Dear Mr. Earth, are you there? It's me, Kara.
The Vietnamese are a superstitious lot and tell legends of how they descended from dragons and fairies. Yesterday I had the opportunity to go to Suô’i Tiên Fairy Park in Ho Chi Minh City, an amusement park built on 'sacred fairy lands'. The park embodies Vietnamese folklore and myths fused with Chinese legends. When you enter the park you feel as if you are stepping directly into a folklore story. Vietnam is a predominately Buddhist country, so touches of Buddhism are strewn throughout the park.
Although traditional Buddhists don't believe in luck, in Vietnamese culture there is a character revered as the patron saint of luck (although he is often mistaken for a Buddha and has nothing to do with religion). His name is Ong Dia, which translates to 'Mr. Earth'. He is a jolly, chubby bald man with giant earlobes (in Buddhism large earlobes signify longevity and good fortune- get your gauge on!). The Vietnamese pray to Ong Dia before making major decisions. For example, if a woman has an important business decision to make (Vietnam is crawling with female entrepreneurs!), she will find an Ong Dia altar, light an incense stick (but never with her own lighter or match!), bow to Ong Dia three times and place the burning incense stick in a sand filled bowl on the altar, then bow once more. If the incense stick burns to completion, it means the business decision will bring good luck and fortune, but if the flame extinguishes before the incense is fully burned, misfortune will follow if the business decision in question is carried out. It doesn't work unless you are serious about the question, make clear your intentions and place faith in the response.
Travel is about recognizing and appreciating cultural difference, but also weaving together concepts to identify similarities among us all. I don't particularly believe in luck and I don't identify with a religion (although I relate most closely to Buddhism), however I recognize the importance of spirituality and connection with nature and the universe. I do believe in intuition and the increasingly popular concept of 'bending reality' in which if you consistently put an idea out in the universe that you really want and whole heartedly believe in, the universe conspires to make it happen.
The folklore initially seemed rather silly to me, but as I tried my hand at praying to Ong Dia yesterday I realized how much I related to the concept and how I've essentially been practicing the same philosophy from a different foundation. I have a binocular tattoo on my forearm which carries many meanings for me, among them the idea that what you put out is reflected back to you. Not only in how you treat people (like Buddhist Karma), but also in the way people and the universe treat you (the world is your prism). If self-love and confidence are reflected on the outside, people and the universe will treat you in kind. If your lens shoots out self-doubt and a slouchy posture, that universal prism will direct it right back at you and the opportunities you're seeking are less likely to present themselves.
It's funny to think I had to travel to a fairy amusement park in Vietnam to find spirituality. Whether one calls on Ong Dia, puts faith in the universe or prays to a monotheistic God spirituality comes in many forms and ultimately we are all seeking connection and good fortune. I can bow to that.