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Ong Cong, Ong Tao – Vietnam’s Day of the Kitchen Gods

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Origin

‘Tao Quan’, ‘Ong Cong’ and ‘Ong Tao’, in Vietnamese belief, originated from the 3 Gods of the land (Tho Cong, Tho Dia and Tho Ky). from Taoism in China. When coming to Vietnam, the legend became the story of “2 Husbands and 1 wife” – the God of Land, God of House and God of Kitchen. However, people still call them “Tao Quan” or “Ong Tao”, because of a TRILOGY theory which is very popular in Eastern Belief and religion. The kitchen of a house where there is fire and both are based on earth or soil for building of the house.

Kitchen god rides carp fish

In Vietnam, the story of Ong Cong, Ong Tao has been told through the generations, and then later it was written down so there are many different variations. But the main story for Vietnam is as follows:

 

Mr. Trong Cao had been married to Mrs Thi Nhan for a long time but they didn’t have any children. Then used to get upset and quarrels were often seen in their family.

In one of their arguments, Trong Cao, got really angry and beat his wife, Thi Nhan who left the home and later married another man named Pham Lang.

When Trong Cao realised he was wrong, he went out to look for his wife. He then spent all his money looking but couldn’t find her. Trong Cao became a beggar because he had spent all of his money.

One day, Trong Cao arrived at Thi Nhan’s house to beg, and they recognized each other. Thi Nhan felt sorry and regretted she had remarried to Pham Lang. Suddenly, Pham Lang came home and Thi Nhan found it hard to explain the situation., Thi Nhan asked Trong Cao to hide in the haystack out in the garden.

Back home, Pham Lang went in to the garden and burned the haystack to make fertilizer without noticing that Trong Cao was hiding there. Trong Cao didn’t dare to come out and was burned to death. Thi Nhan realised that Trong Cao was burning alive and jumped into the fire to die with him.

Pham Lang didn’t know what had happened, but he saw his wife had died and he followed her into the fire.

Their souls went to heaven and met the Jade Emperor. Jade Emperor understood their situation. Then entitled them to be known as, “Tao Quan”, which meant, ‘taking care of 3 different matters in the lives of people’s homes.’

–         Pham Lang: was titled “Tho Cong”, taking care of Kitchens workings

–         Trong Cao: was titled “Tho Dia”, Taking care of house workings

–         Thi Nhan: was titled “Tho Ky”, taking care of food supply and shopping.

 

Worship:

Vietnamese people consider the 3 Gods watch and evaluate the good and bad things people have done, and they decide the prosperity of a family. Therefore, an altar to worship them is a must.

Paper offerings

An altar for them is set near kitchen. Every year, on 23rd day of 12th month in Lunar Year calendar (in 2011, it is the January 26 on the western calendar); these Gods go for a meeting in heaven and report what people had done in the past year. Vietnamese people celebrate on this day. In the ceremony, the offering include a carp ship which is their transport, and 3 sets of traditional official paper dress hats, long dresses and shoes but no pants. This is because in the fire, their pants were burnt off.

Many Vietnamese families will buy 3 live fish, 1 female and 2 male, and release them into a river or pond and also burn paper clothes and money on the day.

 

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Vietnamese Mother’s day

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Vu Lan – Ullambana or Mother’s day

Vu Lan in Vietnamese is one of the main Buddhism festivals to show your gratitude to your mother. It is on 15th day of 7th month in Lunar Calendar.

Legend:

The Buddhist origins of the festival can be traced back to a story that originally came from India, but later took on culturally Chinese overtones. In the Ullambana Sutra, there is a descriptive account of a Buddhist monk named Maudgalyāyana, originally a brahmin youth who later ordained, and later becoming one of the Buddha’s chief disciples. Mahāmaudgalyāyana was also known for having clairvoyant powers, an uncommon trait amongst monks.

After he attained archonship, he began to think deeply of his parents, and wondered what happened to them. He used his clairvoyance abilities to see where they were reborn and found his father in the heavenly realms i.e. the realm of the gods. However, his mother had been reborn in a lower realm, known as the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. His mother took on the form of a hungry ghost (preta) – so called because it could not eat due to its highly thin & fragile throat in which no food could pass through, yet it was always hungry and it had a fat belly. His mother had been greedy with the money he’d left to her. He had instructed her to kindly host any Buddhist monks that ever came her way, but instead she withheld her kindness and her money. It was for this reason she was reborn in the realm of hungry ghosts.

Maudgalyāyana eased his mother’s suffering by receiving the instructions from feeding pretas and from the Buddha. The Buddha instructed Maudgalyāyana to place pieces of food on a clean plate, reciting a mantra seven times to bless the food, snap his fingers to call out to the deceased and finally tip the food onto clean ground. By doing so, the preta’s hunger would be relieved. Through these merits, his mother was able to be reborn. Buddha also tells people that they can perform the same kindness to show gratitude to their mothers.

