Monday, 3 November 2008

Vietnam Culture

VAN MIEU, The oldest school in Vietnam
The most important historic site in the Dong Da section of Hanoi is the Van Mieu or Temple of literature, the oldest school in the country. The term Van Mieu is applied to temples in each province that were dedicated to teaching the proper Confucian ways of thinking and behaving. The Vietnamese tradition of respect for learning is concretely represented in the Van Mieu complex of building erected at the southern gate of the old city of Thang Long. The temple was established in 1072 on this site to honour Confucius and 72 wise men who served as exemplary models in correct thinking. Scholarly Chinese texts were also studied in the temple. In 1076, Vietnam's first university, Quoc Tu Giam, was founded and located in the Van Mieu complex of buildings, The sons and daughters of the emperor and of high-ranking officials attended the school. In pre Confucian times, private tutoring was customary and Buddhist clergy were responsible for the education of youth. By the 11th century, Confucianism successfully competed with Buddhism. The university broke the Buddhists' monopoly on education, allowing Confucianism to expand and reinstate the examination system from an earlier time. A new type of examination was held in the 1230s under the Tran Reign, and in 1253 the school was enlarged and renamed Quoc Hoc Vien, or National Institute. Te school became accessible to children of commoners who had achieved high scores on regional examinations. Once underprivileged, these graduates of the common people began to hold public offices. From its inception, Confucian scholarship was intertwined with professional ranks. Consequently, the Van Mieu is a place both of worship and of training for state office. Under Le Loi, the University expanded to include a new library and lecture halls. Examinations were refined to include poetry competitions. Le Loi is also noted for a comprehensive legal code aimed at bringing some structure to the chaos in Vietnam after the Chinese were finally routed. Efforts were made to restore written works of history and literature destroyed or stolen in the war against the Mings. Successful candidates in the triennial examinations were recognised by having their names, places of birth, and achievements recorded permanently on stone bias, called steles. This practice continued until 1778 and, during that time, 116 examinations were held. Eighty-two steles remain, each carrying 20 names of outstanding laureates. The oldest of these slab dates from 1443. Emperor Gia Long re-established the school in his new capital at Hue, but this system of recruiting civil servants finally ended in 1915 in the North, and in 1919 in central Vietnam. The French encouraged the simpler quoc ngu form of writing, which was more suited to Western printing capacities.

First surfacing in the water-rich areas of Hanoi as early as the tenth century, the roi nuoc, or water puppetry, is a uniquely Northern Vietnamese art-form especially designed for depicting scenes from rural life and many episodes of national history. Later, interest in water puppetry expanded under the explosion of arts encouraged by the Tran Dynasty. Although considered an art form of the "village pond" (or, of the common people), water puppetry shows were performed at royal celebration such as the crowning of a queen or the birthday of a king. Water puppetry is performed in the open air using a pond at the stage. The audience sits in front of the stage on the water's edge. Standing waist deep in the water, the puppeteers, or manipulators, deftly control the wooden puppets from the concealed manipulators' room with rods, wires, and strings hidden under the surface of the water. The pond is not only a natural setting for blending illusion with reality, the water also amplifies stage sounds for a natural stereophonic effect. Nearby trees, the blue sky, and the occasional passing cloud are reflected in the water, adding enhancement to the liquid stage. In the hands of master manipulation, stiff, lacquered wooden puppets, about 45 to 90 centimeters high, are magically transformed into graceful characters that walk on the water. Puppets appear unexpectedly from the aquatic stage and then, just as suddenly, disappear in a flash to the delight of the audience.

Vietnamese New Year
We often call "Tet", which means the first morning of the first day of the New Year, is the Vietnamese New Year. The celebration lasts for 7 days. Like the Chinese, the Lunar New Year is one of the most celebrated holidays. Preparation for Tet starts weeks before New Year's Day. Homes are cleaned to get rid of bad fortune associated with the old year. Families paint their homes to give it a new look. Everyone gets new clothes and new shoes. Pay your debts and resolve differences between family and friends. A special ceremony is held at the mid-night hour (Giao Thua) on New Year's Eve. The ritual involves firecrackers and gongs and other festive items that make loud noises to usher out the old and welcome the new. Like the Chinese, Vietnamese people are very careful about what they do on New Year's Day. The events on New Year's Day determine your luck for the rest of the year. Therefore, everything and everyone you are in touch with on New Year's Day should symbolize good fortune. Don't visit people who are in mourning because they are associated with death. Children should not fight or cry on New Year's Day. Homes are decorated with Mai flowers, a yellow blossom that represents spring. Family members exchange gifts and pay homage to the Kitchen God. They also visit local temples to pray for prosperity and good health. During Tet, Vietnamese families plant a New Year's tree called Cay Neu in front of their homes. A bamboo pole is often used as a Cay Neu. All the leaves are removed from the tree so that it can be wrapped or decorated by good luck red paper. Legends have it that the red color scares off evil spirits. On the seventh (the last) day of Tet, the Cay Neu is taken down.

