Posts Tagged ‘vietnam’

We’re One Year Old!

Thursday, January 28th, 2010


A baby mountain gorilla celebrates his birthday in his own way.

It’s the 1st birthday of our Smithsonian Journeys blog! In honor of our big day, here’s an anthropological look at birthday traditions in the United States and around the world.

  • In Russia, children receive a birthday pie instead of an what we know as a birthday cake.
  • In Canada, the birthday kid’s nose is greased with butter. As a result, the child is too slippery for bad luck to catch him.
  • In Vietnam, everyone celebrates at the dawn of the New Year, but the actual day of birth is not celebrated. Each child receives a red envelope with “Lucky Money” to celebrate their aging, and when they are asked their age they respond by using the appropriate symbol to the lunar birth year.

Then there is the United States, where we have parties where the birthday girl or boy receive a cake with candles, gifts, and there is the traditional singing of “Happy Birthday.” This tradition actually started in Europe many centuries ago, when people believed that evil spirits were particularly attracted to people on their birthday.  To protect the person, friends and family would visit to bring good wishes, which evolved into today’s birthday party. Giving gifts chased off evil spirits even more effectively.

We want to thank you for reading our blog and commenting this past year! There’s always something to write about when you travel as much as we do.

What cultures do you want to see us write about on the blog? Share below.

Don’t know where to start? Take a look at our Around the World by Private Jet tour.

Photo: Fishing in Vietnam

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009
A fisherman casts his net over the water in Vietnam. Photo: Amanda Mack, Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest

A fisherman casts his net over the water in Vietnam. Photo: Amanda Mack, Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest

With breathtaking beauty and enduring traditions, Vietnam proves uniquely rewarding for the thoughtful traveler. But with more than 3,000 km of coastline, a visit to Vietnam also offers a fantastic opportunity to sample some of the freshest, most delicious seafood in the world. About half of the protein in a typical Vietnamese diet comes from seafood, with many families finding the catch of the day in the rice fields along the Mekong Delta. Visitors to Vietnam will find their shrimp, crab, squid, or carp fried, curried, stuffed, or steamed in lemongrass, garlic, or ginger. Hungry yet? Taste for yourself on one of our many journeys to Vietnam.

World Heritage in Hoi An

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009
A Vietnamese woman traveling by boat in Hoi An.

A Vietnamese woman traveling by boat in Hoi An.

Because of shifting trade routes, the old town of Hoi An in the South Central coast of Vietnam is a well-preserved example of a traditional trading town during the 15th to the 19th centuries. The shift of the trade routes from Hoi An to Da Nang resulted in the virtual abandonment of the town—leaving it in much the same state as it was nearly 200 years ago. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, the small town on the coast of the South China Sea has seen an increase in the number of tourists and backpackers in recent years.

Hoi An was initially part of the Champa Empire, but it wasn’t until around 1595 under the rule of the Nguyen Lords that Hoi An became a major trade post. The town became one of the most important trade posts on the South China Sea because of the ability to ship goods, especially spices, down the river system between highlands, Laos and Thailand, and the lowlands. During the 16th and 17th centuries, many Japanese, Chinese, Dutch and Indians settled in Hoi An. Trade relations existed between the French, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish, thus, Hoi An incorporated a unique blend of foreign and local influences.

The decline of Hoi An as the premier trade port makes this town unique because very little modern Vietnamese influence has infiltrated the town culture or cityscape since the 18th century. At the end of the 1700s, Hoi An experienced a sharp decline in trade activity due to the collapse of Nguyen rule. The new emperor, Gai Long, repaid the French for their aid in conquering the Nguyen Lords by giving them exclusive rights to trade in Da Nang, thus establishing Da Nang as the primary trade route in central Vietnam.

