with Tran Dinh Thanh Lam
Borrowing from the gods
During the first month of the lunar calendar, believers flock to temples and pagodas to thank the gods for their support and ask for more.
Many of the worshippers borrow "lucky money" for their businesses from goddesses like Ba Chua Xu or Ba Chua Kho. Later, they refund the imaginary money by presenting valuable presents or offers of real money to the gods.
This quaint cultural practice, unfortunately, has lost some of its value in the past few years as more and more people see it as a chance to show off their fortune.
Many entrepreneurs will show their gratitude to the gods with luxurious offerings. Ba Chua Xu has been offered so many expensive robes (each one costing millions of Dong) that several warehouses have been built to store them. Each year Ba Chua Kho is presented with sumptuous villas or luxury sedans made of paper.
Everything that exists in this world should exist in the other world, many people believe, so they burn paper objects as offerings. They donít come cheap. A splendid villa or a sumptuous two-storey building costs VND2 or 3 million, and a Honda Dream, 1 million (one eighth the price of a real one).
Each day thousands of people pay tribute to the gods, and money spent amounts to hundreds of billion Dong.
"This is a terrible waste," says Nguyen Van My, director of Lua Viet travel agency. "If only people would save this money and build facilities for the poor."
But a personal fortune often trumps benevolent deeds during the first month of the lunar new year.
This time of the year is also Tet Nguyen Tieu, the 15th day of the first lunar month which falls this year on February 23. On this occasion, people donít eat meat.
Many vegetarian restaurants see their business jump between 30 to 40 per cent. Wellknown restaurants in HCM City such as Thuyen Vien, Giac Duc, Binh Dan, Bo De, Thanh Phuong are full every day of the week.
Ms Bay, owner of Thuyen Vien on Nguyen Van Dau, Phu Nhuan District, HCM City, also says that her regular diners include Buddhist believers and true vegetarians, and those who eat at her shop simply because it is cheap.
A dish costs between VND3,500 and 5,000. The menu is rich with various dishes of rice, vermicelli, or noodles adorned with meaty names such as ca kho (fish cooked with brine) and bun thit nuong (rice noodles with baked meat).
At more sophisticated vegetarian restaurants in District 1 or Phu Nhuan, you can spot many young women, who claim that a diet of grains and vegetables keeps them slim. ó VNS
Reprinted with permission from Vietnam News Agency