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  • Writer's pictureZoë

Explore Hanoi, Vietnam off the beaten track from a locals perspective

Monday 25th November 2019


Today I took advantage of the free breakfast and wow they did not fail to disappoint. I went for the poached egg cooked in onions, red pepper and tomato sauce, this was accompanied by a

Vietnamese bread roll, followed by a bowl of fruit and unlimited coffee.


Last night I’d booked myself onto a free walking tour around Hanoi through my hostel. Starting at 10am, the tour covered so many different aspects of Hanoi and Vietnamese culture.

Dog Meat consumption in Vietnam

Firstly we were shown shop selling both dogs and dog meat, and it isn’t uncommon to see stacked dog meat covered with plastic sheets been scooter across the city. The trade of dog meat is obviously something that I do not support in any matter, but the debate is a controversial one across Vietnam. Where the local authorities are trying to crack down on the selling and consumption of dog meat through raids and fines to sellers, as well as encouraging the locals to decrease their consumption of both dog and cat meat.


The guide went on to explain that locals opinions on dog meat are changing and now, including himself, now actively avoid dog meat where possible, unless it is the only meat source presented at a table. When I looked up some statistics from The Asia Canine Protection Alliance - an organisation protecting dogs across Asia, the stats claim that each year around 5 million dogs are consumed.


I asked why the consumptions of dog meat was so big here, as even in Asian cultures dogs are still also brought up as a mans best friend. We’d assume because it must be more nutrient than other meat right? He explained, this isn’t the case, and nor because it has a better taste. Instead, it be believed that by eating dog at the end of a month or year you can delay dispel the unfortunate or bad luck. This is due to its representation for ‘the dark’ or ‘the night’, where the dog use to be the only type of protection for the house during the hours of darkness. Dogs were also seen as a dirty eating animal in times of famine, meaning even when humans didn’t have anything to eat, dogs would consume leftover rubbish. Meaning - when you’ve experienced bad luck, you need something darker to dispel it, ie. a dog. He then went on to explain that this is all nonsense but is something that even now, some children are brought up to believe.


I don’t want to go on any further as it isn’t something I know enough about, but the general take home message I got It seems to be the younger generation in Vietnam do have a different point of view, with their consumption very much dependent on their upbringing.

Funerals and the After Life

Next we were taken to an Vietnamese undertakers. Generally, a Vietnamese funeral consists of 3 stages, all of which generally take place at home, with some at a funeral house.


Firstly the body is cleaned with alcohol or water and the clothing removed and replaced with ‘death clothes’ (white fabric) and the body is placed in the coffin. The spouse, children and grandsons also have to wear these funeral clothes. Once the body is placed in the coffin, the relative being the rite under the leadership of a shaman before the family all slowly circle the coffin and pay their respects to the deceased.


The Second stage is when the guests/friends or wider relatives join, where the visitor normally wear darker clothing and either bring flowers or money to help with covering the costs of the funeral.


The final stage if when the coffin is moved in a funeral car to the interring place. This is where it gets interesting. In Vietnamese culture it is believed there to be no heaven, instead an afterlife, like reincarnation. 49 days after the death, everyone is believed to go to hell. It is believed there is 18 levels to hell, meaning the length of time spent in hell is dependent on the amount of sins committed during the life of the individual.


For example. if you haven’t murdered anyone, cheated on your spouse etc, you skip those levels. He then explained, in order to stop people committing sins, dependent on the amount of ‘good’ you do, is reflection in the animal/human/object you resurrect into in the after life.


Still got you? It gets more interesting…..


Every year the death of the love one is celebrated as they don’t want the love ones to be forgotten. It is believed that the dead still need to buy clothing, food, etc, so, during these ceremonies, fake money (bank of death) is purchased to be burned, to provide the dead with money. In most countries, the processing of fake money is illegal, with this ‘currency’ in Vietnam being one of the only that’s allowed.


Now for the gory bit….


Finally, at either 3, 5 or 7 years post the death of the love one. The oldest son has to dig up the body to be re-buried. If the body still has flesh on it, the eldest son has to cut away the flesh with a knife before re-burying the body for the final time.


Wow.

Weddings

As we stood and looked over the Ho Hoan Kiem the next topic for discussion was marriages and traditions they follow in Vietnam. Arranged marriages are no longer a ‘thing’ in Vietnam, however, the male has to ask for multiple blessings and permissions before a wedding can be granted. This is similar to choosing baby names, where you have to ask the permission of the father, who then asks the permission of multiple members of the older generation.


The male also has to pay for the wife - to put it bluntly. To show respect to his wife family for bringing her up. This is negotiated by families.


Weddings in Vietnam are a he celebration where they can have over 2000 guests at a time. It is deemed disrespectful not to invite everyone you know. The wedding costs are covered by those invited, whether they attend or not, sending money to help.


Weddings take place over multiple days. The first day the husband and wife have separate ceremonies, only coming together on the second day.


It’s also possible to ‘kidnap’ someone else wife….. Its a lot less dramatic than it sounds… The kidnap time and place is arranged between the kidnapper and kidnapee, the kidnapee then stays with the kidnapper for 3 days while he tries to win her over. I must add that he isn’t allowed to touch her during this time. By the end of the 3 days the female decides whether she has been swayed or not. In the case of not. The male is then expected to shower her family in gifts as an apology.

Egg Coffee (Cà phê trung)

My favourite part of the tour was stopping off at Giang Cafe. An egg coffee is a Vietnamese drink prepared with egg yolks, sugar, condensed milk and robusta coffee. The egg yolks are heated and beaten with the sugar and coffee, where the coffee is then extracted and placed into half the cup and the same with the ‘egg cream’.


Why? It is believe that the egg coffee originates from Hanoi where the son of the founder of the cafe, Nguyen Giang, claims his father developed the recipe for the drink when milk was scarce in Vietnam in 1949, where he replaced milk with the egg yolk.

This cafe if now is now very popular for tourists and locals. Is located a stones throw away from the Ho Hoan Kiem Lake. The cafe in accessed through a small narrow opening where you walk through a walk way and up some stairs to the cafe at the back. Where you can expect classic Vietnamese seating. The coffee cup is served inside a bowl of hot water to help retains its temperature.


Surprisingly, the drink was actually really good! Initially reluctant to try purely due to the combination of egg and coffee making my hair stand on end I was pleasantly surprised. Its a thick creamy consistency that you wouldn’t have any idea would be egg if you’re not told.

Long Biên Bridge and slums of Hanoi

Others places we got to visit were the street full of Herbal remedies, still strongly believed to have medicinal effect by the elderly population in Vietnam and a local market.


We finished the tour visiting the Long Biên Bridge and slums of Hanoi. The bridge connects the two districts of Hoan Kiem and Long Bien to the city of Hanoi across the Red River. Many people on TripAdvisor have said standing on the Long Biên Bridge is one of the best places to watch the sunset!


The slums are located under the bridge with most hunts housing between 5-10 locals. Rent here is around VND 800,000 ($40). Most people that live here are labours or those working on the night-markets to sell fruit and veg.


After the tour we headed back to the Hostel and headed to Hero’s gym with one of the Irish guys. Paying only 75,000 ($3) for a day pass.


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