Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Plastic Chairs

One of the simple, easily missed but distinctive elements of life in Vietnam is the ubiquity of fragile plastic furniture.
I’m a great breaker of these flimsy plastic stools designed to hold the weight of the slender Vietnamese. At restaurants where I am known the owners make a great charade of stacking 3 or 4 stools one on top of the other in order to take my weight. I frequent a Benedictine monastery on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, and when I share the monks’ lunch in the refectory, they go to hunt down a truly massive mahogany chair, intended for the hallowed buttocks of visiting Bishops, and drag it into the communal eating hall for my benefit. Once, having suffered the indignity of breaking a chair at a bbq rabbit restaurant, a mother pointed me out to her child and said, “See that fat foreigner over there, the one who broke the chair? If you’re not good he’ll eat you up.”

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dia Tang Vuong Bo Tat

Dia Tang is the Vietnamese name for Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva (Di Zhang Ch., Jizo Jp.).
He is the protector of the dead, and is the deity that is revered during memorial services for deceased relatives.
As such, he is a very important part of Vietnamese Buddhist ritual life.
His special celebration is during the festival of Vu Lan, where his legend has become enmeshed with that of Mahamoggallāna, who is said to have seen his mother in the realms of hell and to have petitioned the Buddha to take pity on the dead.