Visibility and the Exploding Growth of Vietnam’s Queer Spaces

By: John Mark Harrell

Vietnam’s lô tô troupes are one of the first safe spaces for the trans community.

A growing number of venues and grassroots organizations are creating new safe spaces for Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ community.

Vietnam’s LGBTQI+ community, like others around the world, has gradually stepped into the light and become increasingly visible and accepted, largely thanks to increased media representation that has spread awareness and helped normalise gender fluidity and non-heterosexual relationships. While there is much work to be done, safe spaces for queer individuals to gather and seek support have been growing and flourishing in the country’s major urban centers, and even in the countryside thanks to the decades-long existence of Vietnam’s well-known lô tô troupes.

Lô Tô: A Safe Haven for Vietnam’s Trans Community

Many LGBTQI+ individuals hide their sexuality or true gender identity from their families, but for many in the transgender community (particularly for those who choose to transition), this luxury may not always be afforded to them. While transgender people are increasingly visible in positive media representation and pop culture, the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations, in collaboration with Hanoi University of Public Health, has found transgender discrimination to be rampant, with over 60% of transgender people in Vietnam having attempted suicide at some point in their lifetimes. 

“Part of the problem is the limited way of thinking in the heterosexual community,” says Phong, a Hanoi-based performer. “Claiming that everyone has to live according to the gender assigned at birth.”

While transgender women experience the misogyny, abuse, and erasure that is devastatingly common throughout the world, transgender men (and more broadly, anyone assigned female at birth or AFAB) currently have very little access to sexual health resources. Fortunately there are growing grassroots movements, like FTM Vietnam, who are working to organize events like Trans Dot and spread awareness of issues specific to this underserved queer community. In addition, a recent initiative by ICS to provide quality sexual health education to students across Vietnam has concentrated a majority of its resources on the AFAB community.

Vietnam's LGBTQI+ CommunityImage source: facebook.com/transdotvn

Beyond basic sexual health, professional medical help is another scarcity in the limited pool of resources for the local trans community. Few doctors in Vietnam are qualified or knowledgeable about gender confirmation surgeries or hormone therapy, leading many trans people to buy their hormones on the black market and inject them without knowing the appropriate dosage for their body type. Those who are fortunate enough to have support networks and sufficient resources travel to Thailand for their medical procedures—but if any complications arise after returning home, transgender people may find it next to impossible to find treatment even in major cities like Hanoi and Saigon.

Transgender people in southern Vietnam have historically banded together and formed their own communities as a survival mechanism. In the early 1980s, coupled with the rising popularity of Bingo which had been imported by the French during the colonial era, the nomadic lô tô“ troupes first appeared, comprised of mostly transgender drag queens who travelled from town to town, throwing carnivals and Bingo games for local communities until their licenses to operate expired, or they could no longer attract enough customers, or they were forced out by the local community. 

Though once merely regarded as a sort of “freak show,” this tradition has become a weekly staple at Rubik Zoo in Saigon performed by a local troupe of performers called Sài Gòn Tân Thời. Lô tô itself has transformed from a local novelty into a part of the country’s unique cultural heritage and, gradually, a positive representation for transgender people. Sài Gòn Tân Thời have recently been featured at a performance arts festival in Taipei, Taiwan, and have even had a go at investors on an episode of the Vietnamese version of Shark Tank

Vietnam's LGBTQI+ CommunityImage source: phunuvietnam.mediacdn.vn

For many transgender people in Vietnam, working as entertainers or in lô tô troupes is the only means to survival, as their legal gender doesn’t match their true identity or appearance, leading to difficulty applying for other kinds of jobs or integrating with society in ways cisgender people take for granted. Though change is inevitably on the horizon, it is only recently that transgender people have begun to be heard and seen beyond their capacity to entertain.

Safe Spaces for Queer Folks

ICS is a nonprofit organization that works throughout Vietnam to advocate for LGBTQI+ rights, educate local communities, and help organize local Pride events. Originally comprised of volunteers who met on internet forums, they eventually become organized and officially registered as a company in 2011. In 2012, they organized Vietnam’s first ever Pride celebration in Hanoi, and have since expanded to cities and towns all throughout the country.

