PENISES AND CLITORISES, YANG AND YIN
When introducing Hanoi to the world, Hanoians will often talk about the pomp, antiquity and romance of their thousand-year-old capital. Indeed, when I began writing these words, I found myself, much like the very first time I kissed my lover hesitant and confused, unable to find the right tone when discussing a topic that Hanoians are frequently too shy to mention. Now, kindly relax and leave any preconceived ideas behind you. You could lie down and read this article, maybe enjoy it while standing, or sitting, sipping a cup of coffee and lighting up a cigarette, to feel the true romance of Hanoi, just like smoking after making love, why not? We are about to enter a yearning that is as secretive as the tepid waves rolling in the deep waters of the Hong River.
It’s important to remember that the people of Hanoi were once extremely confident about speaking of sex-related topics. Many historical stone statues of penises and clitorises – linga/yang and yoni/yin – or wooden carvings of people having sex can be found at the Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology and the National Museum of Vietnamese History. Vietnamese culture worships the act of mating through rites and cults. Depictions of men and women with exaggerated genitals can be found on artefacts dating back thousands of years in Hanoi, on stone carvings from Sa Pa Valley and tombs in the Central Highlands, which are now housed in cultural institutions.
These hyperbolic representations of reproductive organs symbolise desire. The ancients believed that fertility was a divine energy in nature that had the ability to transfer to animals and plants. Therefore, the religion of sustenance, with its many rituals of worship, arose and developed in a variety of ways. Historical symbols such as the Mot Cot Pagoda (yang) which sits in a square lake (yin), But Tower (yang) and Nghien Tower (yin) at the gate of Ngoc Son Temple in Hanoi; the round windows (yang) on the Khue Van Cac (symbolising the star Khue) that are reflected in the square lake (yin) and Thien Quang Tinh in the Temple of Literature are all architectural metaphors for fertility beliefs.