Orient-Tours

Cultures

Culture I



busThere are a huge amount of people who come to Vietnam every year and wonder what is happening, they experience this great 'culture shock' and they wonder at almost everything they see here. Vietnam is an unusual place for a westerner, that's why we have this insight, to give you a better understanding of what you are actually seeing. This is the first of three pages on Vietnamese culture.



I want to Sing!
Vietnam is always hustling, bustling and lively. In fact it never seems to sleep even in some of the smaller towns you can't escape a tremendous din. It starts sometimes at 4.30 in the morning and goes on till 11.00 at night. Now there is something that has been added to the traditional type of din and that is the electronic buzz of the Karaoke sessions pouring out onto the streets everywhere and luckily enough finishing at 11 o'clock at night. A tip that you should heed is; if you can't stand noise bring a set of earplugs that will dim the sound but will not stop you hearing.

The Famous Toothpick 
After you finish a meal in Vietnam, you’ll notice every Vietnamese person grabbing a toothpick and going to work. Not the discreet refined sight that you'd come across in an Amsterdam restaurant, where the stick and mouth are totally covered by both hands and little is shown of either the dentals or the garbage that has been ejected from them. Definitely not the way the many Europeans do it, quiet and retiring. No way Jose! this is all out war! A full blown case of oral surgery in which the stick disappears into the mouth and soon reappears with a variety of contents not fit for the human eye to behold. This is not for the faint of heart. Gums are attacked on all sides, blood is often drawn, then the violent sliding of the stick through any tiny gaps that are visible, then it's time for the molars at the back, and yes, you could feel that you didn't order a front seat for this diabolical demonstration of food recycling but once it catches your attention and you become interested, it is almost worth waiting for the next jaw-wrestling act to begin. A meal is never finished without the custom of making sure all food has been digested!


TetfestivalTo read or not to read
For such a country that is supposedly 'backward', the literacy rate in Vietnam is over the 90%.
Watch out for Na A and his Horribly Nasty Wife!
During Tet, the Vietnamese use to light firecrackers to keep Na A and his cruel wife at a distance; neither Na A or his wife can bear noise or bright lights. These firecrackers had turned Vietnam into a battle zone and were banned in 1995. You will hear tape recordings of firecrackers now to replace the real thing and offer maximum security against Na A. Tet
Check out the streets of Vietnam before the Tet festival, they are absolutely buzzing with atmosphere and stalls selling fruit and presents of all kinds can be seen everywhere. Ceremonies are held to close the old year on the eve of the new year, smoke rising from offerings greet the ancestors above. New Years wishes are written on pink rice paper in Chinese, these are on display in the pagodas and then burnt. It's a time of fun and a time of plenty, a bit like a traditional Christmas in the West.
The best time to visit village festivals is just after Tet, villages organise their festival sometime during the first two lunar months February and March. Human chess is played, children play on bamboo swings and the local pagodas are visited and incense is lit for the gods. Ha Ba, the water god, is treated very well during these festivals. Along the Red River, people send boats to bring cerh as paper money, rice, betel nuts, pink new year's wishes. First incense is burned and then the offer is made. Keep your eyes open for the dancing dragon (rong mua) which is one of the main events during Tet, the dance is said to frighten away evil spirits

Culture II



Spirits and Nasty little boys
vietmonk
One is overwhelmed by the depth and variety found in Vietnamese religions. There was a time, not a very long time ago, when the dead and the living intermingled and trees, rivers, lakes, mountains and all things natural were one in everyday life. If nature turned and uprooted the trees in the forest then it would only be a matter of time before one would be given a spiritual shaking and if nature was good towards you, then the forest would also be smiled upon.



Spirits and ghosts abounded in one's day-to-day life. The gods had to be appeased and offerings formed an important part of life's rituals. Fishermen in Vietnamese culture have always been full of superstition and filled with fear for the unknown and had a great respect for the gods. Different professions held various kinds of beliefs and superstitions, some beliefs were national, some local, some very much part of a certain occupation. Followers of Confucious were rational human beings and frowned upon all these taboos and superstitions that surrounded them. Beliefs were rooted differently in Vietnamese life, some were anchored deep down in every individual and others were quite personal or even regional. Who's that girl? Words had an important place in Vietnamese life, peasants never spoke certain words out loudly, animals that were a danger to human life were seldom spoken out, you had to cock your ears to hear the animal that was being spoken of. The names of rulers were often changed to avoid speaking their names out and the first names of emperors was also avoided like the plague.

