Little did we know when we set off on our bike tour this morning that we would witness an exorcism and an exhumation!
The bike tour was organised by the hotel, complimentary for all guests staying more than 3 days. Our lovely guide Nih led us across the footbridge to the island of Cam Kim, home to about 5000 villagers. The footbridge has only been in existence for a few months; before this the villagers used a ferry to get across to work and shop in Hoi an. We were joined on the tour by four young blokes from Sydney, so we made quite a procession with Taine trying to keep pace with the boys up the front and me wobbling along at the back. I was relatively proud that I managed to stay upright the whole way and didn't get off to walk at all, although the narrow pathways along side the river were a little hairy and I kept expecting to get cleaned up by a moto every time we came to a cross road.
Once across the bridge we were in rural Vietnam- rice paddies and market gardens. We stopped at the boat builders and the carvers to see their craftmanship. The carvers reminded me of Te Puia in Rotorua, a carving school where the master carver was teaching the next generation the skills required to turn wood into works of art. The master told us it is becoming increasingly difficult to find boys who have the patience and persistence to learn; they would rather cross the river to work in hospitality. I guess the issue of 'grit' in young people is a global one.
For morning tea we stopped at the local market, a very casual collection of tables covered in raw meat, trays of fish and vegetables ready for the local trade. We were given rice flour and tumeric pancakes which we wrapped in rice paper and dipped in peanut sauce, all washed down with raw sugar cane juice.
The next stop was at the noodle makers and that was where the totally unexpected occurred. The husband of the noodle maker was described as the man who 'looks after the dead people'. Nih explained that according to the local religion, dead people are allowed to return to their houses for one hour on the anniversary of their passing. Because the afterlife is a boring and lonely place, the family prepare gifts for their departed loved one and it is these gifts that the man makes. They are large cardboard reproductions of things the dead person might like to take with them, like toys or clothes or, for young single men, a girlfriend or an iPhone. The family buy these gifts from the gift maker, display them in their home on the anniversary of the death and then, when the hour is up, they burn them!
Gifts for the dead
Digging up the kitchen floor
We were fascinated by this most unusual occupation but our attention was a bit distracted because in the room beside us there was a clearly distressed little girl and a man who appeared to be yelling at her. Nih explained that the girl had been showing signs of being 'possessed' and a fortune teller had been bought in to see what the issue was. He had decided that there was an unsettled spirit in the kitchen and so while he exorcised the demon from the little girl in the lounge room, the grandfather was in the kitchen digging up the floor to look for bodies! Given the war torn history of the region there are makeshift graves all over the place and the fortune teller is in high demand to make sure houses are not built over the to of them. We were very worried that we were intruding on what was clearly a family trauma but the grandmother assured us it was ok and went on with her noodle making demonstration. To add just one more bizarre element, our friends from Sydney had a bit of a holiday dare going to see how many gross things they could eat, so Nih rustled up some sauce that had been fermenting with dead fish for 3 months and they dipped their noodles in that. As they were throwing up, a man came from the kitchen to whisper that the body had been found. It was a good time for us to hop back on our bikes and head home.
A delicious lunch of local beer and spring rolls by the pool helped us recuperate enough to head into town to check on the progress of our tailors. Whereas yesterday was hot and rainy, today was just hot. Mad hot. Geoff struggled to try on his suit and I actually had sweat dripping off my nose faster than I could catch it. The local people seemed totally unfazed by it and in fact many of them were wearing hoodies and jeans. Sophie picked up a playsuit she'd had made from a photo and we were so impressed with how well it was made that we all ended up with tape measures wrapped around our different bits. Who knows what we've actually ordered in our befuddled heat haze. I guess we'll find out when we go back tomorrow.