Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Cai Rang Floating Market

Cai Rang Floating Market is open all day but it is busiest from sunrise to about 9am. The main items sold there are farm products and specialties of Cai Rang Town, Chau Thanh District and neighboring areas. Every boat has a long upright pole at its bow on which samples of the goods for sale are hung.

During the early morning market hours, larger sized boats anchor and create lanes that smaller boats weave in and out of. The waterway becomes a maze of hundreds of boats packed with mango, bananas, papaya, pineapple, and even smuggled goods like cigarettes. Sellers do not have to cry out about their goods because their goods can be seen in a distance and their cries would not be heard in the vastness of the river and the noise of boat engines. Small boats that sell beer, soft drinks and wine go among the other boats to serve market-goers and visitors. Sellers tie their goods to a tall pole so that buyers can see from a distance what they are selling.

Each boat is loaded with plenty of seasonal goods. Activities at the market are also an occasion for tourists to study the cultural aspects of southerners.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Human Chess

“Human chess” (co nguoi) is a popular game at village and temple festival. The game follows the general rules of Chinese chess. The concept is recognizably similar to Western chess, but with a different-sized board and different pieces, including cannons and guards, each of them marked with a distinct Chinese character.

In human chess, however, the pieces are all people: 32 people in all. One side consists of 16 boys and the other of 16 girls. Each team wears a different colour.

The chessboard is marked by paint on flat ground. Village festivals usually use the yard in front of a communal house or pagoda or a nearby field. Organisers select players plus a referee well in advance. All should be children of families with a good reputation. The referee and the two generals should come from wealthier families so they can treat their players to food. As the selection finishes, the referee convenes the 32 people, describes the costumes, and tells each person how to move as a chess piece. Players may sit on chairs and wear hats if it is sunny. They either wear boards with the Chinese names of their pieces or carry sign poles with the characters. The generals wear traditional costumes. The two contestants who direct the pieces have their own seats outside the board.

In contrast to some other games practiced at festivals, human chess is known for its quietude and delicacy.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Son tinh - Thuy tinh

Vietnamese myths do not just recount what may be called the universal condition. They also have myths to explain their own situation in a tropical and monsoon land, and one such myth is the story of Son Tinh and Thuy Tinh.

Son Tinh was the spirit of the Mountain and Thuy Tinh the spirit of the Waters. The king, Hunh Vuong VI, had an extremely beautiful daughter, and he did not wish her to marry just any prince. He consulted with his court and hit upon the idea of sending out a proclamation far and wide to the effect that he was seeking a suitable party for his daughter. Princes came from far and wide but none was considered to be a good match for the king's beloved daughter. Finally, one day there came at the same time two very handsome young noblemen asking for the princess' hand. Upon inquiry and examination, they turned out both to be equally distinguished, talented, and powerful. The king was in a quandary as to how to choose. Finally, he decided to send them both away, saying that whoever turned up the next day first with the proper wedding gifts would be given the princess in marriage.

He was, therefore, given the hand of the princess. Barely had the proceedings been completed when Thuy Tinh, the Water spirit, turned up with his gifts.

Being of a fiery disposition, Thuy Tinh could not accept his defeat. He sought to challenge Son Tinh to a contest to see who was the stronger and therefore more deserving of the princess. But Son Tinh simply ignored him, strong in his conviction that right was on his side. Furious, Thuy Tinh called on the waters of the rivers and brooks to overflow their banks and flood the land, In no time the whole land became a storm and raging sea that rose day by day and hour by hour, ruining all the crops and ravaging the land.

But Son Tinh was imperturbable in his palace in the mountains; all he needed to do was to get his mountains to rise a little bit higher when the waters threatened to flood them. After several days and weeks of trying to overcome his rival by raising the waters, Thuy Tinh finally had to concede defeat and order the waters to withdraw. This happened at the end of the monsoon but Thuy Tinh was never fully reconciled to the loss of the beautiful princess. Every year he tries to reenact the battle and that was how monsoons came to Vietnam.