traded in various American products especially
US Army issue items and supplies.
Chinese fruit vendors in non la
Not only is Cholon Vietnam's largest
Chinatown, it's probably the largest Chinatown in the world.
The Chinese began to settle the area in the
early 1900s and they have never quite assimilated with the rest of Saigon which
causes a bit of resentment among the Vietnamese community.
A Chinese herb shop
This man is making
identical herb packets. When we took a closer look, there were bits of this,
that and all the other. Orange rinds, tree bark, bird's nests, seeds, dried
oddities and more.
Not only is Cholon a
bustling commercial center, it is a maze of temples, restaurants, jade jewelry
and medicine shops like the one above.
Chinese writing on pillars inside pagoda
During the French Colonial period, Cholon was
filled with brothels and dark, exotic opium dens. These were the same opium dens
and houses of ill repute that greeted American troops during the Vietnam war. A
huge number of US troops went AWOL in Cholon during the war, and when the fall
of Saigon was imminent, US expeditionary forces advertised a period of amnesty
for these US citizens.
Apparently only one dazed soldier came
stumbling out of the clutches of this lifestyle.
Prayer sheets in pagoda
These days the dens are gone, even if there
are still brothels in the underground world.
We decided to visit the pagodas instead.
In the front of the pagodas in Chinatown you
can purchase oversized bundles of incense the size of a large flashlight. This
gives you plenty of incense sticks to place in front of the various altars and
in the incense urns. This particular pagoda is Thien Hau. It's considered a
"working temple" which means that the place is busy day and night with visitors
Lighting my incense
Here I am lighting my
incense sticks using one of the candles on the altar. Notice the red prayer
sheets on the left in the photo.
Thien Hau pagoda is named
after the Goddess of the Sea, and was established in the mid 18th century. The
Chinese community tended to be made up of merchants and seafarers who were
grateful for her protection on their ocean voyages.
In the late 1970s many of
the Chinese community fled Vietnam in small boats following China's invasion of
Northern Vietnam. This temple's significance was reinforced during this time.
Conical shaped incense
This man lights the end of a cone shaped
incense which burns for hours and hours. The pagoda is filled with them.
If this were outside on the
streets it might be considered pollution, but inside the pagoda, incense burns
everywhere, carrying wishes and prayers to the heavens.
This young woman is wearing
the traditional au dai dress of Vietnam. This dress is called au yai
or au dai, depending on if you are from northern or southern Vietnam.
Posing in their native costumes with a row of
One of the many altars inside Thien Hau
This is a typical altar with offerings of
fruit, lit candles, flowers and prayer strips. The bowl on the lower left is
filled with oil. One can purchase all sorts of devotional supplies at the front
of the pagoda including a bottle of this oil. Then one can "donate" to various
altars inside the pagoda, dribbling oil in assorted containers.
Another side of Chinatown
Some lively paper mache dragon heads
including mine! In Chinese astrology, I'm a dragon, so I fit right in with my
Chinatown also had a great
assortment of fabric shops that sold the specialty fabric used for au dais.
They are hand painted, embroidered, beaded and/or laced. Luscious stuff.
Cha Tam Church
Cha Tam is Chinatown's Catholic church.
Its main significance lies in the fact that in December, 1963, the devoutly
Catholic South Vietnamese President, Ngo Dinh Diem, took refuge here after
having fled from Gia Long Palace through a series of underground tunnels. He was
captured and murdered by members of his own military in an event considered
crucial in the unraveling of South Vietnam. It was after this murder that there
was an increased US involvement in the war.
The tunnels that Diem and his brother
used to flee the palace are an elaborate network complete with bunkers and reach
as far as the Reunification Palace. They made their way to the perceived safety
of Cha Tam Church but to no avail and they met their deaths.
Diem was buried in an unmarked grave not
far from the US ambassador's residence.
Binh Tay market
Tay market at the centre of Chinatown and is busy, crowded and messy. Small
aisles offer all manner of goods.
size, which is much larger than that of Ben Thanh, makes it the largest market
in the city. Inside, instead of shops for single purchases, stalls cater to
those looking to buy in bulk.
In fact, many
Vietnamese who operate stalls at markets in other parts of the city come here to
buy their supplies.
Dragon in a pond
The origin of the Chinese
dragon is not certain. The presence of dragons within Chinese culture dates back
several thousands of years and these dragons traditionally symbolize potent and
promising powers, particularly control over water, rainfall, hurricane, and
floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck for people
who are worthy of it.
In Chinese daily language,
excellent and outstanding people are compared to a dragon, while people with no
achievements are compared with other, lowly creatures such as a worm.
In today's culture, the
dragon is mostly used for decorative purposes, but it is still forbidden to
disfigure a depiction of a dragon.
For more stories and photos
of Vietnam, click here
About the Authors
Early Lifestyle appeals to a different
kind of person – the person who prizes their
independence, values their time, and who doesn’t
want to mindlessly follow the crowd.