What a horrible name little boy!
Names have huge power and influence in the peasants life, they name their children, not after an uncle or father who died, but in order of their birth. They had a fear of calling the dead, because it is believed that if you call a name you call both the living and the dead. People fear the devil, they think that he wants to take their children and especially their oldest sons, up until quite recently, people dressed their oldest male children in the clothing of a girl, with rouge and nail varnish to try to fool the devil when he arrived. Ugly and hideous names were given to children to show the devil that they were not cherished by their parents and so he would not be interested in them. When these children reached puberty, their names were changed, suddenly they would have a fine name, the wool could no longer be pulled over the devil's eyes, so what was the use in still trying to fool him. The French recorded the names of all children at birth, and this caused great unease amongst the Vietnamese.


Was your father a saint or a sinner?vietnam culture
The coming of a new born was a happy time, and when a baby reahed the ripe old age of 1 month. his future was guessed upon and the role that the child would play in life was firmly set at this time. The next time a birthday would be celebrated would be the age of 60. If one's life had been filled with good deeds and actions then one would have accumulated a certain amount of merit that would be passed on to the next generation. Of course the same was true of bad people
One had to be buried in the right spot , which had to be shown to you by an expert, this would allow the person who is dead to rest in peace, a complete study of the area and its surroundings would be made before one would be put to rest.
Dates were very important in Vietnamese life, one would never dream of starting a major enterprise on a certain date, but they would, instead, look for a much better date with the help of an expert who would determine what date you should do something. An example is the building of a house which not only had to avoid being started on a certain date, but would have to be started on a date that was highly favourable. Of course, experts, in the form of a teller of fortunes or someone who could read palms, tea or even the stars, was called in for advice. There were many so-called experts who could read the future and help you in some of these major decisions. These themes are still strongly embedded in modern-day Vietnamese llife. You should be aware of these themes in Vietnamese life before you travel to Vietnam in order to grasp things a little better.


Elixirs and Potions
Religion in Vietnam is a mixture of three religions, namely; Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism and a smattering of animism is added to the lot to give you the preexisting religion in Vietnam. If you take a peek at the most early forms of worship in Vietnam you'll find that there are many bird carvings, especially found in Dong Son drums, these were worshipped as was the dragon who is symbolic for the dragon king who married a mortal and had 100 children, and is supposed to be the founder of the Vietnamese race. One can find the dragon in many forms of art even today. There is also a highly interesting turtle god in Vietnamese belief that appears whenever the country is in distress, and helps the rulers of the day. He produced a sword from a lake in the 15th century to help the king fight the Chinese, (where did I hear that story before? oh yeah, King Arthur). The lake is still called the lake of the sword returned. The Chinese brought Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. There were the extremely colourful Toa priests who were considered to be conmen by many in competing religions, they were involced in all kinds of sorcery and chants and songs and wonderfully rich in potions, elixirs and lotions. They were the friend to the peasant who turned to them in troubled times for help. Many Vietnamese considered Confucianism as being the religion of the occupiers and elite classes and was, therefore, not readily accepted when first introduced into Vietnam. Early kings were hard and cruel and often forced people into following them even against their will.

Culture III




vietnam ethnicThere is one thing that is more important than anything else when it comes to values and norms in Vietnam and that is the family, the family is all important. It is the centre of the average man's attention in everyday life, there is always a bond, spiritual or concrete, between a man and his family. Pleasing the family and getting things done for the family is every person's ambition. If a person does something wrong, then the sins of that person are not only his or hers but also on his family and relations and ancestors. The same, of course, can be said if the person receives success or fame. The individual is taught from the very start that one should not put oneself first, but in service of the family. The most important virtues of a person in society are those that show him or her to be a good family member. There is a whole life of gratitude in which the child shows its gratefulness for being born, for going to school, for having a roof over its head etc etc etc. Parents are first in line for any cherishing from the child's point of view. Anyone who does not heed this unspoken law will find themselves being treated as a pariah of society and of one's family. The Vietnamese are also very attached to the place where they were born, the town or village or city where a person is born is also the place where that person wants to die and be buried close to the ancestors who also had lived and died here. This is why you see very few people moving to the cities to better their lives and themselves. The Town or village or city also is the site of the burial ground of the ancestors and worshipping them and dying close to them is very important for the Vietnamese.



