In Vietnam, it is customary for grieving families to bring offerings like fake money, cognac and boiled chicken to the graves of their recently departed loved ones but Lac Hong Vien Cemetery puts a new twist on the old tradition: the ability to order these things online and have cemetery workers place the offerings for you.
They then email photos showing the task was done.“The best thing would be for our children to visit our graves,” said a 53 year old woman named Bui Mai Phuong, in a recent AP article. “But if they’re too busy, we have to accept that.”
Lac Hong Vien Cemetery is 30 miles west of the capitol, Hanoi, at the end of a road called Highway to Eternity. The cemetery is to have 120,000 graves, though now just 30 people are buried there. It is not cheap, burial land goes for about 8 million dong, or $400, per square meter, according to the AP article, nearly four times the going housing property rates in nearby towns. Then you must by the tombstone, which can cost as much as $48,000.
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It is a very new way to bury people in a country that has some interesting traditional funerary rites. In the bygone times of Confucius, the eminent 6th century Chinese scholar, mourning the dead was actually considered more important than the affairs of the living. Even today, the mourning period for a parent is meant to be two to three years, and often begins before the death has occurred. When someone is on their death bed the entire family will assemble around. Everyone is quiet and the eldest son or daughter bends close to record the last words. They then suggest a name for the dying person, as it is considered unfortunate to use the same name in death as in life. Men often take the name Trung, which means faithfulness or True, which means loyalty. Women frequently go by Trinh, which means devotion or Thuan, which means harmony.
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In a ceremonial cleansing, the corpse is bathed to wash off the dust of the terrestrial world, the hair is combed and the nails are clipped. Money, gold, and rice are put in the mouth of the dead to show they’ve departed this world without want or hunger. The body is then wrapped in white cloth and put in a coffin. Family members watch the body around the clock until a propitious burial time has been selected. Mourners wear loose-fitting garments made of crepe with a seam in the middle of the back. All must cover their heads. A public official is supposed to retire their position for the set mourning time and stay at home to build a tomb for their loved one and conduct memorial ceremonies. Mourners are not allowed to marry or comb or cut their hair.
Sometimes children don’t initially accept a parent’s death. In an effort to revive the body, they’ll place a chopstick between the teeth of the deceased and put the body on a mat on the floor. The eldest child may take one of the deceased’s shirts and waves it in the air, calling upon their soul to return to the body.
On one website, a Vietnamese man shared the story of his uncle, who died of liver cancer. Initially it sounded similar to what happens in the West. There is a funeral and a grieving period that lasts several days in which families bring flowers to the grave and burn incense and say prayers. Only with a Vietnamese funeral, the process continues: “Then, for the next 49 days, the family held a memorial service every seven days…The next gathering occurred 51 days later, on the 100th day after death…and finally a whole year later.”
But a man named Da, who I was directed to at the Vietnamese Consulate, in New York City, said such practices did not exist any longer. “Maybe in mountainous areas,” he said.
Da did, however, describe the funerary traditions his own family still followed:
“A relative would go to the grave and make sure the grave is still in good shape. If not, they fix it, then bring something to burn, bring some fruits, some incense, bring some dishes with food. You often bring the food that the dead loved when he was still alive. Then they bring them home, they will use those foods. A year after the relative has died the family will return to the grave.”
Have any stories about going to Vietnamese funerals? Leave a comment below..