Quang Minh Tet Festival 2013, Quang Minh Buddhist Temple, Braybrook
This was widely advertised as an all-day new year celebration, but when I dropped in mid-afternoon there had not been a lot going on.
So now I’m back for the finale and the whole joint has been transformed.
It’s odd being out so late at night – a reminder of just how much the nightbird days, when 10pm was the earliest I would be stepping out on a Saturday night, have been put behind me.
There’s a not unpleasant discord between the austere temple buildings and the gaudy, noisy delights of the sideshow alley attractions.
I am fascinated by the varied attire.
Virtually all the men and boys in attendance are dressed casually through to sloppily.
I see only one elderly gent in a suit and tie and another much younger fellow sporting a sports jacket.
Some of the females have gone casual, too, but overwhelmingly they’ve made a big effort – there’s stacks of vividly colourful traditional attire, as well as the likes of sequinned mini-skirts and physics-defying high heels.
The best part of being here is just … being here.
I’m not expecting to eat.
But if I do, I expect it to be from the range of snack-type goodies being sold in the covered outdoor area near the main entrance.
I soon find out, to my very intense pleasure, that need not be the case.
Following my nose and the crowd, I end up in what amounts to a bustling, noisy and joyful mess hall.
Everyone there is tucking into big bowls of soup noodles, so I do, too.
The soup noddles, costing $8, look like pho but are, of course, vegetarian.
Thus the broth is mild by comparison – good thing I load up with chillies and lemon juice.
I dig the multiple and large chucks of sweetish, chewy mushroom and I’m fine with the tofu slices.
The two kinds of meat substitute – one is, perhaps, “beef” and the other, um, “meatloaf” – are a little less appetising.
But I slurp the whole lot up anyway.
Because this meal is supremely enjoyable in a way that has more to do with circumstances, a certain place and time, and the young Vietnamese adults with whom I share a table.
Outside, the outdoor food area is jammed packed to virtually unnavigable status.
A lot of incense is being burnt and a lot of prayers are being said.
I discover that Vietnamese festivals favour ear-splitting volume just the same as do their Croatian and Albanian variants.
On the stage near the main entrance, singing gives ways to speechifying.
Much of this is done in Vietnamese, but I’m surprised to hear one English speaker indulge in a bit of politicking about the federal election.
Then it’s back to Vietnamese for the countdown to the fireworks.
What a magnificent racket!
Many “ooohs” and “aahhs” later, I’m heading back to my car, with the smell of incense having given way to the equally pungent aroma of fireworks continuing to be gleefully set alight by the homeowners near the temple.