Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Biggest Celebration in Asia!

Day 3: Can Tho
Holiday time is family time.
For Vietnamese people the Tet Nguyen Dan holiday is very important because it marks the beginning of the traditional lunar holiday. It is commonly called Tet or Vietnamese Lunar New Year. It often shares the date of the Chinese New Year, but not always. This is the only time of the year when the whole country is resting and relaxing. As a result, we saw many people making preparations during our first few days here.
It is also a time for gathering together with family and friends to enjoy traditional cuisine. The Tet holiday began on Monday, February 8th this year. The government offices were closed from the end of the day on February 5th until February 14th. Leave it to us to unknowingly book a trip to Southeast Asia during one of the biggest holidays!
Typical houses built on stilts to stay dry in high tide.
That explains the crowds at the airport. And unfortunately, our flight back to Australia is on the 14th so we will be with masses returning home after the holiday! The positive is that we get to experience this important event, even though it will be a busy time.

The river is their life blood.

Tet, Lunar New Year is the grandest and most important festival for the Vietnamese. It is similar to the celebration of Christmas in the Christian world. Having more than 4,000 years of history and dating back to the Shang Dynasty (17th-11th century BC), the Lunar New Year is full of rich and colorful activities and hope, with the arrival of spring and flowers blooming.
The yellow apricot blossom is most special and special here. Yellow was the King's color and no one else was allowed to use or wear it. Yellow flowers are all over the city and are represented in the street decorations.

People from different regions and ethnics groups (of which there are 58) celebrate in their own unique ways such as visiting friends, going to pagodas to pray for prosperity, good health and happiness for the New Year, sharing special meals, etc. it is customary to give out red envelopes (known as li xi) containing a written wish or money during Tet. The li xi are believed to bring luck not only to the person receiving it but also to those giving the envelope.
It is also tradition to welcome guests with tea and sweet treats, such as sugared Frits which are supposed to sweeten one's upcoming year. Flamboyant Lion Dances can be seen in the streets or a troupe might be invited to perform at private homes to bring luck, prosperity and happiness. These dances are performed on the first day of the Lunar New Year.
Another bit of information: the lotus flower is the national flower of Vietnam. A truly sustainable plant, all parts of the lotus can be somehow used or consumed. Since their kitchens do not usually stock aluminum foil or baggies, the lotus flower leaves are used to wrap food for cooking or saving. The flower and its symbol are seen many places as decoration.

Yellow flowers are for sale everywhere - just like
Christmas trees.
On our third day of cruising, we boarded a sampan for an early cruise through the colorful Cai Rang floating market near Can Tho. Vendors start hawking their wares at dawn; smaller boat come to buy for local village markets.

Small business owner selling her produce.
The floating market is like a distribution center for the area. It is open every day except
holidays. We wove between vendor boats, shoppers and tour boats for several miles along the river. People were literally climbing over our sampan to get to the vendor’s boat to make a purchase.
First he cut the skin off. Then removed
the eyes leaving a lovely spiral pattern.
Since it was the Tet holiday (Vietnam’s version of the Chinese New Year), it was very busy. You could buy every kind of fruit and vegetable, rice, fish, coconut drinks, etc. We watched them trim fresh pineapples with a huge knife and learned how to easily remove all of the “eyes” that are a pain to dig out!
And we each had a pineapple pop on the stalk!
Watermelon is a stable food here.
The next stop was at an instant rice noodle factory. Now you think factory and your mind’s eyes sees stainless steel work spaces, mixing machines and drying ovens, people in white coats with their hair covered, a sanitary environment, etc. NOT! This “factory” is an open-air building where none of the above is present.

In one area a rice slurry is made, then transported to another are where it is spread on the hot surface heated by open fire. They used to use rice husk as fuel, but this enterprising family business found a way to get fabric scraps from a clothing manufacturer for free. So the fires are now burning fabric and they do not have to buy rice husks.

Here they burn fabric scraps in the ovens.

After the noodle “crepe” is cooked, it is moved to woven mats and set in the sun to dry. Yup! Just sitting in the open air. Then the rounds are run through a very old noodle cutter and scooped by hand into one kilogram bags for sale. And off to market they go! I like rice noodles since they are gluten-free, but now I wonder how the ones I buy are really produced. They don’t have the same appeal as they once did!

Like lifting a crepe off the pan - but much larger!
Drying the rice sheets.
Preparing to cut and bag the noodles.
Weighed and bagged for market. No labeling!

Cutting the noodles with help.

Rice noodles are an integral part of their diet.

Then it was back to the boat for lunch and cool air. We were liking these midday breaks for lunch and a little rest. It could become a habit!

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