Vietnam's LGBTQI+ CommunityImage source: facebook.com/hanoipride.vn

The Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (iSEE) is another local advocacy group that also works more broadly for gender justice and protection of ethnic minority groups and has been advocating for social justice since before ICS was founded. The Center for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender, Family, Women and Adolescents (CSAGA) has been around since 2001 and works more broadly for women’s and girls’ rights throughout Vietnam. In addition to these more established organizations, an increasing number of smaller grassroots organizations have grown to address the needs of smaller and underserved queer communities or needs and concerns specific to certain demographic regions, like NYNA and NYNO, Unigen, Hanoi Queer, Saigon Queer, and Bau Troi Xanh

Vietnam's LGBTQI+ CommunityImage source: facebook.com/hanoipride.vn

Thanks to these grassroots organizations working in their local communities, the word is spreading and public perception is gradually shifting.

“[Public perception] has improved quite a lot; those within the younger generation don’t discriminate at all and those from the older generation are softening up,” says Long, a transgender dancer and drag performer based in Saigon. “Parents of those within the community are starting to accept how their kids identify themselves and understanding that it’s natural and normal.”

In addition to advocacy groups, a growing number of queer-specific parties and events have skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years, giving the increasingly visible LGBTQI+ community opportunities to express themselves, make new friends and connections, and simply have fun. 

Vietnam's LGBTQI+ CommunityImage source: facebook.com/hanoipride.vn

GenderFunk is a collective of queer artists and performers who have been organizing some of Saigon’s biggest queer events since summer of 2018. Their Saigon is Burning series, which has expanded to include Hanoi is Burning (as well as a GenderFunk-inspired “Is Burning” event in Grenoble, France), is a drag competition inspired in part by the original New York City ballroom scene which is the subject of the groundbreaking 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. 

GenderFunk aims to promote queer art, create safe queer spaces and, in the words of founder Ricardo Glencasa, “to explore and express your gender, however the f*** you want!” GenderFunk has also organised several gender and sexuality workshops for universities in Saigon and worked with ICS through charity fundraising events to finance close to 100 million VND for initiatives for leadership training and inclusive sexual education in schools throughout Vietnam.

Vietnam's LGBTQI+ CommunityImage source: facebook.com/GenderFunk

Before there was GenderFunk, there was Full Disclosure, which pioneered the first inclusive drag night for both locals and expats in Saigon. Full Disclosure, founded by Gavin Sealy (also known as drag queen Joy Oi), started in 2017 and still organises events featuring local and international talent in a laid back environment where attendees can simply be themselves and have fun. 

Full Disclosure has also worked closely with the Tipsy Unicorn, one of the newest additions to Saigon’s gay bars, to put on weekly events and create safe spaces for the LGBTQI+ community in Saigon, ranging from trivia nights to weekly Rupaul’s Drag Race viewing parties. In addition to bringing the local community together for more informal gatherings, these events consistently provide a platform for the city’s newest drag performers to experiment and gain valuable experience.

In addition to these newer queer spaces, many existing performance troupes and drag shows have existed for the local community over the past decade or so, including the legendary JS Band, a group of fashionable transgender drag queens who perform regularly at venues around town (as well as GenderFunk & Full Disclosure) founded by activitist and mentor Jessica Ca in 2012. Bang Trinh team is another blend of trans and cis drag queens who frequently perform at local clubs and venues and spread awareness of LGBTQI+ issues in Vietnam—not only entertaining their audiences, but educating them as well.

Vietnam's LGBTQI+ CommunityImage source: kenh14.vn

Ongoing club nights in Saigon like Republic and more upscale events at Skyxx are long-established venues for local and international drag performers, though they cater to high end crowds looking for a nightclub atmosphere. And perhaps one of the most popular unofficial-but-everyone-knows-it queer spaces is at Thi Bar on De Tham street in Bui Vien, which is consistently packed on the weekends and a favourite gathering place for local Vietnamese gay men.