vietnam fieldsThe good Name
The 'good smelling name' or the 'name that doesn't stink' is very important for Vietnamese people. It is known as the Danh Thom, and one should be very careful when dealing with Vietnamese people that you do not soil their name or put them in a position in which their name could be tarnished. For the average Vietnamese person, a good name is better than any 'crock of gold'. A man without a good name cannot expect to gain respect from his fellow humans. A person with lots of money and a powerful position is nothing without a good name, a pennyless person with a good name is highly respected. One should leave good memories behind one when one dies and that is the best thing that one can leave behind. A good man who leaves behind a grieving community because of the respect he has built up due to his good name, is the goal that every Vietnamese wants to achieve. A bad name has many consequences for a man's family, for if a family is rooted in one town or village and one acquires a bad name, then that family will have a difficult time in that place and as stated above; the Vietnamese are not people who like to leave the place of birth. If one does have a bad name, then it is not impossible to rid yourself of this name. You can do this by being heroic, by becoming a scholar or by living a good life. The virtues mentioned in the Confucian scripts are most important to lead a good life and achieve a good name. And so, there is a constant struggle by people to do right and follow the virtuos path in order to secure a good name, not only for onself, but also for one's family.
Old People and Saving Facevietnam cotu
People in Vietnam strive continuously to achieve harmony between themselves and the non-self when dealing with members outside their own circle or group. What holds true within a family is also true for relationships outside the circle, respect is the underlying theme when dealing with people in society. Parents should be respected and old people are shown the greatest respect. People in Vietnam believe that if you live to a ripe old age the gods have been good to you because of the fact that you are a a person of virtue. Older people have knowledge that younger people don't have and they are regarded as wise people. An old person in Vietnam is addressed in such a way that shows the highest respect for them. In the West, we look upon young people as a guarantee for the future, in Vietnam old people are considered a wealth and not a burden. The same can be said for the student-teacher relationship, which is a sort of father-som relationship. Teahers are addressed in the same way as the parents. 
One should do everything to save the other losing face; losing face is one of the worst things that can happen to a Vietnamese. Society is not soft on someone who has lost face and their family will also feel the effect of that person's loss of face. "Beating around the proverbial bush" is a technique often used by the Vietnamese to save other people from losing face, and answering in the positive is also used to save face.

Culture IV

Insight into the Vietnamese Culture Social relationships 
People in Vietnam strive continuously to achieve harmony between themselves and the non-self when dealing with members outside their own circle or group. What holds true within a family is also true for relationships outside the circle, respect is the underlying theme when dealing with people in society. Parents should be respected and old people are shown the greatest respect. People in Vietnam believe that if you live to a ripe old age the gods have been good to you because of the fact that you are a a person of virtue. Older people have knowledge that younger people don't have and they are regarded as wise people. An old person in Vietnam is addressed in such a way that shows the highest respect for them. In the West, we look upon young people as a guarantee for the future, in Vietnam old people are considered a wealth and not a burden. The same can be said for the student-teacher relationship, which is a sort of father-son relationship. Teachers are addressed in the same way as the parents. 




One should do everything to save the other losing face; losing face is one of the worst things that can happen to a Vietnamese. Society is not soft on someone who has lost face and their family will also feel the effect of that person's loss of face. "Beating around the proverbial bush" is a technique often used by the Vietnamese to save other people from losing face, and answering in the positive is also used to save face.vietnamese river
 


Language



Language use:
The Vietnamese language is filled with expressions, words and phrases that show respect, it is done almost subconsciously, but a word used incorrectly or a phrase used off-hand will immediately solicit a reaction from your listener. There are different words for different relationships, for older people, for parents, for people in higher positions, for religious people. You seldom use someone's name when writing, not even Mr. Jones, but 'respected gentleman'. People are very seldom called by their name, as mentioned earlier, I think this goes back to the names of forefathers given to people, and they do not want to call up their spirits. Couples will start their relationship by using one term and when they get to know each other better they will drop that term of respect and use another term for endearment. If they fall out of love the this term is then dropped and the initial term is used again. If they have a major argument then yet another term is used to express the anger they feel. So, upon meeting other people there are at least three ways you can greet them. This makes the language very difficult for a foreigner to learn, unless they come from a country with the same system. But for English speakers, informality abounds and is very very strange for a Vietnamese person.




