Tet Holiday in Vietnam

Tet Holiday aka how to visit more than 30 households in a day, eat and drink unusual stuff, communicate in Vietnamese without actually knowing Vietnamese and have an unforgettable time!

When: 16.2.2015-21.2.2015

Who: Clara, Ania, Angela, Monique and our great hosts – Dung, Dap and their family

Where: Ninh Binh province, Thanh Hoa province

I was about to experience first Lunar New Year in my life. I didn´t have any idea about this holiday so I had to google what is going to happen in Vietnam. What I realized was that celebration of New Year´s Eve, alias Tet Holiday is the biggest holiday in the country, and it lasts over two weeks. According to google I expected a lot of flowers, traditional trees, food, drinks and many traditions going on all around. And what was reality?

We decided to experience it as much as possible so we accepted one of many invitations from our friends and we went to Thanh Hoa province. On the way there we made a stop in SonLuy village (Ninh Binh province) with unforgettable views of mountains reflected in ricefields, hardworking farmers trying to earn a little money for their families. After the peaceful walk among the fields, we were invited for the late lunch. We already knew that Vietnamese food is very tasty so I didn´t have any doubts that it will be good. What was a surprise for me, while we were cooking Hot pot (which is a pot with boiling water and spices in the middle of the room; all the persons are sitting around and the least laziest ones are taking care of the pot so they put inside all kinds of vegetables, meat, noodles, sometimesro or seafood….) So everything was going as usual until the guy next to me cracked an egg and instead of regular white and yolk there was a small unborn duck inside. That was the first time since I came to Vietnam and I couldn’t eat anymore. Anyway, I got used to this kind of unusual food and I tried it later in Hanoi. It was kind of tasty.

We spent the main part of Tet holiday with our friends Dung, Dap and their family in Thanh Hoa province. It was great to experience Tet with the locals. They couldn’t be more generous. As in all the families here, Dung´s and Dap´s mum cooked almost all day ´cause Vietnamese eat every meal fresh. I wanna express my great admiration for all the Vietnamese women that devote their lives for their families. They are the ones that take care of kids, household, cook and clean without complaining and thinking of a possibility of living a  better life. Men also play the great role in family life. They earn the money for the whole family most of the times they spend a lot of money to provide their children good education and chance to be more successful. Most of them work hard as farmers or fishermen (Vietnam is one of the main exporters of rice, coffee, peanuts, sugarcane…).

The village were we stayed was a catholic village and as we were part of the family, we went to church everyday. It would be even more interesting if we understand the preacher, even though it was nice experience.

During the time in Thanh Hoa province we experienced fishing on the cousin´s lake, we actually caught 3 fishes that ended up as our dinner. I made an interview with the local radio, surprisingly in fluent  Vietnamese 😀 In the afternoon we helped a bit to distribute chung cake to the poorest families in village. (I guess that most westerns would guess that chung cake is a sweet yummy cake from flour, but unexpectedly if someone offer you a cake in Vietnam, it is very likely to contain meat and rice. Chung cake contains yellow bean, meat, rice and everything is packed in the banana leaves, people usually dip it in honey. If you go to Vietnam during Tet you cannot avoid it as it is the most traditional cake. Families cook it together before Tet many hours. We made also few of them before the holidays with other volunteers. For the first time in my life I set up the fire in front of the house on the sidewalk to cook a meal.)

On the day D, day of New year´s Eve we went on a trip around neighborhood. We visited a local cemetery to pray for ancestors; veneration of ancestors is one of the important traditions here. All the families have the altars with flowers and candies to show their respect to those who passed away. We spent the afternoon by hiking and eating supermarket-bought seafood paradoxically by the sea. 😛 In comparison to western new year’s eve, Vietnamese one was quite calm. We danced around the campfire with the rest of the youth from village and during the midnight we ate all together hot pot and sang karaoke. I was expecting the countdown, but nothing like that happened.

However the most interesting part of the Tet was the first day of new year. Our hosts told us to get up very early to visit their family. I was expecting 3-4 visits as is usual in Slovakia during Christmas, but none of us expected what happened next. After 8th, 9th, 10th household I asked Dung how many family members left cause I didn’t have anymore space for food and drinks. The tradition was to taste a tea, candies, sunflower seeds, dried ginger and homemade alcohol, mostly ricewine or decoction from worms and snakes. As I didn’t want to offend our hosts, I obediently ate and drank everything they offered me. Besides the food and drinks younger members of the families get from older ones red envolopes with lucky money (a few thousand of VD). I guess we are still young as we got some as well. In each houseold we had to wish to the whole family happy new year (Chuc mung Nam Moi) and answer polite questions about coutries of our origin, but very often for me quite personal questions about our age, height even a weight :D. With the number of visited households the weird questions became normal and visits got shorter and shorter, sometimes I didn’t even have time to sit down and I had to stand up 😀 In the end of the day we visited more than 30 households. And it still wasn’t everything, next day we realized that it was just the father´s side of family. So adventure continued even the next day. In the end of our stay my friends told me that everybody in the village knows that girls from Slovakia can drink 😀

After delicious food, many chung cakes and shots, dozens of family visits, a lot of happy faces, generous Vietnamese and with the amazing feeling from countryside we came back to Hanoi to continue our volunteering and adventurous city life.

(Clara)

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