Further to the north, Hanoi’s queer scene is expanding and manifesting itself in new ways that many in the local community never thought they would see.

“We have drag in Hanoi, which is crazy,” says Phong. “And it’s been nothing but support from everyone. Hanoi Pride caused lots of attention, good and bad but hey...that’s progress!”

Local queer collectives Peach and Wet organise numerous drag performance events and queer parties at venues all over Hanoi. One of Peach’s highlight events, “Singalong Social,” features a unique format where drag queens lead the audience in singing along to some of their favourite tunes. They also put on regular performance events and have recently hosted their own drag competition show for Hanoi Pride called Queen of Hanoi. 

Peach has worked closely with GenderFunk in Saigon to co-organize events in both Saigon and Hanoi in the past year, and an exciting blend of Vietnam’s diverse cultural communities in the North and South, as well as the mixture of international visitors and expats, has created a unique new kind of queer community in the country that expands beyond borders to a movement that is gradually having an international impact.

Beyond clubs, bars, and drag shows, there are a growing number of safe spaces for queer folks together in Saigon and Hanoi, like iSEE’s multi-functional meeting space, Gõ LGBT Shop, and the ICS Hub Cafe. Hanoi Queer recently organized Queer History Month in conjunction with Hanoi Pride in September 2019, with a stated goal of “communicating the presence of the LGBTQ community and contribute to the celebration of diversity as part of the larger goal of pushing for the society’s recognition of LGBTQ people.” The Hanoi International Queer Film Week hosts queer film events in a major festival once a year and smaller recurring events throughout the year. 

Vietnam's LGBTQI+ CommunityImage source: facebook.com/VietnamQueerHistoryMonth

As more and more members of the community raise their voices and make themselves heard, the demand for queer spaces and queer gathering places has increased dramatically in the last decade. There are now more safe spaces and grassroots organizations than ever before in Vietnam’s history, though for now they are mostly concentrated in major urban centres like Saigon and Hanoi. 

Here and around the world, there is certainly much to be done in the struggle for equality, but in Vietnam there is a palpable sense of hope in the local LGBTQI+ community. A hope that inclusivity and acceptance of “alternative” gender identity and sexuality will soon become the norm, rather than the exception.

Banner Image source: starsinsider.com


Mobile Usage Changes Traveler Behavior – Placeable Research

By: Emilio Piriz

By Emilio Piriz

The rapid move to mobile research and bookings means travelers require easier ways to access content. In 2014, approximately 40% of leisure travelers and 35% of business travelers will use mobile search engines to find hotels, and this number will only grow, with 72% of travelers worldwide saying that the ability to book via mobile device is useful.

Gone are the days when travel guides were the go-to resource that adventurers would carry in their backpacks before embarking on any trip. Printed maps have given way to their digital version through the use of a smartphone or tablet to search for shops, restaurants and tours once travelers reach their destination. Therefore, main travel brands need to adapt to this change in behavior if they aspire to capture the business of vacationing spenders and don’t ‘miss’ their flight.

Placeable, a company that loves location data and uses it to help brands power their local market, has recently conducted a survey where they surveyed 1,000 consumers to find out about how they research and find businesses before and during their travels.

The following are the research’s key findings:

  • Discovery: Search engines are undoubtedly the number one tool for travelers – more than four in five consumers use them for research when planning a vacation.
  • Proximity: A nearby location wins over well-established brands for many types of purchases on vacation
  • Mobile: Travelers do much of their online research once they reach their destinations.
  • Loyalty: Consumers aren’t loyal to a particular brand if they find a better offer or have trouble finding a certain location.
  • Trust: Difficulty finding a store or restaurant location when travelling negatively affects consumers’ impression of a brand even once they return home.