Main activities:

For Buddhism followers, they will have a shower (so they will be clean for the ceremony) then go to a Pagoda to perform a spiritual ceremony. They worship their mother (if she has passed away) or ask the gods to give good health and happiness to their mother if she is still living. People, whose mothers have already died, will hang a white rose on their shirt and have a meal in pagoda (vegetarian) or at home honoring their deceased mother.

Cheers

 

Death Ceremony

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Death anniversary

The death anniversary is a ceremony to commemorate a dead person in Vietnamese culture. It is held on the date of death according to the Lunar Calendar every year. It also reminds youngsters of their ancestors and to strengthen relationships between members of a family or of an occupational group.

Meaning:

The celebration of the death anniversary is an important day for Vietnamese people. It expresses faithfulness and compassion of living people towards dead people and to show filial respect to their ancestors. If you are wealthy, you can prepare a big party and invite your relatives and friends. If you are poor, a bowl of rice with salt, a boiled egg, incense and some simple foods are good enough. Your sincerity is not measured by how big a ceremony is. If you are a friend or relative of a dead person, you just go to death anniversary celebration without being invited.

Main activities:

Preparation will depend on a family’s financial status. Big parties will take longer while simple ones are easier to prepare. Nowadays, they will make, at least, a table of six. They will put all the food on a big tray and lay it down in front of an altar which has a picture of the dead person on it. Included on that tray, they put paper money (fake money that Vietnamese burn to send to dead people to help them buy things in the other life, a kind of quick Western Union money transfer) and rice wine. The dead persons name is written on the fake money and, when it is burnt, goes to a special depository for the deceased to pick up to use in the next life. The family also burns other paper and cardboard images of things they can use in the next life like cars, houses, horses and once a family member burnt a Boeing jet while his neighbor, not to be outdone, burnt a spaceship.  The head of family will dress respectably; burn 3 incense sticks and make a prayer which shows his respect to the ancestor. (I use his as the head of family as it is always a man. If they don’t have a son then the eldest son in law will be in charge). They wait until the incense sticks burn up then they will burn the paper money and other paper or cardboard items. The paper money will be sent directly to the dead person so he or she can use it to make their way home.

After the ceremony, family members will eat the food that they offered in the ceremony. They eat and drink and talk to each other happily. After eating, the family will divide fruit and candy into small bags and give one to everybody who came to the ceremony.

Extra information:

– If for some reason they can’t hold the death anniversary on the date that their ancestor passed away, they have to pray on that day and explain why they cannot and ask for permission to move it to another date.

– The cost of the ceremony will be divided between all male members of the family, female members; including the son-in-law, can also put in money if they want to.

– The 1st anniversary will be as big as the funeral ceremony and they will invite a lot of relatives and friends to attend. Friends of the dead person will bring incense, paper money and some times an envelope with real money inside to help the family to cover the costs.

– In big cities, sometimes they don’t know all their in-laws but, in the country, as they live nearby each other, ceremonies like this are a chance to get to know new members of the family and catch up with people not seen for a while.

– In some cases, the death ceremony may be held on the date of the normal calendar, not the lunar calendar, if the family is of the Catholic religion.

Cheers

 

General information about Vietnam

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Hunter in Hanoi

Welcome to my experiences working and traveling in Vietnam.

Traveling extensively through Indochina, especially Vietnam, I have experienced some wonderful, hospitable, and at time hilarious memories. In this blog, I will supply some information about Vietnam.

Vietnam is located in Southeast Asia. It is a united communist country and, while it is not the richest country in the world, and having experienced terrible wars striving for independence, it is a great place to visit. In the 21st century, Vietnam has a steadily growing stable economy and is an affordable destination for travelers. The North (Hanoi), South (Ho Chi Minh City) and central areas (Danang, Hoi An and Hue) all have a quite different aspects in their people, climate and culture.

Climate

Northern Vietnam’s climate is four seasons, summer, autumn, winter and spring. Winter months (December – February) in the north are very cold with biting winds breezing through Hanoi. Summer (June to August) is hot and humid.

Southern Vietnam experiences three seasons, hot and dry (March to May) and Rainy and wet (June to November) and cool and dry (December to January).

Central Vietnam is a sort of buffer for the north and south and generally is mild most of the year with it being hottest from December to January.

Cultures

Northern Vietnam’s people are probably the most pure, culturally, in Vietnam. They more strictly adhere to their ancient customs and are a very proud, friendly and patriotic people.

Southern Vietnam people are none the less friendly but have experienced more American influences which often reflect in their culture along with the Vietnamese culture.

Central residents are friendly, cultural and generally a mix of the northern and southern cultures.

