It sounds like a brass band is playing inside our room. The horn section is so eye-poppingly loud that the musicians could very well be hiding in our mini fridge, or playing from the shower stall. A flick of the curtains reveals a band on the alley side of our hotel, directly below us.
Thinking the group is tuning up to perform at the food festival, I run outside to get pictures of them before they leave. In bare feet, I descend the steps two at a time. Outside, I make a quick left into a maze of alleyways—there are several different paths from which to choose, and I wind up doubling back several times until I find the one where the band is playing.
Looking up, I wave to Tara who is recording the band from our hotel room window. (The acoustics were horrible from her vantage point, I think the distance and echoing makes it sound like they weren't playing in time with one another, but they were.)
To my surprise, it looks like they aren't getting ready to serenade the food festival at all. No, they are doing something else entirely. Is this a funeral? There are monks in saffron yellow robes, and many people dressed in white costumes, carrying flowers into a garage. Heaps upon heaps of blooms decorate the place, as do numerous red candles, flickering and glowing in the darkness.
All eyes are turned towards the photo of an elderly woman with a grey head of hair, resting atop a large wooden casket.
Once I realize what is actually taking place, I feel extremely shy, like I have accidentally begun eavesdropping on a personal conversation. I don't think it's appropriate to take pictures; I'm about to turn back when a woman encourages me to stay. I'm given a chair, a glass of iced tea, and many, many smiles as I take my place with the mourners.
Actually, "mourner" seems an altogether inaccurate term. Reveler is more like it. At first, I feel like I've been invited into a very personal, intimate ceremony and celebration. But, now that I take a moment to look around, other people are chatting, walking in and out of the festivities, and generally treating this as a drop-by funeral open house.
After a bit, I run back to our hotel room to grab Tara, and together we sit, welcomed with open arms into this funeral/festival. Witnessing the intense emotion, the joyful tribute, the quiet, somber offerings, this loud, colorful mix of life and death… it is intensely moving.
Rest in peace unknown Vietnamese grandmother! Or rather, enjoy the celebration—what a send-off!