Check this infographic for additional figures that support the above findings:
Mobile Usage Changes Traveler Behavior – Placeable Research

 

Mobile Usage Changes Traveler Behavior – Placeable Research
 
Mobile Usage Changes Traveler Behavior – Placeable Research
 
Mobile Usage Changes Traveler Behavior – Placeable Research
 
Mobile Usage Changes Traveler Behavior – Placeable Research
 
Mobile Usage Changes Traveler Behavior – Placeable Research

You can download the full report here.

Now over to you: Do you think these behavioral patterns are present among visitors in Vietnam? How profoundly will mobile usage reshape the Travel industry and travelers’ experiences?


Nui Tuong Project

By: Zornitza Natcheva

Create sustainable change in a safe and supportive environment.

The importance of community.

Everyone is welcome to visit!

Global support towards an inspiring cause..

A remarkable story about a small rural Vietnamese community and its heartwarming transformation.

Nui Tuong is one of the poorest communities in the Dong Nai province where the main source of living is farming. Unlike some other provinces in Vietnam, Dong Nai has limited resources and English is not taught at primary school level. The Nui Tuong Project began in May 2016 when Hang Le returned back to her place of birth. 

Nui Tuong

Hang was born into a family of accomplished farmers. Having graduated with an English degree, life took Hang to the city where she spent years in Saigon working on a variety of projects and teaching Vietnamese to foreigners. Over time, Hang found her life to be unfulfilling and empty. She was always drawn to her roots and wanted to find a way to give back to her people. Upon returning to Nui Tuong, Hang immediately saw that little had changed for most families in her community since her childhood years. The severe poverty weighed on the community, they had low self-esteem and small hopes for a better future.

Finding Opportunity in the Darkest of Places...

With a passion to lead her community towards a brighter future, Hang realised the huge potential in sustainable agriculture and eco-tourism, as Nui Tuong is mere walking distance from Cat Tien National Park. Not long after she returned back to her village, the head of the ward asked her to teach the local children English in one of the small community houses available. She accepted enthusiastically and quickly saw how smart and inquisitive children of the community were. Hang recognized that in order to continue their development and create sustainable change, she needed to foster an environment where local children could learn, conduct experiments and share knowledge, in a safe and supportive environment.

Nui Tuong

With her own money, Hang founded Nui Tuong Project which is now a social enterprise. It presently sits on a 2000 square metre plot of land, nestled along Dong Nai River and has grown to have four large wooden bungalows for accommodation, additional dormitory for volunteers, a spacious and open dining and kitchen area and a library where children gather for their lessons and study activities. Nui Tuong project is unique as it blends agriculture, eco-tourism and education in a creative and innovative way and Hang strives to expand each area to its full potential. 

Cultivating Community...

At present, there is one permanent staff, Ms. Celine – a French national – who plans to remain at Nui Tuong for two years and is in charge of agricultural development. Her expertise and passion lie in permaculture, organic produce and sustainability and she has devoted her time to both managing the farm as well as creating workshops for the children. The long term goal is to have plants, fruits and vegetables all year round and to entrust the farm operations to the local children. Celine and the children learn about how to create small and large scale farms and about the local challenges in their production processes. The children are encouraged to develop solutions, experiment with new and more suitable crops for the climate, make organic fertilizer, teach farmers not to use pesticides and learn about current methods and machinery used in modern farming. 

Nui Tuong

Hang dedicates most of her time to engaging with the parents in the village. She organises music nights and other events to bring the community closer and build trust in her teaching methods. During community nights, Hang encourages the parents to have trust in their children and to allow them the independence to develop new skill sets and build their confidence. She also guides children on how to develop an open communication with their families about their hopes and dreams. 

Hang emphasizes the importance of having practical skills in addition to just good grades in school, which is what most parents usually focus on and what is promoted in traditional education systems. By promoting “learning by doing” Hang aims to strengthen the childrens’ abilities in performing independent research and having a solution driven, proactive mindset.

Nui Tuong Village Welcomes Everyone!

