You know that Autumn has finally arrived when you see cốm for sale on the streets of Hanoi’s old quarter. Cốm is young rice, harvested early, pounded within an inch of its life, and served in a lotus leaf. Much tastier, sweeter and chewier than conventional rice, cốm is best eaten slowly and, believe it or not, tastes great when eaten with ripe bananas.
One of the easiest ways to feel connected to Hanoi & meet some people outside your workplace is to join a volunteer organisation. We recommend starting at this website: http://www.ngocentre.org.vn/ The site contains an up-to-date Vietnam-wide database, in alphabetical order, of NGOs in the country together with the email addresses of their offices. (The site also lists paid employment opportunities if you’re looking for a job change) This website is not comprehensive, though – we noticed that Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation is not listed there, and this is an excellent organisation that relies on volunteer input to keep its vital anti-human trafficking programs in place. Blue Dragon can be contacted at: email@example.com
Koto is another favorite with expats, offering volunteering opportunities for people with hospitality experience and/or English teaching qualifications. You can read about the Koto story here
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!
Have you ever wondered why, when you see a funeral procession, some of the attendees throw money and tiny red paper boxes onto the road? It’s about dead souls. When a person dies, no matter where they are, their soul leaves the body and returns to their earthly home, where the soul gravitates towards his/her old bedroom. Surviving relatives don’t want the soul to remain in the home because there’s a chance that the soul of the deceased person could lure the soul of a living person onto “the other side”, so the money is scattered from the funeral procession to motivate the dead soul to follow the family to the cemetery, where the soul can relocate to a tomb.