Thursday, February 16, 2006

Celebrating Tet

Tet is short for "Tet Nguyen Dan" or "first day" of the lunar new year. It marks the start of the Vietnamese new year and colourful festivities often associated with family,food, flowers and fireworks! "Chuc Mung Nam Moi" is the standard greeting for the day.

Ben made friends with Phuong at a Karaoke bar and since October, Phuong had insisted that Ben visit him on the first day of Tet. It is a privilege to be the first to visit a family during Tet - the first guest is specially picked to bring auspicious blessings to the family for the coming year. We wondered why we were chosen but felt truly honoured to usher in blessings for the family. Phuong did make several calls when we were a little late (lost) because he worried we would not come or maybe someone else would beat us to it and accidentally become the first guest...

The Vietnamese flag, in stark red, became an inevitable part of the Tet decorations - not only to convey a sense of nationalism but also because its colour is so appropriate for the season.

Phuong's girlfriend is having her fortune read by an important visitor. This lady (on the right), although a Vietnamese, had been residing in Cambodia for some years. She was specially asked to make the trip to visit this family for the new year to make a forcast of their fortune. A pack of cards, shuffled and sorted, display the year's fortune. But the fortune-teller somehow knew we weren't into this sort of thing.

Phuong and his father with the new year spread which we consumed in his humble one-room home. The meal included dried melon seeds, roasted cuttlefish, garlic preserved in vinegar, pork porridge, pig's ears cut into strips (a great delicacy - but er... none for me) and sweets. In between each bite, Phuong pours out glasses of liqour and gets us to down it with much requests for blessings. Ben is not in the picture by now as he has passed out! ;-) Phuong is handing out the toothpicks to mark the end of the meal. Beside him is the family altar repainted and decorated with food and sweets of the season. Behind them is the other traditional family altar - the television set.

Phuong's father had been sheltered in Malaysia at Sungei Besi amongst the Vietnamese boat people for some years. However, he had come via Cambodia where he had been living. He continues to appeal to become a recognised resident of Vietnam. Unfortunately, because of an injury to his leg, his handicap makes this difficult (although the government is accepting more and more returning Vietnamese - Viet Kieus- as part of the country). Meanwhile, Phuong's parents run a hairdressing salon nearby.


What is Chinese New Year without family!? We were grateful that Elaine and Kevin dropped by Ho Chi Min City for the new year (making them the first family to visit our home). Little did they realise that nothing would be open except our home for the season but i guess they were duly compensated. Here they are in their traditional Singapore dress, having consumed traditional Hue food (cooked by our helper), singing traditional American Karaoke (is there such a thing?)

Huge flower shows were set up in the various parks throughout Saigon. The display we went to filled the main stretch of Nguyen Hue - the main boulevard facing the People's Committe Building. For days, traffic was blocked from entering this area. Months before, a competition for the best design for a flower show resulted in this winning entry - its a display with little islands of different cultures of Vietnam scattered down the road.

Some of us think we look cool in our Oakleys

And they do recognise it is the Year of the Dog.

Tet festival step-by-step


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