Of course, Nui Tuong Project would have never been possible without the help of international volunteers and visitors, which Hang has been actively engaging with in the last two years. In Nui Tuong village, eco-tourism is suitable to be experienced by anyone who loves nature, especially families that live and work in big cities. As a guest you pay a small fee for accommodation in one of the bungalows and you can use the bicycles from the farm to explore the nearby surroundings as well as tour Cat Tien National Park. One can enjoy the rice fields, the farm, eat and live like locals within the commune, learn about country life and experience its simplicity while feeling part of a big family. 

Nui Tuong

Additionally, the project organises Summer Camps where children from local schools and English centers in Ho Chi Minh City can join local kids on the farm and stay between 1 - 4 weeks. Most of the activities are determined by the volunteers and a typical weekly program includes: playing the guitar, practicing martial arts, and drawing. The program also covers subjects such as English, Science, History and Regional Geography. Children attending the camp are involved in weekly workshops on farming and nutrition, making jam and wine, planting flowers and fruits and even yoga! Children are taught how to run projects, manage finances and how to utilise social media for promotion and marketing. Hang loves to observe and discover the potential of each child through these activities and once she recognises certain talent within each child, she will change their role in order to fit their skills and personality, which in turn gives them the courage to develop in the right direction. Hang shares as her personal motivation for this project...

“To see a positive change in a human, to see them understand and trust themselves more and more every day, to have the opportunity to inspire them to be leaders.”

Global Support Towards an Inspiring Cause...

Schools which have joined in helping the project are Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) and Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP). Students and staff from FPT University in Vietnam visited and prepared dinner for over 100 community members. Even visitors from Hong Kong are making their way to Nui Tuong village, where 30 students from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology built a soccer field for the whole community to enjoy and taught the children experiments about aerodynamics and engineering. Students from National University of Singapore have also visited for two consecutive years to build additional classrooms and facilities and implement solar lights for the amenities on the farm. 

Nui Tuong

Hang feels happy now, even though her life and community responsibilities have become increasingly demanding and complex. She aims to continue to expand and accommodate more children from her community, nurturing and improving each of their native talents and strengths. Hang sees Nui Tuong Project becoming the perfect social enterprise model for anyone to pick up as a valuable case study and implement in their home towns and communities.

Within the next five years, most of the current children will leave to study abroad, the farm will grow to cover five hectares of land and there will be a small factory to produce wine. There will be additional housing for guests and volunteers, as well as housing for lecturers and scientists, with a fully equipped lab for them to conduct experiments. This is how Hang envisions the development of her project, as she believes her efforts will bring continuous change in the local community, for a better living environment and a stronger local economy. 

Now Hang is focused on the actual day to day work with the children, which she considers the most rewarding human experience. Her most substantial need is to bring more awareness to Nui Tuong Project, and to inspire organisations and companies to support with donations and volunteers. 

Nui Tuong

As Nui Tuong Project grows, it will soon need four additional interns and an education coordinator, as well as volunteers in the fields of Technology, English and Farming.

How can you and your organisation support Nui Tuong Project?
Contact Hang Le directly: +84 978 888 185
nuituongedu@gmail.com

Image source: Nui Tuong


Things not to do in Vietnam

By: Quang Mai

Following the post about “Tips to spot and avoid scams and pick pockets”, City Pass Guide provides a list of things not to do in Vietnam that can secure visitors and help them to make their trip in Vietnam enjoyable.

On the street

To avoid being robbed or becoming victims of pickpockets, we highly recommended travelers not to carry more money than they need when walking around the streets, especially when you are alone. Wear as little jewelry as possible, as even fake jewels attract unwelcome attention from would-be robbers. In fact, thieves and drive-by snatchers do not have time to decide if jewelry is high value or not; they simply take whatever opportunity comes their way through a moment’s carelessness.

When taking a ride by xe om (motorbike taxi) make sure your bag, if any, is not on display or easy to grab. Bag snatches, although relatively rare, are probably the most likely crime a tourist will encounter, and it the risk is increased enormously if your prized camera or laptops are clearly visible.

Cultural issues

Wearing large amounts of jewelry is considered impolite because it seems to be flaunting wealth in public.

