Week 5: Ma cà rồng – Vietnamese “vampire” and the problem with Dunning Kruger Effect

Well, the last post in the #VNmyth series wasn’t really a myth, so I’ll do a quick post to make up for it.

The Ma Cà Rồng appeared officially for the first time in a book named “Kiến Văn Tiểu Lục” by a famous scholar – Lê Quý Đôn. Written in the 18th century, it described a newfound type of creatures in the province of Hưng Hóa, a part of the modern-day Vietnam Northern mountainous area.

They look just like humans and function normally as one of us during the day; while retain no memory whatsoever of their nightly activities. At night, though, the creature plugs both big toes into its nostrils; each of its hand holds onto the earlobe of the same side and it takes fly into the sky. They can shape-shift and are not limited to any specific animals, but they tend to choose the forms of house pets. After giving the pets a treatment of… “meeting your doppelganger,” the monster would snuggle with the owner to suck the blood it craves. While it won’t outright kill you, prolonged exposure will result in guaranteed deaths.

May be an illustration of one or more people
A Ma Cà Rồng taking fly during night time.

They feast on blood, ideally that of a pregnant lady, but also pus and sputum. They’re more like bodily fluid sucker than traditional blood feasting monster if you ask me.

Instead of being a corpse that comes back from the grave like many Western monsters, they are born that way and fully alive. They can’t make more of themselves through conventional means of turning their victims, but reproduce just like any normal human (hence a lot of them have human wives/husbands). Also, the ma cà rồng have reflection on silver base mirrors, and would eat you along with all your garlics if they feel like it. Their weakness is their skittish personality as they are easily startled by loud noises. Sources of light turn green when they’re presented so you can easily tell if one is hunting nearby.

Etymology, their name consist of two part. “Ma” is the Vietnamese word for ghost, but is used pretty loosely and can be regard to anything evil that come from the yin realm. Cà rồng is the Vietnamese pronunciation of ‘Krung’ in the Tal-Kadai language family. In Thai, it mean “city” (fyi: Bangkok native name – or at least the first part of it – is Krung Thep Maha Nakhon – city of angels. So yeah, missed opportunity for a book there Cassandra Clare 😛). So all in all, ma cà rồng is roughly translated into city ghost. But don’t quote me on this, since I can’t speak the Tal-Kadai of northern mountain people myself to fact check.

In conclusion, do they have anything in common with the western Vampires?? Absolutely fu**ing nothing!! Well, apart from a mistranslation. Pro-tip: I sometimes use this to test English authors (who use ma cà rồng in their book) to see if they actually did their research beyond that of forum articles. You can really tell whether the author do it with love, respect and curiosity or just to name drop a foreign beast to cross “diversity” off their to-do list based on what they do and their answers. Works like a charm :))

Also, I’ll admit, I do use this to click bait from time to time (just like I did here) but never without explaining the misinformation.

The problem is that in the early days of globalization, Vietnamese often used old words to describe new concepts (in this case ma cà rồng and vampire, respectively). It’s not the other way around and it’s a mistake that I’ll admit that have occurred on our end. However, this misinformation somehow find it way back to the English speaking world via forums like Reddit and Quora, thus making Western authors, with or without Vietnamese ancestry alike, to falsely group the ma cà rồng as a kind of *insert vampire equivalence name here*. You see why I brought up Dunning Kruger effect in my last post? This is what happens when authors merely skim through articles before writing about foreign concepts. They think they get it, but more often than not, their lack of knowledge create fundamental-level mistakes that are quite jarring, if not ridiculous, to read.

So, if you were to see an English author grouping Ma Cà Rồng as their vampire, know that it’s wrong.

Lastly, the Ma Cà Rồng will make an appearance in book 2 of the Half-Alive Series (which is already being written and translated), and has already been covered in a chapter of The Plane-Walkers Guidebook, which is a companion/free content of the series (if you compare the content of this post to that chapter, you can kind of see where I took creative liberty and added my own speculation to the old myths).

P.S.: to my ancestors, sometimes you folks make it seem like you are on drugs with your myths! It’s not helping!!

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