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APRIL 24, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 16

Hot Spot

An Intriguing Mix of Past and Present
With more than half of its residents under 25 years of age, Ho Chi Minh City is one of Vietnam's most youthful cities. Yet it's still making a career largely from its past.

Looking for a value-for-money meal in Ho Chi Minh City?

Hot Spot
There are many roads to sainthood, and not all of them lead through the Catholic Church.

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More than just a phone number

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If you're seeking the offbeat side of Vietnam this is the site for you.

There are many roads to sainthood, and not all of them lead through the Catholic Church. Besides being sages of different places and eras, Victor Hugo, Sun Yat-sen and Joan of Arc are all present-day saints of Vietnam's Cao Dai faith.

Followers pray to these and other deities four times each day, in garish pink-and-blue temples scattered around Vietnam. In the inner sanctum of each temple is a giant blue globe with what closely resembles that sacred symbol of 1960s hippiedom, the God's Eye. The Cao Dai call it the Divine Eye. Founded in the 1920s by Ngoh Min Chieu, a Vietnamese civil servant who claimed to have been visited by Hugo and Jesus in a series of visions, the religion has attracted a following in New Age capitals from California to Australia. Cao Dai, meaning High Palace, is the country's third-largest religion (after Buddhism and Christianity), with 3 million followers.

The main Cao Dai temple, about 100 km west of Ho Chi Minh City in Tay Ninh province, is a sort of spiritual Disneyland that has become a required stop on day trips to the Vietcong's famous Chu Chi tunnels. Chinese-style dragons circle a series of huge pink pillars: the architecture is a hodge-podge of styles, borrowing widely from all the world's religions. Ceremonies, though, are distinctly Cao Dai, blending ancient mysticism with ceremonial offerings of wine and tea and using seances and a type of ouija board to commune with the dead. In the 1960s, the Cao Dai controlled the area north of Saigon and had an army of 25,000 that battled both the French and the communists. Now, after decades of suppression, adherents are free again to worship. White-robed disciples pray every day at 6 a.m., noon, 6 p.m. and midnight. Visitors are welcome.

By Ron Gluckman

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