At 8am on January 28th we were picked up by the Grayline cruise bus. 15 passengers. Our tour guide is Quon also known as happy. He is very knowledgeable and pleasant. He provided us with very interesting information about Vietnam. I'll share what I can remember. ...
Hanoi means in the river. Originally Hanoi had rivers completely around it but as the city grew....the river is in Hanoi. The city of Hanoi has 7 million people. Quon says it is easy to find work and many people move to Hanoi from the rural areas.
The old market area where we stayed originally had been only shops. The shops were approximately 30 square feet. The shop keepers lived in the location. As Vietnamese people live with their extended family, they increase their living quarters by building up, sometimes many floors. Quan's family is 4 generations.
In the old market area, each street was for a different product. For example our hotel - Paradise Hotel was on Hang Chieu street - Chieu means rug. All vendors on this street only sold rugs.
Vietnam is getting ready for the new year celebration. This occurs on the first day of the new lunar cycle. This explains the red and gold decorations being sold in the market.
Quon explained some of the customs that are occurring at this time. Carp is a good luck fish - each family buys one at this time and releases it into the river on the first day of the new year. As well each family decorates with cherry trees and Kumquat trees - or - apricot trees in the south. If you are rich you may have the whole tree, if not you have a branch. Since we arrived we had seen many motorcycles transporting Kumquat trees.
70% of vietnam people are Buddhist. All Buddhist's have alters in their homes. A particular fruit available at this time is called Buddha's hand. This fruit is not for consumption, instead will be placed on the family alter.
In preparation for the new year,the house will be cleaned, but it will not be cleaned for 3 days after the new year as you do not want to sweep out good luck.
The families celebrate the new year with 10 days of holidays. Many shops close down. People from the rural area return home. Hanoi becomes quiet. Besides the trees, the home are decorated with many other things with special meaning for good luck. Children get " lucky money" in bright red envelopes. Special rice cakes are cooked for 10 hours. The rice cakes contain green beans, rice and pork wrapped in leaves and shaped square. It is believed that earth is square and the sun is round. The outside of square rice cakes turn green after cooking and after removing the leaves. The inside is yellow - this represents the earth and harvest.
February 8th is the new year. We will have to have our accommodations sorted out prior to that date. Quon indicated most likely we will have to eat at fast food places at Vietnamese places will be closed.