Tag Archives: perspective

There’s no such thing as history (or Today would be a good day to be in Hanoi)

It’s time for a Monday morning travel post … where would I like to be spending the day today? One of the most recent places I have visited was Vietnam. The friendly people, delicious food, warm weather, and stunning scenery made this a great tourist destination. But the complicated history, ongoing after effects of war, and the challenges of relationship given the baggage of the past raised lots of questions for me as well. Reflecting on visiting the capital city today gives me the chance to ponder a thought I had often while there, something I have been known to say to my Old Testament students: “There’s no such thing as history.” I mean that in two different ways, but you’ll have to read on to find out which.

Masouleum back

What did I love about Hanoi?

I had a wonderful few days in Hanoi. Day or night, there were always people around, smiling, laughing, enjoying life.

Street market

And the food … I’m not sure there is such a thing as bad Vietnamese food.


What I did learn was that it’s all about the sauces – something that looks simple is taken to a whole other level by an amazing complex Vietnamese sauce!


And I do love history, so I loved seeing glimpses of the past and the present side by side in the centre of the city …

Lake with new and old buildings

.. in a modern performance of the centuries old art of Water Puppetry …

Water puppets

.. and in the beautiful artefacts in the history museum.

Wardrobe detail

What did I learn from Hanoi?

As well as loving the history,  the thought I kept coming back to was “there’s no such thing as history.” First, in the sense that there is really only historiography (written history) or people’s perspectives on history, rather than any objective reality of the past that we can access. And secondly, in the sense that the past is never just the past; its effects echo and resound in the present and will continue to do so no doubt long into the future.

Outside history museum

One of the great things about travel is the opportunity to see another perspective on the history of the world, to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Certainly that is the case with Vietnam, particularly when it comes to the War. Even what the War of the 1960s-70s is called is a complicated question, and really depends on whose perspective you are looking at it from. I grew up calling it “The Vietnam War” but it’s kind of obvious to realise that a person from Vietnam would not use that term.


Seeing artefacts, photos, and in particular the written commentary on them in the history museums was a key reminder to me that ‘history’ is always written from a particular perspective. I saw some tourists who seemed frustrated, even angry, because it felt to them that history was being told ‘wrongly’. But who is to say that we haven’t also learned it wrongly? Of course we are all going to see it from the perspective of the country in which we grew up. Of course there are multiple sides to such complex stories.

Prison entrance

Visiting Hỏa Lò Prison (sometimes called the Hanoi Hilton) brought this to the fore. Half of the prison remembers the Vietnamese revolutionaries who were kept here as prisoners of the French and so, of course, tells the story from the perspective of being the oppressed.

Prison memorial

The other half of the prison remembers the American pilots who were kept here as prisoners of the Vietnam and so, it could be argued, tells the story of the perspective of being the oppressors, or at least those in power rather than those without power. I found it a fascinating place, because in the very same place, history is being told from these two very different perspectives. It’s a stark illustration of the fact that we all tell our stories from the perspective we find ourselves in, that history is not objective fact but interpreted experience.

Prison explanation 2

I hope I’m not sounding judgmental of the Vietnamese – that is not at all my point. I think we all do the same thing. That’s why it is so valuable to try to stand in another person’s shoes and think of how history looks from their perspective. Hopefully it gives all of us more compassion, more understanding, more forgiveness, and more humility, to do so.

The second sense of the phrase “There’s no such thing as history” is the idea that the past isn’t gone and forgotten – its after effects linger on. Seeing the ongoing issues of disability and disease in people suffering the effects of Agent Orange some forty years on is both sobering and heartbreaking.


And finally, due to my history, what you could call the accident of birth, I come to visit a place like Vietnam as a rich, white, Westerner. This shapes and colours how I am perceived and responded to, and is something that I cannot really escape, no matter how much I might like to.

Difficult as I might find it, it is good for me to see myself from someone else’s perspective. It challenges me as I consider how much of who I am is shaped by the perspective on the world I have inherited, and how I can continue to allow the culture, experiences, and perspectives of others to be used to transform me and open me up to others.

Today would be a good day to visit the Eiffel Tower

There are few buildings in the world more instantly recognisable, more iconic, than La tour Eiffel.

Day closer

It doesn’t matter if it is summer or winter, day or night, twilight or sunset, it’s a beautiful place to visit.


