As public cemeteries close, many Vietnamese find themselves faced with an unsavory choice: go big or go dust.
On a Saturday morning in July, Bui steered his Toyota Yaris into the Thien Duc Vinh Hang Vien Cemetery just 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Hanoi.
The 56-year-old tea trader gave his name at the guard gate and entered a roundabout ringed with 30-foot white stone columns emblazoned with giant Buddhist crosses. Minh, a saleswoman dressed in T-shirt and skinny jeans, stood waiting for him in the shade of a thatched hut that served as a dining room.
At 11 a.m., the pair sat down to a simple lunch of steamed chicken and fried spinach at one of the six wooden tables inside the hut. At the empty tables around them, the same meal sat cold under plastic wrap awaiting customers.
After his two-hours on the road, Bui ate hungrily while Minh apologized for having sold a plot he’d viewed during his last visit. Businessmen from as far away as Saigon have already snatched up a third of the 90-hectare cemetery, which opened in 2011.
“We’re opening plots on a new hill that go from $350-$520 per square meter,” she said before launching into a smiling sales pitch.
For between $10,500 and $15,600, Bui could inter six members of his family on 30 square meters of prime land. (Vietnam's average annual income was around $2,200 last year.)
For the past year, Bui had spent most of his free time trying to find a future resting place for his 94-year-old mother. He’d visited at least three private cemeteries around Hanoi, considered a public plot in his hometown and another in her hometown.
None of these options suit his budget or his ov
erwhelming wish: to visit his mother’s grave regularly after she passes away.
Both public burial grounds are over 200 kilometers from Hanoi, where he now lives.
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