"Vultures" at cemeteries
VietNamNet Bridge - In cemeteries, behind the cold graves is the underground world with “odd” tricks to make money. Except for honest people who make a living through their own labor by digging and exhuming graves, these "cemetery vultures" must be inspected and removed by the authority.

Rare burglary

cemetery, yen ky, tomb, grave
With thousands of graves, the Management Board Yen Ky Cemetery is very difficult to handle “cemetery vultures” here.

Some people saw a small piece of paper sticking on the grave. They picked up the paper to read and all of them were appalled. "Your grandfather’s head is in our hands. If you want to get it back for reburial, you must redeem with VND50 million ($2,500). Preparing the money, we will call to tell you the place and time," the piece of paper wrote. Some family members jumped into the grave in a hurry to check and they did not find the head.

It is one of the numerous cruel “affairs” that the group of “vultures” at this cemetery has made. The day before, the tomb of Mr. T was dug up. The sorcerer told the family to open the coffin for a night before reburial. The next day the dead’s head disappeared.

A family meeting was held on the spot. This is a rare extortion and the blackmailer might be a local man and perhaps a drug addict who needed money to buy drugs. The family secretly informed the police.

About an hour later, Mr. Pham Dinh Hoang, the dead’s grandson received a phone call from a stranger. He intimidated and suggested that the family quickly prepared the money otherwise he would throw the head to the river.

Hoang begged: "Our family could only prepare VND10 million ($500). Please return our grandfather’s head!" The 30-minute negotiation ended and the stealer agreed at the ransom of VND21 million ($1,000). The location for "delivery" is behind the local cemetery for martyrs.

The two drug addicts were arrested in this case but since then, all families when perform reburial rituals appointed family members to guard the graves.

The story in a cemetery

cemetery, yen ky, tomb, grave

When I told this strange story to a friend, he laughed and said: "Not only that. Just hanging around cemeteries, you will see a lot of interesting stories. Nowadays it is the easiest to make money of the dead because the living do not dare to bargain about things related to their dead relatives."

The Yen Ky is one of the largest cemeteries in Hanoi. It was built in the 60s, located on a 37ha campus, in the village of Yen Ky, Phu Son commune, Ba Vi district. Currently, Yen Ky has 15.000m2 of bare land which is available for reburial in the next three years. Therefore, this cemetery is always busy with the people who come to visit the graves.

These people are the prey of the so-called "cemetery vultures."

The Yen Ky Cemetery on a summer morning, playing a man who was seeking for a lost tomb, I entered the "world of the dead" here. In front of the cemetery is a row of shops with the signs "tomb building service with long warranty," "Building graves - carvings stone steles,” "Building graves from A to Z" ...

When I was bewildered, a group of about 10 people surrounded me, pulled my shirt, my bag, and invited: "Brother, let me paint and clean the grave," "Which tomb do you want to find? Let me help you," "If you want to find a plot of land to move tomb, I’m the best service provider in this region...”

I had to try my best to escape from the crowds and got into the coffee shop in the middle of the cemetery to relax. Looking at my stagger, a customer in the cafe, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Hai Sinh, from Ta Quang Buu Street, Hanoi, said: "You must come here for the first time. Any time I come here I was also disturbed like you. This cemetery is in a stir like a coach station. Let’s check your bag!" I startled and hastily checked my bag. It was lucky that I did not lose anything.

I was still lucky because I came here at the year end, when people flocked to the cemetery to clean and decorate the tombs of their relatives. During this time, the cemetery is always crowded and visitors are quite safe from drug addicts or robbers.

I entered the block D1. Immediately I was surrounded by dozens of people, including those who were building nearby tombs. I was like a prey and they are predators. I said: "I come here to visit the grave of my relative. On this occasion, I find the tomb of my friend’s grandmother. This tomb was lost since 1982. Her name is Le Thi Thom". The group immediately spread out to search for the tomb.

A woman who looked kind approached me and whispered: "If you do not bargain at all, they will ask you to pay at least VND300,000-VND400,000. I’ve just paid them VND400,000. It hurts!"

