Daniel in Japaniel

Two Weddings and some Temples

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Right now cj, Stewart and I are cooling off on the third floor of the Anh Phuong hotel somewhere on an island in the Mekong Delta. Maybe a few days ago, on one of the marathon bus rides, I realized I’d be shit to find my way back to Ho Chi Minh city at this point.

Although internet has reached to even the poorest of areas we’ve visited (kids playing Everquest in tin roof cafes), it’s been a little tough finding a few moments to collect these past few days.

Alright, enough with the pomp and fluff, in CaMau (where I posted about the Best CM Hotel) we took one of the buses as south as we could. At a bend in the road we all got out to board two canoes. The (now) thirty plus of us took these boats to the temple grandmother built.

As we approached, our aunties would explain the wonders grandmother brought to her village. What would take the afternoon to realize was that bringing life into this world was not enough for her. Grandmother’s testament would be the love and life she filled and continues to bring to everyone she met. My only clear memory of her would be her nicknaming each of the brothers while teaching us sitting meditation late one night in the basement of the Wolfe house. Here though, to drop her birth-name or Buddha-name  is to talk about a celebrity.

We went under bridges (stone, brick, metal, wood) that she built, while hearing about the vegetables she’d dive for to cook and share with the disabled children in her youth. Then finally, the bright yellows, whites and reds of her temple showed itself.

Mud seemed to be everywhere, yet there were more monks here than at most of the monasteries I’ve been visiting. They tromped ahead leading us in there stained orange robes. Wasting no time, we moved to the back to Grandmother’s alter. Prostrating ourselves behind our three aunts, cj, Stewart, Andrew and I kneeled patiently making meaning out of the Vietnamese chanting. Then we moved back on the canoes to place her ashes at the family graveyard. My grandfather’s younger brother, told us there was a tiger in the area that has been eating their ducks. We jokingly asked how many humans. He responded with one. Apparently there use to be 8 tigers in the area. Our gravesite use to be in the thick of jungle. Now we walked down the clear path our grandmother also made possible.

After the final rites were performed, we met again at temple for a gigantic vegan meal (cj appreciated immensely). I offered a gift of chopsticks and the baby Bodhi tree found outside our first hotel, and in response the head abbott offered his temple to us for dinner where he’d give me a set of robes for zazen.

Before then we stopped by our cousin’s home just up river. Things were being prepared for the next day’s wedding. I wouldn’t get to really explore the house until the next day. Right when we got there, Mup (that’s how it is pronouced at least) my 23 year old cousin, pulls out a moped and hands me a helmet. Though he speaks a handful of English phrases, he only gestured up the road, somewhere past the bridge (I couldn’t see). Knowing Mup as immensely chill, I hopped on.

“Everyone look at you” he said back to me. “Wai-Kyuu?” I replied. He laughed and I assumed he knew I was trying to say “returning whitey” our derogatory title.

It only took about 15 minutes until we came upon a Cao Dai temple. The same religion I am studying for ABS in exchange for this trip. For better, the Viet-gossip-train got to Mup and he took me there.

The otherwise beautifully painted temple was virtually empty. There was a service led by an 8 year old orphan, while his 11 year old superior in white robes bowed before the Great Eye (Cao Dai), an emblem surrounded by Amida Buddha, Moses, Confuscius, Jesus, Maitreya and historic Vietnamese leaders.

Mup acted as my translator. But for the most part I pointed at Vietnamese names I had highlighted from my Cao Dai packet. Reactions varried. While I stomached some questionable fruits and tea, the most emmaciated people I have ever met asked me for a donation, gesturing the lights. They had no power. I donated 160,000 Viet-dong (equivalent of 10 dollars) and felt guilty for not giving more. What seemed like unappreciation, was actually (as my Aunt Kim would explain) incomprehension. The standard earning in a city like Ho Chi Minh would be 100 US dollars a month. A typical villager in CaMau might see 10 US dollars in bartered goods and earnings from their street/river side shop. A temple in these parts, less than a dollar. They framed a receipt of my donation by the pictures of Jesus and Moses.

As Mup and I left we gave coins to the orphans of the temple, and made our way back to his house where some of us took the bus back to Best CM Hotel. After receiving robes from the high abbott and turning in for the night, cj joked “wait you’re cannonized in some temple and you’ve been ordained by a priest?”

The next day we returned to Mup’s house for his sister (our cousin’s) wedding reception.

Most of the party was spent wandering around talking to the beautifully elderly relatives, trying to tell them this in the little Vietnamese I know. “Come dup plum?” I say, as my grandfather walks by laughing and smacks my back.

Hugging my cousin couldn’t be topped though. I met her when I landed in Ho Chi Minh, and she has only been full of love for all of us since then. In spite of the arranged marriage, she still made it her day. She joked, as her husband walked around looking for a lighter, “He smoke, he die, I get a new husband”. When she hugged me though, you could feel that bottomless well of love that seems to be present in grandmother’s children.

That and the belly full of moonshine only abated my uncomfortabilty for the first three hours of the eight hour bus ride to the Mekong river.

There is no need to rehash the pain that was that trip. It’s enough to say it was pain.

Once we made it over the ferry, the aunts told us that we are not allowed to travel alone in this area. Currently we are near the Cambodian border, so they are terrified we’ll become another hostage US citizen to the Cambodians.

Fear of Vietnam seems to be the returning theme when talking to my mother or her sisters. Since getting to this area, we haven’t had a full meal. cj jokes that that’s why people ordain at temple, the vegan alternative is better than bird flu etc.

We turned in to this hotel. Although it sits on the river, Anh Phuong is no bayside resort. The lizards that cover the wall like 80s wall paper are more accomodating than the hotel staff. Apparently we lucked out on the room. Most of the rest of the family isn’t getting water or sleep. Anything is better, cj reminds me, than the bus ride. It’s funny to note that though the risk of malaria and bird flu is present, it’s the things like riding buses that get to u. Not that I am complaining or anything.

This morning was a fantastic dsiplay of Wolfe-boy love. After watching our ex-carsalesman, waiter in Maui Uncle of 46 years old marry the 26 year old daughter of the island’s tiling company family, our Uncle (Van), popped a few bottles of Greygoose and pulled out a case of red bull for our 9 AM wake up call.

A dream come true.

“You guys are the life of party” Van said, as we filled up on goosejuice and Heineken. Armed with Karaoke mics, the brothers sang hits like Hey Jude, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, YMCA, Something… and a few solo acts: Gangsta’s Paradise – Stewart.

Eventually the 200 guests left the party. We did around 2 after only 6 hours of drinking and singing.

One thing of note… before I finish up. Everytime I went to use the restroom, my mother would sit me down and lecture me about Black Voodoo. Among many things she fears in Vietnam, Vietnamese Women rank number one. And because I was talking to one, she had to tell me the truth. Women practice Black Voodoo here. They touch you and you can’t control yourself. At any rate, I’ve cast it off as rationalized sexism on the culture’s part, as some of the legends go “sometime men wake up, and find no money in their wallet!”

Auntie Kim assured me she is clean, however, saying “she twenty-eight! If she practice Black Voodoo she be married by now” This legitimizes a Mup, Black Voodoo, Wolfe hang out in Ho Chi Minh.

I can only hope I find a contorted position comfortable enough to doze off for 45 minutes on tomorrow’s ride.


Written by Daniel

November 1, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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