Monday, 30 March 2015

Hanoi Report 5

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
The past few days were a maelstrom of non stop activity. I determined that traveling on my own without the responsibility of having other photographers in tow was liberating, and thought I could control my own time...wrong! I'm in Ha Noi for a purpose, and that purpose is the one that controls me.

After the exhausting Hau Dong all-nighter (see my previous post) of Friday, I attended another of these ceremonies at a nearby pagoda called Binh Nguyen in Gia Lam. I was invited there by the gracious Ms Mai; owner of the Golden Silk Boutique Hotel, who had learned of my interest in this ritual of spirit mediumship practiced in Vietnam. Not only was I invited (along with Ms Tu) to the ceremony, but we shared a lovely traditional Vietnamese dinner with Ms Mai, her husband and friends.

The ceremony was performed by a Buddhist monk who took the role of the hầu đồng; to my understanding, this is quite a departure from the norm, as the mediums are usually laymen or laywomen. In contrast to the previous ceremonies I've attended so far, this was rather more poised...more sedate, and much wealthier as evidenced by the enormous amount of offerings and by the new bottle of Chivas Regal used for the ceremony's rituals.

As a said note, I was told that the monk (or bonze) had two names; his real name is Đỗ Công Điển  while his temple name is Thích Tịnh Đức

I chose this particular photograph (above) to demonstrate the difficult lighting conditions of these ceremonies. A mix of different types of light sources, some quite harsh and suspended at different heights, make it a a tough task to photograph particularly with the limited access we have. Stomping over seated spectators to get a shot is never a good idea, so contortionist skills are mandatory.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
This afternoon, invited by Tony Trinh, a hát chầu văn singer, we dropped by another hầu đồng ceremony performed by a woman medium (Bà Đồng). Here the light situation was easier to work with, despite the harsh sunlight coming through the open doors.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

In between all these ceremonies, I'm attempting to squeeze a few moments of street photography in the Pho Co (Old Quarter) neighborhood. I still haven't found my groove, but it's slowly coming back. In any event, I still have a few days left in Ha Noi.