Mooncakes & Mid Autumn Festivities

If you are in the mood to experiment local celebrations, don’t miss the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival!

Called “Tết Trung Thu” in Vietnamese this festival is coming soon. Held on the 15th day of the 8th Lunar Month it will fall this year on October 4 the same day as the full moon!

Dating back more than 2000 years ago in Southeast Asia it was at the time a post-autumn harvest celebration which was devoted to thanking the gods for the good rice collected.

It was as well a time when the parents made the most of this festival to spend quality time with their children because they were too busy before with the harvest to take care of them.

It is still a very popular festival in Vietnam. People simply gather with their parents siblings and children to eat mooncakes and drink tea spending time with each other. Children remain the main focus. They play together, eat a lot, sing, carry animal-shaped paper lanterns around and watch or even join in dance parades on the streets enjoying the full moon light.

Mooncakes are traditional pastries offered to family and friends during the festival. They can be rectangular but most of the time they are round with the Chinese sign for longevity or the Vietnamese lotus flower on top. Filling is various it could be beans lotus seeds sweet potato green tea taro fish chicken and much more. The only one thing every mooncake has in common is one egg in the center.

You can buy mooncakes in all the major bakery companies in Saigon but also in trendy cafés or upper class hotels with the focus made on the beauty of the packaging. Price of mooncakes can be exorbitant depending on where you buy them so be ready!

To soak up the festive atmosphere, you should go to Lưỡng Như Học street in District 5. There you can admire various kind of colorful lanterns and feel the real excitement of this festival. You are even also likely to see lion dancing in the same area.

If you want to explore more of Cholon in an interactive way do not miss our daily tour.

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The Vietnamese calendar

Do you know how the Vietnamese calendar works ?

In Western countries, we use the Gregorian solar calendar of Roman origin. However in Vietnam, as in China, the Gregorian calendar is only used for official dates. For everyday life, it is the luni-solar calendar that prevails. The day and the year are based on the race of the sun while the month is calculated according to the moon.

The period of twelve lunations (355 days) must from time to time be aligned with the solar year (365 days) by addition of an extra lunation or intercalary month (Thang nhuân), also called 13th month. This 13th month comes back every three years approximately and is added between the third and the fourth lunar month.

The dates of great celebrations thus varies according to the lunar calendar. For example, the date of the Vietnamese New Year is determined by the first day of the new moon that marks the beginning of the year.

Inspired by the Chinese model, the Vietnamese calendar begins in 2637 BC. It is unique and does not match neither the lunar calendar nor the Gregorian (or Western) calendar: for example, the current year is 2017 if we follow the Gregorian calendar, which corresponds to the year 4654 of the Vietnamese calendar.

For the Vietnamese people, time is divided into 60-year cycles, which are themselves subdivided into two other types of cycle. The first cycle has 12 years called the “12 terrestrial branches” (represented by the 12 animals). The other cycle is smaller and has 10 years, called the “10 celestial trunks” associated with yin and yang as well as with the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water.

Thus, each new year corresponds to a symbolic animal to which one of the 5 elements is associated. The 12 signs (terrestrial branches) are the Rat, the Ox, the Tiger, the Cat, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Goat, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog and the Pig.

Knowing that there are only 10 trunks, when the cycles associations finish, the first trunk will again be associated to the 11th branch, the second trunk to the 12th branch, then the 3rd trunk to the first branch and so on … After 60 years, the cycle is completed by the last trunk being associated with the last branch. Everything is ready to start another sexagesimal cycle by the first trunk Giáp, associated with the first branch Tí (Giáp Tí) …

If you want to visit and explore Vietnam major touristic cities in a very unusual and interactive way, book our life-size treasure hunts in Hanoi (The Seal of the Emperor), in Ho Chi Minh City (the Strange case of Dr Lam) and in Hoi An (The Malediction of the Jiangshi).

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The 3 towers

During your investigation of the “Malediction of the Jiangshi” you may see in the distance 3 brick towers. We invite you to make a short detour to look at them more closely.

These towers located on the banks of the river “Song Thu” are neither ancient watchtowers nor the remains of a fortress. They are in fact old brick kilns. Few years ago, there used to be there a traditional bricks factory.

At the time, mostly women used to work there making bricks to build the houses of the surrounding villages.

At the time very common in the Vietnamese countryside, this type of building is becoming scarce today. It has been gradually replaced by modern factories that manufacture those bricks on an industrial scale.

Before there were two kinds of ovens, one in tower shape, like the 3 towers you can see and other ovens that looked like long built houses.

The clay used to make the bricks came from the surrounding fields. At the end of the summer, after the last harvest, fields were dug to recover the clay that would be used to make bricks.

During the following winter, when floods occurred, fields were filled again with alluvium from the river, which used to fertilize the land for the next harvests. The recovered clay was transported by cart or small truck. The bricks making used to take several stages and required larges spaces.

First of all, workers manually filled with clay a kind of funnel, using a shovel. In this way, the ground was crushed and shaped to come out on a treadmill like a long “sausage” that had the shape of a long brick. At the end of the treadmill, the long clay “sausage” was cut with a thread-made frame into equal-sized bricks. Bricks were then put on small carts to be transported into a field where they were lined up under the sun to dry.

Every 4 to 5 hours, they were manually turned over so all their sides could dry. Drying used to last in total about 2 days but duration was variable depending on the weather. In case of rain, bricks were covered with tarpaulin.  Bricks were then cooked into ovens for a dozen hours and were finally sold around 400 dong per piece or approximately 1.5 centimes of euros for those of better quality.

The disadvantage of this system was that the cooking temperature was not controlled at all, for that reason, there was a lot of breakage. The broken bricks were resold to make backfill.

Today there are no such kilns operating around Hoi An, but if you go to the pottery village in Cam Ha (3 km west of Hoi An), you can still see some small kilns following the same operating system where they cook pottery.

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