by Hoang Ha
From Paris to Da Lat: man fulfills dream of becoming a monk
Four years ago, Frenchman James Christopher quit his $100,000 job as a managing director for a computer company in Paris to come to Viet Nam to fulfill his dream of becoming a Buddhist monk.
Thich Truc Thai Hoi, as he is known now, says he learned about Buddhism on the internet, studying after school in France. When he read about Truc Lam temple in Da Lat in the Central Highlands, he wanted to visit Viet Nam, but at the time he could not afford it.
After years of postponing his dream, Christopher decided in 2007 to take Vietnamese-language classes at a training centre in Paris.
"I'm learning Vietnamese to become a Buddhist priest," Christopher told friends when they asked him why he chose the language.
They all thought he was joking at the time, he says. But, in 2010, he moved to Viet Nam.
Upon seeing the then-100 kg man, the head of Truc Lam Temple seemed rather anxious, but later realised that Christopher's intentions were serious.
Two years later, he shaved the Frenchman's head, which meant he had become a real monk.
Christopher says at first it was hard getting up at 3am to recite prayers and practice meditation, but he got used to it.
"Reciting prayers three times a day and having a seven-hour meditation, however, is no longer a problem for me," he says.
In the first month of living at the temple, his weight dropped 90 kg to 70 kg.
"I was exhausted at first, as the temple only allowed me to eat rice, vegetables and tofu," he says.
But he got used to that, too. "I think I have better health now."
Over the last four years, Christopher has returned to his country four times. Although he wants to visit his mother more frequently, the airfare is too expensive, he says.
His savings from his former career is in a bank, and he uses the interest to pay for his trips home.
"I will be a Buddhist monk here until I die," he says, adding that he considers Viet Nam his second home.
Farrier one of HCM City's last
New technology has brought a better life for many people but has also eliminated jobs like farriers, people who fit shoes to horses and cows that pull wagons.
Huynh Van Dan, a hoof trimmer for cows in Vinh Loc A Commune in HCM City's Binh Chanh District, appears to be one of the few farriers left in the city.
Now in his 60s, Dan has about one customer a month.
"Nobody raises cows to pull carts anymore, so I changed my job three years ago," he says. "Shoeing cows no longer brings me a good living. I stick to the job just to meet friends and chat for fun."
More than a decade ago, he had to fit dozens of cow hoof shoes a day.
A complete pair of hoof shoes costs VND50,000, but he has to pay VND30,000 for the shoe and nails, leaving only a small profit.
Dan says he began the job by accident. When he was 18, he earned a living as a driver of wagons that transported goods, and he often took cows to Ba Diem Commune in Hoc Mon District to be fitted with shoes.
"I usually had to wait a very long time for my turn. I realised I was wasting too much time, so I made my own cowshed and bought a set of tools to fit shoes for the cows of my family. A few years later, the workman in Ba Diem grew weak and quit his job. Customers flocked to my place. The more I did the work, the more skillful I became. That's how I became a professional," he says.
Thien Van Ut, who still uses wagons pulled along by cows, says there are now about five farriers in Binh Chanh and Hoc Mon districts.
In the old days, the wagons or carts were used to carry cow and buffalo droppings and soil for betel and vegetable growers in Ba Diem Commune. But many of the farriers have changed jobs as few people farm or raise cow and buffaloes for manure nowadays. — VNS