January 26th, 2009 was Lunar New Year, the most important holiday in many Asian cultures (eg. Chinese, Vietnamese, Nepalese). Although in Japan we celebrate New Years on January 1st, I still love to celebrate Lunar New Year. Any excuse for partying and traditional food is good by me! During this celebration people wear red clothes, decorate with poems on red paper, and give children “lucky money” in red envelopes. Red lanterns are hung and there is red and gold just about everywhere you look. Red symbolizes fire, which according to legend can drive away bad luck. The firecrackers that go off are rooted in a similar ancient custom.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to join in the festivities with some Vietnamese friends. We went to 2 temples in the San Gabriel Valley. It was a lovely day for temple hopping, and I was impressed with the massive Hsi Lai Temple.
I couldn’t believe how many people there were! There was so much excitement and happiness in the air, and it was so nice to be a part of this cultural experience. The Hsi Lai Temple sits atop a hill and boasts spectacular views of the SG Valley.
At the main entrance to the temple, there was a small stall run by 2 ladies selling Dharma fortunes. For $1 (hey, the Chinese will charge you for everything!) you can buy a small red plastic ball containing your fortune. Sort of like a poor man’s fortune cookie. Here is mine:
“In getting along with others, be amiable.
In business, be diligent.
In research, be serious.
In practice life, be detached.
Master Hsin Yun ”
Hmmmm…..gramatically incorrect Buddhist teachings.
After receiving blessings in the main temple, we set our lit incense sticks in the big incense burner.
Unfortunately, we got here later in the afternoon so all of the food stalls were out of food. However, we did get a nice home cooked Vietnamese new years meal at our friend’s house. It is tradition to eat a simple vegetarian meal in honor of this Buddhist holiday.
Our friend’s mother made us a wonderful curry dish with mushrooms and carrots. It was light , not too thick, and wonderful over white rice. The stir fry dish above is with bitter melon, bamboo shoots, and faux abalone made from gluten. It was nothing even close to real abalone, and reconfirmed my general aversion to fake meats (eg. Tofurkey, imitation crab). You just can’t substitute the real thing. The faux abalone tasted like deep fried tofu, so it tasted good as long as I didn’t fixate on the fact that it was marketed as ‘abalone’.
The green roll to the left is banh chung, which is a traditional Vietnamese new years delicacy. It is made with sticky rice, mung bean, and fatty pork bits wrapped and steamed in banana leaves. We were initially presented with a vegetarian version of this dish in keeping with the spirit of new years, but our friend’s mother was kind enough to give us the real pork version, which was very flavorful. We ate it with pickled vegetables which definitely enhanced the flavors of the fatty pork.
They say that the way you spend new years day will reflect how the rest of your year will go. I spent the day with intentions of peace, happiness, and positive vibes- I hope 2009 will be a wonderful year for me!
Happy Year of the Ox!
Random trivia: Did you know that in ancient Egypt the new year was celebrated when the Nile river flooded?