Through ups and downs, the infiltration of different kinds of culture into our country cannot transform the national culture. One of the popular festivals is the Ullambana when people make offerings to vagrant souls on the 15th of July (lunar year) From time immemorial, the Vietnamese people have known the saying: "On July the fifteenth (of lunar year), amnesty is given to the dead'". That is the day when people turn to the dead (the deceased) (the realm of death) by offering food to the souls exiled in Avici (hell) or to the vagrant souls in this world. According to the Ullambana, July is the time when children show their filial duty to their parents and grandparents. This originates (stems) from the filial duty (filial piety) of Moggallana, one of the great disciples of the Buddha, After attaining Arahatship, he uses his wisdom eyes to scan the hells for his mother and he finds her to be exiled in the hell of hungry ghosts. Having boundless love of his mother (for her) (loving her so much), he uses his miraculous powers to come to her and offers her a bowl of rice. When it is near her mouth it turns into fire. Deeply grieved, he comes to ask the Buddha for saving his mother. The Buddha tells him that because of her sins in the former kalpa, she is exiled to the Kingdom of hungry ghosts. On this day people go to the pagoda to make offerings to Triratna (the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangaha) and to hold the requiem mass for the souls. The Chinese call this day "The Joyful Day" (The Happy Day) because this is the occasion of joy of piteous children.

Festivals have long been considered the living cultural museums of the way people live. They are the crystallisation of cultural, spiritual, and physical activities that have been chosen, maintained and improved over the generations. In Vietnam, festivals often consists of two parts: religious ceremonies and traditional games.

