At 4:30 am we were wakened by what sounded like two old aluminium garbage can lids being banged together. Up and down the lanes, the tinny, rhythmic beating, ebbed and flowed. Unable to sleep we showered and dressed and were about to sit down for breakfast when, military like music echoed down the lane and into our garden.
"It is for dead people", said our hostess Le. We rushed for the camera and strode to the corner, where a crowd of neighbours was gathering for the funeral procession. Apparently, the drumming at 4:30 was to awaken the neighbours and invite them to the funeral.
We had front row seats to this moving rite. We had seen the banners flying at the gate of a nearby house over the last couple of days where the deceased had been lying in his coffin. On this day three, the coffin would be paraded ceremonially through the neighbourhood so that everyone could "say good bye". The family and mourners would then continue to the graveyard.
We have learned that the military music was not symbolic of a military career, it was simply that the family could affrod a band and "Vietnamese like this kind of music".
Pictured above are the son of the deceased carrying his picture, followed by the mother and wife.
The brilliantly clad and menacingly made up character was described to us as the ":sargeant" of the cortege and his job was not only to direct traffic, give orders for the pall bearers to take a break etc. but symbolically he also was an ominous precense to scare away the restless spirits and ensure a safe and peaceful journey to heaven for the deceased's soul.
The Buddhist shrine on a bicycle cart, a Monk and burning incence are added for good measure.
When I saw these two men in the procession, each with a single fragrant tuberose on their motor bikes I was struck once again by the contrasts in this culture which clings to ancient tradition, while riding the crest of rapid development.