Death-affirming culture


During lunch time at my first job (Child Welfare Bureau at Indian Town Gap, PA), we threw a football, my first.

That was supposed to be my induction into the Penn State culture the following Fall.

Here in Vietnam, at lunch time, I walk by a casket store. As equally shocking for foreigners as my first introduction to the football back then.

One culture fights every inch toward touchdown (winning is the only thing) while  the other prepared to accept human fate.

In the country side people even pre-purchase caskets to be stored  in the house like furniture, very much like Pre-paid Legal in the US (just in case).

I know this barely scratches the surface of a culture, because cosmetic-surgery is on the rise here (death denying), as modernity starts to eclipse Vietnam’s tradition( age = respect). In addition to this, people also fight for every centimeter in the street and  on the side-walk. There lies the paradox of  resigning to fate and fighting for the future. No offense, but I happened to read an USA Today Blog this morning, describing the author’s arrival to Ho Chi Minh City, and checking in to the Hyatt downtown.  She promised more adventure in Vietnam, but her first installment did not entice me . Too insulated (we checked in, traffic in all directions – has she watched the time-lapse video of traffic here before coming).

I might have noticed the same thing from that vantage point on my first trip (having lunched with a Hyatt’s Boardman out in the terrace), but now that I decide to zoom in, to satisfy my cultural curiosity .

Death is big business here: casket, candle and cremation.

(The other night, I saw a traffic accident  which confirmed this observation besides huge percentage of  male smokers). Most families have ancestor’s photos on the altar (my parents used to have theirs on the altar and now I have my parents’ on mine).

Insurance companies are prospering here. It’s interesting to see the objections people raise when buying life insurance.

Will it cover my casket?

Enough for cremation or a plot of land near the border of Cambodia?

How do my kids prove that I was dead by accident?

At lunch, I also saw a baby napping on a hammock near the casket store.

Life flows continuously here, just like anywhere else.

Except that, at lunch time, I can hardly find anyone to throw a football with. Back then, the sight of co-workers opted for sweats over siesta was a culture shock to me. Just as scooter traffic must be to the USA Today blogger.

Welcome to Vietnam. Cross the street safely. And write something worthy of your stay and your Gold-Card Reward!

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