A set of paper iPhone and iPad displayed at a store selling votive items in Hanoi. Photo credit: VnExpress
If you are traveling in Vietnam these days, you can buy a paper or cardboard copy of an iPhone or iPad for VND60,000 (US$2.6) and that of a Sony LCD TV for VND100,000 ($4.4).
For those who love fashionable accessories, a brand-name handbag costs only VND30,000-50,000 ($1.3-2.2).
Vietnamese buy them to "send" to their deceased family members on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month which falls on August 28 this year.
It is one of many practices followed on Ghost Day, the main day of the Hungry Ghost Festival, which is observed in many Asian countries during the month to pay tribute to the spirits of their loved ones and make offerings to homeless ghosts.
Since it is believed that the afterlife is just like life, there has been a remarkable evolution in what Vietnamese send to the dead: Simple shirts and trousers have been replaced by stylish suits and brand-name clothes, and horses by fancy cars and motorbikes. Housemaids are now beauties in attractive dresses and makeup, instead of young girls in plain clothes.
In fact, dead people these days have every need taken care of: communication with smartphones, entertainment with HD TVs and tablets, beauty treatment with cosmetics and spa vouchers.
Since an item with a specific design can cost up to VND1 million ($44.2), some families spend more than VND10 million on votive items.
In Hanoi, where the practice is more strongly observed than in many other places, people spent about VND400 billion ($17.69 million) a year on votive items, according to a 2012 report.
The following series of photos, originally published on news website Zing.vn
, will give you an idea about the popular items for the dead this year. The photos were taken in Dong Ho Village, Bac Ninh Province, where 90 percent of local families make votive items.
Producers in Dong Ho, which is around 35 kilometers from Hanoi, have been busy since the seventh lunar month began on August 14. Trucks come and go with shipments of votive items destined for provinces and cities around the country.
SH motorbikes are not new but still popular. You can buy one for VND40,000 ($1.7) here, while its price can shoot up to VND180,000 ($7.9) in cities.
Clothes and home electronics like TVs and refrigerators continue to sell well this year. A local maker said every member of her family has to work non-stop or they would miss delivery deadlines, adding that her customers are mainly from Hanoi, Hai Phong city and Quang Ninh Province.
Cars like Camry, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Rolls Royce being made by a family that specializes in them.
A bra and a pair of shoes claimed to be made based on Victoria's Secret and Triumph designs.
Some new designs for men’s shoes
A handbag costs VND30,000-50,000.
A local maker searches for camera drones to make replicate them. He said he has just delivered a life-size piano for VND1 million and a camera drone for VND200,000 ($8.8). "We can make anything; designs can be found on the Internet," he said.
A bunch of Macbook Pros in a house where a family makes them. Thanks to latest design software, makers have been able to improve their products, making them look very real.
Wheelchairs are a new item this year.
A furniture and electronics set comprising a cabinet, bed, TV, and air conditioner is sold for VND60,000.
A villa ready for delivery
Each of these rifles costs VND40,000.
Police hats are made in real sizes.
This fishing boat, according to the maker, is ordered by a customer whose loved one went missing during a fishing trip. The customer hopes the boat will bring the soul of the missing person back to the family.
Excavators and many other heavy-duty vehicles are also popular.
This motorcycle is to be sent to an old man whose favorite bike was similar.
Maker Nguyen Thien Hoa said rare items like this funeral clarinet are only made when ordered.
A paper camera comes with all necessary accessories from a zoom lens to a strap.
Khanh, a paper-car maker in Dong Ho, said though he agrees that the practice of burning votive items is a waste of money, he and other villagers can earn more from making the items than from farming.