Some nights there is no sleep to be found in my restless city; sometimes it is the heat and humidity, occasionally it is the flashing neon lights. But usually it is the noise. Most of the sounds are familiar to me now, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the power to keep me from falling asleep. The sleeplessness gives my mind time to wander and compose childhood inspired verses.
The longer I live in Viet Nam, the better I am at interpreting what I see. I’ve discovered that colours have layers of meaning; black is associated with darkness, evil and filth, while white is indicates purity, death and finality. Yellow or gold are linked to prosperity, royalty, joy and change. And red is associated with happiness, love, good fortune and celebration.
Scarlets and crimsons indicate auspicious happenings. Red envelopes filled with Lucky Money are exchanged at Tết (Vietnamese New Year). Rosy tones are the best colours for wedding dresses and dancing dragons. Vermilion and magenta are the right choice for temples and mausoleums. Sunny gold is the reserve of might and power, saffron indicates faith and salvation.
Every special event requires large flower arrangements and you’ll often find yourself in traffic next to a florist’s worth of flowers on the back of a motorbike. Red and yellow are always popular colours.
A boat carrying ‘Chôm Chôm’ (Rambutans) from the an Orchard in the Mekong Delta to Sai Gon. Not only are they delicious, their colouring make them great offerings ancestors at the family altar or temples.
Lanterns come in all colours, but red ones are the most popular by far.
The happiest fish I’ve found in Viet Nam. They are the ornamental Koi Carp in the moat of the Imperial Citadel in Hue, the ancient Imperial Capital. They have kilometres of waterways to swim in but they’re pushing together to be fed.
If I had to choose a place for my spirit to be venerated – it would probably look something like this.
Red and gold doesn’t discriminate over religion. These are the temple doors leading to a Buddhist temple.
Opening a bank absolutely requires Dragons of red, orange and gold… and drums and loud speakers and a Master of Ceremonies and techno music and flower arrangements and a ribbon cutting ceremony and what I think was a dancing Prosperity Deity. There was a lot going on.
I can’t remember seeing an important traditional building that wasn’t some shade of red, orange or gold. You don’t want to be an innovator when it comes to showing respect to your ancestors or your God – stick to what has worked for millennia.
Potted Bougainvillea, usually found in temple courtyards all through the year and everywhere else during Tết.
It is always red, whether you are coming or going.
Oh, and yeah… the Vietnamese Flag.
Language note – The word for colour, ‘màu’, can be added before the other colour words to make it clear that you are talking about colours. If it is clear from the context, there’s no need to use it, except in the case of gold (vàng) and yellow (màu vàng).