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Family Strings

Family is always special for all of us, maybe the performance is made differently in different cultures but I think the core values are quite similar. Someone has said ‘you will not understand Vietnam until you get to know enough how important of Vietnamese family ties’. I agree and just trying to find the reasons to prove it and you may find the difference that Vietnamese culture presented.

First of all, Vietnamese people get strongly influenced by Confucianism which was the religion of social Feudalism. It settled the society by its rules in order to create the standard of values that people must follow. One of the important rules in Confucianism is the value of family relation. It puts the high rank for relation between member in family such as husband and wife, parent and other relative, parents and children, old generation and young generation. Amazingly, throughout thousands of years, those values are still passing from generation to generation.

Vietnamese have been trained and learnt to be suitable for community and family. Particularization is not acceptable. If someone lives for himself, he already chooses his own way to be minority in society. People based on their family to find the peace and safety conditions in their lives.

Family in Vietnam stands like a system of mini society, the header often is the oldest who has a strong ‘voice’ and involved in most activities in house. It processes smoothly under rules and flexibility of each family. In the West, if you don’t have money, you may ask you bank, but in Vietnam I will firstly ask my mum, if she doesn’t have it, she may ask her sister, sister may ask her brother in law. We live in that system call ‘circle economics’ or like LAN network in your office.

Those values pass to Vietnamese from very beginning of people’s lives. The lesions of respect and greatness to parents, grandpas and loves to home country were touched sophisticatedly to people when they were a little. The first lesion in school is how to respect teacher and other rules on preserving family culture values. Is this also the core values of famous nationalism in Vietnam?

1986, Vietnam opened its door to other nations, gaining great records in economics. Besides, Vietnamese is facing to unexpected changes in culture values, but the family values still in well preserve. There is an invisible string that ties up people in family relationship, the family is still most important for Vietnamese in despite of outdated Feudalism that I will try to explain in another post. Vietnamese still hold the strong believe that their family is the one and only like the song that all Vietnamese know when we were in kindle garden. The words are very simple but meaningful to us:

There are many stars in sky

There is much rice on the rice field

There are number of bird voices in the forest

But, like the sun, my mum is the one and only!

It may have been too long post now; I got to go home. Bye Bye!

The hat of memories!

If you asked me what is the most meaningful object that represented in Vietnamese culture? I choose a conical hat!

I did not know much about it until getting old enough and remembered the story that had told by my grandfather when I was small. I and my sisters used to be sent back to my hometown when we had left school for summer breaks. It was time for my grandfather meet nephews and makes them happy with countryside games and foods. Most of countryside women are wearing conical hats; it’s cool and also protects people from sun. My grandfather had one too. Her hat used as a wheat candy basket that I often firstly checked and fought with my uncle’s children when she came back from market. She told me when a girl is shy; she uses the hat to cover her face, the act of charming girl! Or the hat could be a handy fan on the heat working day in the rice field. And when people are waving someone or getting attention, they wave their conical hats.

The conical hats in my hometown is not the same as the other parts of Vietnam, it’s not romantic like the hats in Hue which the boy make one with a poem between layers that visible to girls when they held up to the sun. It’s also not as hard as the one in Mekong delta which made of from the coconut’s leaf. My grandfather told me the best hats must be made from the palm leaf that made it lighter and last longer. The shape is covered by many round bamboo rings from top to bottom that represents for Vietnamese union, the round of perfection, round of earth and sky!

My grandfather had passed away, but the image of her walking with conical hat back from the market will stay with me forever. The candy I fought for is the sweetest one I have ever had. Time flies, those values sometimes are forgotten by us, a young generations, fashion trends are changing, people maybe don’t wear the conical hats anymore in the future but the memories are still so fresh to me, to anyone who had been one time followed our grandfathers to the market.

Some scenes of conical hats in Vietnam

Hội & An

I got a call from Huy, a long lost friend from Hoi An. He is going to marry to a local girl on March after 31 years of lonely. I actually can’t wait for this event to see him and the land I love – Hoi An

When economics is booming and changes life at most corners of Vietnam, Hoi An seems to be an exceptional. Well, most of population of the town doing related hospitality industry but they do their own ways, not noisy and short term minded.

My very first trip to Hoi An dated in 1999 when tourism was still so raw, you might have been so hard to find a internet cafe in town and hotels are less counted. The well – known tailor shop Yaly was just a little messy place right heart of smelly Hoi An market. I was surprised that everyone acted so gently and friendly to me, and later on I found that tourist (even domestic) are treated very well and honestly here. I used to stay up late in Tam Tam bar, one night I had walked back to my hotel and there was a guy with his bike coming over and phased ‘do you want a ride back?’ I said ok and jumped over. When we arrived, I gave 5k VND to him and surprisingly he said ‘no worries, Tuan! I am not Xe Om, just offer you a ride as you are tour guide’. Well, how shame I was! And I had invited him for a coffee in the next day. He later became one of many local friends I made in Hoi An.

