You can’t settle your life until you have a house
A Vietnamese first house celebration is much more than a housewarming party. 'It's a celebration of a new start, a revolution in the life of the owners.' Phong
'There is a saying that children learn in school and which is passed from generation to generation. It means 'You can't settle your life until you have a house.' It's more than material or financial wealth.' Teresa
'In Vietnamese culture, children must live with their parents until they are grown up. When they get permission from their parents to leave and build their own houses, it's an important event. We say their lives start from that point.' Phong
Phong's friend Tam lives in a small flat and sends all his money home to Vietnam. He has told Phong that when he dies, he wants his ashes taken back to Vietnam and placed between the bodies of his parents. Phong has urged him to do something for himself, to have a wife and family and home - some happiness. But he refuses.
He says 'Nowhere can you feel peaceful but in your parents' arms.'
These calendars are a photo that Teresa and Phong were given as a first house gift by Phong's friend Tam in the Year of the Buffalo. The calendar tells the story of a boy who goes to find his missing buffalo and learns the true meaning of success. Each panel represents part of life's journey. The poems were written by a Buddhist nun 1000 years ago and are about the cyclical nature of life:
Immensely spreads the shadow of the mountain at the close of the day
At the far end of the river big waves and clouds purposelessly play
The reflections of the swallows flying over the bridge are glistening
And the vast green expanse of water is aimlessly flowing.
On the day of laying the foundations, we cook a chicken and offer food to the Earth God
To the Vietnamese there are four important steps in building a house. 'Before the foundation of the house is laid, a geomancer is called in.' Phong A geomancer is someone who works out where to place a building, which direction it should face and which day to start so it will bring luck to the owners. This is known as feng shui in Chinese. 'On the day of laying the foundations, we cook a chicken and offer food to the Earth God Ong Dia, and ask permission to use the land.’
The next important stage is placing the roof beam. It has to be kept straight all the time it is being set in place. We cook another chicken and offer food to the spiritual powers Quy Than Thien Dia to 'register' and protect the house. If the beam is set in place without any problems it means all will be well.
When the house is finished, a priest or monk is invited to bless the house and we light firecrackers to chase away all the bad things. After that we choose a good day to invite relatives, friends and neighbours to come and celebrate. On that day the neighbours come and give presents. Relatives might come beforehand to find out what we need. Although we don't open the gift in front of our visitors we later make the gift very visible in the house so they know that we appreciate what has been given. We ask the neighbours around to find out about them so that we can be accommodating in our behaviour, if the neighbours are on shiftwork, for example. We say ' 'You may sell your relatives who live far away and you should buy your neighbours.' Teresa and Phong