Hanoi, Vietnam – “Tet” Feb ’15

Day (-2) – Preparation

It has been 6 years since I last came home for Tet (Vietnamese word for Lunar/ Chinese New Year). So we were super excited to come back during this festive session of the year.

My dad always buys a gigantic cherry blossom branch to decorate the living room. This year was no exception.

As we arrived, it was already the last 3 days of the year so everyone rushed for the final preparation. My family members washed banana leaves, beans and rice, cleaned the huge pot and marinated pork to get ready for the making of Banh Chung. It is a traditional Vietnamese rice cake which is made from glutinous rice, beans, pork and other ingredients. Its origin is told by the legend of Lang Lieu, a prince of the last king of the Sixth Hung Dynasty, who became the successor thanks to his creation of Banh Chung and Banh day, which symbolized, respectively, the Earth and the Sky.

Every year around this time, my granddad leads a “special force” to make Banh Chung. Then at night, the kids help to “look after” the steaming process, alert the elders when it is needed to boil in more water. But actually, kids just take thay excuse to stay up for card game, movies and home-made popcorn.

Liyang and I had the chance to make Banh Chung with a crash course from granddad. Putting in the ingredients with exact portions was fine. However, it was super duper hard to keep the form so “squarish” and start to fold the banana leaves layer by layer. Liyang had difficulties with his motor skill so he was deployed to crash brown sugar block instead. All the kids were ordered around by the elders. And for once, they were actually very delighted to obey a the commands.

After all Banh Chung were nicely wrapped, my Aunt started to prepare fire. Banh Chung needs to be boiled overnight in slow fire with constant refilling of hot water. Therefore, they use Than to burn. Getting Than to catch fire is much harder than starting charcoal with starter. But once it does, it will last for really long.

And here came the final products

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“Banh Chung”

We also visited the Flower market at night. It was a huge area filled with cherry blossom, roses, orchid plans, etc. Despite the light rain, the place was so crowded.

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Flower market

Day (-1) – Final Preparation

During Tet, everyone is extremely busy and market closes so households will always prepare extra food before hand and store in fridge. Therefore, my mom and aunts bought a lot of ingredients from the market and for the whole day, we prepared different foods which can be kept for a few days.

We made Fish cake, stuffed yam cake, spring rolls, etc.

The kids also went to market for some last preparation of candies, biscuits and snacks.

We went to Ho Guom’s area (Sword Lake, the most famous one in the central of Hanoi) to get some decoration stuffs for the house.

Day 0 – Eve

We gave our home a thorough cleaning. It is believed the cleaning sweeps away the bad luck of the preceding year and makes their homes ready for good luck. Brooms and dust pans are put away on the first day so that the newly arrived good luck cannot be swept away.

The biggest event of any Tet’s Eve is the Reunion Dinner. My grandparents and aunts’ families came to my house to prepare for dinner from early afternoon after they were done with chores in their homes. Normally my house will be chosen because of bigger capacity of dining and living rooms. After dinner, everyone enjoyed hot tea and watched TV for Year reviews.

 

Day 1 – Grandparents’ visiting

The first day of Tet is a time to honor one’s elders and families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended families, usually their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Members of the family who are married also give red envelopes containing cash (Li Xi – Vietnamese), a form of blessings and to suppress the aging and challenges associated with the coming year, to junior members of the family, mostly children and teenagers.

My grandparents live just a few houses away so again, we hosted a lunch together at my house.

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“Li Xi”

For dinner, we visited my Dad’s mom and all my Dad’s siblings came as well.

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Dad’s side

 

Day 2 – Relatives’ visiting

We came to visit all of my parents’ siblings. It was quite a bit of travelling around for the whole day. Hanoi’s streets during Tet were significantly quieter and cleaner.

 

Day 3 – Friends’ gathering

We woke up early to have a nice morning jog to nearby park.

After the first 2 days of visiting grandparents, uncles and aunties together with my parents, we had our time to catch up with our friends.

We had Pho for breakfast then coffee with friends (who stay in Singapore and they came back during the festive season as well).

I also came to my bestie’s house (since High school) and paid her and her newborn baby a visit. We purchased a huge bear as a little gift to her little one too. How time flies, Linh, my bestie is now a young mom. 🙂

I managed to call up quite a bit of my Secondary school’s friends for a mini reunion. We had good time updating each others over coffee too. Same people, different lives now but after all, we stay as good friends. How blessed!

 

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