Hoi An Day (14th day every lunar month, Hoi An)
Hoi An looks like it was 600 years ago. Colourful lanterns, music, the smell of incense and the sounds of drums and bells. Even the shops are decorated in traditional style and street vendors dress in period costumes. Cultural performances are also held.
Bodhisattva Festival (March 3, Danang)
One of the main Buddhist festivals is held at Quan The Am at the Kirn Son Mountain, part of the Marble Mountain near Da Nang. Processions, religious ceremonies, games, music and poetry recitals.
Phu Giay Festival (March 27, Kirn Thai, Vu Ban, Nam Dinh)
This is the festival of Lieu Hanh, a legendary princess who helped her people to fight off the invaders. Hundreds of people carrying decorated bamboo poles form groups in the shapes of lucky Chinese characters. The participants join processions and walk between 20 local pagodas. Dragon dances, cockfights and wrestling matches are held.
Chu Dong Tu Festival (April 3-5. Da Trai Hung Yen)
This festival originates from one Vietnam's most loved legends about a poor fisherman named Chu Dong Tu, who conquers all in or to enjoy a happy life with Princess Tien Dung after meeting on a riverbank, Chu Dong Tu is now revered as a saint and the festival to honour him is opened a water procession led by a golden dragon. It's lowed by a palanquin carrying a decorated stick; conical hat (Tu's magic articles) to the riverbank. Water is poured into a jar to symbolise the prince bath and the ceremony is followed by girls dancing and games such as wrestling, cockfights and human chess are enjoyed by all.
Truong Yen Festival (April 3, Dinh and Le temples, Hoa Lu, Ninh Binh)
In honour of Dinh Bo Linh, credited with unifying Vietnam and Le Dai Hanh, who defeated foreign aggressors. The festival has three main parts: burning incense, a mock battle and a play of figures in the form of Chinese characters.
Hung Temple Festival (April 3, Nghia Linh mount, Hy Cuong, Phong Chau, Phu Tho)
This festival is to honour 18 Hung King Vietnam's founders. On that day, a square and round sticky rice cake, (earth and sky) are carried on an ancient palanquin. Following this is a parade of 100 men representing the 100 suns, and another 54 men symbolising the country's ethnic minorities. The festival celebrates the anniversary of the death of the great founders. All of the traditional games are featured.
Ponaga Festival (April 13-16, Ponaga Temple, Nha Trang)
The festival to commemorate a female genie, Po Naga, who gave the people land and rice, and taught them how to farm. The Champa Rarth Mother celebration is held at the towers on the left bank of the Cai river and includes two parts: A clothes changing ceremony and a praying ceremony. A nighttime river procession as well as spiritual and traditional dances are featured.
Giong festival (April 28 - May 4, Phu Dong, Gia Lam, Hanoi)
In honour of Lord Giong, a great hero who halted a Chinese invasion. Legend has it that Giong grew into a giant overnight after three years as a mute since his birth. With the help of an iron horse, a hat and a whip, Dong alone decimated the An invaders and then flew up to heaven. Celebrations include river and flag processions, the traditional game of catching the tiger, a re-enactment of the battle, a victory party and singing of Cheo folk songs.
Ba Chua Xu Festival (May 15-19, Sam mountain, Chau Doc, An Giang)
Ba Chua Xu was a magic statue who once stood at the top of the Sam mountain and who defeated Xiem invaders in the 7th century. The festival begins on the stroke of midnight and lasts for three days. It starts with two pious elderly women changing the statue's robes and bathing it in scented water. The old robes are cut into pieces and distributed to the pilgrims, who believe the scraps confer good fortune and guard against evil. Then comes petitions to the gods to admit Ba Chua Xu to heaven. Finally there is a procession followed by dragon dances and folk opera performances.
Hon Chen Temple Festival (August 25-29, Hon Chen Temple, Hue)
The festival is dedicated to the princess Lieu Hanh and the Bodhisattva, who are worshipped in the temples on Ngoc Tran Mountain. The festival is celebrated with a statue bathing ceremony, the release of aquatic animals and by floating flower lanterns down the river.
Buffalo Fighting Festival (September 24-25, Do Son, Haiphong)
This festival is over 400 years old and is to honour a great chess master. Before the fight, there are solemn processions which culminate in prayers and offerings. In the competition, buffaloes fight in a series of elimination bouts to find the eventual victor. The wining bull will be sacrificed in order for a better crop and fish catch in the new year.
Nghinh Ong Festival (October 2-4, Thang Tam communal house, Ba Ria - Vung Tau)
In honour of the Whale, this is the principal festival of the fishermen of Quang Nam and Da Nang. It is held on both land and water. Hat boi, a classical drama performance and Hat ba trao, a typical folk song of central region, are performed during the festival.
Kiep Bac Festival (October 4-6, Kiep Bac temple, Hung Dao, Chi Linh, Hai Duong)
The festival, also known as father's festival, commemorates the anniversary of the death of Tran Hung Dao, one of Vietnam's greatest generals, who saved the country from the Mongols. It's held at Van Kiep temple, which still houses copper statues of Tran Hung Dao, his wife, his children and three of his generals. The festival consists of a welcoming ceremony and the navy sailing on the Luc Dau River
Ooc Om Booc Festival (November 29, SocTrang)
This ritual ceremony is dedicated to the moon by the Khmer ethnic people. The main purpose is to ask the Moon God to bring abundant crops, big fish catches and good health. Offerings include green rice flakes, bananas, coconuts and potatoes. A highlight of the festival is a race of ngo, wooden boats curved on both bow and stern.

The Day of Forgiveness (September 2)
This "the ghost day" is for dead people, whose souls may be hungry or homeless. On this day, the spirit of people who died young or far from home, are fed, clothed and forgiven for their sins. It is said this is the only day in the year when these desperate souls are released from hell to be welcome back to the earth. Celebrating the day, people put offerings like fruit and rice soup everywhere. It's to maintain the spiritual health of the whole community.
The Full Moon Festival (October 1)
This festival has been celebrated in Vietnam for generations by the giving and receiving of moon cakes between family and friends. On this day, the moon is at it's highest and brightest point in the sky. On the earth, everywhere will be coloured with lanterns and masks and noisy with the drums of the lion dances. The Full Moon festival is a special day for children.
Lunar New Year
This festival, better known as Tet, is the biggest and most important festival in Vietnam. It's time when families reunite, ancestral spirits are welcomed back into the family home, all loose ends are tied up, all debts are paid and absolutely everything is cleaned. The streets are alive with peach tree branches sprouting their beautiful blossoms. There are also of course the miniature orange kumquat trees in the north or yellow apricot flowers in the south. In the altars, incense slicks are burned near the green sticky rice (banh chung) cakes and a plate of five fruits. All the best wishes and good tidings are given.

