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Published: January 20th 2009
Painting of the buffaloes
Painting of the buffaloes on the wall of the Trade Fair in Giảng Võ Exhibition Center, Hanoi. 2008 was the Year of the Rat (Mậu Tý). 2009 is the Year of the Buffalo (Kỷ Sửu).
Another Tết (Vietnamese lunar new year) is coming. While Chinese people call their lunar new year 2009 "the Year of the Ox", we Vietnamese choose "the Year of the Buffalo". Vietnam is still very much an agricultural country despite the changes in our economy in recent years. The buffalo plays an important role on Vietnamese farms. A buffalo would do most of the work on Vietnamese farms while in developed countries farmers would use a tractor. The buffalo is even considered a good friend by our farmers.
In my blog last year about Tết 2008 in Hanoi
, I explained our traditional customs during Tết. In this blog, I would like to share with you three memories from my childhood days. I always remember such things, because we no longer experience them.
The first thing is the preparation process for making traditional square rice cakes which are called "Bánh chưng". My mother, sister and I had to clean the "dong" leaves, wash the green beans and sticky rice. Sometimes we invited a friend of my father to our house to help us. He cut the leaves, used them to make a mould of square shape, pack the cakes and tie them with bamboo
Materials to make "Bánh chưng"
"Dong" leaves, sticky rice, green bean and pork are the materials to make square rice cake "Bánh chưng", which is the traditional cake during Tết. This picture is the cover of Vietnam Airlines magazine "Heritage".
strings. My mother could pack the cakes, but the shape never looked so great. She placed the leaves on a tray, pour a bowl of sticky rice on the surface of the leaves then a bowl of green beans, a piece of pork with pepper then another bowl of green beans and sticky rice (see photos No. 2 & 3). Each cake weighed approx. 1 kilo and we usually made 12-13 cakes. We would bring the cakes to a public kitchen that was set up in the open to provide boiling services before Tết. This kitchen had huge pots, which were fuelled by firewood (same as photo No. 11). Each family had to mark their own cakes and we often tied a piece of red cloth onto our cakes. After 10 hours of boiling, the red cloth changed to a darker color. However the cooks always knew which cakes belonged to their clients. As we only had these cakes once a year, we always felt the cakes were delicious. Sadly, we had to wait another year to enjoy them again.
Fire-crackers are my second memory of Tết. At 12pm on New Year’s eve, every family set off fire-crackers. It
Bánh chưng (Square rice cake)
"Bánh chưng" is our traditional cake during Tết. The cakes have different weights and sizes.
was so loud that our cat hid in the wardrobe and I had to hold our dog, who trembled with fear. On the first morning of the New Year and the following days some families set off fire-crackers again. I liked the smell of the fire-crackers, but didn't like the loud sound.
My last memory of Tết. During 1980s and early 1990s, Vietnam was very poor and we had to do some extra works to survive. My father was an engineer and mother was a teacher, but their salaries were not enough to raise 3 daughters. My father opened a photo shop at Thống Nhất park, which is the biggest park in Hanoi. Tết was the busiest time for us, as more people went to the park during the holiday. At that time, black and white photos were popular and only a few people had cameras. So from the 1st day of the lunar New Year until the 10th, we worked at the shop from 7am to 7pm. We invited people to take photos, developed the photos at night in our house and returned them to our clients next days at the shop. I was short-sighted, so I couldn’t
adjust the lens. My major work was to take care of the shop and return the photos to our clients, while my parents and sisters were major photographers. My father also developed the photos, so he slept only a few hours at night. In fact, while we could earn some money after Tết, but that was just enough to buy an electrical fan, or a second hand bicycle, or a German coat, which were luxuries at that time. So much work just to buy simple things.
And now, things change. We don't have to make rice cakes, since we can buy them at the markets and eat them any time. There are no longer fire-crackers, as they have been banned because of being dangerous. We celebrate New Year's eve with fireworks which last 15 minutes. We can earn money and help our parents. Tết is just a time for us to relax from work. Children look forward to Tết, because they receive lucky money inside red envelopes, which I didn't have during my childhood. Nowadays many people own cameras, so it's more difficult for people to make a living as my father did with his photo shop. My father
At Giảng Võ Exhibition Center
A model of buffalo in front of the traditional paintings.
also taught me some basic knowledge of photography, that's how I can be a model and photographer of my own photos using an automatic camera. I still love photography while other people in my family are no longer interested in taking photos.
The photos in this blog were taken at the Flower Market in the Old Quarter, Giảng Võ Exhibition Center and some shops in Hanoi on Saturday 17 and Monday 19 January 2009, just a week before Tết.
I'm off to travel in central Vietnam and southern Laos. I will celebrate the New Year over there. This year I will have a long holiday (10 days) from 23 January to 1 February. Chúc Mừng Năm Mới - Happy Tết!
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