Happy Chinese New Year!

It’s that time again. Penang’s Chinese community is geared up for the long night, then days, then weeks of celebration!

The lanterns are up. Here are some at a local mall:

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What are some of the other characteristics?

Lion Dances.

Random appearances by Confucian looking characters, handing out the ubiquitous red “ang pao” – envelopes with money for children.

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(Hey, lady, you messed up my focusing!)

Kids make out really well on CNY.

Time off with family. Sometimes, this is the only times of the entire year that people will take off of work. The local grocer told me that he’s taking off two days for Chinese New Year. His store is usually opened 7 days a week, 363 days a year – except at Chinese New Year. That shows the importance!

Getting to meet the cousins again after a long year.

Festive and generous attitudes on everyone’s hearts.

Eating. I have a friend who will gorge herself on popiah – Chinese spring rolls.

The house has been given a thorough cleaning, a new coat of paint is on the walls, everything is ready to greet the day!

Nearly a billion and a half Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, and other East Asians will be celebrating tonight.

I wish them all a Happy New Year!

“Gong Xi Fa Cai”

“Chuc mung nam moi”

 

The Return of the Vietnamese Bean Cake

It’s funny how a simple treat from the past can download a whole heap of memories into your consciousness.

Have you ever eaten Vietnamese green bean cake? This stuff takes me back.

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A friend, stopping by Malaysia coming from Vietnam, picked this up for my family. When we lived in Haiphong from 1994-1997, we were the recipients of countless boxes of the special sweet cake. If you haven’t ever had it, and most of you probably haven’t, it’s quite unique. It has an extremely crumbly texture with a beanish-almost peanutish taste. Super sweet and tasty.

When I was first given one of these boxes back in 1994, I probably mocked it behind the giver’s back simply because I still had my extremely bland, close-minded American palate. But there is something about nostalgia which brings back the sweetness of the past – even if the past seemed short of it at the time. One bite of it yesterday was truly wonderful – both on the mouth and the mind. Here’s what it looks like on the inside.

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This wonderful treat is the claim to fame of Hai Duong, a sleepy little town midway between Hanoi and Haiphong. We used to regularly ride the train to Hanoi and as it made its 10 minute stop in Hai Duong, the vendors would pile on the train, hawking their wares – especially their green bean cakes. I never bought them. I lacked a need of it since my students at the time kept me and my child well-stocked.

So on this eve of the Vietnamese New Year, it was nice to have a little treat from the good old days in Haiphong. I’ll always remember those little stops in Hai Duong. Oh, and by the way, Hai Duong has another claim to fame – lychee – some of the best, fresh lychee in the world are grown there, ripe each late May. How I miss it!

Happy Tet everyone!

Happy Vietnamese New Year (and a reminder of Tet ’68)

Chuc mung nam moi!

Happy ‘Tet’ everyone. January 31 marks the most important holiday of the year for the Vietnamese. Yes, yes. It’s the same as Chinese New Year, but no self-respecting person from Vietnam who speaks Vietnamese (like myself) would ever refer to it using the name of their northern neighbor. It’s ‘Tet’! For the Vietnamese, it’s like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s all rolled into the one. It’s the only work break of the year for some workers and shop owners. It’s the time to travel back to one’s hometown “que” and visit relatives and enjoy the revelry. It’s truly a time of celebration. I wish all of my Vietnamese friends around the world the most joyful Tet yet!

Below, I’m re-publishing a post I wrote about Tet 1968 which you may find interesting. It was originally published on this blog during Tet 2012.

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I enjoyed many Tet holidays in Vietnam, visiting neighbors, being stuffed with delicacies by eager grandmothers who wouldn’t be satisfied until I would hold my stomach in agony and beg her not to put more on my plate. (She always did anyways.)  Tet is a wonderful time for family and friends to commune and feast while the trials and troubles a a year’s hard work are long forgotten. It’s a three day, non-stop heaping dose, celebrating Vietnamese life. It’s a time to remember the past, enjoy the present, and drink for the future.

But for a different generation of Americans, the word “TET” means but one thing – a horrible reminder of the pain of war from 1968.

The Tet Offensive in 1968 changed the Vietnam War, but it didn’t do so in the way you might expect. Leading up to the Viet Cong attacks on the first day of their New Year, the American people had been led to believe from their government that great progress was being made in freeing South Vietnam from the Communist instigators who had been reeking havoc in the delta and central regions of the country for nearly a decade. But the Tet Offensive proved once and for all that the reassuring words from Washington via the press corp were hollow at best and possibly down right deceitful.

On the first night of Tet 1968,  the Viet Cong pulled off nearly fifty coordinated and simultaneous attacks which caught the Americans and the South Vietnamese armies off guard. From the former Imperial city of Hue, to the central highlands where American missionaries were killed, to the fortified city of Saigon itself, these attacks reverberated loudly throughout the country, the world, and especially the American media which drilled home this point to the American people – we were not winning the Vietnam War.

It mattered little that American firepower pushed back every single one of these advances. That’s right. America won them all, but the Viet Cong delivered a devastating punch and a massive dose of reality to the American people. From that point on, cynicism crept in and led to one of the most turmoil filled years in American history, from President LBJ deciding not run for president again, to the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, to the urban riots, the Tet offensive set the stage for them all.

 

Vietnamese New Year & Tet ’68

Happy Vietnamese New Year Everyone!

I enjoyed many Tet holidays in Vietnam visiting neighbors, being stuffed with delicacies by eager grandmothers who wouldn’t be satisfied until I would hold my stomach in agony and beg her not to put more on my plate. (She should anyways.)  Tet is a wonderful time for family and friends to commune and feast while the trials and troubles a a year’s hard work are long forgotten.  It’s a three day non-stop filling of the celebration of Vietnamese life.  It’s a time to remember the past, enjoy the present, and drink for the future.

But for a different generation of Americans, the word “TET” means but one thing – a horrible reminder of the pain of war from 1968.

The Tet Offensive in 1968 changed the Vietnam War, but it didn’t do so in the way you might expect.  Leading up to the Viet Cong attacks on the first day of their New Year, the American people had been led to believe from their government that great progress was being made in freeing South Vietnam from the Communist instigators who had been reeking havoc in the delta and central regions of the country for nearly a decade.  But the Tet Offensive proved once and for all that the reassuring words from Washington via the press corp were hollow at best and possibly down right deceitful.

On the first night of Tet 1968,  the Viet Cong pulled off nearly fifty coordinated and simultaneous attacks which caught the Americans and the South Vietnamese armies off guard.  From the former Imperial city of Hue, to the central highlands where American missionaries were killed, to the fortified city of Saigon itself, these attacks reverberated loudly throughout the country, the world, and especially the American media which drilled home this point to the American people – we were not winning the Vietnam War.

It mattered little that American firepower pushed back every single one of these advances.  That’s right.  America won them all, but the Viet Cong delivered a devastating punch and a massive dose of reality to the American people.   From that point on, cynicism crept in and led to one of the most turmoil filled years in American history, from President LBJ deciding not run for president again, to the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, to the urban riots, the Tet offensive set the stage for them all.

This shows me that above all else, we need government that is checked by an independent news media, driven by principles and not ideological conviction – something today that is certainly hard to find.