by Van Dat
VN still has money to burn
The prolonged economic downturn has imposed considerable hardships on the population, forcing belt-tightening even for basic necessities, but this has not stopped many devout citizens to spend millions of dong on buying votive paper to burn for the sake of their deceased relatives.
A wide range of essential and luxury goods including clothes, multi-storeyed houses, cars, motorbikes and even housekeepers made of votive paper are burnt on the 15th day of the seven Lunar month every year.
For most Vietnamese, this is the best way to express respect and care for their parents, grandparents and other relatives who have not been lucky enough to live longer and enjoy prosperity on earth.
At the Phuc Am craft village in Ha Noi's Thuong Tin District, an effigy of buffalo or a horse is sold for more than two million dong. A wedding dress is sold for at least VND800,000. The dress is burnt for women who died before they could get married.
Burning votive paper for wandering ghosts during the seventh Lunar month is a long-standing belief and custom that people are not likely to give up, despite pollution concerns and religious figures pronouncing the practice as superstition.
It's estimated that every year, people in Ha Noi alone spend VND400 billion on votive paper.
In an open market economy, when there is demand, there is supply, and there is commerce.
Self-taught teacher inspires others
Retired teacher Thai Ba Am has become an icon for the residents of Nghi Trung Commune in Nghe An Province. The 78-year-old man, who did not know any English, was determined that he would learn the language after he retired in 1995.
After five years of studying with books and tapes, Am decided to open free English classes for anybody who could reach his house. His students have so far included primary and secondary school students, as also adults who have attended Am's class so they could teach their children later.
Am's has taken his teaching to another level. He has written a textbook by himself. An 800-page textbook with 300 lessons has been completed. He has no computer, so he wrote in hand a textbook called Learning English without getting tired.
"My teaching method is simple. I instruct my students to study English by themselves, the way I did," Am said.
It has been 13 years since he opened the class. The retired teacher cannot remember how many students he has taught, but all the families in Nghi Trung Commune have at least two children learning English from him.
Breaking the 'law'on family
It is universal knowledge and an accepted "fact" that a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law are always at loggerheads with each other, but 55-year-old Nguyen Thi My Le has turned this perception on its head.
Her kindness to her mother-in-law has touched the hearts of those who witnessed it.
When Huynh Thi Dai of Bien Hoa City in Dong Nai Province, lay sick and bed-ridden in hospital, Le went around the Dong Nai General Hospital and begged for money to feed her 79-year-old mother-in-law and pay the medicine bills.
Before Dai fell sick, both mother-in-law and daughter-in-law sold lottery tickets to eke out a meagre living. Unfortunately, Dai was injured in an accident and confined to bed. She passed away after three months in the hospital. Le, along with her daughter Luu Thi Kim Ngan, begged for money to organise the funeral ceremony for her mother-in-law.
Dai, who had no husband or relative, had adopted a boy. After he grew up and got married, he began gambling. To settle his gambling debt, all the family property had to be sold. They started living in a rented house, but Le's husband died soon after, leaving all the financial burdens on her. Her troubles and impoverishment did not prevent her from doing the utmost to care for her mother-in-law, in life and in death. — VNS