A beautiful kind of clothing
It is said that the ao dai covers everything but, in fact, nothing. Its tenderness seems to make Vietnamese ladies fragile' and gentle. Its beauty does not require independence, determination or flexibility. Those characters believed to be indispensable in this developing society. For this reason, it shows a feeling of tranquillity to the lookers-on and an air of gracefulness to the lady-in-ao dai. A lady's graciousness lies in her secretiveness, while her charm expresses itself in being tentatively attractive.
However, quite inconvenient...
In the agricultural society long ago, girls wore "ba ba" - a simple type of ao dai, which was suitable for working in the open fields. Then came in festivals the "tu than", which flattered the beauty of charming ladies. After them all came the "ao dai", which underwent "many minor changes for the better, until it became what it is nowadays. In a hot country like Vietnam, the ao dai proves itself inconvenient in both sunny and rainy weather. Those who are not familiar with wearing it' will surely find the ao dai is likely to bring them trouble. So it is easy to explain why many women will change to other types of clothes when possible.
Reasons to remain?
Whether you like it or not, you must say that when the ao dai disappears from the street, many artists will have a hard time creating masterpieces like: "I feel peaceful on the sunny street when I see you wearing an ao dai made of Ha Dong silk." And please remember: the ao dai is an indispensable part of our culture, and Viet Nam is associated with this traditional dress. "The custom of wearing the graceful ao dai has returned to Vietnam. Its wearing symbolises many things - and has become a hot market item." - Association for Asian Studies.

Kite flying dates back to the old times. In traditional Vietnamese art, the image of a little boy sitting on the back of a buffalo playing his bamboo flute and flying a kite symbolizing peace is very popular.
Vietnamese kites made from bamboo, wood, fabrics and paper enchanted the viewers. With thin flexible strings, Vietnamese kites are not difficult to handle. The kite string becomes the link connecting reality with dreams, the peaceful earth with the open sky. Children often make kites by stretching notebook paper over a framework made of bamboo bark. Paper used is rough, heavy but durable (even cement bags are used). The head is made from several pieces of paper stuck to each other by glue or sticky fruit juice. The string is made from rattan or jute fiber twisted together, the length of which can not be predicted! These do not fly higher than the top of a bamboo tree but bring great pleasure.
As for the more elaborate ones, people attach" flutes on the "spine" - the middle of a kite. Simple though, the flutes can not be made without an experienced hand. The flutes are made from "nua", a kind of bamboo, with two slotted compartments which resound when the wind goes through. Large flutes offer deep-sounding melodies while small ones give high-pitch notes, creating a merry symphony'.
Tourists to the sea town Vung Tau can enjoy flying kites along Bai Truoc and Bai Sau beaches. In Hochiminh City, hundreds of people - regardless of their ages - come to the San Dieu (The Kite- flying Field) in district 8 everyday just to rediscover the childhood joy, the joy that not everyone can have in a developing society. During summer or after the harvest, kite bamboo flutes resound in the blue skies of Vietnam's countryside.

Hue restaurants (the restaurants of Hue) are often found in the areas around the center of City in quiet alleys. These restaurants have their own ways of service which are not noisy but refined and discreet like the manners of Hue locals. The most well - known restaurant to connoisseurs is Ngu Binh, famous for decades. Previously, it was located on Vo Thi Sau Street. Later it was moved to Nguyen Van Troi residential quarters (by the foot of Nguyen Van Troi bridge). It lies in a deserted alley, but it attracts a lot of people. (Although it lies in a deserted alley, it is attractive to many people). The restaurant only opens from 3P.M to 8 P.M (15 hrs to 20 hrs). If many people want to dine at the same time, they have to order in advance because the floor space of the restaurant is small. The atmosphere here is still (quiet) and cosy. The menu does not include all the Hue dishes but it offers the typical dishes like bun bo (beef vermicelli), banh khoai, banh beo, banh uot torn chay, banh uot thit nuong... The price is reasonable compared to the quality and fame of the restaurant during such long time. Lying in an alley on Huynh Van Banh street, Kim Long restaurant has beautiful architecture looking like a flower garden with ornamental trees of different kinds and rock works encircling the wall, lending the poetical taste to the sight. The dining table is set in the yard on the balcony. The cuisine here features strange dishes like "rocket" shrimp, the roasted "moon", com hen (rice served with mussels)... Another famous restaurant is Ky Dong situated in a small, beautiful villa in an alley on Ky Dong street.

