Monday, January 26, 2009

Tet Scenes from the 'Hood

Do you see what these two men are doing? The one on the left set fire to a stack of US $100 (fake) bills and is lighting a cigarette for the man on the right with them. Are you offended?

Don't be. Look at this next picture: it is Candle Neighbor's sister (not as warm and friendly as CN) burning all kinds of money - US bills, a stack of bills with a picture of what looks a lot like Shakespeare - along with many other paper representations of items such as houses and jewelry. In both scenes ancestors are being honored. Anything they burn today - and there are little fires burning all over Viet Nam right now - is traveling to the ancestors' world so that they can have money and houses and jewelry with them.

The men having the beer - well, I assume they are having a beer with their ancestors. When I passed, they raised their glasses to me and asked me to join them (they always do this to K, T and me). When I saw them burning the US dollars, I said (in poor Vietnamese) "Hey, that's my money!" They all laughed and put on the show for me with the cigarette.
All over the neighborhood, flags are out, altars are set with food, fruit and flowers and fires are burning close by. Here is Sweet Seamstress, Ms. Hao, posing by her should see how clean her shop is, and this is the first day that she has been free of her sewing machine since we met her in August. Everything is clean. People are still sweeping and hosing things down and putting last minute touches of paint on their homes.

At about noon, I heard a loud drumming outside, so I ran outside with my camera. This group of kids were beating a drum, running into houses with lists, writing th
ings down, and doing something else which took a full minute. Later, I played the video for Thuy and Thanh and they told me that they were collecting money for Tet and keeping track of who gave it to them. Again...Halloween mixed with Santa? Groups of happy kids followed, like these two:

Saturday night we did end up going for a stroll down the sculpted ten blocks of flowers and gardens in the middle of downtown, but as you can see from the photo, it was a sea of people and we quickly escaped to the outer regions.
Sunday night K and I joined the rest of the neighborhood on the rooftops to watch the downtown fireworks at midnight. Again, it was so intimate. Families to the left and right and across were lighting incense, bowing to ancestors and lighting paper replicas on fire as the display went on overhead.
I had a feeling I would be glad that I stayed for the neighborhood celebrations, and I really am. I love the concept of this holiday. and want to bring it home with me.
But I think I need you to be in on this one with me. Are you?


Amy T said...

Christmas and Halloween? More like Hanukkah and Halloween, no?

I love the honoring concept. I sent my mother Marj's Tet piece to my mother and she immediately made her altar. I'm inspired, Marjii, I'm off to make my own.

Mungo said...

Just think of the global warming they are causing.