HCMC Dining Guide

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Tet Nguyen Tieu

While the Tet holiday officially ended well over a week ago, there are a number of significant days which follow in the first month of the lunar new year. One of these is Tet Nguyen Tieu, which falls on the year's first full moon and is largely celebrated by Saigon's remnant Chinese community. On Thursday my friend Vinh and I headed into the narrow, crowded streets of Cho Lon, not too far from my apartment, to check out the festivities.

We had been told to expect streets covered in lanterns and parades, but we quickly realized most of the activity was taking place inside the area's various temples. After driving around for a bit in extremely dense traffic we decided to stop at Truong Tieu Hoc Chinh Nghia, a large complex on Nguyen Trai hidden behind stone walls. A stage had been set up to host lion dances later in the evening, but for now the crowds were flocking to the opulent temple.

Celebrations around the Lunar New Year often focus on luck, with certain actions believed to bring good luck for the entire year. The significance of these rituals goes over the head of foreigners, but it was fascinating to watch anyway. For example, people lined up to rub the belly of the statue in the below picture before ringing the bell around the horse's neck. People also rubbed small-denomination bills on the kylin statues at the entrance to the temple.

Countless other deities and symbols were bowed to and prayed at, while people also stuffed lucky money into receptacles next to the altars. I'll admit I am completely ignorant of what these symbols mean or who these statues are supposed to represent, so if anyone has any insight please share in the comments!

Smoke from candles and incense filled the air as people wished for good tidings in the new year.

Pushing through the huge crowd at the temple left us famished, so we headed to a nearby Chinese restaurant for delicious dumplings and noodles afterward. While Tet Nguyen Tieu wasn't exactly what I had expected, as it sounds like street parades were more common in the past, it was still really cool to see such a traditional celebration taking place far away from the expat bubble of Districts 1 and 2. Even though I live in District 5, I haven't really explored Cho Lon much since I first arrived in 2010. This night made me want to get back out there and find out more about the city's erstwhile Chinatown.

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