Seeing it on the horizon instantly reminds you that you are in Paris, with all the emotions and possibilities that city’s name conjures up.

Night distance twinkle

It is the most visited tourist attraction in the world.


And yet it was originally intended to be only a temporary structure after its design was criticised as a blight on the city’s skyline.

Night distance

It remains – 126 years later – as a testimony to the fact that we cannot always imagine what something will be until it is fully realised and appreciated over time.

View city

What do I love about the Eiffel Tower?

The views.

View Montparnasse

Oh, the views.

Night distance Louvre

The views of it …

Day distance Seine

… the views from it,

View Invalides 2

… the views through it,

View through close up

… and the views within it.

Night close up 2

The Eiffel Tower gives the opportunity to see Paris from so many different perspectives.

View Seine 3

To look down and watch the world go by.

View Seine night

To look around and see the other architectural delights of this incredible city.

View Arch

To look across and imagine the hidden treasures waiting to be discovered in neighbourhoods on the horizon.

View Montmarte

What have I learned from the Eiffel Tower?

The tower, built for a World Fair, is named after its designer and so it reminds me of the limitless possibilities of human ingenuity and creativity.

Night closer

But at 324 metres, the Eiffel Tower is nowhere near the tallest structure in the world today, yet it continues to be the most visited. And so it reminds me that you don’t have to look like the biggest or the brightest to capture the world’s imagination.

Day close up 2

This structure has also witnessed history. For four years a Nazi flag flew at its top as the city was under occupation. Apparently Hitler ordered the tower to be destroyed in August 1944 but the order was defied and the French Tricolore raised again on August 25.


Most of all, trying to capture this iconic structure in photographs is an exercise in looking at the same thing from different perspectives.

Night close up

Depending on the time of day (or year), where you are standing, and how you choose to tilt you head, it can look so recognisable and yet ever so slightly unique.


Today it challenges me once again to consider how a small change in my perspective can help me to see things in a completely new way.

Day close up

And perhaps you too might be surprised by the beauty and imagination you can find when you look at even the most familiar things from a new angle.

Sunset 2

Seeing things from a new perspective (or, today would be a good day to be in Cappadocia)



I have a just a few (thousand!) digital photos from my travels 🙂 But the one above is what I have as a background on my iPad. I love the photo itself, but I also love what it reminds me of. The day that I had the privilege of hot-air ballooning across the surreal landscape of Cappadocia.


This remote part of Turkey has a fascinating, alien-like landscape that is an amazing sight to behold in and of itself. What made it even more intriguing was seeing it from a new perspective as we floated above (and even between) it.


In some ways it is nothing out of the ordinary, just rocks and sky, dirt and trees. But we spent a tranquil couple of hours in the air, just wondering and marveling at the earth below us.


Watching the sunrise and the shadows play. Listening to the stillness and contemplating the world in all its varied splendour.


It was a beautiful exercise in seeing things from a different perspective and these photos remind me that that is not a bad metaphor to take into other areas of life.


With photography, some of the most beautiful and memorable images from around the world have happened when someone took their camera and looked at things from a slightly different angle, gaining a new perspective on what is seen.


Some of the best inventions and innovations in the world have come about when someone dared to look at an age-old problem from a new perspective.


I think seeing with a different perspective is a helpful picture of what study is all about. I love the insights I gain when I take something I know a little about, and ask new questions, or bring new perspectives to bear on it, and suddenly more that was previously unknown is revealed.


I hope that in my vocation, as I teach and preach, that I am able to help others look at things with a new perspective. I teach the Bible, which doesn’t change. But we can always look at it and listen to it in new ways, and God speaks amazing truth when we have our perspective shifted, even if only ever so slightly.


And in the end, I think is a pretty good picture for what my faith in Jesus means to me. I spoke at a youth group Q and A night on Friday, and one of the questions was “What difference does being a Christian make to your every day life?” My answer was that it completely changes not only the way I see the world, but the very way that I understand what it is to be in the world, and therefore the way that I am in the world.


I have a new perspective on who I am, and how valuable people are, and what the purpose of life is, and what the goal of history is, and how I want to live all of that out. I have been transformed and I want to be a part of seeing the world transformed.


Today, like every day, is a good day to stop and look at the world around from a new perspective.