We went to the cemetery on Qing Ming, the festival of the dead, to sweep the graves, honor our ancestors, and offer food and incense. The graves were made like small houses or very large armchairs, with wings on either side to encompass a central tablet and small altar. The paths up the hills were overgrown with weeds and lalang, the sharp elephant grass that cuts you if you ran your finger along it. All around were abandoned graves that people had forgotten or which had no more descendants to care for them.
I wasn't born in the United States. I came here when I was about 10 years old, and I have so many memories of my childhood growing up in Vietnam. My family and i lived in a really, really small village, near a really, really small town. Most of my time was spent on our family's farm, and once in awhile, we came to town to visit my grandparents, and for special occasions, like the Midautumn Moon Festival, and Chinese New Year.
Just for reference, this is baby Khanh with my paternal grandmother:
To say my town was not modern is to understate it. Most households didn't have electricity, there was limited running water (and none of our farm). Religion was limited to praying to our ancestors, burning incense to the gods, burning paper money, making food offerings to the dead.
It was hot, humid. Graveyards were scattered about haphazardly. Death was a part of life, and coming from a country that fairly recently suffered from the devastating effects of a war, it was nothing out of the ordinary. Death was normal. Communicating to the dead was a part of family's rituals.
My father still burn incense to his dead sister and pray to her til this day, 40 odd years after her death.
I was so young, but I remember it so vividly, and despite the fact that The Ghost Bride didn't even take place in my country, the atmosphere, the beliefs, the descriptions of religious rituals, of spiritual beliefs, of the dead's lives intertwined with the living...felt so utterly familiar.
This book was so beautifully atmospheric. The characters were weak, the setting is spectacular. I would read it again, just for that sweet, painful feeling of homesickness.
Because I haven't been back to my native country since I left.