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The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division [1967], at

Vietnamese Village Dinh, Market, School

The Vietnamese village constitutes the dwelling place of most Vietnamese and has several buildings or sites which Americans can best appreciate by understanding the purpose and use of the buildings. These include the Dinh, the school and the market places.

The Dinh is a combination of the temple and the community center in many Vietnamese villages. It is within the Dinh that the housewives offer prayers not said at home. It is here that they also offer food to the guardian spirit called "thanh hoang" in Vietnamese. At such times, the "thanh hoang" is asked for protection against the various natural disasters and for his good will toward the individual worshipper or the worshipper's family.

The "thanh hoang" can be a spirit (ghost) of someone who died a violent death, an unnatural death such as murder, childbirth or failed to be buried; or a supernatural or celestial spirit without human origin. Though the villager may claim his faith as Buddhism, Confucianism, or another of the ten or so faiths in Vietnam, the animistic belief of "spirits" who can affect and control destiny is very strong.

Often the courtyard of the Dinh or adjoining temple has a lotus pond with the large round green leaves floating on the water's surface. The lovely flowers of the several varieties of lotus rising above the dirty water, give color to the area. They remind the beholder that, as the beautiful flower grows in such a humble environment, so good may come from each regardless of surrounding conditions.

Should the village have a Buddhist temple or even a Taoist one, it will normally be the most elaborate structure in the village. As the foreigner listens in the quiet of the day, the sound of the monk's almost monotonous prayers and sermon recitations, with or without audience, will be broken from time to time with the rhythmic beat of the mo, which is a wooden instrument normally found on or near the altar, or the ringing sound of the altar gong being struck with a small wooden mallet. If the government does not have a school in the village, the chances are that an elementary school will be located near the temple and taught by someone of the religious organization of the community be it Buddhist, Roman Catholic or Protestant, except among the tribespeople villages where many have no formal schooling.

Schools in Vietnam normally teach their students by rote with very limited supplies of books, pencils, paper, or the items which Americans take for granted in this generation, but under conditions similar to those experienced by Americans a hundred years or more ago. Often there are not enough seats for the children; desks are very scare if present at all; lighting is normally inadequate; yet, while the teacher and student have all these and other similar problems, as well as the war conditions, the need for knowledge and development of youthful minds grows more pressing each day.

The village market place has many varieties of fresh vegetables, nuts of all kinds, fresh fruits, bananas, oranges, grapefruit, lemon, tropical fruits of all kinds, baskets of peanuts, trays of meat exposed to both dust and flies, fish, tobacco, sugar and salt. These are intermixed with stalls or crude spaces filled with items of clothing, cloth and small hardware items, making a sight to be remembered. The entire market, large or small, is often crowded with people who come to look, to buy or to gossip. As typical throughout Vietnam, it is the women who are merchants, and who seem to dominate the market place.

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The important buildings of any Vietnamese farming or fishing village are the Dinh and/or temple, the market place and the school. The conduct of Americans both individually and collectively in these areas can be vital to the success of the present assignment of the Navy/ Marine Team in Vietnam. Be alert to the differences between Vietnam and your home; ask questions in order to gain information, but ask them as you would desire a visitor in the States to ask about something in your hometown. By so doing you will establish friendships that could save your life.

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