Vietnam has a population of more than 85 million people, comprising 54 different ethnic groups that possess historically rich cultural backgrounds and interesting folk arts. The country has more than 1,000 historical, cultural, and architectural sites which have been officially classified as world heritage.
Vietnamese cuisine is especially varied - there are said to be nearly 500 different traditional dishes that include exotic meats (but think twice before you eat a rare animal) and fantastic vegetarian creations (often prepared to replicate meat and fish dishes). However, the staple of Vietnamese cuisine is plain white rice dressed up with a plethora of vegetables, fish (which is common in Vietnam), meat, spices and sauces. Spring rolls, noodles and steamed rice dumplings are popular snacks, and the ubiquitous soups include eel and vermicelli, shredded chicken and bitter soups. Fruit is abundant; some of the more unusual ones include green dragon fruit, jujube, khaki, longan, mangosteen, pomelo, three-seed cherry and water apple. Vietnamese coffee (ca phe phin) is very good; it's usually served very strong and very sweet.
The Vietnamese language belongs to a language group which was established a long time ago in East Asia. Changes in material conditions over centuries and the increasing demands of cultural life have influenced the Vietnamese language.
While adopting many elements of the Chinese language, the Vietnamese people changed many Chinese words, gradually creating Han-Viet (Chinese-Vietnamese) which incorporated purely Vietnamese words. "Vietnamization" is not only applied to the Chinese language, but also to French and other language groups, creating a diverse vocabulary for the Vietnamese language.
In conjunction with the development of the nation, the Vietnamese language was constantly developed and improved. Around the 17th century, western missionaries came to Vietnam and learned Vietnamese in order to disseminate Catholicism. They developed a romanced script to represent the Quoc Ngu (meaning national language) in order to translate prayer books and catechisms. A number of Portuguese and Italian missionaries used Quoc Ngu to compile catechisms and Portuguese-Vietnamese and Vietnamese-Portuguese dictionaries. Based on these works, in 1651, Alexandre de Rhodes, a French Jesuit missionary, published the Vietnamese Portuguese-Latin dictionary in Rome. After Alexandre de Rhodes, Quoc Ngu was further improved by foreign missionaries and Vietnamese scholars.
In 1867, some colonial schools began to teach Quoc Ngu. It was not until early in the 20th century that Quoc Ngu became widely used in the local primary educational system. The introduction of Quoc Ngu constituted a new step in the development of the Vietnamese language. While romanization received a reserved welcome in other Asian countries, it recorded extraordinary success in Vietnam, creating favorable conditions for cultural and intellectual development.
Vietnam Festivals and Events
Special prayers are held at Vietnamese and Chinese pagodas on days when the moon is either full or the merest sliver. Many Buddhists eat only vegetarian food on these days. Some of the major religious festivals follow a lunar calendar. They include: Tet (late January or early February).the most important festival of the year, which lasts a week (with rites beginning a week earlier), marking the new lunar year; Wandering Souls Day (Trung Nguyen), held on the fifteenth day of the seventh moon (August), is the second-largest festival of the year, when offerings of food and gifts are given to the wandering souls of the forgotten dead; Tet Doan Ngo (Summer Solstice Day) in June sees the burning of human effigies to satisfy the need for souls to serve in the God of Death's army; and Holiday of the Dead (Thanh Minh) in April commemorates deceased relatives.