I thanked the kind woman and chuckled because it was just a fake name that I made up. But about one hour later, that group of people returned and said they did not find any name like that. A man looks like a gangster told me: "Please give us VND200,000 ($10). We did not find the tomb but we tried to search for it. If you really want to find it, we will look for it in the cemetery’s record book for you. But you have to pay." I had to give him the money.

The man, named Son, continued: "Give me your phone number, if I find the tomb, I will call you. Just give me several hundreds of thousands dong for a drink. It is so cheap because there are tens of thousands of tombs in this cemetery. It will take you at least three days to find the tomb."

According to him, just two days ago, a woman from Ho Chi Minh City paid him VND2 million ($100) to find four lost tombs of her parents and grandparents. This woman and her elder sister had conflict. The elder sister moved the tombs of her parents and grandparents to this cemetery without telling her younger sister. The woman only knew the names of the dead so she had to ask for the “help” of these “detectives.”

Underworld after tombstones

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Escaping from this group of “detectives”, I was again followed by a group of four people. They begged me to use their tomb cleaning and decorating service. They offered VND200,000 ($10) for each “service” like cleaning the tomb, painting the scripts, planting flowers around the tomb, etc.

A woman named Nu said: "I’m willing to take care of these four tombs for the year round. You just need to give me VND500,000 ($25) a year."

When I said that that price is high and I would take care of the tombs myself, a man in the group said: “You are so hard. Don’t regret your money. Your grandfather’s tomb is nice. Do you want to recognize it the next time?"

I was angry so I said: "Are you threatening me? Well, just do it." The man smiled: "Who know! Let’s see the tombs over there. I do not know why they are cracked and damaged. This is where we earn our living. If everyone is as hard as you, we will all be starving!"

Many people who come to this cemetery for the first time are very surprised seeing a group of strangers who rush to cut the grass, clean the tomb stele and plant trees for the tombs of their relatives. They even took soil of the nearby tombs to bank the tombs of their relatives. After that they ask for money for the job that nobody hires them to do.

Even kids of only 13, 14 years old also come here to make money. There are two jobs for them here: seeking tombs and collecting citrus peels to dry and sell to Vietnamese traditional medicine shops.

All people living around the cemetery flock into this place to earn their living in the early or at the end of the year, when people come here to clean and burn incense for their relatives. Only visitors are the sufferers because they dare not to do anything. They do not fear for themselves but they are afraid that the tombs of their relatives will be harmed by the locals if they do not use their “services.”

In this cemetery, the "service suppliers” are the inferior. There are some “barons” in this cemetery. Anyone who wants to seek land to move tombs in this cemetery has to negotiate with these “barons” and pay them “service fee” from VND8-12 million ($400-600) for a tomb.

When I said I wanted to move the grave of Mrs. Le Thi Thom to a better location, a "baron" said: "Let us help you! It will take you a lot of time for fulfilling procedures with the cemetery management board, but we can do it very quickly. We can exhume and move the tomb at night to avoid the eyes of the cemetery managers. The fee is only VND2-3 million." It seems that these people dare to do anything.

According to our survey, these phenomena have existed for many years and have been increasingly sophisticated and blatant but the cemetery management board and the local authorities have not made definitive reactions.

Mr. Phung Van Vinh, Director of the Yen Ky cemetery said: "We know the situation and we have tried to cooperate with the local police to prevent these phenomena. But because this cemetery is too large and does not have a fence, anybody can enter this place. We have only 16 persons in the management team to manage tens of thousands of tombs. Each year thousands of families want to repair the tombs. We can only manage the tomb size.”

Vinh confirmed that only when the Yen Ky cemetery has fences, he can better manage the cemetery."

In some cemeteries in Hanoi, there are several 3-4 shops selling garlands for the dead. All garlands look the same, except for the color of the tripod to distinguish the garland of each shop. What to do? When the families of the dead leave the cemetery, these shops will carry their garlands back to sell to other customers.

Nang Luong Moi
cemetery, yen ky, tomb, grave