Hoi An is very small little town, you can’t get lost here. The old town lies along the main river and everything starts from there. The Cua Dai beach is a new development located about 4kms away. The town is mixture between of river and beach, old and new, western bar and many local style coffee shops, it offers a large range of shopping options like gift, clothes and many local souvenirs. Are they the reasons that make people stay in Hoi An longer than other places in Vietnam?

Language barrier does not allow me to express how much I love this land, especially it’s people. By the way, I would like to send my special thanks to all my friends, Tam, Gau, Huy, Quynh, Chau, Phuong, Cu and many others who just spent so much time helping me on early days at work, taught me Hoi An history, took great care when I was not well, showed me places that I would not have known as a normal visitor. I own you guys another coffee!

What you should not miss while travelling to Hoi An

  • Visit Cu Lao Cham Island (if you have time).
  • Eating ‘Banh Dap’ in Cam Nam, Cao Lau and White rose in Mermaid restaurant.
  • Be there on 14th lunar month for colorful lantern night.
  • Order a dining suit or two.
  • Enjoy Chao from vender in Cua Dai beach.
  • Find your way to one of the local coffee shop in Hoi An small alleys
  • Burn an incense and pray in Chua Cau
  • Rock to Tam Tam bar for a Larue beer or two and make sure you will be back after 3:00 am.

Watch your language!

I have many nice memories with customers from leading a large number of groups travelling in Vietnam, but some memories are quite embarrassing, mostly caused by misunderstandings with language.  You aren’t to know that some words you use daily in English that are ‘forbidden’ words or ones rarely used in Vietnamese.

I took a group from Australia to visit a local family for dinner (that is part of the V V T ‘Local Tours’ that experience local activity) that was beautiful group.  They bought flowers and presented them to the local family.  The owner also called all children back home to host my group.  After a few Hanoi beers we sat down for dinner with all members of  the family.  Before the meal I tried to explain a couple of rules on English to customers on the dining code in Vietnam.  Everything had gone fine until the owner came over (she was busy with her last cooked course) and ask in Vietnamese, “Do you like our food?”   I translated.   All the Australians replied, “Yum, yum!” and kept repeating “yum, yum” over and over.  I saw the owner’s face getting red, but she acted with a smile and shot back to the kitchen. The visitors did not know that ‘yum, yum’ sounds very close to ‘break wind’ in Vietnamese!  I followed the owner into the kitchen and explained to her the different meaning of those words to an Australian. Party ended up perfectly.

That was my most embarrassing memory though. So, be careful when you speak to Vietnamese. Some of the English words so far I know below may sound very funny to Vietnamese too:

–         Loan: Never ever speak this word to Vietnamese, especially to girls. You know what I mean

–         Alone: Speak it quickly and try not to repeat it often. That is also sounded like ‘a female’s stuff’

–         Among: sounds very much like ‘bum, butt or ass’ in Vietnamese (people are still very shy talking about it)

–         Still in thinking…

Vietnamese are not ugly

Beauty is said to be ‘in the eye of the beholder”.  Someone from the West may think Julia Roberts is charming.  She certainly may be, but some of the older generation in Vietnam may think differently.

I have a friend who broke up with his girl just because of a comment from his Mum about his girl’s high cheekbones.  The Vietnamese think that a girl like that will bring bad luck to her husband – and may even bring death to him!  The round face shape represents prosperity and wealth to Vietnamese. While you are travelling around Vietnam you may see many Vietnamese woman who cover their faces with masks and gloves, said to be necessary because of the pollution in the streets.  This is only part of the reason; the main reason is to protect their white skin.  That is the second of the two main beauty rating standards of Vietnamese.  First is slim shape, second is pale skin!

These values may be different in different parts of the country too. For example, Hue people have as many as 10 values of beauty: they put the sweet voice first; teeth and hair are also ranked highly. Mountainous areas value strong people: if you possess big and strong legs, that will attract lots of boys and girls around you.

Vietnamese parents also suggest their own standards to guide their children in marriage. They think a girl with a small waist (called a “bee’s waist”) strongly indicate excellent prospects for hard work and bearing of children.  This thinking still exists in most Vietnamese people since 90% are still farmers with limited education.

You are not acquainted with the values above?  No worries, because Vietnamese people think that all Westerners are beautiful because they are white and tall, but Vietnamese have trouble in recognizing or remembering Westerner’s faces as they seem to be all the same. I have heard lots of stories about this situation, so don’t be surprised the next day if your new friend just passes by without a word to you.

Today the values are changing as the young Vietnamese people are exposed to international values, but trust me, the traditional values developed over thousands of years still exist for the majority of the people.

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