Today Hoi An serves as a wonderful cultural destination with numerous arts and crafts shops as well as several Internet cafes, bars and restaurants along the riverfront. Hoi An is famous for the Cao lầu noodle that the town has uniquely prepared for centuries. Today, visitors can walk the streets of Hoi An enjoying the magical mixture of cultures of a trade town largely untouched by modern Vietnamese influences for the past 200 years.

Join us in Hoi An on one of these Smithsonian Journeys tours.

What’s your favorite cultural destination? Share below.

Moved by Music in Vietnam

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Hank Kenny is Senior Analyst and Studies Director at the Center for Naval Analyses, where he has directed projects on U.S. strategy for the past 13 years. Having first seen Vietnam during the U.S. war there, Dr. Kenny has been overjoyed to visit the region again and again, witnessing its dramatic progress during peacetime. For more on Hank and traveling with him, click here.

Vietnamese singers in Hanoi sing for visitors. Photo: Hank Kenny

Vietnamese singers in Hanoi sing for visitors at the Temple of Literature. Photo: Hank Kenny

Recently, on a Smithsonian Journeys visit to Vietnam, I was lucky to experience an amazing performance by some local students. When the group of young Vietnamese began to sing, I could not believe my ears. Was this Hanoi, the capital of the nation with which my country had fought a long, long war? The singers were young, mostly teenagers. They welcomed us with glee, and proceeded to sing “God Bless America.” I was amazed. When we clapped after each song they smiled, their eyes brilliantly radiating hope and joy.

My mind raced back to an earlier day, when Vietnam was “Nam,” and a young woman sang “I do not know why I am so sad tonight—because it rains or my heart is broken.” She sang for the many broken-hearted Vietnamese and American women whose love was gone, of sadness etched in the memory of Americans and Vietnamese alike.

But the concert of these Vietnamese youth symbolized a new day—a day of joy. It was in the faces of the young singers in Hanoi, and in teenage girls in beautiful ao dai dresses at the Temple of Literature. And there it was again in faces of the children we saw on our throughout our journey—in Hue we saw it in the peaceful countenance of young Buddhist monks. In Nha Trang, while visiting a preschool, we danced with little children who smiled with delight. In My Tho, young people weaved baskets and helped make coconut candy for our pleasure, and in Saigon they helped the shopkeepers who sold us bright apparel at phenomenal discounts.

Photo: Hank Kenny

Photo: Hank Kenny

The singers in Hanoi were blind. They stood in a row and followed the tunes of a piano player who was also blind. Some of those tunes were of Christmas, as it was that time of the year, and I wondered—in what sense is this a Communist country? Then, after a thoroughly enjoyable performance, they climaxed with “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Tears came to my eyes then, and again a week later when I left Vietnam with the words of that song still ringing in my ears—“mine have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Experience the evolution of postwar Vietnam on any of our tours to the region.

Or, see Vietnam through Hank’s eyes, traveling with him in October 2009.

SI Research Notes: Asian Art at Freer and Sackler Galleries

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009
A wooden carving of the Buddhist deity White Avalokiteshvara is a fine example of the arts of the 14th century Malla dynasty in Nepal. Photo: Courtesy the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

A wooden carving of the Buddhist deity White Avalokiteshvara is a fine example of the arts of the 14th century Malla dynasty in Nepal. Photo: Courtesy the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

The Freer Gallery of Art opened its doors on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 1923 to display the Asian and American collections given to the nation by Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919). It was the Smithsonian Institution’s first art museum and houses an outstanding Asian art collection that has continued to grow. Arthur M. Sackler’s contribution of his collection led to the opening in 1987 of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery adjacent to the Freer Gallery. Operated by the same staff, these two galleries together form the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museums of Asian Art.

During his lifetime, Freer acquired just a handful of objects from South and Southeast Asia. Through purchases and gifts from Sackler and other collectors, the collection has developed into a rich and expanding representation of Southeast and South Asian and Himalayan art. The staff works closely with museums and colleagues in the region and has established a training program for bronze conservation at the National Museum of Cambodia. (more…)