Incense burning during the Buddhist holiday as well as days to remember one’s ancestors, especially during Tet holiday í a must-do and beautiful gesture that reflect our thousand years old tradition. The custom of worshipping ancestors is a beautiful, rich, and colorful and joyful tradition in Vietnamese culture. The majority of Vietnamese families have ancestor altars to honor and remember their ancestors and a bundle of incense sticks is likely compared to a spiritual bridge allowing humankind to reach over to those of the supernatural world.
Possibly all or most of the Vietnamese people have a propensity to believe that there is another world on “ the other side” where our loved ones in spirit or in soul-like form are turning toward us for comfort, for moment of family life. When the incense sticks are burned through its aromatic scent and whiff of smoke, we believe that we can literally have conversation with them, invite them, interact them create warm comfort for both real and supernatural worlds.
Back to our own New year customs, during 3 days of Tet, you can witness the most familiar scenes of the young and the old, the men and women, the elderly and teenagers.. everyone with incense sticks burning and raised high at their forehead seems to sincerely whisper their prayers asking to have a prosperous, peaceful and healthy year to come for themselves and their love ones.
This custom of burning incense has gone for centuries and for generations to generations, no one can remember its origin but it sure convey a sense of security, assurance and peace of mind to all of us
In food as in death, we feel the essential brotherhood of mankind”
A Vietnamese Saying
Vietnam’s cuisine is very much a reflection of its culture and contact with other cultures. Rice, com in Vietnamese is the main staple of the diet and the basic of the country’s agriculture. The year of Chinese influence and occupation is evident in the use of the chopsticks and the tendency to eat plain white rice separately with other foods rather than mixing them together. However, the similarities end there. The extensive use of nuoc man, fresh herbs- lemon grass, basil, coriander, mint, spear parsley, laksa leaf, fresh lime- and particularly all the spices used in Southeast asia in Vietnamese cuisine lend it a subtlety of flavor which set it apart. Virtually every meal is accompanied by a delicious soup.
The later French influence brought with it the baguette and pate sold in the markets and roadside stalls today and an appreciation of French food, shared by visitors and locals alike in the country’s numerous Vietnamese-run French Restaurants. Vietnam’s 3000km of coastline, innumerable rivers and waterway provide an ample and varied supply of fresh fish and seafood all year round. Fresh and salt water fish, shellfish and crustaceans are eaten as the main source of protein in delicious dishes like cha ca, barbecued fish and various minced fish meat cakes. The national condiment, nuoc man, a fermented fish sauce, imparts its fine piquancy to practically every dish and to a large extent replaces salt, which lacks nuoc man’s nutritive and flavor-enhancing properties. By adding a few other ingredients, nuoc man is transformed into a delicious sauce- nuoc cham- that accompanies and complements every meal. Every cook has his or her own formula, but usually it consists of fresh chili, fresh lime juice, garlic and sugar. This is used as a dipping sauce for variety of snack type foods, for example the popular nem ran – small roll of minced pork, prawn, crab meat, fragrant mushrooms and vegetables wrapped in thin rice paper and deep fried until crisp. Before eating, the nem ran is rolled in a lettuce leaf with fresh herbs and dipped in the nuoc man.
Many South Vietnamese delicacies are served with raw, leafy vegetables, bean sprouts and herbs and wrapped up in a do-it-yourself manner. This custom, far from being-Chinese is probably indigenous to the area. The southerners, living in a tropical area, use more coconut milk in their cooking and traditionally prefer their food spicier than people in the colder north. But despite their difference, north and South Vietnam share many tastes in common.
The Vietnamese have created very innovative dishes using pork, chicken and beef sometimes combining meat together with fish and seafood.
Whether it be boiled, barbecued, grilled stewed or fried, Vietnamese cuisine is a skilful and delicious different blend of many unique flavors, textures and influences. Variety is certainly the spice of life and cuisine in Vietnam.
The vietnamese have a saying that goes:
"When you eat the fruit, then remember those who planted the tree"
Because of this most vietnamese families have an altar in the house and you will see that most businesses have one too.
these altars are mainly there to honor the encestors.
These ancestral altars are a key thing in most vietnamese families and you will see small offerings on them and if it's the death day of an important person in the family then you will often see them put out by the entrance to the house that day.
You will also see altars at just about every business in Vietnam displayed in the main room of the hotel, restaurant, office or whatever it is.
The vietnamese do in general pay a lot of respect to their ancestors and this is the most visible way you will see it.
Vietnam is a country that is very heavily farmed and it's still very much done by manual labour.
This is of course first of all cause Vietnam is still a developing nation where people earn little.
It does look very colorful though and remind the western travellers a bit of how our grandparents had to work in the fields before it was mechanised.