Don't wear singlets, shorts, dresses or skirts, or tops with low-neck lines and bare shoulders to Temples and Pagodas. To do this is considered extremely rude and offensive. Don’t be surprised when you notice some local ladies wearing them. Such dress is actually being criticized in many official and unofficial discussions in both online and print /media. You should not create any chances for locals to lay the blame on western culture.

Never sleep or sit with the soles of your feet pointing towards the family altar when in someone's house.

Never lose your temper in public or when bargaining for a purchase. This is considered a serious loss of face for both parties. Always maintain a cool and happy demeanor and you will be reciprocated with the same.

Physical displays of affection between lovers in public are frowned upon. That’s why you may usually come across couples holding hands while very seldom you can see a couple give kiss to each others in the public area. In fact, you may catch some couples hugging or even kissing to pose their selves in front of a camera. They are actually a part of the new generation of Vietnamese who are open-minded and affected by film and entertaining industry.

Ethnic minorities

Avoid giving empty water bottles, sweets and candies or pens to the local people when trekking through ethnic minority villages. You cannot guarantee that the empty bottles will be disposed of in a correct manner, and the people have no access to dental health. If you want to give pens, ask your guide to introduce you to the local teacher and donate them to the whole community.

Never take video cameras into the ethnic minority villages. They are considered to be too intrusive by the local people.

Political issues

Blogging is acceptable if your content stays steer clear of sensitive stories about the government. It is OK to share your personal experiences and review accommodation or restaurants but nothing else. Talk about anything like corruption in the government or even the Vietnam War can lead to a negative reaction on the part of the authorities. Therefore we definitely highlight this important point. It’s better to forget the term of “Freedom of Speech” while travelling in Vietnam.

Do not try to take photographs of military installations or anything to do with the military. This can be seen as a breach of national security.

Anything that depicts pornography is highly illegal. Prostitution also happens to be illegal. If you love bars and nightclubs, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi probably can serve your interests. But always keep in mind that sharing a hotel room with a Vietnamese of the opposite sex is generally not permitted.

Trading in or possession of drugs is illegal and a capital offence in Vietnam. As in other countries, drug abuse costs a lot in terms of prevention or even reduction, but it seems that it can never be completely eradicated. Therefore, don’t ever carry drugs with you while you are travelling in Vietnam.


Other articles:

Top 5 tips for crossing the street in Vietnam

Top 5 photo tips for travelers in Vietnam

Top 5 tips to rent a motorbike in Vietnam

5 tips to manage your online reputation on Tripadvisor

5 tips of preparation for better score at golf

5 tips to take pictures of fireworks in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi

Tips to spot and avoid scam and pick pocket

Top 5 tips for preventing theft in Vietnam

The art of bargaining in Vietnam



Facebook redesigns business pages with new look

By: Emilio Piriz

Facebook redesigns business pages with new look

After redesigning its news feed personal accounts last week, Facebook announced that it will roll out a new look and feel for business pages. This affects the Online Reputation Management (ORM) service that we at City Pass provide to premium clients in the Travel and Hospitality sector in Vietnam; therefore we should take these changes into consideration to get the best out of the new features.

The remake means good news to all users of this platform. Even Facebook calls this new appearance a more ‘streamlined’ look. The new design includes two columns similar to the old version, but the right column is now the Page’s timeline while the left includes information about the brand or business (e.g., map, business hours, phone number and website URL). Previously, both left and right columns used to display posts as users would scroll down the page.


Facebook New
Two distinct columns in new design

This major rearrangement makes Facebook Business Pages look a lot more like a personal profile. In a post on the official Facebook for Business blog, the company explained, “We’ll begin rolling out a streamlined look for Pages on desktop that will make it easier for people to find the information they want and help Page admins find the tools they use most.”

The redesigned layout comes with several changes for City Pass's Social Media management services – part of our ORM package – as Page admins. Stats such as page likes, the number of ad campaigns, post reach impressions, and notifications will appear in a tool bar in the right column. Therefore, administrators now have this information readily available in one place without having to navigate through numerous menus.