The "amateur" music came into existence in the south of Vietnam. It is the traditional kind of music derived from the Hue royal music, played by professionals and amateurs in their leisure times. The most notable characteristic is popularity, and anyone can be a potential singer; therefore, it was welcomed by working people. Since about 1885, the groups which performed this kind of music changed its name to "amateur music" in order to distinguish it from ritual music and "Hat boi" (Traditional Opera). Besides the songs from ritual music, there were others composed" based on Hue royal songs or the "ly" of South and Middle Vietnam. However, only 20 "original songs" were largely mentioned, according to the statistics made by Ba Doi, an expert in traditional music.
In the 1920's, when the fashion of amateur music was still in its heyday, one of its branches experimented with a new way in which performers used some gestures and dialogues when singing, called "singing with gestures". The name "cai luong" was possibly first used by the group Tan Thinh. It was not like any other already-existing forms such as "hat boi", but rather something unique to the new Southern land.
According to musician Cao Van Lau, in 1920, when he composed this song, his soul was torn with the memories of his beloved ex-wife. They had lived in love together for 8 years but had had no child, so his family forced him to marry another woman. The title of the song means "Memories of my husband in the night". Later on, the song was recognised as a structurally complete one, and has been largely used in place of many others in cai luong. With its free and broad melody, Vong co (Da co hoai lang) can suit any emotional intensity and topic. In addition, it can harmonise well with other melodies in a play of Cai luong.

Literally speaking (in the literal meaning), the fair is the place where goods are periodically exchanged according to the moon season. Later for the convenience of gardening and daily activities, the date is used by villages as landmark for organising fairs. Due to remote tenain, districts and villages are often the places where fair is held. The district fair is often organised on Sunday but in some places, fair is held on Saturday and Sunday like Sapa Fair (Lao Cai). Each ethnic group has its own fair with its peculiar features; Sapa has black H'Mong; Bac Ha, H'Mong Hoa, Muong Lay, white Thai. Especially, black Thai almost dominate the fair in Son La province (... black Thai take up the majority at the fair...}. Dong Van Fair has the greatest attendance amounting to over 2,500 white H'Mong. Romantically, there is Khau Vai Love Fair (Meo Vac – Ha Giang) where white H'Mong groups gather. The characteristic of the fair is the mixture of colours, human sentiment and wilderness. Amid immense forests stand humble thatch - roofed stalls with girls in their best clothes enhancing the beauty of the fair. The most interesting sight is the heavily - loaded horse making their way to the fair gate. A beautiful H'Mong girl on horseback is inching her way through the crowd.

The life of the Khmer in Nam bo is labour and festival. The Creator creates the heaven, the earth, wind, the moon, cloud, water... Man creates material by labour to exist (survive). To show gratitude, man organises festivals. Typically, there are the following festivals are as follows : Cholchonam Tho May (New Year). That is the traditional New Year of the Khmer on the 7th, 8th and 9th of the Lunar Year. People go to the pagoda to recite sutras and pray for happiness. They use the rainwater mixed with lotus flowers to wash Buddha statues off dust. Especially descendants come to the elders to ask them to forgive their mistakes in the year. To show tolerance, grandfathers and grandmothers advise their grand children to do good things to reap (enjoy) much more happiness and prosperity. Don Ta is the ceremony worshipping ancestors and vagrant souls on August 29 (lunar year) in private houses. The family will hold the requiem mass praying for their relatives souls to be reborn in the realm of eternal bliss on August 30 (lunar year), Ooc - om - bok is the moon festival at harvest time on the 14th, the 15th and the 16th (lunar year). Each family go to the field to reap some glutinous rice. They roast and pound it by the night fire in the yard- This festival is held to give thanks to the God of Moon and Water who has moved water from upstream to downstream. There is always "Ngo" boat race in this festival to pray for bumper crops and enough water for irrigation.