Sunday, February 10, 2008

Days of feasting

One key to understanding Vietnamese culture is in understanding the importance of food, and eating together.

At Blue Dragon, we have a program called The Link, which brings together some of the toughest street kids around and helps them work toward a more normal, safe life. As difficult as these boys are to handle, the one time of day that they are quiet and cooperative is when they are sitting on a straw mat in the evening having dinner.

Meals are always enjoyed with friends and family; people rarely eat alone. And unlike typical meals in the west, all dishes are shared. Diners pluck their meat and vegetables from bowls in the middle of the mat or table.

In the lead up to Lunar New Year (Tet), food is even more precious. It’s a great honour to be invited to somebody’s home to share a meal in the last days of the year, as well as in the first days of the new year.

We had a few very special food-based celebrations with our kids in the lead up to Tet. The first came on Australia Day, January 26, when the Australian Ambassador and his wife donated a massive cake and fruit hamper to the boys in our main residence. None of them had ever seen such a large cake – I’d never seen such a large cake! – but even with 18 kids (and a couple of larger helpers, me included) there was still some left over for the next morning.

That same night, another very special occasion. One of our boys, named Trung, has just secured his first job as a kitchen trainee in at the Hilton Hotel in Hanoi. What a place to start work! I first met Trung some years ago, as a tiny 13 year old orphan shining shoes to survive. Over time, Trung has come and gone, but he’s back now, he’s grown up incredibly quickly, and he’s got a terrific job with great potential. To celebrate, Trung cooked a feast for dinner at the Residence, with about 8 dishes plus dessert.

This was his way of saying thanks to everyone for supporting him while he looked for a job; and also a way of building his own confidence as he prepared to join the workforce.

In the days leading up to Tet, our kids took to distributing food to poor families in our area. A volunteer from the US, Minh, worked with the kids to buy rice, sweets and banh chung (a special rice cake), and the kids had to decide who should receive the food packages. Minh and the kids then went about handing out the gifts – which involved going across Long Bien bridge to the island in the Red River, and clambering about under staircases and overpasses. This gave our kids a chance to share the joy that they experience at Tet, and let them engage in some community service.

Now Tet is coming to an end, and the normal hectic pace of city life will return soon. In the six years that I’ve been in Vietnam, this has to be the most peaceful and satisfying Lunar New Year that I’ve experienced.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

Just reading the good work you're doing.

Keep that blog updated cos' its a very useful fund raising tool. :)

Blog about challenges too. :)

Best Regards,