Chap Ma

Trip Start Apr 21, 2005
Trip End May 17, 2005

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Flag of Vietnam  , Quảng Nam,
Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Hello again.

One of the people I met on this trip is a man named Le Co.  Le is the family name, Co his given name.  Still, everybody calls him Le Co.  I found him pretty interesting.  He is an English teacher with a large vocabulary.  I think what motivates that is his wanting to know more about the differences in our cultures and languages.  So we had lots to talk about.

At our first introduction, a brief one, he invited me to a family ceremony.  I had no idea what kind but it didn't matter.  I'm open to just about any invitation or cultural experience.  So the next day, I took a moto ride outside town for 20 minutes along some twisting dirt roads.

He was celebrating a "Chap Ma" at his family's house.  Literally, that means a restoring of the tombstones.  Figuratively, it means honoring the ancestors - an important part of Vietnamese culture.  For a few days prior to the ceremony, the children in the family actually go to the graveyards for restoration.

Chap Mas are held annually but rotate within the family.  Le Co has the ceremony held at his family's house every three years.  Apparently he is the head of the family and so has the largest gathering of all.  I estimate there were close to 300 people total.  The paternal side of the family provides all the hosting and funding.  The maternal side does nothing.  Le Co had a reprieve during the ceremony since he was hosting two others in addition to myself.  After wards, though, he did all the bookwork, collecting funds.

We arrived mid-way through the ceremony.  There was a shrine set up inside the house.  About three men in special costumes were reading scrolls and chanting.  Outside, there were about 5 other men playing instruments.  It was rhythmic, with music following every reading.

After wards, they broke out the food, lots of it.  Traditional Vietnamese cuisine has plates of meat, fish, leafy vegetable greens, soup, rice paper, etc.  And some bowls of spices for dipping.  The main dishes are cut up into bite-size pieces to fit easily in your own rice bowl.

One man came up to the table to toast.  So I raised my glass and had a sip of beer.  Not enough.  He put his finger to the bottom of the glass.  So I went along and downed the glass.  Looking around, it was only him and me.  So I promptly filled it back up with 7UP.  I guarantee you that didn't win any points.  But this time I remember everything.

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