Austro-Asiatic
There are about 150 Austro-Asiatic languages spoken by various groups in Southeast Asia and eastern India. Vietnamese, Khmer, and Mon are culturally the most dominant of these languages and are also the oldest on record. Vietnamese and Khmer, the two most commonly spoken, are the national languages of Vietnam and Cambodia respectively. Mon is found in Thailand and Myanmar (previously Burma).

malayo polynesian

Malayo-Polynesian (western)

Malayo-Polynesian includes the Austronesian languages of the Philippines, western Indonesia which includes the following; Borneo, Sumatra, Java-Bali-Lombok, Sulawesi, as well as mainland Southeast Asia, Madagascar. There are many branches of Austronesian languages such as Malay, Acehnese, Toba Batak, Ilokano, Sundanese, Javanese, Tagalog, Cebuano, Minangkabau, Balinese, Buginese, Makasarese, and Malagasy all belong to the Western Malayo-Polynesian group.





Mon-Khmer
Mon-Khmer languages include the indigenous language family of mainland Southeast Asia and belong to the Austro-Asiatic group. They are spoken from China to Malaysia, west to the Assam state in India, and east to Vietnam. The most important Mon-Khmer languages, spoken by more than 100,000, are Vietnamese, Khmer, Muong, Mon, Khasi, Khmu, and Wa. The family consists of some 130 languages these are rarely written. Some of these languages are spoken by only a few hundred people and are dying out unless something drastic happens to halt this state of affairs.


Sino-Tibetan 
There are more than 300 languages and dialects in the Sino-Tibetan language group , the most important members of these are Chinese, Tibetan, and Burmese. Sino-Tibetan is the world's second most spoken language family second only to Indo-European. Many Chinese languages, grouped under Sinitic languages, are spoken in China and Taiwan and by Chinese immigrants in many nations. Tibeto-Burman languages are spoken in Tibet, Burma, Nepal and throughout the Himalayan Mountain region.



To read or not to read
The Chinese writing system is nonalphabetic. Each meaningful syllable, or each non meaningful syllable that is part of a polysyllabic word, is represented by a specific character. The characters represent some object however, the objects cannot be recognised in most cases. Thus, it would be misleading to describe the Chinese script as pictographic or ideographic. Nor is it syllabic, since syllables that sound alike but have different meanings are written differently. The Chinese writing system is logographic which simply means each symbol represents a word.


The Tibeto-Burman languages have evolved from a common source in very different ways largely because of the movements of the various groups of people throughout central and southern Asia. The Tibetan writing system was developed by early Buddhist missionaries who came from India in the 7th to 9th century. It is an alphabetic system very similar to the Indo-Aryan systems. Present-day Tibetan pronunciation differs greatly from the written language. Western Tibetan dialects have most faithfully preserved such features as initial consonant clusters and final stops, which Central dialects have lost. Central dialects have developed a system of tones, probably owing to Chinese influence. Increasing influence of the Chinese language on the Tibetan dialects is likely a result of political control.


The Burmese writing system is alphabetic and originates from India. Written Burmese in its present form originates sometime in the 15th century. There have been many changes in the sounds of Burmese but the grammar has remained almost the same.


vietnam language
The Tai Language
Tai developed in the 1st century AD somewhere in the Jiangxi River valley. Many believe that Tai and its many branches belong to the Sino-Tibetan family but now we know that that isn't so. There are similarities in the sound (phonetic) systems (especially tone) but this is no longer seen as being a major aspect showing relationships. Much is the same as Chinese but there is too much that differs for it to be the same family. Tai and its many branches are now believed to belong to the Austronesian group.


The Tai have been constantly driven southwards by the Chinese until they were spread all over the northern part of Southeast Asia. They are linked to many but their main groups are the Thai in Thailand the Shan in Myanmar the Lao in Laos, the Tai in Vietnam and, in China, the Dai in Yunnan, the Buyi in Guizhou, and the Zhuang in Kwangsi's Zhuang Autonomous Region.
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