I knew something fun must be coming up when these huge new stands (always with bright yellow backgrounds) began springing up everywhere last month along the streets of TP. Hồ Chí Minh. These stands are similar to the temporary stands set up in America to sell pumpkins at Halloween time or Christmas trees in December.
They sell a large variety of mooncakes in evidently large quantities. Given the bright packaging, it seems that they are meant to be offered as gifts, and we did receive several mooncakes from friends. The large mooncake in the photograph below was hand-made by the family of a young man in my English Club, and was exceptionally delicious. We have eaten three of the four that he gave us, and each had a different filling.
The Vietnamese version of the holiday recounts the legend of Thằng Cuội, whose banyan trees were uprooted after his wife accidentally urinated on it and took him with it to the moon. Every year, on the mid-autumn festival, children light lanterns to show Cuội the way to Earth.
We saw a few children last night on the hem (lane) with beautiful lanterns. My friend emem suggested that we go downtown to the Unification Palace to see festival events tailored for children, but we arrived back in central Sài Gòn too late last night from a festival party we attended in Củ Chi, in the western-most reaches of HCMC.
Since this festival is very important in most Asian countries, other Asians in Viet Nam also celebrate the festival in different ways. We were fortunate to be invited to a party given by the Taiwanese business owners of a cookie factory out in the countryside within the Củ Chi District. The dinner reminded me of vineyard dinners in the Napa Valley of California, with several bottles of good red wine and scrumptious food prepared by our Taiwanese business friend David with the help of several very supportive Vietnamese. The temperature outside was just right at about 27 C. (80 F.), and the quiet countryside air was refreshing after a long motorbike ride down diesel-smog highways.
Their factory makes an exceptionally tasty French Cookies in several varieties. My favorite has a thin cappuccino-tasting cream filling. Even though this festival is not a legal holiday in Việt Nam, they had given the afternoon off to their Vietnamese employees (most of whom live at the factory) and set up a parallel party for them.
Đường (Street) Nguyễn Văn Trỗi in Quận (District) Phú Nhuận of Thành Phố (City) Hồ Chí Minh is being widened, as many major streets have over the past several years. This street is the primary route from Tân Sơn Nhất Airport to downtown Saì Gòn. After passing the bridge over Rạch (Canal) Thị Nghè into District 3 and downtown, the name changes to Đường Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa. Therefore the scene is very messy along this street as constructors demolish houses back to the "red line" (limit of the new street right-of-way) and install new pavement, curbs, gutters, and sidewalks. In the photo above on the right-hand side of the street, the yellow house is yet to be sliced back to the line of the new wall in the right foreground. The land-use rights owners are compensated for the loss of the use-rights to the land. (I use the term "land-use rights" because the people's government owns all of the land in Việt Nam -- people and businesses have been allocated rights to use the land, and these rights can be tranferred.) Beyond the red-line, they can either tear down the remainder of the house or building and build a smaller new building, or keep the remainder of the building and put a new front on it. In the photo above, notice the house in the center that has been stripped back. There is only about two meters of house left. Evidently, the land-use owner has decided to keep the house and put a new front on it. In the photo below, you can see that furniture and wall decorations remained in the rooms as they cut the house back. The ground floor already has a new front in order to get the store back in business.
I have heard that Vietnamese people will go to great lengths to help a friend, and certainly a family member. Paradoxically, I have also heard that they will not go out of their way to help someone in distress, such as in an accident.
I have personally experienced many small acts of friendship from Vietnamese I have met, and they always show a genuine interest in you from the first time you meet. Luckily, I have yet to see an accident in Viet Nam over the first eight months we have been here. However, I understand there are many motorbike accidents everyday.
In this case, I was out for a walk and turned the corner right after a motorbike lost its load of live shrimp. They were flopping all over the street. As you can see, though, several people jumped in to get their hands dirty picking up the shrimp to toss back into the bins.