Monday, October 1, 2012

Tết Trung thu - The Fall Moon Festival

This past weekend, the last weekend in September, was a pretty awesome festival called Tet Trung Thu, or Moon Festival. It is celebrated all over Asia, and I think the festivals are similar but the ones in Vietnam are really fun. I don't really know about the folklore behind the festival. My friend Miranda said something about a lady peeing on a sacred tree and being banished to the moon, and the festival is commemorating her or something, but I don't really know. All I know is that there is a lot of dancing, candies, presents, and mooncake involved :) - I have also heard that it is Vietnamese Thanksgiving, where they celebrate the harvest, and children are involved and celebrated.

So, as for the mooncakes, we were lucky to try a few different flavors. The first one we bought was actually at the beginning of September because we didn't know any better, but it was nice because the shop had everything in stock.
So Mike's work bought every employee a fancy little box with 2 mooncakes inside, here's the box, you can see the name of the holiday is on the lower right hand corner.

Here are the two mooncakes, the labels on the package tell you what kind of filling is inside, as well as how many egg yolks (explanation below) - we were so excited we forgot to translate it before we opened the first one.

Here is the first mooncake - all pretty in the package. The pastry is really molded very well and they are rather pretty.

We cut it open and it was this weird green color inside. After Michael nibbled on it a bit and said it was okay but not great I looked up the filling and it was Green Tea and Lotus Seed, so he ended up giving it away at work. The egg yolk inside is to represent the Moon. I don't know if it is supposed to be eaten or not, but it kinda weirded us out so we threw away the yolk parts.
The other cake we didn't open ended up being Ham and Chicken (cakes can be sweet or savory), and we didn't get good reviews of it from our French friends so we gave it to our gardener instead, hopefully she liked it :)

Below are photos of our first mooncake - the filling on it was Sua Dua - coconut milk. We had no idea they had egg yolks in them when we bought this one, so it was quite the surprise.

We also bought a mooncake the day before the festival that had just Lotus Seed filling at the recommendation of my friend Miranda. It was really yummy, but we forgot to take pictures :( It was also the most expensive one we bought, the coconut milk one was 30,000VND (about $1.50), and the Lotus Seed was 100,000VND (about $5).

To celebrate the actual holiday we planned on participating with the Volunteer Group at Michael's work. They had planned to throw a celebration for a group of orphans here in Da Nang, so we were excited to get involved. On Saturday the 29th we met up with them at a school to help set up, but almost everything had been done except blowing up some balloons. There were some kids there, we don't know if they were orphans or not because they weren't there in the evening for the party - but Michael had a lot of fun playing with them. I was nervous as usual, but the kids were so friendly and cute you couldn't help but play with them too.

The cutest girls got Michael all ready to party :)

 This girl was so sweet and had so much spunk, she wanted balloons like Michael and wanted to play. Here he shows the girls how to play notes on his guitar. 

After the balloons we went for some street food with Mai, an office manager at Gameloft who was also volunteering. We had Chinese-style Noodles and Rice Pancakes - which aren't western pancakes at all, really just strips of steamed rice-flour batter served with fish sauce and meat. It was good food. Back at the school the kids arrived and the crazy party began. It was a lot of dancing, a whole lot of dancing. Everything was in Vietnamese so we had no idea what was going on, but as far as we could see the kids got in a big circle and were taught how to do a dance to the music, and then we would all dance. The first one up was the Chicken Dance, with some Vietnamese variations, but basically the same one we're used to. We had to look at the children to help us with the dances and the games - they were fun but we had no idea what was going on. There was a version of Simon Says I think, and one game where they would shout out how many of something you needed - for example, you had to have a group of 5 people, or a group of 15 toes, or 7 feet, etc - and there was lots of screaming and running involved. Overall it was a lot of fun, but a little weird as we were the only westerners there. Michael had a total blast though and had multiple children following him or taking him around all night long - classic Michael - especially the cute little boys, they loved him. It was fun seeing the usual difference in children, the ages ranged from maybe 6 or so up to 17, there were around 60 kids all together, and you could see some kids who didn't want to dance, some that really enjoyed dancing and playing, some that just wanted to roughouse with eachother, and some that were too cool to participate. We met a really smart and lovely 17 year old girl who was amazing and spoke very good English, and the children in general were just incredibly sweet and giving.

After some dancing a real downpour began - literally like a firehose being directed at the ground, so we all had to huddle under the eave of the school for a good 20 minutes until a room inside could be opened. Inside the school we saw our first Dragon Dance - it was amazing! A guy in a costume with a cheeky, smiling mask on and a large pillow in his shirt would dance around while the dragon danced, and you could offer money to the dragon to give you luck - or something like that. It was cool, but SO loud I thought my ears would break.

After the dragon dance, there was more dancing, and they also let a woodpile on fire that had the name of the holiday on it written with cotton, which was kind of cool, and then you had to dance around the fire. After the fire and some singing - Michael performed "A Yellow Submarine" and some other awkward kids songs they didn't end up knowing - they handed giftbags of treats to the children, and they all went nuts. There was food and fruit flying everywhere. But, the most humbling thing of all was that they shared with eachother, and with us. I saw some older children give almost everything in their bags to the younger children, even though they had their own, and they kept giving us some of their treats too - it was very touching. I didn't want to take their treats because I knew they didn't get them very often, but how can you say no to those sweet spirits? It was a very moving night.

The next day, Sunday, we had friends over for dinner to celebrate. Our friend Thuy came and cooked a Veitnamese specialty of Da Nang for us - a kind of pork spring roll you would assemble yourself and then dip in a very strong fish-sauce, and we made enough Thai Red Curry to last us a week, it was nuts. We had our French friends Geraldine, Marie, and Charles over as well, and we had a lot of fun playing Uno and Farkle (a dice game), as well as having a Dragon Dance in our house! The neighborhood kids came around to dance, and they came in our house, which is supposed to be good luck, and we offered them some money as a good luck gift. It was a really cool cultural experience. We had way too much food, enjoyed our lotus seed mooncake and treats from the kids with our friends, it was a great time.

Overall, we feel very lucky to be here, even though it is crazy hard at times.


Miranda said...

Ummm, I know the story of the woman who ate the immortal PEACH and got banished to the moon. I'm not sure what story this tree peeing woman is. Sounds interesting.

Mooncakes are crazy expensive here too. I got a tin with 4 of them in it for about $20.

It's the Thanksgiving/harvest festival, but the big story I heard about the moon cakes is that messages were hidden in them to let the Chinese know the time of the rebellion against the Mongolians.

Mike and Risa said...

Ah... ahem... well maybe it was something to do with a Peach and not Pee... you know Vietnamese people don't usually know how to pronounce consonants at the end of words, so when I asked they may have just said yes without thinking about it. Ha ha ha... gotta love it :)

Yen Yu said... you can read about that story here, it's only a legend and has nothing to do with the moon festival

Yen Yu said...

egg yolk is the best part in a moon cake, they're salted egg yolks