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Foreign ambassadors celebrate Tet with hopes for a prosperous 2015

Update: February, 14/2015 - 08:00
US Ambassador Ted Osius releases carp into West Lake as part of an ancient Vietnamese festival to honour the Kitchen God. — VNS Photo Viet Thanh

By Vuong Bach Lien

HA NOI (VNS) — US Ambassador Ted Osius has joined in the Tet (Lunar New Year) custom of releasing carp into West Lake.

Osius was involved in an ancient festival on Wednesday to honour the Kitchen God (Tao Quan) before he leaves for his annual trip to report to the Jade Emperor in Heaven on the goings on in the family over the past year.

The ambassador also prayed for luck for his family and for Vietnamese people.

"Several years ago, my Vietnamese teacher helped me learn about this beautiful tradition of releasing carp," he said.

"Nineteen years ago, I was teaching English to a group of Vietnamese students. They offered me a beautiful branch of peach blossom. They also taught me and my family about the traditions of Tet," he said.

This year, to celebrate new year, Osius's family cooked banh chung (glutinous rice cake) in his house.

"I know that cooking banh chung is a big event in Vietnamese family during Tet. Banh chung is the symbol for the relation between the sky, the Earth and the people," he said.

Several other ambassadors are also deeply impressed by the joyful ambience of Tet - the crowded and bustling streets and beautiful traditions.

Earlier this week, New Zealand Ambassador Haike Manning visited the flower market in Hang Luoc Street and met Le Dinh Nghien, the old master of Hang Trong paintings. He bought a beautiful painting of a goldfish which promises to bring good luck for the new year.

"We are real fans of art. Recently, we discovered some Hang Trong folk paintings once bought and hung during Tet, but which are now increasingly rare," he said.

"I am a big fan of lucky money! It is a great representation of the idea that if you give something, you will get something back (luck!). Our young son, who is now two-and-a-half-years old, is also getting the hang of lucky money, and looking forward to his red envelopes. I like the focus on children at this time, and the good wishes for their future prospects and happiness," he said.

"I also like the unique traditions on display – the respect paid to the ancestors, including the release of the goldfish on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month for the Kitchen Gods, and the invitation to the ancestors to join families in celebrating Tet," he said.

The ambassador said that the respect for elders and ancestors by Vietnamese people was something that really made an impression on him.

"In Western countries, including New Zealand, I think we have lost a little of that. There is a real focus on the individual, whereas in Viet Nam there is still a strong focus on the wider family and previous generations. I think that is a powerful and valuable tradition," he said.

Connecting culture: New Zealand Ambassador Haike Manning met Le Dinh Nghien, the old master of Hang Trong paintings, earlier this week. — Photo courtesy of New Zealand embassy.

His thoughts on Tet are similar to those of the Swiss ambassador, Andrej Motyl.

"I personally love the devout refreshing of family links. It seems to me a spiritual act, a deed of loyalty among members of a family, a message of thankfulness and expression of the will to share happiness," said Motyl.

"Last Tet, we went to Quang Binh and discovered the gorgeous caves there. On Tet Day, I put flowers on General Vo Nguyen Giap's Grave. I was accompanying Vo Hong Nam, the General's son, who has become a dear friend," he said.

Every Tet, he decorates his house with peach blossoms.

"It is a must," he said.

After more than three years in Viet Nam, Tet has become a close and exciting experience for Indonesian ambassador Mayerfas and his family.

"We also follow Vietnamese culture by decorating one kumquat tree and one peach blossom tree in our residence. These are expected to bring good luck and happiness to our family in the New Year.

"We like the fact that Tet Festival is celebrated during the spring season when a variety of flowers, especially peach flowers, are blossoming, adding to the charm and beauty of Ha Noi City," he said.

Tet also impresses expats for its traditional cooking.The South African Ambassador, Kgomotso Ruth Magau, cannot forget her first Tet of last year when she was invited to the family of her Vietnamese staff.

"We had a big lunch with them with a lot of traditional food including banh chung and spring rolls, and mut Tet (dried and sweetened fruits) for dessert. It was the first time I ate banh chung. I don't know how to cook them, but my daughter does. She was taught how to make them at UNIS school where she studies," she said. — VNS

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