Saturday, February 05, 2011

Happy Chinese New Year 2011!

Gong Hei Fatt Choy! Ang pau (or 'li xi') from 1st & 2nd day CNY
For the Chinese, this lunar new year brings forth the year of the Rabbit. However, for the Vietnamese, it is the  year of the Cat that has dawned.

This year's CNY was pretty much like the years before, but this time we visited aunty Sally's new penthouse in Mont Kiara. The view was spectacular! I don't want to mention too much personal stuffs here but from all the extended family we have, I think this aunty is the friendliest amongst them.

Spectacular view from the penthouse. And we didn't need to go all the way to Lookout Point (near Hulu Langat)  to get this view! You just need to have a lot of $$$ hehehee
And another special thing this year is... I got to see a real cherry blossom flower!!! I don't know where my aunt had bought it or imported it from, but the smell was quite mild and it looked great!

Cherry blossom in Malaysia! The flower arrangement was really nice, but I don't have a photo of it without people in it.
I wore the dress I made on the 2nd day of CNY. Nobody believed that I had actually MADE it. hahaha...

Anyway, instead of rambling on about what I've rambled similarly about in past years, here's some info about the Vietnamese New Year I've very recently learned about:

The Vietnamese New Year or Tet Nguyen Dan is celebrated concurrently with the Chinese New Year, as it is the start of the Lunar new year. The word 'Tet' literally means the node adjoining two internodes in the bamboo culm (stem), which signifies the beginning of a new year. The tradition of Tet is similar to that of CNY, richly influenced by Taoism and Buddhism (I think), with religious and cultural rituals. Red packets or 'ang pau' (li xi) are also given out by the elders to the younger generation during Tet; but instead they are called "mung tuoi".

A traditional Vietnamese Tet food is the Banh Chung or sticky rice cake. It is very much similar to the 'ba chang' (I call it "ham yoke chung") we have in Chinese culture. But instead of the triangle or rectangle glutinous rice dumplings we are used to during Dumpling Festival in Malaysia, the Vietnamese version is a squarish in shape. It has the same ingredients as 'ba chang' - glutinous rice, pork and mung bean - but the dumpling is wrapped in 'dong' leaves (whereas ba chang uses bamboo, pandan/screwpine or lotus leaves). Another difference is the rice is coloured green when we cut into banh chung - grandma made them when we visited her in Ohio last year!

Banh Chung. Photo taken from here.
The Vietnamese new year decorations also include the Chinese calligraphy scrolls and alter offerings of 5-8 types of fruits. However the feature that I don't think I've heard of in my CNY celebrations so far, is the New Year Tree or "Cay Neu". Cay Neu is a long bamboo pole stripped of its leaves, but leaving the top tuft on, and lucky red paper with colourful ornamental paper carp fish, clay bells, gongs, bows and arrows are tied on to it. Cactus will be used for the thorny base of the Cay Neu - I couldn't find in my brief Googling what this is for, but am assuming the thorns scare away evil spirits/devils. The ornaments are meant to chase away the bad luck of the previous year and red is supposed to scare off evil.

Cay Neu. Photo taken from here
There is a legend behind the Cay Neu. Long ago, the devil used to rule the earth. He took the rice field harvest and the people were literally starving. In a particularly good harvest year, the devil decreed that only the roots of the rice plants will belong to the people. Upon Buddha's advice, the people planted sweet potatoes the next year and the devil was cheated of his pillage. In revenge, the devil came up with another rule that the roots and the grown plant will belong to the devil. In the next crop cycle, the people planted corn and beat the devil at his own game, for the corn cobs grows in the centre of the plant. The devil then decided to take away all the land. With the farmers at their wits' end, Buddha consoled them and told them to make a deal with the devil, giving him gold for a promise that all the land under the shadow of the bamboo tree will belong to the farmers. As the years went by, the bamboo trees grew taller and in the end the devil had no land for himself anymore, and was driven out to the sea. The devil retaliated by attacking the village with his wild and ferocious beast subjects. The people managed to win the battle with Buddha's advice of making bows and arrows from the forest trees and mixing water with garlic and lime to splash on the enemies' faces.

Therefore farmers plant the bamboo (neu) tree in front of their house, as the shadow symbolises the land man acquired in the legend. The sound of the bells and gongs in the wind on the Cay Neu symbolises man's right to own the land and the bows and arrows remind us of the weapons used in the battle. You can read more details about Cay Neu here.

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