The new appearance actually makes the desktop version look more like the mobile version. This offers a more unified experience for your visitors no matter what device they’re using to follow your feed. Additionally, the ‘face makeover’ comes less than a week after Facebook updated the look for news feeds. This is a fairly minor change that includes larger photos and new icons and fonts.

How do you like Facebook’s latest redesigns? Do you think they will achieve their primary goal in improving the user’s experience?



Posts run on both left and right side in old design

The Do’s and Don’ts For Vietnamese Funerals

By: Sivaraj Pragasm

Funerals are events that you would prefer not to ever have to experience. Depending on where you’re from, they can either be viewed as a sad event or a celebration.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: vncdn.mvpviet.com

Here in Vietnam, there are certain age-old practices and routines that you may not yet be aware of. Take note of these rules and suggestions to make sure you remain respectful and beyond reproach during this delicate mourning period.

Do’s and Don’ts at a Vietnamese funeral

Here’s a quick guide for what to do and what to avoid if you’re invited to a funeral in Vietnam.

Bring a Gift: This is a sign of respect for the deceased and his or her family members. The most common gift is flowers and in Vietnamese culture, the most appropriate flowers to gift during funerals are white flowers.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: allenfamilyfuneraloptions.com

One of the most beloved flowers in Vietnamese culture is the white lotus, which is used as a metaphor for the cyclical nature of life, symbolising purification and regeneration.

Show up in Black: Since family members wear white, others in attendance are expected to wear black. Besides being one way to distinguish family members from guests, white is also worn by family members because they believe it will earn merit for the deceased and the family.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: kenh14.vn

Stick to Odd Numbers: This might seem a little puzzling for foreigners but in Vietnamese culture, certain procedures are done in odd numbers. For example, when lighting incense, go for one, three or five sticks, with three being the most ideal.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: 24h.com.vn

This also applies when you bow your head in front of the coffin. Hold the incense sticks in your hands and bow once, thrice or five times.

Vietnamese believe that odd numbers are ‘lucky’ at funerals. However, be aware that holding three incense sticks at any other time might be considered macabre or unlucky. Take, for example, the residential towers formerly known as Thuan Kieu Plaza. To the Saigonese, the three towers closely resembled the incense sticks one might burn to honour the dead and thus were cursed for failure from architectural conception.

Now here are things you should NOT do at a funeral in Vietnam

Do Not Attend if You’re Pregnant: The Vietnamese believe that during cremation, the spirit of the deceased is freed from the body and may enter the unborn.

Do Not Smile: This may seem like a no-brainer but it is very important to note that funerals in Vietnam are a sombre event. Therefore, it is best to avoid smiling or laughter as it will be considered extremely rude.

Do Not Make Any Noise: Be as silent as possible and speak only when spoken to. Keep your volume low and ensure your phone is set to silent. The last thing you want is to attract unwanted attention to yourself, especially when you’re a guest.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: afamilycdn.com

Watch how the other local attendees behave at the funeral and just follow what they do. Most of the time they will guide you on the steps and procedures so you will have nothing to worry about.

Do Not Light Incense if You’re Menstruating: Another one that may seem odd to a non-Asian. It is believed that lighting incense while you’re menstruating will bring bad luck to the deceased. What you can do, alternatively, is to stand in front of the coffin, hold your palms together and bow your head an odd number of times.

In Vietnamese culture, the deceased are accorded the same respect as the living, this is why it is perfectly alright to take pictures during Vietnamese funerals, an act that is frowned upon in most western societies.

Because of the many different ethnic groups in Vietnam, there will be some differences in terms of customs and procedures. However, most of them share some similar practices, which will be listed below.

Step 1: The Final Bath: The body will first be cleaned by a professional, then dressed in a new set of clothes, before the body is put into a casket. If at that point, the casket is not available yet, then the body will be placed on the deathbed with a small knife positioned on the stomach. This is meant to protect the spirit while waiting for the casket to be prepared.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: gappingworld.com

Another practice is to put a pinch of rice, with three coins in the mouth of the deceased. This is based on the belief that “being born from the earth, one must return back to the earth”.

