The Culture of Vietnam, an agricultural civilization based on the cultivation of wet rice, is one of the oldest in East Asia; the ancient Bronze age Dong Son culture is considered to be one of its most important progenitors. Due to the long-term Chinese influence on its civilization, in terms of politics, government and Confucian social and moral ethics, Vietnam is considered to be part of the East Asian Cultural Sphere.
Some elements generally considered to be characteristic of Vietnamese culture include ancestor veneration, respect for community and family values, handicrafts and manual labour, and devotion to study. Important symbols present in Vietnamese culture include dragons, turtles, lotuses andbamboo.
Vietnamese cuisine is extremely diverse, often divided into three main categories, each pertaining to Vietnam’s three main regions (north, central and south). It uses very little oil and many vegetables, and is mainly based on rice, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Its characteristic flavors are sweet (sugar), spicy (serrano peppers), sour (lime), nuoc mam (fish sauce), and flavored by a variety of mint and basil.
Vietnam also has a large variety of noodles and noodle soups. Different regions invented different types of noodles, varying in shapes, tastes, colors, etc. One of the nation’s most famous type of noodles is phở (pronounced “fuh”), a type of noodle soup originating in North Vietnam, which consists of rice noodles and beef soup (sometimes chicken soup) with several other ingredients such as bean sprouts and scallions (spring onions). It is often eaten for breakfast, but also makes a satisfying lunch or light dinner. The boiling stock, fragrant with spices and sauces, is poured over the noodles and vegetables, poaching the paper-thin slices of raw beef just before serving. Phở is meant to be savored, incorporating several different flavors: the sweet flavor of beef, sour lemons, salty fish sauce, and fresh vegetables.
The most popular and widely-recognized Vietnamese national costume is the Áo Dài. Áo Dài was once worn by both genders but today it is worn mainly by females, except for certain important traditional culture-related occasions where some men do wear it. Áo Dài is derived from the ChineseQipao, although it consists of a long gown with a slit on both sides, worn over cotton or silk trousers. Áo Dài is elegant and comfortable to wear. Áo Dài was likely derived in the 18th century or in the royal court of Huế. White Áo dài is the required uniform for girls in many high schools across Vietnam. Some female office workers (e.g. receptionists, secretaries, tour guides) are also required to wear Áo Dài.
In daily life, the traditional Vietnamese styles are now replaced by Western styles. Traditional clothing is worn instead on special occasions, with the exception of the white Áo Dài commonly seen with high school girls in Vietnam.
3. Performing arts
- Hát tuồng (also known as Hát bội): A theatre form strongly influenced by Chinese opera, it transitioned from being entertainment for the royal court to travelling troupes who performed for commoners and peasants, featuring many well-known stock characters.
- Cải lương: A kind of modern folk opera originating in South Vietnam, which utilizes extensive vibrato techniques. It remains very popular in modern Vietnam when compared to other folk styles.
- Hát chèo: The most mainstream of theatre/music forms in the past, enjoyed widely by the public rather than the more obscure Ca trù which was favored more by scholars and elites.
Water Puppetry is a distinct Vietnamese art which had its origins in the 10th century. In Water Puppetry a split-bamboo screen obscures puppets which stand in water, and are manipulated using long poles hidden beneath the water. Epic story lines are played out with many different puppets, often using traditional scenes of Vietnamese life. The puppets are made from quality wood, such as the South East Asian Jackfruit tree. Each puppet is carefully carved, and then painted with numerous successive layers of paint to protect the puppets.
Despite nearly dying out in the 20th century, Water Puppetry has been recognised by the Vietnamese Government as an important part of Vietnam’s cultural heritage. Today, puppetry is commonly performed by professional puppeteers, who typically are taught by their elders in rural areas of Vietnam. It is now extremely popular with tourists, and is performed at the National Museum in Ho Chi Minh city and in specialist theatres. In 2007 a Water Puppet troupe toured the USA to acclaim.
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