One of Vietnam’s most fascinating rituals is lênđồng, a practice that was recently recognized as an integral aspect of the nation’s intangible cultural heritage. Lênđồng is associated with Đạo Mẫu, or worship of the Mother Goddess, and involves a spirit medium who acts as an earthly conduit for deities.
The ritual can last from 2 to more than 6 hours and is usually performed in a pagoda. Spirit mediums change costumes during the ritual, to reflect the deity they are channeling. A group of musicians play music while the medium sings and dances in a trance-like state. Towards the end of the ceremony, the audience can have their fortunes told by the medium, or ask the medium to send requests to the deity of their choice. Lênđồng practitioners can be male or female and must abstain from sex and eating meat for several days before they perform the ritual.
If a Vietnamese friend invites you to attend a lênđồng ritual, accept the invitation! It will be a once in a life-time experience.
In Vietnamese the term for the literal meaning of a phrase is nghĩa bong ( which translates to “white meaning”) and the idiomatic meaning is called nghĩa đen (the “black meaning”). Here are 2 of our favorite sayings that you can easily use in conversation:
Giạn cá, chém thớt – the literal translation of this is “angry with the fish, chop the board” and it refers to someone being angry with person A but taking out their frustrations on person B instead.
Dất lanh, chím đậu – this phrase means “peaceful land attracts the birds” and you can use this to explain why you enjoy living in Hanoi so much – it means that a location is safe and comfortable & that’s why people choose to live there.
Winter veggies are now flooding into wet markets. This week at the Linh Lang Market we found these delicious offerings:
Above is củ sen – lotus flower root (Củ is the classifier for root vegetables). You may not have seen the exterior of this vegetable before, but you’ve definitely seen what the inside looks like if you’ve been to a Vietnamese restaurant:
Next we found củ đậu (in Spanish it’s called jicama) and eating them is apparently great for your skin. Try them chopped into sticks and drizzled with lime juice and chillies:
These beauties were all over Linh Lang Market: củ cải – aka daikon or white radish:
A huge debate has erupted in the photographic word over the work of French photographer Rehahn, who has spent several years documenting the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam. Rehahn insists that his photographs fall under the classification of documentary, however, critics have mounted a campaign, arguing that as Rehahn ‘stages’ his photographs by asking subjects to remove western items of clothing before he takes their portrait, his photos are not of a journalistic nature. Regardless of how the photographs should be classified, Rehahn’s work is definitely worth a look:
In Vietnamese, the word for fortune teller – thầy bói mù – translates literally as a blind sage who can tell someone’s fortune. Years ago, Vietnamese fortune tellers would wear black silk ao dais, traditional wooden clogs (guốc mộc) and round spectacles made from darkened glass. Many fortune tellers were blind, hence the dark glasses, and these became part of the ‘uniform’ of the profession whether the soothsayers were blind or not. A wispy moustache and goatee were also de rigeur. Nowadays, we cannot tell a fortune teller from an ordinary person simply by virtue of their appearance. Unlike most western countries, in Vietnam this is a male dominated profession.
The busiest time for a fortune teller is at the beginning of the Lunar New Year, when people want to know their luck for the coming year. Misfortunes such as not being able to find a husband or wife, or a job, or when a private business is not doing well, can also prompt a visit. People don’t seek the help of a fortune teller for issues like marital troubles or conflict in the workplace because generally they are considered ‘private matters’ that should be best dealt with behind closed doors. (In the case of marital troubles, usually it’s the women who have to just ‘take it as it is’). When choosing a prospective spouse, people (mostly the parents) will consult a fortune teller to determine if the future bride and groom are compatible.
In the past, Vietnamese fortune tellers operated at markets and fairs or in small stalls outside pagodas and temples, but now, like their western counterparts, they mostly operate from their homes. A few wealthier fortune tellers may operate from their own personal pagodas. Prices vary, depending on the teller’s fame, and can in some cases involve several million vnd, but on average, a fee of 200,000 vnd can get you a hearing with a respected savant.
Fortune tellers generally work with one key piece of information – your birthdate, which they convert to the lunar calendar and use to predict your future (tử vi). Palm reading is also common and some practitioners use a method similar to the Western ritual of ‘tea leaves reading’: they will ask you to cut a betel nut in half, and read your fortune from that.
If you’re fast approaching 30 and still haven’t found Mr or Mrs Right, fortune tellers and priests offer a service called “cắt tiền duyên”. Performed at a pagoda or in a fortune teller’s home, this ceremony/ritual seeks to address the cause of your singledom: a lover from a past life (“tiền duyên”) is holding you back from meeting a partner, and his/her grip must be released (“cắt”).
Thanks so much to my friend Anh Doi for researching this topic for me 🙂