Overall, Vietnamese people are very dedicated to their family units and children and old people are very precious. The extended family units are prevalent right throughout Vietnam.

Language

Vietnamese is the national language spoken and is not an easy language to learn. Many Vietnamese don’t speak English but usually you will find someone who can translate for you. Some of the older people speak 3 or 4 languages, French, English, Russian and Chinese.

Currency

Vietnamese Dong is the nation’s currency but many Vietnamese prefer to trade in American Dollars. 100,000 Vietnamese Dong (VND) is equivalent to about US$5.00.

Some interesting destination suggestions in Vietnam

Northern Vietnam.

HANOI (The capital of Vietnam) has the Ho Chi Minh Complex (Ho Chi Minh is affectionately called Uncle Ho by Vietnamese) which contains Uncle Ho’s mausoleum, museum and house on stilts is a great one day tour. There is also the Museum of Ethnology, Temple of literature, the culturally famous water puppets and a “Cyclo” ride ( a 3 wheeled bicycle with a sedan chair at the front and peddled by a Vietnamese man from the back)through the streets. THE OLD FRENCH QUARTER is situated around Lake Hoan Kiem (Lake of the returned sword) and contains many great shopping opportunities. The streets are referred to as Gold Street, Clothing Street, Paper Street, Metal Street, etc. There are many day trips available including the PERFUME PAGODA (3 Temples and a cave pagoda situated on the Day River), HANOI CITY TOUR (Ho Chi Minh Complex, Museum of Ethnology and Temple of Literature) plus many more. Traveling from Hanoi it’s worth a visit to HALONG BAY or CAT BA ISLAND. This is a majestic part of Vietnam and you can do a day trip or stay overnight on a basic, up to a deluxe class, junk or stay overnight on Cat Ba Island. Sailing through the limestone karsts rising straight out of the ocean reaching hundreds of meters towards the sky is awe inspiring. SA PA is a 2 or 3 day trip and you can take the overnight, 4 berth, soft

sleeper train to this magnificent cultural highland. The ethnic D’zay and Black H’mong peoples are truly fascinating and the terraced rice paddies on the side of the mountains are to be seen to be believed. You can do some easy trekking here and experience everyday life of the ethnic people.

These are but a few of the highlights of the north. There are many more wonderful tours to experience.

Central Vietnam

HUE, the old capital of Vietnam, is a culturally rewarding experience. The ancient royal palaces, Buddhist monasteries and the site of the TET offensive during the American war are but a few sites to see. HOI AN is probably the most popular central destination for tourists (all of my past tours have absolutely loved Hoi An). It has an ancient charm, friendly people, great beaches and arguably the best shopping in Vietnam. The old town is especially famous for its tinkers and tailors. You can hire a push bike and explore on your own or take a boat trip down the river to do a cooking class in one of the villager’s homes. Delicious! MY SON has some of the oldest temple remains in Southeast Asia. The history here is remarkable.

Again, these are only some of the highlights of the central region. There are many more culturally rewarding and relaxing places to visit.

Southern Vietnam

HO CHI MINH CITY, still called Saigon by the locals, is a hustling and bustling metropolis with great restaurants and bars to experience. You can take a day tour to the Presidential Complex, witness the War Remnants Museum or, do a city tour, to learn more about this large city. CU CHI or BEN DUC TUNNELS are of significant importance to Vietnam in there wars to gain independence. These tunnels are in original condition and show the determination and resourcefulness of the Vietnamese during these struggles. PHU QUOC or CON DAU ISLANDS are unrivalled in their beauty, unspoiled beaches and history, in Asia. They are about a 1 hour and 1 ½ hour flight, respectively, from Ho Chi Minh City. The MEKONG DELTA is either a day trip or overnight home stay to experience this river which is the life blood of the south. Experience the local culture, everyday life of the rice, fruit and cottage industries that make up this area.

There are many more interesting tours to be experienced in Ho Chi Minh City and these are but a few highlights.

Footnote: I am fortunate to have traveled to all these destinations in Vietnam, in all sorts of transport and weather, plus many more. There are so many interesting, beautiful, culturally rewarding and fun places besides the ones I have mentioned. Usually my tourist visitors’ return as one visit is not enough to see everything. Come see for yourself!

Neil’s trip to Duong Lam ancient village

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Welcome to my experiences working and travelling in Vietnam.

Travelling extensively through Indochina, especially Vietnam, I haveexperienced some wonderful, hospitable, and at time hilarious memories. Here is one of many.

