Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Perhaps because Tet is such a "High holiday" for Vietnamese - one that raise so many expectations in the young and commands so many duties from the old - it has always been an ambivalent occasion for me. With each passing year, Tet seems less a time of celebration and more a season of rituals. As a long-time participant and organizer of Tet festivals in the United States, I often wonder which traditions are worth keeping, and which represent the true flavor of the cultural celebration.

Take the common custom of paying off one's debts before the end of the year. From the time I became aware of this custom, Tet rapidly began to lose its luster. I can remember my parents scrounging to pay off their debts. At times, they simply had old ones. Of course they were no better off financially in the following year, and so the cycles continued, just as the natural seasons, or as the fate of poor people everywhere. Looking back, I can only imagine what kind of hardship this hopeful custom exerted on families like us. Now living on a comfortable enough teacher's salary in one of the still not sure whether I have actually managed to break this cycle. On the one hand, I no longer run from pillar to post during the last two weeks of the lunar year, trying to plug the holes in my finances. And that's a genuine relief. On the other hand, it's a bank that owns my home, and if I don't keep up with my monthly mortgage payment, I'll soon come with a rhythm as precise as that of the season: health insurance, car insurance, home insurance, life insurance, various credit cards, property taxes, even an earthquake insurance for what we hope will not happen in this lifetime. In short, I owe practically everything to a few banks, companies, or government agencies, And I'm not alone: about 70 percent of the American population lives this way. Your vacation with Vietnam Travel in traditional Tet season should be unforgetable for you and for your family.

Yet, Tet is still Tet. We cannot escape the palpable change in seasons, the anticipated celebrations or the heritage that made us a distinct people. Most of all, we have an obligation to help our children continue this tradition. In nearly 40 years spent in the United States, I have seen this tradition evolve, and even had a small hand in that evolution.

In my student days, before 1975, there were about 1,000 Vietnamese students in the U.S Tet was not a holiday, neither in school nor to the knowledge of the general public. We went to class and to work, as songwriter Trinh Cong Son wrote at the time: "A day like any other day". We made do with Tet during Christmas time when everyone else went home and the stores closed down. Some of the more enterprising Catholic students, with help from chaplains, organized a gathering of "Viet Students in the U.S," usually in a centrally located city like Chicago.

Tree growers hope Tet’s a peach

Out of a total 30ha of peach trees planted in Nhat Tan, only 2ha were flooded thanks to its highland location.

Chu Duc Toan, a farmer whose 400 bonsai peach trees survived the storm, says the current weather conditions are good for making the peach trees bloom.

He also says peach branch buyers will pay between VND200,000 and VND250,000 (US$12-15) three times higher than last year.

The cost to rent a bonsai peach tree will range from VND2.5 million to VND10 million (US$600) during this year’s Tet.

According to Nguyen Van Thang, an experienced grower, the price increase is due to the growing costs of fertiliser and peach trees.

With the merger of Ha Tay Province into Ha Noi, La Ca Village in Duong Noi Commune became one of the capital’s largest peach blossom villages.

Unfortunately, 60ha out of the 100ha of peach blossoms died as a result of the excessive rain.

The 1,000-tree farm of La Noi Agricultural Co-operative has 75ha of peach blossoms, of which 70 per cent are peach trees. The rest are ornamental trees.

According to Dao Dinh Nhuom, at this time last year La Ca villagers were busy plucking leaves off trees, but now they are reluctant.

Fireworks and flowers for Tet

Hanoians can watch fireworks displays at ten different sites, including two at Hoan Kiem Lake, Ly Tu Trong Park and Thong Nhat Park, Ngoc Khanh Lake, My Dinh Stadium, Gia Lam Flower Garden, Soc Son residential area, Dong Anh Stadium, and Den Lu residential area. At the first four, the shows will be double the size of those at other sites.

Hanoi authorities have also permitted the establishment of many flower markets before Tet, including one at Hang Luoc and Hang Ma street in the hub of Hanoi, four markets in Tay Ho District, three in Tu Liem District, five in Thanh Tri District, two in Thanh Xuan District, two in Long Bien District, and one in the Districts of Ba Dinh, Cau Giay, Hoang Mai, Gia Lam, Soc Son and Dong Anh each.

In HCM City, Saigontourist will decorate Le Loi and Nguyen Hue to turn them into roads of flowers. Many flower markets, totaling over 1,000 stalls. will be opened. Tao Dan Park will host a big flower festival, which will gather 7,000 special ornamental trees designed by craftsmen at home and abroad.

Firecrackers displays will be held at Nha Rong Wharf, HCM City Hi-tech Park, Binh Hung Hoa Ward, Binh Phu Park, Ben Duoc Temple and Phu Tho race track.

According to HCM City Chairman Le Hoang Quan, funding for the fireworks shows will be raised from social organizations and businesses.

Tet shoppers prefer local products

The announcement that some Chinese dairy products were contaminated with melamine caused almost all Vietnamese supermarkets and shops in Hanoi to stop importing them. This has beefed up demand for locally made dairy products – especially in the lead up to the Tet holiday.

“In the past, we had to import confectionery to meet the high demand for foreign-made types, but this year we have only imported half of the number, many of which are still on the shelf,” said Nguyen Thu Ha, a saleswoman at Le Trong Tan Street’s Mark 24 in Hanoi. The situation is the same in other Hanoi shops.

“We are now only selling confectionery from Vietnamese manufacturers – imported products are just sitting on the shelf,” said a salesman at a shop on Nguyen Trai Street .

Milk product importers are no longer enjoying big contracts and have to settle for smaller deals.

A business in Ha Nam , a northern province about 100 km from Hanoi , is feeling the pinch of declining sales.