The 2014 Flower Festival was open to visitors today, so we spent an hour or so perusing the amazing collection of flowers and other flora from around Vietnam. We saw amazing flowers, a song-bird competition, a bonsai tree competition, and dozens of beautifully dressed women taking photos in their Ao Dao. The Vietnamese people are in full swing to welcome in the Year of the Horse!
In our effort to do something new and exciting every weekend in Saigon, we attempted to go to the Têt Flower Festival that was supposed to start today. Well, it does start today, but not until this evening. Bummer. We were already downtown, and I had been wanting to visit the art museum for sometime now, so we made it happen.
I can't decide what I liked best about the museum: the actual building (historical French colonial built for a wealthy Chinese family), the ancient Cham pieces, the propaganda posters, or the dozens of Buddha statues.
As far as an art museum goes, it felt a little unprofessional. A few paintings were bulging our of their frames due to the constant exposure to heat and humidity. The windows of the building were all open, and there was a nice breeze, but I can only imagine how rough the tropical weather is on artwork. Not to mention the fact the several pieces were clearly being touched on a regular basis. There was a stone piece from the 7th century Cham people that was just sitting out in the open. It surprised me to see how nonchalant they were with so many pieces.
I really loved the building and the stunning tiled floors throughout. I also got a kick out of the classic "bowl of fruit" pictures that featured the infamous durian fruit. How the artist could stand the retched smell long enough to paint that, I will never know.
The propaganda paintings were also very interesting to see--especially as an American. There were a surprising number of Anti-American posters that were from northern Vietnam. Part of the reason I love traveling is to be able to see the world from new perspectives, and it is these somewhat awkward circumstances that really challenge the norms I know.
The largest holiday of the year in Vietnam is Têt, the lunar new year. There are an insane amount of traditions and festivities that surround the holiday, and because our school is almost entirely Vietnamese students, we go all out for our Têt Celebration. Nearly all of the staff wears the traditional Vietnamese Ao Dao (mine seen here is a bit more modern with a Chinese influence I am told). At the celebration there was singing, a dragon dance, a cook-off, artwork, and several competitions. I even pulled Owen out of his classroom for a little while to see some of the festivities.
One of the traditions for Têt is to give children Lucky Money (lì sì) to wish them good fortune for the next year. Both of the boys got some chocolate Lucky Money from their teachers and now every red envelope that Oliver sees he proclaims "Lucky Money!"
Most Vietnamese families reunite at Têt, which means the larger cities all but shut down with everyone returning to the countryside. Even the markets will close for a minimum of two days--usually four days to an entire week. My students are far more excited about this holiday than they were for the three week break at Christmastime. It's their Christmas and New Year's all wrapped into a few glorious days of family fun. I can't wait to hear about their trips when I see them after the holiday.
I have been wanting to do a motorbike tour in Saigon for a while now, so when I found out a few other expat teacher were interested, I jumped at the possibility. I may have pushed my vegetarian status a bit last night, but it was well worth it.
We met up a lovely group of 8 tour guides by the opera house steps in downtown Saigon. From there we went to a food cart selling a dish called Bot Chien- a dish made with rice flour, eggs, cabbage, and general goodness. It was very good, and we will be asking our nanny to make it for us sometime this week.
My parents in Colorado shipped us a large but light box back in Mid-November. It finally got here on the 10th of January. It had never been opened, so it isn't like it was stuck in customs. It just took it that long. We received Owen's blue blanket that we had forgotten to ship and couldn't pack in the suitcases (and a new orange one for Oliver), several family heirloom ornaments, Christmas jammies, and Christmas gifts for the boys. The package delivery made my week as I had started to fear it had "disappeared" as I have heard packages sometimes do in Vietnam...