What will the Vietnamese celebrate the next St .Valentine’s Day if not the lovers’ day? Why do plane tickets from Warsaw to Hanoi become more expensive in January, if everybody knows that it is best to visit Vietnam in autumn? Why will the leaves disappear from the Vietnamese shops? Why are you more likely to strike a bargain before the end of February when negotiating with the Vietnamese? What shouldn’t you give your Vietnamese friend who celebrates his or her birthday in February if you don’t want to ruin your friendship? Who, according to the Vietnamese, will the following year belong to? You will find the answers for these questions below. What will the Vietnamese celebrate the next St .Valentine’s Day if not the lovers’ day?
On 14th February, when lovers shelter from the frost in cinemas to watch “My Bloody Valentine 3” or in eateries, decorated with brocade hearts and polystyrene cupids, the Vietnamese will start celebrating a totally different holiday. It will be the first day of Tet – the most important holiday in Vietnam and many other countries which draw extensively on the Chinese tradition. The first day of the New Year, determined by the lunar calendar, is celebrated much more riotously by most Asians than the one beginning on 1 January of the solar calendar. Tet in Vietnam means a week off from school or work, spent with a family on celebrating. The year 2010 and the beginning of 2011 will be the Year of the Tiger.
Why do plane tickets from Warsaw to Hanoi become more expensive in January, if everybody knows that it is best to visit Vietnam in autumn?
Tet is a period of visiting the family, particularly the relatives who decided to live at the other end of the world and arrive then to wish us a happy New Year. The Vietnamese’s returns begin in January. A journey to Vietnam for the Tet is not only a cost of ticket prices but also red envelopes with money – the presents one has to prepare in advance for the youngest and oldest members of the family, for its future or for the distinguished family members. Tet is also an opportunity of giving the ancestors the respect due to them, therefore family altars are bending under the load of dishes, sweets, fruit and alcohol.
Why will the leaves disappear from the Vietnamese shops in February?
Since Tet is connected with a lot of family celebration, there should also appear meals specially prepared for that occasion. The key dish is called bánh chưng – a glutinous rice cake, filled with pork, bean and spices. The cuboidal cake with the two squared sides is wrapped in the dong leaves, which during many hours of cooking give a specific green colour and aroma to an outer layer of rice. Bánh chưng is an obligatory menu item not only for the family but also for the family altar. Typical Tet delicacy are also candied sweets: fruit, lotus seeds and my favourite – candied ginger. Should we find in Warsaw such sweet mixture during Tet, we will pay for it as much as several dozen zlotys! Besides, on the Vietnamese Tet table there are also pickled vegetables, pork in cocoa sauce or roast watermelon seeds. Watermelon is the most important fruit because of its red pulp. Red colour means luck and success, therefore the red objects, presents and clothes will be preferred during Tet.
Why are you more likely to strike a bargain before the end of February when negotiating with the Vietnamese?
The New Year means the end of the old one, therefore the Vietnamese will try to finish the unsettled matters, repay their debts and settle arguments in order to be able to start a new period with a clean slate. They will attempt that the unsettled matters not burden them but simultaneously they will avoid any actions that could make their luck leave their houses. Thus, if they follow the tradition, they will not take the rubbish out or sweep during that time (in order not to inadvertently get rid of luck, too).
What shouldn’t you give your Vietnamese friend who celebrates his or her birthday in February if you don’t want to ruin your friendship?
Although during Tet you should be grateful for any present or wishes, you should also know that if your Vietnamese friend is superstitious, not every present will please him. Do not throw your money down the drain, buying him a watch (“his time will soon be over”), a medicine (as you will bring illness on him), or a cat ( the word “cat” resembles “poverty” in Vietnamese). However, everything new and red will make him happy as well as the Tet bánh chưng cake (because he will be able to share it with others) and, of course, a rice vodka. Do not treat these tips too seriously, because a real Vietnamese will be pleased with any present given selflessly.
Who, according to the Vietnamese and many Asians, will the following year belong to?
Born in the years: 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998 are people born under the sign of the Tiger. The year 2010 belongs to that zodiac. Tigers are brave and temperamental, love challenges and hate failures. They are charming people with charisma and passion, but they can also surprise by their sensitivity. They are most compatible with people born in the year of the Rat. The year of the Tiger will be full of work and energy.
„Vietnam is situated on the right bank of the Vistula River”
Varsovians could also celebrate Tet during the last two years by eating Vietnamese dishes, singing karaoke and watching flying lanterns. Vietnamese New Year, organized by a few enthusiasts in the Saturator club in the Warsaw district of Praga, attracts a lot of Varsovians every year thanks to exotic music and other entertainment. This time the Year of the Tiger will surely start stunningly. However, you will not find many Vietnamese at this party. Not all of them go back to Vietnam for Tet, but often visit their friends or stay with their family, which is something they rarely have the opportunity to do, working seven days a week. They go to the Stadium or Vietnamese shops to buy ingredients for bánh chưng, decorate their family altars with yellow flowers, call their relatives or use Yahoo to send their greetings to those celebrating in Vietnam.
Text by: Đàm Vân Anh, February 2010
Translated by: Anna Piątek