The 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, which fell yesterday this year, is a special day in Viet Nam. On this day, Tao Quan, also known as the trinity of Kitchen Gods, who lives by the hearth of every home, reports back to Ngoc Hoang, the Jade Emperor – the supreme divinity of the Taoist Heaven – on the goings on of every family. The nice are rewarded with food, spices, money and clothing – the naughty get nothing.
The Trinity, Kitchen Gods or genie is described as a single person and may be called Ong Tao, or Ong Vua Bep. The only catch is that in order to make the long journey to heaven, Tao Quan needs to hitch a ride on the back of a fish. To make the task easier, the Vietnamese release fish into a nearby waterway in the hope of currying favour with the Almighty.
|People buy red carp fish to send Tao Quan to heaven. — VNA/VNS Photo Nguyen Thuy
In Ha Noi, on this auspicious day, you will see devotees carefully release fish into West Lake, Hoan Kiem Lake, or the Red River before tossing the plastic bags on the ground. In fact, it is not uncommon to see more busy folk simply pull over on Long Bien or Chuong Duong bridge and toss a knotted plastic bag of fish into the Red River.
Meanwhile, others can be seen waiting underneath to catch the hapless fish to sell to other worshippers.
And the moral? Mother Earth's okay, but the hearth is where the heart is.
Eating is an important event in Viet Nam, and never more so than at a wedding. Typically, guests will be plied with boiled chicken, steamed mudfish stuffed with pork, glass noodles, pork paste, pig trotters stewed with bamboo shoots, and warm Bia Ha Noi – at least in the north. And the wedding I recently attended in Ha Noi's Phu Xuyen District was no exception.
But there was a new development, that I hear is fast catching on.
Instead of tucking in like hungry wolves, wedding guests picked gingerly at the vegetables while the speeches were made. The Vietnamese, having known real hunger, don't waste the opportunity of filling their bellies to bursting point, so I was taken aback.
And then, come time to leave, all was laid bare. The hosts began handing out plastic bags, which the guests duly filled with the meat of their choice to entertain their own guests with.
A golden moment
A friend's 10-year-old boy was asked by his mother to entertain his two-year-old sister while she prepared lunch. He dutifully left the kitchen only to return every 15 minutes to complain that his sister was a dunderhead. His exact words were: "She's got the memory span of a goldfish."
His mother continued to stir the broth before asking: "Why do you say that?"
The boy replied: "Our goldfish is forgetful too. I see it swim to one place in the tank and then forget what it had come for and go back to where it had started from, only to repeat the process ad infinitum" – or words to that effect.
What a lucky fish! exclaimed the mother.
The boy looked aghast.
"Well," continued the mother, "just imagine how exciting the world is when everything is always new."
What was it Charles Talleyrand, the French diplomat, said of the Bourbon monarchs? "They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing."
But they were happy, no doubt, at least until overthrown in the French Revolution. — VNS