Mythical Beauty of Bai Tu Long Bay

Do not hesitate to go far away, beyond all seas, all frontiers, all countries, all beliefs.
— Amin Maalouf

Waking up on the boat in Bai Tu LongBay, the energy has shifted from the jetlagged, adrenaline infused excitementand frenetic energy of Hanoi to the flowing, slowed down, indescribable beauty of Bai Tu Long Bay.  Ending the day with kayaking around the craggy islands, sunset on the deck, and dinner outside, our sangha smoothly eased into the new pace.   Located in the northeastern area of Vietnam, and with a recent designation from Unesco as a natural wonder of the world, you canliterally see this luxury tourist destination developing before your very eyes.  Bai Tu Long, known as the non-touristy hidden gem in the shadow ofHalong Bay, is changing.  Beautiful white French inspired buildings linethe bay with sidewalks not yet built, a ferris wheel and cable cars sit perchedon top of a cliff; this spot is poised to be changed in ways no one can fathom. It is good and bad for the locals as tourism brings in people and money. But most if it belongs to international conglomerates and that money rarely stays in the country.  Progress has its price for everyone. 

Seven, named because he is number seven out of eight children, leads our morning kayaking excursion.   Vietnam doesn’t make kayaks, so they are imported from Toronto, flown to Bai Tu Bay and dropped right on the fisherman’s boat, also his home, as it sits floating in the bay.
The tour company and the family living on the boat have contracts with Unesco to use the kayaks only for tourism and not for personal fishing.  The family also makes money storingvthe kayaks, picking up trash, and fishing for tourism boats’ meals.  The country is slowly working toward environmental conservation and the many families living on the fishing boats have been given the option to live in town, with houses and schools available to them.  But Seven says they also need some families to stay so the fishing industry can continue to develop and thrive.  Seven likes snapper the best and says a day without fish would feel incomplete to him. 
He says it is a balance--tourism and preserving local culture, growth and honoring a traditional way of life. 

And yes, Seven, we know that it is.   

This concept of balance, seeking to grow and thrive while staying present and kind (or as my mother says, “Don’tget above your raising.”) also aligns with the Dharma teachings we have been receiving here in Vietnam.   The moment to moment practice on the mat and cushion of be here now, observe when you have wandered away from the moment, and use the breath as a way to return to presence.  Rarely fully achieved, that’s why we call it a practice. It is the journey that counts. 

As the boat has cruised out, we sail deep in the Red River Delta with the Gulf of Tonkin and China close to our east.  The 2000 limestone islands, brought about by the myth of a dragon thrashing his tail or 300 million yeas of erosion, are probably the most iconic images of Vietnam.  They rise out of the bay majestic, quiet andsentient.  Reminding us that time and Mother Nature are the enduring truths, our presence here is just a mere moment.  Pure impermanence.  In line with the Buddhist 4 Noble Truths we have been receiving in our morning Dharma talks, this concept of impermanence is ultimately liberating.  Giving us true permission to do the only thing we truly can, just be ourselves and live our life each moment at a time, on the wind!