Starting on January 23rd we had the Lunar New year festival, locally known as Tet which starts quietly with families burning ceremonial paper clothing, money, shoes and poems in pots on the street outside their homes. In this ceremony they are sending the kitchen god up to the heavens to report on the behaviour and activities within the home over the past year.
Our landlady (whom we call Auntie) came to the house with her brother and one of his daughters and the youngest son.
They brought with them a feast of whole boiled chicken, spring rolls, rice and cold meats. There were five fruits, flowers and new joss sticks for the altars in the garden, in the kitchen and upstairs in the studio. They burned ceremonial paper goods in the lane outside the house and the kitchen good was sent off to speak with the Jade Emperor for a week. The kitchen god likes to ride on a red carp and some people throw fish into the rivers to send the kitchen god on his way.
- The release of the strong-swimming carp into local ponds, rivers and lakes, is believed to transport the Kitchen God to heaven. After delivering the God, the carp transforms into a dragon.
- It is said that the God will then report to the Jade Emperor on the life of homeowners and pray for luck, happiness and prosperity for all members of the house in the coming year.
- The Kitchen God returns to Earth on New Year’s Eve (February 9 this year) and resume his duties as the caretaker of Vietnamese kitchens.
Throughout all this, the Vietnamese, who love to sing, hold Karaoke parties in their homes and at local cafes. they don't care how loud or how badly they sing; they just sing their hearts out. The older generation remember a time when public singing and public music was not allowed so now they make the most of the freedom to sing and celebrate.
Tet lasts about a week ( or so) and on the last night they really let rip! A party at end of our lane was so loud that the windows rattled in the studio and the water in my pot rippled! At 9.15 everything stops like nothing ever happened. That is the one great thing about this country - everything stops before 9.30 and the streets go quiet.
|Huge lanterns blowing the evening breeze|
This week, 14 days after the New Moon, we had Full Moon night in Hoi An. I have never seen the streets so busy. We had to fight our way through the crowds to get from one end of Tran Phu to the other. On these nights there are no electric lights allowed in the streets apart from the lanterns. The waterfront was completely dark apart form the odd candle-lit table in a cafe and oil lamps on the boats. it was magical.
A gallery owner tends his altar on the street outside his shop and makes offerings.
A woman with a beautiful voice stood up to since a traditional song without any accompaniment. Everyone was quiet for a little while. Then the men started to sing and a boy band was formed. Finally all the singers sang a popular song and the entire party clapped along in rhythm.
Their family is in the middle of a funeral. An uncle died suddenly and the funeral ceremonies last for seven days.
The lonely wail of a single stringed 'violin' has been winding its way around our little streets for two days, occasionally interspersed with the slow drum and gong rhythm that seems to signify a vigil.
This morning at 4.30am, the saddest song founds its way into my room; an unusually melodic song of a male choir that really chilled me. I couldn't sleep again.
Here is Phuong with Robert and Bill.
And.... Robert with another lovely local.
I don't think I have ever attended such a jolly party in my life. These lovely people laugh and sing with abandon. I danced with one of the girls and came close to taking the mic to sing them a traditional song from the UK. That must have been the beer! A good time was had by all and the party continued long after we left.
Back home, the drunken singing from compete parties is drowning out the ever-present funerary dirges which will last for another two days I believe.