Vietnamese agriculture is becoming increasingly mechanised and most of the manual labour will eventually go away but there are still some years to go before that happens and all the people workin g in the fields sure does give us visitors some good photos and adds to the charm of Vietnam,.
In buddihst culture it's generally polite to take your shoes off before entering a building and this is particulary important if you enter temples or pagodas.
Most places have a sign asking you to take your shoes off before entering but it can be missed and you should just make it a habit in Vietnam to check if there are shoes by the entrance of a place and if there is then take your own shoes off before entering as that is one very sure way of paying respect to the people you visit there.
International womens day on march 8 is a big day in Vietnam.
You will see the streets flooded with flower shops where men buy flowers for the wifes, firlfriends, mothers etc and there are many events all over the country celebrating women.
Many bars give free drinks to women and visiting female travellers will mabye also find that their hotel gives out little presents to all female visitors so march 8 is not a bad day to visit Vietnam if you are a woman.
The hammock is a very important itam for many vietnamese.
Many people sleep most nights in a hammock including most truckdrivers who usually sleep in a hammock attached to their truck.
And in the southern part of Vietnam just about every house on the countryside has at least one hammock in the garden and you have whole cafes where there are hardly any chairs, but just hammocks that you can lie in while having a drink.
In Vietnam you will see that most of the boats have eyes painted on the front of the boats.
this is an old tradition that they have in order to keep seamonsters away from the boats and from what i hear they also try to have the same kinda eye painted on the baots from each harbour so they can use it too see what harbours the boats come from.
As a tourist you will almost certainly notice this, but to the vietnamese this is the way it has been for centuries so they are often a little suprised that the foreigners find it an exotic tradition.
The Dan Bau is a traditional vietnamese musical instrument that is made from bamboo and has only one string.
The string can be vibrated in many ways though and it's a very hard instrument to play and it requires a lot of precission and skill.
In the past young unmarried women were not allowed to hear the Dan Bau being played as the vietnemse considerd the sound to be so beautiful that a Dan Bau player could easily seduce the Women.
Man would i have liked to be a Dan Bau player back in that day.
Cockfighting is popular in Vietnam, especially in the Mekong Delta.
You will often see big strong cocks kept in cages there that are waiting for next weekends fights.
There are for sure many opinions about this sport and i am not encouraging it, just informing that this is a popular persuit in this part of the world.
Lot's of betting goes on during these fights and it's very much a mans world if you go to see any of these fights.
You will very often see vietnamese car number plates with a little holder for incense sticks.
While i won't say that vietnamese are a very religious bunch in a dogmatic way, they certainly have a liking for their own little spiritual rituals and you see this on the number plates of their cars for instance.
The long ditance busses especially have them which is logical as their drivers they more and less live on the roads of Vietnam.
It was of course very hot and moist in the Delta. I noticed that women of all ages always wore conical hats, which are excellent for keeping the sun out all around the head while letting air in, and always long sleeves when in the sun. The tourists are much more exposed to the strong tropic radiation to which they aren't used, wearing short or no sleeves at all, often shorts.
The world fashion is, that everybody wants to look as if he's rich enough that he doesn't have to work, the people working in the sun covering themselves, or the white race office workers who are getting tanned. Now the awareness of skin damage and cancer shows that this traditional dress is sensible.
At first I wore short sleeves, but when I looked how the Vietnamese dress, I always wore long sleeves outside, I didn't notice that I was hotter. Maybe because the moisture was so high.
Inside, for instance in covered markets, they wore short sleeves or sleeveless. The women in the market often wore a very comfortable two piece outfit of a printed knit, a top and pants of the same material. This always looked neat, and was good when sitting on low stools or boxes behind their wares. Much nicer than women wearing tight skirts always pulling them over
their legs, and having to think how to sit. (Of course this is not about VTers).
The ao dai is a silk costume that consists of a long, slim shirt over loose pants. Interestingly, this outfit was designed as recently as the 1920s and 30s. The modern ao dai was based onclosthing from the 1800s and 1900s, but the ao dai much more colorful and sleek, accentuating a woman's body. After the end of the Vietnam War, the ao dai went out of style a bit because it was seen as a symbol of the capitalistic south during the American occupation. Today the ao dai is back as a staple of women's style in Vietnam.
It is considered rude to attract a person's attention by using the forefinger, you must use your hand in a downward position as if in a scratching movement. Using your forefinger is only considered for animals, thus a grave insult.
Making a promise in Vietnam is considered the same as gentlemen shaking hands as an agreement in England and should you not keep your promise it is considered as a break in the relationship and probably very difficult to re-establish friendship based on trust and honesty,
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