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Sunday, 6 May 2012

Funeral preparations. Tan Dinh, Saigon: Vietnam memories 1965 1975


Funeral preparations. Tan Dinh, Saigon

Those of the family who were in Saigon were present the evening the old man died; one held a stop watch to note the exact time of death, which was about eight thirty in the evening. I believe this was to calculate the time the internment would take place. The end was peaceful. He was not old really; 65 years. In Vietnam though, life was hard and anyone who attained the age of sixty became honoured as an elder.

The body was taken back to the house by car. The family would then set about the necessary funeral arrangements. The wreaths would arrive. These were large devices made, I think, of plastic beads. In the old days some more precious bead must have been used. These would be kept by the family through the official period of mourning. Quite expensive they would then be returned to the makers in exchange for cash. This appeared to be a discreet and indirect way of giving the bereaved (widow?) a sum of money. The doorway to the house would be surrounded by embroidered black cloth. I would wear a black armband and tie throughout this period.

The Buddhist priests would arrive and set up a continuous chanting accompanied by gongs and the burning of incense.

As he had been a member of the landed upper class in his youth, indeed had been a hunting companion of the Emperor Bao Dai, there were some visitors of note. Not as many as might be expected as the years and wars had taken their toll. Not to mention the political intrigues, coup d'états etc.

I forget exactly how long this went on, perhaps three days, perhaps less, after forty years it is difficult to remember. In any case time didn't count. Ordinary life for the family came to a halt.

And then in a final ceremony the body was washed, prepared for the coffin and finally laid inside it. All the familly, children included, were present. The toddlers and youngest were well behaved, showed the correct emotions but were otherwise unperturbed by it all.
Perhaps entranced by all the ceremony.

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