Owen has an English speaking and listening class with non-English teachers twice a week in the late afternoon/evening. On hearing the next topic was to be cooking, the class suggested it be held at our house and a small party follow. So on the day, after some discussion and vocabulary building around food, cooking styles, cooking terminology and a quiz on utensils and equipment around the kitchen (still scrubbing texta numbers off pots and pans etc. - I think the wooden spatula will always be no. 7) we cooked up some scrummy food. I'd pre-prepared some of it so it was ready to go onto the stove, made a couple of the usual chocolate cakes, someone went off and bought BBQ duck from the market. One of the teachers introduced us (O and I that is) to two new delicacies. Pumpkin smoothies (sinh to) and a dish which comprised chopped wormwood leaves stirred through beaten eggs and fried up omelette style - that was slightly bitter and I loved it. It probably has a name but I didn't
get it. Because of the hour, several teachers had to bring their children along which certainly added to the party atmosphere - not to mention the noise level. We'd bought some lego style plastic blocks for visiting kids, so that occupied them for the class part at least. The TV helped too. The only trouble was, when we were just about ready to sit down and eat I realised I'd forgotten to put the rice on! How long have we been in this country!! Someone saved the day by jumping on their motorbike and getting bun (rice noodles) from the market. A bit embarrassing.
Perhaps it doesn't quite qualify as a party, but we were invited to have breakfast at the local market, after it was discovered we hadn't eaten there. We went with two colleagues and their children and sampled the many rice parcels on offer. Such things, consisting of sticky rice sometimes with other flavourings or fillings, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, are common throughout Vietnam. We tried six of different shapes and sizes. One with a mushroom and pork mince filling, a couple with dried bean filling and the rest plain either sweet or savoury which we dipped in a spicy sauce. They are not really to Western taste, but I'm getting used to them and some I quite like now. One with a black rice outer and slightly sweet bean filling was my favourite of those on offer. They are the cheapest food and the markets are where labourers and market workers usually eat. They are very intricately prepared and I find it ironic that something so time consuming to prepare, would be expensive at home where people are generally time poor, whereas here time is one thing people have a lot of.
We also had a banana flavoured soy milk drink and some vey sweet deep fried "doughnuts".
Dao End of Harvest Celebration
We were told of plans for a picnic at a Dao (Zao rhymes with how) village, about 6 km out of town, on the weekend.That sounded good, we hadn't experienced a picnic in this country before. It was to be a "back of motorbike" outing, though, as a car couldn't get close enough and we'd have to walk too far at the other end. That was okay - we'd done plenty of motorbike dinking in our time in Quang Ngai. It seemed two "sessions" had been ordered which was a little curious. I'd been asked to make a couple of chocolate cakes (I'm beginning to wish I'd be remembered for something a bit less unhealthy), others took sugar cane, fruit and other goodies. We arrived in a lovely spot in the countryside, met the family (four generations living in a group pf houses) and went for a walk to take in the scenery. Back at the main house other people arrived and we all sat in several groups and ate a traditional meal. It turned out to be the celebration of the end of harvest for the Dao people. Not exactly our idea of a picnic, but a very enjoyable day's outing.
It being a while since I've ridden on the back of a motorbike I was a little more nervous than I expected. I soon adjusted, but not quite back to the holding on one hand and taking photos with the other yet.
Many will have heard all about the Mid-Autumn festival and parade of floats with giant "lanterns".
It is what Tuyen Quang is most noted for and is being promoted as part of a government push to develop a northern tourism region stretching from Sapa in the west to Halong Bay in the east. Mid-Autumn festival roughly coincides with the buckwheat flowering in Ha Giang province to the north of here and where there is now a Flower Festival in Dong Van and also a H'Mong Festival in Meo Vac - both towns in the mountainous region where many ethnic communities live.
The Tuyen Quang parade floats are built in localities and districts, piled with children and pushed through the streets at night (motorised not allowed) - every night for a few weeks of "practice" runs. Crowds of spectators come out to watch, families with children, often riding along beside on their motorbikes. We twigged to the idea of sitting in a coffee shop one evening and watching them all streaming past. The opening of the festival saw spectacular performances and speeches at the city square, for which we were privileged to get seats near the front and had a fantastic view. The night of the official parade was so crowded and chaotic we gave up and went to a coffee shop to watch a few floats go by. We'd already seen many of them on previous nights. The festival also involved a beauty contest, photographic exhibition and beer festival. (Missed the last two).
The university organised an international conference to coincide with the festival weekend and we met some interesting people from universities in Thailand and the Philippines. Being the special weekend meant fantastic activities for the visitors. The conference was something of a pageant itself (as these events tend to be) as the opening involved singing, dancing and presentations. As well as watching the parade, some other sightseeing activities were arranged for the visiting delegates. Some visited the nearby hot springs and baths; some went to Tan Trao, where Uncle Ho lived a spartan existence for several years while developing his plans for the country; and some went on a bus trip to the Na Hang reservoir. We joined the group going to the reservoir, a second visit for us - this time cool and cloudy.
A couple of other volunteer friends came up from Hanoi and caught some of the conference and stayed on for the parade and festivities. It was good to have visitors and be able to return some of the hospitality they have afforded us when we visit Hanoi. A busy weekend.
Weather update? Days still relatively hot and humid and nights cool and breezy. A bit of rain but not much. Thanks to people for comments and emails, I really appreciate getting them. Sorry I don't always get to respond.