Darling Man is so laid back and easy-going I often forget about our different backgrounds. Until he tells me we’re due to go to a death anniversary party on the weekend.
The concept of putting “party” and “death” together seems strange to me, with my Western notion of sombre funerals. But that’s what happens here in Vietnam.
People hold a party on the anniversary of a loved one’s death. The last death anniversary party I went to was a riot, culminating in a drunk uncle (and former fighter pilot) telling me I was “smarter than an American” - one of the best compliments I’ve ever received!
So I headed off to my latest death anniversary party thinking I was an old hand at this cross-cultural death anniversary thing.
I’d checked with Darling Man that it was OK to wear black. I showed him my clothes the night before and he’d given it a casual shruggy kind of approval.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover, an hour into our two-hour taxi ride to Darling Man’s hometown, that today’s event wasn’t a drunken party but a series of ceremonies at home and at the local temple.
I was wearing a sleeveless shirt – a Darling Man-approved sleeveless shirt – on my way to a temple, where you are supposed to have your shoulders covered.
Going home to change would have been a two-hour detour and I can’t buy clothes in Vietnam because I am normal-sized and everyone else is absurdly birdly small.
As I had a mini-freak out in the taxi, Darling Man was his usual laid-back self.
“It’s OK,” he said. “You’re a foreigner. It doesn’t matter.”
Darling Man’s mother had different ideas. She found me a grey nun’s shirt to wear to the temple.
Of course, the shirt was too small. Not surprising considering I’m twice the size of a Vietnamese person.
My mother-in-law told to keep my arm like this all day to cover the under-the-arm clips that wouldn’t do up.
Then a real nun found a pin and a brother-in-law tried to help me with the shirt, forgetting that one of the obstacles he was dealing with was actually a boob.
My face was red because I was hot wearing two shirts. I think his face went red because he was embarrassed. But I’m not entirely sure. He disappeared around the corner rather quickly after I pointed out what he was doing.
At least I wasn’t the only one that found it funny.
Once the proceedings got underway, I had to suffer the two shirts in the sticky Asian heat in silence. Because everyone else was praying.
Which brings me to the erk moment.
Miss M was praying too.
Darling Man and I have discussed religion before and the fact that we were brought up in different faiths. We decided in a very laidback way that Miss M could choose her own religion when and if she felt like it.
I’m not religious – my parents fell out of the habit of going to church when I was 10. Darling Man is not very religious, although he identifies himself as Buddhist and his father is quite devout.
But when we set off for a death anniversary party at 6am that morning, I never expected that within a few hours I’d see my two-year-old daughter, dressed in a tiny nun’s outfit, kneeling and praying.
As I do at most family events in Vietnam, I stood awkwardly in the corner. But this time I felt odder than usual. I wasn’t even sure who everyone was praying to. My dead grandfather-in-law? Buddha?
I have nothing against Buddhism but I hadn’t expected the issue of religion to crop up until the teenage rebellion years.
I felt uneasy, even though it all seemed harmless. And she looked so incredibly cute.
Thank goodness there was food involved, too. Otherwise I would have been really stuck for a title for this post.
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273 days ago