The Ghost Month

There is something similar between the Lunar New Year period and the Ghost Month in the level of spread-out activities around the area where I lived in Vietnam.

If Lunar New Year is an occasion that makes the area alive with crowds of people gathering in front of each house where lion dances are performed and firecrackers were lit during this time span, then there are also crowds of children gathering in front of each house during the Ghost Month where offerings to the forsaken spirits are made. 

In front of houses and stores, the lion dances are performed to bring prosperity and good luck for the upcoming year while the loud noises of the firecrackers will scare away the evil spirits. Similarly, the offerings placed at the front of the houses and stores and later given away will help guard the household or commercial stores from hungry, wandering ghosts that can trouble or mess up with them or their businesses.

According to the Vietnamese belief, after a person died, their body decays but their soul still lingers in the afterlife. Those who died unjustly, without proper burials or without living relatives, their souls will roam the earth and they can haunt or harm the living.

Mum was a successful business woman before the fall of Saigon in 1975. She designed children’s wear, distributed materials for the workers to sew them then sell them in large quantities at Saigon’s main market – Bến Thành. These clothes would then be resold in other cities and rural areas in Vietnam. 

Every year, in a random afternoon of the Ghost Month, joining other businesses around our house which was next to An Đông market, Mum also made offerings to the forsaken, lonely souls. The month is the seventh month of the lunar calendar and that usually is at the end of August. 

Offerings included paper money, paper silver and paper gold for the dead

My job as the eldest was to guard the offerings during the ceremony from the homeless children who lived in the market. It wasn’t unusual that some ceremonies couldn’t even begin as all the offerings were already snatched by the children. With my arms akimbo, I gave the street children a fierce glare. It must be this ready-to-fight-back expression in my body and on my face that had the small crowd of children under control for the ceremony to last till the end. 

Children snatch offerings before the ceremony begins

Mum lit the two candles on the worship table then the incense. In a whispering voice, she prayed to Buddha and the piteous, lonesome spirits then burned the gold and silver paper money offerings for the dead to use in the next world. Around 15mn later, as soon as the incense burned out, Mum threw the salt, rice, coins and bank notes to the ground and gave all the savoury and sweet food as well as fruits on the worship table to the children circled around. It’s considered bad luck if the children of the house take the offerings after the ceremony as that would mean they have invited the spirits into the house. 

Children are given offerings after the ceremony
Children scramble to pick up thrown out coins and bank notes at the end of the ceremony
Burning paper money for the dead

On the full moon day of the Ghost Month, at noon, Mum also made offerings to our ancestors’ spirits. It usually is a bigger feast of food, fruits and paper money offerings than what was made to the homeless souls. One difference though would be the feast is placed on the altar and Mum would not throw out salt, rice, coins and bank notes on the ground once the ceremony is finished. Some wealthy people on this occasion even burn paper houses, paper cars, paper watches, paper mobile phones, … for their ancestors to use in the afterworld. 

Paper cars and dresses for the dead
Paper multi-storey houses for the dead
Paper cars and motorcycles for the dead
Paper helicopters for the dead
Paper buses for the dead


The period of Lunar New Year brings cool light wind and low temperature. The Ghost Month occurs during the rainy season in Saigon and cool breezes usually flow around during this time.

Lunar New Year welcomes a forward twelve-month time and it brings joy to the young people as they are given money in red envelopes by the old. In a similar analogy, but in the opposite direction, the Ghost Month is a reminiscent of the backward time when the dead were living and a remembrance event that brings contentment and respect to the dead old with the offerings by the living young.

The Lunar New Year,

Money gifted, the living young cheer.

The Ghost Month event,

Offerings made, the dead old and wandering souls content.

(Clerihew-style poem)

The Rotten Apples poem

1975 Mr and Mrs Nguyễn Cao Kỳ – ex Vice President of South Vietnam – in a refugee camp in Pendleton, California.
General Ky Exiled In United States. (Photo by Paul Slade/Paris Match via Getty Images)

<<Story related to the poem>>

Live in the now,
Old enemies are friends,
The big money depends
On the friendship!

Shaking the hands
That kill their own people.
The exile all dangle
With known devil!

