To have dinner before saying grace" or getting pregnant before marriage was once looked on as shameful by Vietnamese families, even if the couple eventually got married. There were endless whispers and assumptions about the young women involved, even if they were living with the father of the child and planned to get married.
In feudal times, unwed pregnant women were described as spoiled, immoral or lascivious. Some even had their heads forcibly shaved. Or they were covered in lime and thrown into a river to drown for their "disgraceful" behaviour.
However, this seems to have changed in the 21st century. Some even believe that having a baby before marriage is a ticket for a long-lasting relationship!
Thanh Van, 25, from Ha Noi, was approached by her future mother-in-law when she and her fiance told her about their wedding plans last year. The hopeful grandmother asked Van to consider having a baby before marriage so that she was certain of having an heir. The shocked young woman was told that her fiance's older brother had been married for six years, but had failed to deliver. "She's afraid that I might have reproductive problems and that she could end up having no grandchild," she said.
Needless to say, within three months the brave little Van managed to get pregnant. A lavish wedding followed at a luxury hotel – and the beaming mother-in-law provided the couple with a house fitted out with all mod cons. A grandson is expected within the next two months. Everyone is happy.
Maybe Van's future mother-in-law knew something. According to the Ministry of Health, the numbers of childless couples have increased from seven per cent to 10 per cent in recent years – a whacking eight million people. This probably explains why so many parents-in-law are concerned.
However, Dr Pham Thi Thuy, deputy director of HCM City's Life Skill Co Ltd warned that young couples who pushed themselves too hard to have kids could end up so stressed that the marriage could break up.
But spare a thought for the poor "trial mums" who fail to conceive. Oh my God!
The price of cross-culturalism
Suppose it's one of the more remarkable outcomes of cross-culturalism – the huge joy that modern Vietnamese brides get out of appearing in a Western wedding dress on the big day. Wearing a long white gown (or pink or blue or green) with tiara and a posy of flowers is now considered de rigeur for the modern bride.
Not so in Phu Lang Commune in northern Bac Ninh Province, an area not known for its wealth. Any girl who dares don Western wedding garb is fined VND1 million (US$48). The villagers will also mock her for her non-traditional behaviour.
But there's a reason for it. Twelve or so years ago, when things in the commune were tough, young couples found they had to spend too much on buying or hiring bridal dresses to keep up with the Joneses – sorry the Nguyens. Dusty paths could also play havoc with pearly white organza.
So, to make the Big Day less of a burden for newly-weds and their families, the local authority decided to ban Western bridal dresses. The ever graceful and sensuous ao dai was declared the gown of choice by the commune committee.
At the time, it was a good solution. All brides, from rich or poor families, were happy in the traditional costume. But, as time passed and some villagers became more prosperous, a few began to think of emulating their big city cousins with a gown of white.
Nguyen Thu Huong managed to wear a Western bridal dress regardless of strong opposition from both families. "It is once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that can't be missed," she said. Vice chairman of Phu Lang Commune People's Committee Nguyen Tien Len said the regulation was no longer reasonable, but had not been changed because village elders were still opposed to the new custom.
While the committee contemplates revising the regulation, brave girls are prepared to pay VND1 million for the privilege of wearing bridal dresses on their big day. As for the boys, no one seems concerned if they appear in Western suits and bow tie.
Save the turtles!
The photo of a man kneeling between two ancient stone turtles at Ha Noi's Temple of Literature has attracted thousands of clicks from the internet community.
On his back, the reverent gent was carrying a sign: "Stop Touching the Turtles' Heads". Apparently his action was provoked by the wearing away of the 1,000-year-old creatures by superstitious students rubbing them for good luck in exams. Several of them have already lost most of their heads.
Temple officials and security guards are supposed to be looking after the stone turtles at the old university, animals that are closely linked to northern Viet Nam's rich river systems and the legendary Kim Quy, who apparently still lives in Hoan Kiem Lake. By the way, has anyone seen him recently? — VNS