Neil on motor Bike

My colleagues Mr Ngan, Mr Vinh and I, we all work for a medium sized travel/tour company owned by young Vietnamese men, often on a Sunday  would ride our motor bikes to take a look at some of the historical sites around Hanoi. One such place was Duong Lam Village, one of the oldest in Vietnam. A truly fascinating and beautiful place and it is like stepping back in time seeing and walking around the old original houses. The houses remain exactly the same and the residents are 3rd and 4th generation families. There is a central meeting hall in the middle of the village, open on 3 sides, where there is a large gong to call the villages to a meeting. What always fascinated me is the wonderful terracotta tiles, hand made bricks and small doorways with different carvings on them that make up these buildings. It’s totally unique to Asia and is very peaceful and pleasing to the eye. (Good Feng Shui).

300 YO house in Duong Lam

We were invited into one local house by Mr Hai (number two) and his wife for a traditional Vietnamese lunch, prepared probably the same way for centuries, cooked on a small charcoal BBQ, and it was delicious. We had fried tofu, BBQ pork, water spinach with garlic (called morning glory), BBQ chicken (Vietnamese prefer stringy chicken rather than soft and often they call it fighting cock, obviously not a good fighter who lost and ended up being invited to dinner) and a myriad of unusual vegetables. These are always served with dipping saucers ranging from MSG with lime juice, fish sauce and many other tasty home made sauces. Of course there is also a plate of very hot chillies which I still have trouble managing to eat.  The hospitality shown by Vietnamese people is great. Always you are offered home made rice wine (poured from a plastic 5 litre container, very warm and delicious but, great headache material if you over-indulge), Fresh fruit consisting of some varieties I have never seen in my country (fruit in Vietnam is sweet and fresh from the tree or vine) and to finish off, green tea served from a small teapot into eggcup style cups. Mmm. Good food! Wonderful friendly delicious and informative hospitality. Traditionally they would sit on the floor but being a chubby westerner (Tay) they thought it better to sit me at a regular table.

Owner's preparing our lunch

Here is our Lunch, Yum Yum

The area where they eat is in one main room in the house. This room contains floor sitting area, an altar and a large, very, very hard bed. Sort of like a multi purpose area. The cooking area is usually in a small room off the side of the house (some of the cooking is done in the courtyard on charcoal BBQ’s) and the toilet is usually some distance from the main area (mostly squat style but I have noticed western styles slowly creeping in).

Usually, in the courtyard, there are always many terracotta pots containing different fermenting foods. Some contain rice for wine, other to make sauces   or shrimp paste and this area is set aside for this purpose to make some extra money to support the family. Of course they also have some type of fruit or vegetable growing. No space is wasted.

Terracota Pots

They were very proud to show me their photos of their children, grand children and ancestors. There is usually an altar in every home for ancestral worship. Their altar had photographs of their deceased Mother, Father, Grandparents and great Grandparents. Vietnamese families are very close knit and the children and grandchildren are often looked after by the grandparents while the mother and father go about making a living. This can be going through the village collecting recycling, they may have a small roadside stall selling tea or sticky rice or home made food selling plastic wares (brooms, bowls slippers etc) from the back of an overloaded push bike or labouring in the rice paddies or construction sites.

300 yo house

Next we walked through the village to the oldest house. The owner and his family welcomed us warmly and proceeded to serve tea and show us around the house. Amazing! It has never changed (apart from the western style toilet built outback) since it was built some hundreds of years before. Of course there were some 40 or so large terracotta pots fermenting wine (vodka as they call it) in the courtyard. We sampled this and, WOW, rocket fuel! They proudly showed us some extremely old photographs of their ancestors. Again, like most Vietnamese people, very friendly and welcoming.

harvesting crop

The road to the village is very good by Vietnamese standards. You travel along the newly constructed Thang Long Highway and it takes about ¾ to 1 hour. There are full day tours where you also visit some historic Pagodas and include English speaking guide, lunch, any entrance fees and transport (air-conditioned bus or car). A truly cultural, interesting experience to remember the real Vietnam and its people!

Footnote:

Ngan was on the back of my motor bike (very brave man) and on the return to Hanoi, travelling at about 70 to 80 kms an hour, the back tyre punctured. Up until then Ngan seemed reasonably comfortable but I could feeling him grab on when he thought I was going to panic and hit the front brake hard and send us spinning. I didn’t much to his relief. As it was dusk and we were in the middle of rice paddies and villages, we pushed the bike back in to a small village to find someone to help repair the tyre. It obviously was quite spectacle for people coming and going into the village as almost everyone stopped to see or help the westerner. Eventually two very helpful men, one a real character who laughed a lot and a young guy who had his roadside tea and soft drink stall packed two stories high on the back of his bicycle, went around the village to find a new tube and tools to fix it. When it was repaired, they didn’t want to take any money but after a bit of persistence, they finally accepted 50,000 Vietnamese Dong, about $2.50. Once again the friendly and helpful Vietnamese nature comes to the fore.

Cheers

Neil In Vietnam