They bring us shame!
The acquisitive ones
Who were refugees once.
Soulless creatures!
(Abhanga-style poem)

1975 Mr and Mrs Nguyễn Cao Kỳ – ex Vice President of South Vietnam – in a refugee camp in Pendleton, California.
General Ky Exiled In United States. (Photo by Paul Slade/Paris Match via Getty Images)

The Rotten Apples

Prime Minister of South Vietnam, Nguyen Cao Ky, and his wife made a two-day visit to southeast Queensland in 1967. (link to newspaper article http://www.couriermail.com.au/ipad/wild-welcome-for-vietnam-pm/news-story/57a5dd5fc8d76c59d83d166e7d9e5d4e)

<<Facts, pictures, and video clips related to this post – visits, investments in Vietnam by the family of the ex-Vice President’s family>>

I always feel very lucky that I was accepted to resettle in Australia after escaping the Communist. However, I also feel inferior and have developed a complex seeing the bad things other Vietnamese refugees did in Australia that made headlines. Crimes such as drug dealings, forming gangs, welfare fraud, immigration tricks,… I don’t join Vietnamese groups that habitually gather to speak loudly in our native language and yet don’t mingle with others at social events in Australia. I distance myself from unruly, uncivilized, unethical and small-minded Vietnamese. Another friend once told me that he felt good that Australians often mistook him for Japanese because he didn’t feel proud to be recognized as Vietnamese.

More than ever, I witness the financial burden brought on by recently arrived asylum seekers as well as the social issues coming with them while Australia struggles with budget deficits. These days, like those in later generations of Vietnamese refugees that I know, I feel embarrassed to be recognized as a refugee in Australia. I dislike reading stories of Vietnamese boat people that said they escaped the poverty induced by the Communists. I don’t like to be blindly grouped as economic refugees.

The death of Đặng Tuyết Mai, on 21st December 2016, brought mixed feelings to me. She was also known as Madame Nguyễn Cao Kỳ, the former wife of Nguyễn Cao Kỳ, South Vietnam Vice President until his retirement from politics in 1971. As the country fell to the Communists in 1975, Mr and Mrs Kỳ fled to the US.

In 2004, Mr Kỳ returned to Vietnam, playing golf with Communist leaders, calling for peace and reconciliation with a government he once fought and hinting that he might even move back to Vietnam. Mr Kỳ later was involved in organizing trips to Vietnam for potential U.S. investors.

In September 2009, Madame Tuyết Mai went back to Vietnam and opened a plush restaurant called “Pho Ta” – specialised in the traditional Vietnamese beef noodle soup – on one of the busy streets in Saigon.

Mr Kỳ’s daughter from his second marriage to Madame Tuyết Mai, a former stewardess, is Nguyễn Cao Kỳ Duyên. Kỳ Duyên was a 10-year-old girl when Saigon fell in 1975. She and 20 others escaped in a crammed military cargo plane to Washington. Her father flew his own helicopter to a waiting U.S. aircraft carrier. Now she is a well-known mistress of ceremonies on the thirty-four-year-old and famous “Paris By Night” show. The Vietnamese-language musical variety show is popular overseas as well as in Vietnam and features musical performances by renowned pre-Saigon Fall performers and modern-day young stars.

But wait there’s more!

Thank you soldiers! poem

image

(Yadu-style poem)

A Spring morning,
The grieving ode,
Does bring sorrow.
An inflow pain
Shadows the Remembrance Day.

Men with blond hair,
Men with fair skin,
With bare courage,
The savage wars
Ravage their souls and bodies.

To those who died,
Were denied thanks,
Who tried to fight,
Vietnam tight war,
Despite the plight, South Vietnam thanks you!

Image credit
by hiMe.

image

A Muder, a Paedophile, a Cougar and the Deported Chinese poem

image

(Pleiades-style poem)

<<Story related to the poem>>

Shocking

Summoned to the court of conscience,
Sadly, hunger caused murder,
Sickeningly, daughter sold to paedophile,
Shamelessly, cougar committed adultery in broad daylight,
Surprisingly, the Chinese paid to be deported,
Scandalously, under Communism, my neighborhood showed its seamy face,
Sordidly, money and sex led the crimes.

Image credit
by Prince Roy.

image

Love Paradise – Love Hell poem

image

(Dorsimbra-style poem)

<<Story related to the poem>>

The honey trap of sexual pleasure trips,
Solution for everlasting life,
Vibrates so well around the old men’s hips,
And leads them to the land that is crime-rife.

Worship self-love,
Burn up honor,
Stamp on moral,
Abandon wives.

The dollar’s smell attracts the con men well,
The frail old men are robbed of their wealth then.
Disease-ridden, displaced and penniless,
The honey trap of sexual pleasure trips!

Image credit
by Evo Flash.

image

A Silver Bar Tears Up the Paper poem

image

(Letrilla-style poem)

<<Story related to the poem>>

Dirty money, happy money,
Corrupt officials live with glee!
Australia sure has justice,
To bring fairness to the people,
To make the criminals dwindle,
And the nation profitable.
Corruption can’t be norm basis!
Yet the Communists are comfy;
Dirty money, happy money,
Corrupt officials live with glee!

image