My favorite place to walk and exercise is in the nearby city park at 5AM. The park has a lake with a road that encircles it which is about a mile around. The road is dimly lit with well spaced lights. I had become accustomed to the park lights and my fellow walkers and runners. Then Tet arrived at the park. The week before Tet the food venders, craft sellers, and carnival game stalls began to set up. All of this was accompanied by bright lights and loud music. Thankfully the loud music was reserved for daytime and evening visitors. The bright lights however are kept on night and day including the early morning hours. I am grateful that all of this is contained in the area of the park near the main entrances. This is also where the park amusement rides are kept. All of this is perfect for the young people enjoying Tet or families on a Tet outing with their children. It reminds me of fireman’s carnivals and village festivals at home, such as the Hilton Apple Fest in Hilton NY. While the lights, noise, and festive nature of the park is wonderful for the celebration of Tet, a grumpy old man like me will welcome the return of peace, tranquility, and dim lighting to the Da Nang city park.
As the Tet food venders pack up and leave the park I am reminded of two things. First my favorite Tet food is the pickled vegetables known as dua chua. The second thing I am reminded of is the story of the sticky rice cake known as Banh Chung. The story as I know it is about an ancient king who had defeated the Chinese and was ready to transfer the throne to one of his twenty-two sons. He gathered the sons and told them each to prepare a dish. The one that prepared the dish that was pleasing to the palate of the king would ascend the throne. Twenty-one of the sons traveled far and wide to exotic places and gathered spices and materials each hoping to create the dish that would win the throne. One son however did not leave the palace. He sat by the gate and thought about what he might do. One night he had a vision. He was told that rice is the food of the people and was given instructions on how to make Banh Tet and Banh Chung. After the others had made their presentations the king asked for this son’s recipe. The prince unwrapped the leaves from the cake and used the bamboo tape it was tied with to cut it into pieces to serve the king. The king was delighted with the plain and simple taste. He declared the son who made the rice cake to be the next king. So the next day the prince was crowned and since then Banh Chung has been made for Tet as a token of thanks to the earth.
As all of the celebrations of Tet wind down and people return to work, I ask myself what is the essence of Tet? What is under all of the festivities? My sense is that the family reunion and the honoring of the ancestors are the heart of the Tet celebration. There are many traditions, customs, and parties around Tet but the reverence for the ancestors is in the blood of the people of Viet Nam. Everything the people do could not happen if it were not for the ancestors. The people may be Buddhist or Hindu or Catholic; they still hold the ancestors in a place of honor and reverence. I hold the paradox of joy and sadness when I think of this. The joy is for the honored place the ancestors sit in. The sadness is that westerners have lost that ideology so long ago and that the young Vietnamese people want to emulate westerners. It is my hope that this foundation of Tet remains strong among the people.
Several entries have been from my culture paper which is now complete. These are my thoughts and experiences for Tet, the Lunar New Year 2012. All of the descriptions, pictures, and videos cannot capture the aura of excitement that surrounds Tet it is an experience everyone would enjoy.
Sooooo next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam!
Chuc Mung Nam Moi