Did you know that Vietnamese artist Lê Phổ (1907 – 2001), a graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, is largely responsible for popularising the modern ao dai? We hope you enjoy this selection of his ao dai paintings.
One of the easiest aspects of learning Vietnamese is the spelling of words – it’s very predictable and most words follow the spelling rules, but remembering the tones? That’s another story. One of the easiest ways to memorise the tones on the vocabulary you acquire is to use the words immediately, by texting or emailing your Vietnamese friends. Here’s the keyboard guide to Vietnamese tones:
Type these letters at the end of a word and the correct tone will appear:
1. After having a baby, many Vietnamese women will not bathe their own bodies or even wash their hair for the first month. There is a belief that contact with water could endanger the mother’s health, and this could result in the baby’s death.
2. As in western culture the number 13 is unlucky in Vietnam, and is called a ‘dead number’. Business people in particular will not buy a house bearing the street number 13. If they have no other choice, the house will be renamed 12A or 14A. You can see this practice on many streets in Hanoi.
3. While we’re on the topic of business, people in trade must Thắp Hương or light incense and pray in front of an altar twice every month. If they don’t, the three gods on the altar will feel neglected and will punish them by reducing sales.
4. Marriage during the Year of the Dog (the current lunar year) should not be arranged between people born in the Year of the Buffalo, Goat or Dog. If people decide to ignore this superstition, they will be cursed with poverty and an unhappy relationship with their spouse.
5. If you’re the first customer of the day in a Vietnamese shop, there’s a good chance you can successfully bargain with the shop owner. Many traders believe that the first customer to cross the threshold of their shop each morning sets the tone for the day, so they really want you to make a purchase. You can turn this into an opportunity to settle on a nice price!
Vietnamese celebrate the 3rd day of the 3rd month (on the lunar calendar) every year. In English, we call it Ancestors’ Day or Holiday of the Dead; in Vietnamese you can call it Thanh Minh or Tet Han Thuc, which in Vietnamese means Cold Food Festival, because of the tradition of eating cold dishes on this day. Several days before Ancestors’ Day, relatives usually clean the graves of their ancestors and decorate them with flowers. On the holiday, people traditionally visit the cemetery, taking with them incense and food for the deceased. This year Tet Han Thuc falls on Wednesday 25th April – now you know why it’s a public holiday.
On the anniversary of the death of a family member (giỗ) , or at special times of the year such as Kitchen Gods’ Day, Vietnamese people usually buy a bundle of replica money (đô la âm phủ) and paper versions of horses, cars, clothes, mobile phones, jewelry and even credit cards to burn outside their homes. By burning the paper goods, they are making them accessible to their ancestors. The practice was actually banned by the government during the 1970s because it was regarded as wasteful and it didn’t fit with socialist ideology, and only became acceptable again after Doi Moi. During the past decade, some local councils around the country have tried to ban the burning of joss paper in the interests of public cleanliness but the practise has persisted. A few weeks ago, the practise was condemned by a number of leading Buddhists monks in Hanoi, who declared that the burning of paper iPhones and the like is ostentatious and contrary to the doctrines of Buddhism.