Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Xuân Này Con Không Về -- I Won't Be Home for New Year

(The 2015 Year of the Sheep/Goat/Ram begins on Thursday, 19 February. Which animal it is dependent on the celebrants' ethnic and country of origin.)

The above, my 1st for YouTube, is meant for my family in Viet Nam, who now finally has high-speed internet access at home, but hopefully you, especially Overseas Vietnamese, can also appreciate it. 

With the exception of the New Year's pictures, which came from Wikipedia, all other pictures are mine, taken mostly in the early 1990s. I decided to put this together because, for whatever reason, not being able to "go home" for New Year this year hit me quite hard. When seeing writer Chris Galvin Nguyen's tweet about soaking rice for making bánh chưng, it made me realize how much these New Year's rituals I still sorely missed. Thanks, Chris.

Xuân Này Con Không Về
This song was written in the early 1960s by the Trịnh - Lâm - Ngân song-writing trio. Over the years many have sung this song but only Duy Khánh has truly made this his own. For millions of Vietnamese away from home, this is our song. Though it was written, and sung, from the point of view of a young soldier at the front longing to come home for new year, the song has become the anthem for those of us, because of circumstances beyond our control, are forced to be thousands of miles away from our loved ones.

The 20th Century wasn't so kind to the people of Viet Nam, in addition to the devastating war, families were broken up not once, but twice, first in 1954 and then in 1975.

"Operation Passage to Freedom"
Northern Viet Nam's Refugees Boarding US Navy Ship in Haiphong, 1954
When Viet Nam was partitioned into two halves in 1954, it did not just divide the country, but also divided thousands of families. Over one million moved to what-now became Southern Viet Nam from the north, and about 200,000 moved in the opposite direction.

Leaving Home Once Again after 1975
And in 1975, once again the Vietnamese people are forced to leave behind their loved ones, marking the biggest exodus from just one country in the 20th Century.  All told close to 2 million Vietnamese refugees, escaping mainly by boats or on land through Cambodia, were resettled outside Viet Nam.

The Vietnamese people have been scattered to all four corners of the world. Lunar New Year, or Tết, is the biggest celebration, and family reunion event of the year. It's Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year all rolled into one. Being able to go home for this occasion would be a dream come true for those of us who have not been home for it. The hand-to-mouth existence in the developed countries is such that when you have money, you have no time or when you have time, no money.

Mother, I promise, I will be home for Tết one day soon, hopefully next year/Mẹ, con xin hứa, con sẽ về ăn Tết với Mẹ và các em một ngày sớm, hy vọng trong năm tới. Not being able to join you for Tết for 33 years is long enough/Không về ăn Tết được trong 33 năm nay đã đủ dài.

Monday, February 16, 2015

From Australia to Zimbabwe: Over 1.5 Billion People Gearing Up For Lunar New Year

The 2016 Year of the Fire Monkey begins on Monday, February 8. Unlike like year, which was known either Year of the Goat/Sheep/Ram dependent on the celebrants' ethnic and country of origin, this year, it's just Monkey for everyone.  

Lunar New Year is celebrated by more than 1.5 billion people around the world, from Australia to Zimbabwe, from Bangkok to Paris. Invariably it’s a Spring celebration, rooted in agrarian traditions, marking the end of another bountiful (hopefully!) harvest; hence the overflowing amount of food and drinks, especially rice, the staple food.

Mongolian Tsagaan Meal (Wikipedia)
It’s known as Chun Jie in Chinese, Tết in Vietnamese, Losar in Tibetan, Seollal or Seolnal, in Korean and Tsagaan Sar in Mongolian. Japan celebrated the Lunar New Year until 1875 when the Gregorian, or western, calendar was adopted, but some of the traditions still persist and are now celebrated on January 1st instead.

Saebae -- Korean New Year Tradition
Children bowing to elder members of the family to wish them health & longevity.
(Sol -- Korean Lunar New Year by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang.)
For many, especially those of Vietnamese and Chinese descent, it’s a Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year, all rolled into one, the biggest reunion event of the year. There are many variations of rituals and customs surrounding the occasion, but all essentially have the same common purpose bidding goodbye to the old and looking forward to the new.

Ano do Dragão, Liberdade Neighborhood of Sao Paulo, Brazil 
Outside China, and other parts of Asia with sizable Chinese populations, the Lunar New Year festivities often take place in the Chinatowns of the World, from Johannesburg to Sao Paulo. The biggest Chinese New Year Parade takes place outside China. It's the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade, which began in 1847. Rain or shine, close to 1 million line the streets to watch the parade and over 3 million more watch it on TV.
San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade (YouTube)