The mythical origins of bánh chưng, a traditional Tet food in Vietnam, go back to the sixth Hung King, whose son created the recipe for the steamed cake in a bid to become his father’s only heir. The green leaves that encase a bánh chưng represent the earth, reflecting the green forests, mountains and meadows of Vietnam. Inside the cake, hidden beneath a thick layer of sticky rice, are beans and pork, which are symbols of the earth’s plants and animals. During Tet, families make bánh chưng and offer them to their ancestors, and share them with friends. This year, you’ll know exactly what you’re biting into – a piece of Vietnamese heritage.
Giving lì xì or red envelopes containing lucky money is an integral aspect of Tet. Foreigners are very welcome to join in this custom. Apparently, it’s not the amount of money inside the envelope that counts – it’s the thought – so don’t get hung up deciding on how much to give. Anything from 10,000 vnd upwards is fine, but make sure the money you put in the envelope is new and clean. Many Vietnamese will go to the bank before Tet just to get hold of brand new money for their lì xì. Giving old and tattered notes is considered disrespectful.
If you receive some lucky money, don’t be in a hurry to spend it. It’s better to save your lucky money to use on something special. Both givers and receivers of lì xì will be lucky in the ensuing year. By handing out lì xì, you are inviting the flow of money and luck into your own household.
It looks like Moldy march has arrived 2 months early in Hanoi, so it’s time to post some tips that will keep your home or apartment dry and mold-free:
- Ventilate the 2 wettest rooms of the house -your bathroom & kitchen.
- Wipe down the shower recess with a clean towel or squeegee as soon as everyone has had a shower. Make sure you remove wet towels from the bathroom immediately after use.
- Keep windows open when it’s dry outside and close windows when it rains or it’s foggy. Ceiling or pedestal fans can help keep air moving – mold forms when the air is still.
- Direct sunlight kills mold – take moldy items outside when the sun is shining and let them ‘sunbake’.
- Keep the doors of your cupboards and drawers open. If possible, store everything on open shelves for the entire month.
- Turn on the dehumidifier. Check your aircon – does it have a dehumidifying function? The symbol for this is usually a water droplet.
- When you water your indoor plants, mix some Taheebo tea with the water. This tea kills mold and will prevent the soil in your pot plants from becoming mold factories!
- Don’t put furniture up against outside walls. The inside walls (between rooms) are always warmer and less prone to condensation. Leave a gap between the wall and each piece of furniture so that air can circulate freely.
- Stuff your shoes, boots and handbags with magazines or foam to keep them mold-free. Store them in a well-ventilated part of the house.
- Vacuum more often when the weather is humid, because mold spores attach themselves to dust particles.
- Don’t dry your clothes inside – put them in the clothes dryer.
- Clean the filter inside your air conditioner – this will stop mold from growing inside the unit.
Avoid swearing or using negative words in the first few days of the new year. It is believed that words like dead (chết) and sad (buồn) may haunt you for the whole year. It’s better to talk about the future in positive terms – use words like hope (mong or hy vọng) and sẽ (to indicate the future tenses) – and reflect on happy memories from the previous year. If your Tet is conflict-free and full of positive energy, fun and laughter, the ensuing year will be smooth.
If you’ve ever seen these colourful bottles and wondered about their purpose, here’s the answer. Translated as “cereal bottles”, it’s a common practise in Buddhist families to place these bottles on the altar, especially at Tet time. The decorative bottles contain 6 kinds of commonly-eaten beans and cereals that bring luck into the household. If one of these bottles graces your altar, you will not have to worry about feeding your family in the new year. We bought our bottle at the Buddhist supermarket on Quan Su St in the Old Quarter. It’s a Tet gift that shows you understand Vietnamese culture.
In the north of Vietnam, the 2 most popular trees for Tet are the kumquat and the peach. Decorating your home with one or both of these trees signifies growth and luck for the new year.
If you’re buying a branch of a Cây Đào (peach tree) rather than a potted bonsai version, as soon as you take it home, lightly char the stump of the branch over a gas stove. Next, ensure that there’s plenty of water in the base of the vase you display the branch in, as this will prolong the life of the flowers. Check on the water level every few days to ensure that the stump of the branch is always immersed.
Never give watches or clocks as Tet gifts, as they are reminders of our mortality. Mirrors are also a bad idea, as they can attract malicious ghosts, and they’re easily broken and this can lead to bad luck. Knives and scissors, in fact anything sharp and pointy, are taboo as gifts as they symbolise cutting off a friendship.
Cats should never be given as gifts during Tet, for the noise they make sounds similar to the Vietnamese word for poor, ngheo. Engagement rings and marriage proposals are also not a popular ‘gift’ at Tet, because if the woman turns down the man’s offer, he may be plagued by bad luck in the coming year. While we’re on the topic of rings, don’t buy a ring for a Vietnamese woman during Tet because it’s bad luck for her to come into contact with metal – you guessed it – because it brings bad luck.
Finally, never make a gift of pepper during the Lunar New Year because the word for pepper (hạt TIÊU) sounds like the word for dissipate (TIÊU tan).
The Lunar New Year period in Vietnam, Tet, is a shortened version of its full name: Tet Nguyen Dan which translates to “the first morning of the first day of the new year”. One of the main tasks for Vietnamese families in the run-up to this time is to cleanse their homes and lives of any bad luck from the previous year: settling debts, resolving ongoing disputes and spring cleaning the home.
This year, the first day of Tet will fall on Tuesday 5th February 2019, and this day will usher in the final year in the 12-year lunar cycle, the Year of the Pig. Last time Year of the Pig hit Vietnam, it was accompanied by a baby boom, as many parents felt that the characteristics of those born during this lunar year were desirable, for people born under this sign are supposed to be loyal and very genuine, and are blessed with good fortune.
The official Tet holiday period for 2019 in Vietnam starts on 4th February and finishes on 10th February.
Vietnam’s soccer team just won the AFF Suzuki Cup for 2018. Why did the whole nation stop when the final was televised? Because pretty much the whole nation has been hoping to win this cup for the past ten years – it’s been a long wait!
The countries competing for the cup are mostly South-east Asian – including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, even Timor Leste, and of course Vietnam!
The team has a new coach, and it’s quite a big deal – a South Korean guy called Park Hang Seo, who has only been with the team since October 2017. He was formerly the assistant to uber-famous coach Guus Hiddink, and many moons ago actually played soccer for South Korea. Having such a prestigious soccer coach has added to the hype and there is a feeling in the air that Park Hang Seo’s appointment has helped to bring Vietnam and South Korea closer together in terms of diplomatic relations (A deal has just been clinched to give 5 year multi-entry South Korean visas to residents of Hanoi, Saigon and Da Nang). South Korea’s new president was apparently chuffed to learn that many Vietnamese fans waved both Vietnamese and Korean flags as they celebrated the victory last Saturday night.
But back to the soccer match… the winning goal of the tournament was kicked by Nguyen Anh Duc, who was rewarded with a US$50,000 apartment in Phu Yen Province. Coach Park Hang Seo donated US$100,000 of his prize winnings to poor Vietnamese households and to foster the game of soccer in rural Vietnam.