When the casket arrives, it will usually be placed near the centre of the house, ideally in the living room. An oil lamp will then be placed under the casket throughout the entire duration of the wake. This act is meant to keep the spirit warm.

Step 2: The Broadcast: Black and white flags will then be hung, lining the route between the deceased’s home to the closest main street. The flags will be placed about 50 to 100 metres from each other. These flags serve as an ‘announcement’ to the neighbours, as well as to nearby spirits that someone in the vicinity has passed away. It also serves the practical purpose of marking the route to the house for the wake attendees.

Step 3: Entering The Coffin: Also known as nhập quan, this stage consists of a final clean-up or beautifying of the body before it’s placed in the coffin. Water and alcohol are used for this process before the body is then dressed in new white clothes.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: farm5.staticflickr.com

Relatives of the deceased will be dressed in funeral clothes consisting of a white robe, oversized pants and a pointed hood.

After the body has been placed in the coffin, relatives will then slowly circle the coffin for a final time. If the deceased was a Buddhist or has no specific religion, a bowl of rice and an egg will be placed on the coffin. If the deceased was Christian, there will be a card with the name of the deceased displayed on it.

Step 4: Arrival of The Guests: At this point, the coffin will be ready for viewing and the guests will arrive to console the family, as well as to offer a final prayer. Guests usually don dark coloured clothing, and they will bring flowers and money to help with the funeral costs.

The wake typically lasts around three days, during which friends and associates can come at any point to pay respect to the deceased and the family. They will usually bring a pack of incense, and an envelope with some money in it. These two items are given to the family as a form of contribution to the funeral process.

After that, they will light up an incense stick, offer a prayer for the deceased and bow. Two of the mourning family members will stand at both sides of the casket during this process and bow in return.

There will be a small area allocated nearby with some light food and tea so that the visitors can sit and talk after. Close friends usually stay and help with the funeral as much as they can, including running errands or helping to wash the dishes. If the deceased worked for a company, they will usually send flowers, which will then be placed around the casket and brought along to the burial site.

Step 5: The Final Goodbye: At the end of the third day, a team of about ten men will facilitate the next step, four of the ten will act as pallbearers.

First, the men will perform a ritual to seek permission from local spirits to move the casket. The casket will then be moved into a funeral car—a vehicle customised with large windows so that the coffin is visible from the outside.

This vehicle will be part of a convoy made up of friends and family, and, depending on the popularity of the deceased, it can stretch up to a kilometre or two.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: cdn.baogiaothong.vn

The convoy will consist of a ‘lead’ vehicle carrying two family members. One family member will hold a portrait photograph of the deceased while the other holds the incense bowl.

Upon reaching the destination, another ritual will then be performed by the same men before the actual burial process. Belongings of the deceased, such as clothes, will be burned near the gravesite, along with flowers and the mattress that was used as the deathbed.

As the convoy disperses, some close friends and the people who worked throughout the funeral will follow the lead car back to the house, making sure to follow exactly the same route as the earlier journey. This is done to ensure the spirit of the deceased will not be lost. This is also why the route is planned in advance to avoid one-way streets.

When they arrive back home, the house will have already been cleaned up and the furniture put back in place, usually by close friends who stayed to help, and the incense bowl will be placed on the family altar.

Meals will be offered to those who worked during the funeral and to the men who performed the rituals.

Step 6: The Mourning: Depending on the deceased’s position in the family hierarchy, the mourning period can last up to three years. During this period, there will be several restrictions imposed on the family members, including being forbidden to marry. This is usually more common among the more conservative families, but not as strictly adhered to by the rest. The white clothes worn by the family members will also be placed near the altar and will be burnt after an allotted time to signify the end of the mourning period.

Vietnamese funerals can be a very eye-opening cultural experience if you take note of the do’s and don’ts to avoid unwittingly offending your hosts and the dearly departed.

Vietnamese funeralsImage source: ngotoc.vn

Banner Image source: v3.news.zdn.vn

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