Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Incense is everywhere in Vietnam, and during almost any walk down any street you will encounter the smell of incense coming from a temple or a home shrine or a streetside offering of some kind.
In fact, the production of incense is a serious industry in Vietnam, and takes place normally on a small scale, though the results can end up being exported to all kinds of peculiar places - including to Sydney, Australia, where I always try to buy "Made in Vietnam" incense.
It comes in all shapes and sizes, and all kinds of smells, from basic joss sticks that don't smell of anything much at all but smoke, to delicately-scented cinnamon or sandalwood incense that is quite expensive and is reserved for the most special ceremonial occasions. I always love the massive red sticks of incense which the more ostentatious faithful resort to when they really want to make a statement.
Vietnam has a long history of making ritual implements, and the most famous of these are the exquisite incense holders. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from massive brass ones used to decorate an ancestor shrine at home, to delicately rendered porcelain and soapstone burners intended for the more subtle types of cone incense.
Now, I understand that some people dislike the smell of incense, and I have read recently that its smoke is quite carcinogenic.
But I don't care. I love coming across an outdoor shrine to Quan The Am, with its massive cement incense holder and its clouds of fragrant smoke spilling down the street, enveloping everyone in its special sacred intent.

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