Missing Cioppino - This Time Tomorrow - CycleBlaze

December 25, 2016

Missing Cioppino

Christmas in Can Tho

Dear little friends,

Can Tho was a pretty good-sized city but certainly not overwhelming. Bruce had one sight he wanted to see when we got up, the Ong Temple, which is on the riverfront and just a few blocks from where we were staying. It was Christmas morning in Can Tho and at least in our neighborhood, signs of Christmas were few and far between except for a few oddly decorated trees. More on that later.

A watch repairman with attitude in Can Tho
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My goal for this festive day was to Facetime with my kids at noon, which would be 9 pm Christmas Eve back in Portland where they were celebrating The Feast of the Seven Fishes with each other, their dad, my daughter’s husband, and my son’s girlfriends’ family. The latter being Eastern Orthodox this was not their Christmas so seven fishes it was. Tanja makes an incredible cioppino and I was sad to be missing out. But I had alternative culinary plans for our day.

The Ong Temple was a hive of activity. There were a lot of people preparing it for New Year’s with a good scrub. Since incense and such are being burned in there constantly things get smoky and dusty, so all kinds of things were being washed lovingly by volunteers, such as framed artwork and so forth.

There were two fortune-tellers giving advice to young people or perhaps they were astrologers recommending good dates to get hitched, I have no idea. They talked for a long time but no matter how much I sidled about to get the scoop the language remained a mystery and so did their advice. There was an active kitchen on one side of the temple complete with bowls soaking in dishwater, maybe they had a parish-hall sort of feed for the temple cleaners, or maybe lunch was served every day to monks? Again, no idea.

Giving people advice, Ong Temple, Can Tho.
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There are several altars with various deities ensconced in each, I’m not clear on Confucianism or Taoism temple iconography but there were lots of folks stopping in to light incense in front of the altars and pray. It’s a small temple and lots of altars, I just tried to stay out of the way. There were huge fancy coils of incense that somebody was lighting and that was interesting because they were quite dusty so maybe they were finishing them off in order to hang new ones for the new year. Oh, and also, there was a tv going with some sort of Vietnamese daytime programming. There was something for everybody.

Ong Temple, Can Tho.
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Ong Temple, Can Tho.
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Large spiral incense, Ong Temple, Can Tho.
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Ong Temple, Can Tho
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Lighting the spiral incense, Ong Temple, Can Tho.
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Except for me. I’m not that keen on Chinese-style temples, and the lighting of too much incense made me feel like I was suffocating. I walked outside and left Bruce to his photography. Out in the small courtyard the primping continued with hanging of lights and powerwashing of sculptures so I strolled across the street to the riverside park with the tall statue of Ho Chi Minh. My Viet-American buddy Linh Tu always referred to him as Uncle Ho, whether with reverence or irony I was never quite sure but every time I see Uncle Ho I give him a nod. A cabal of semi-feral children ran around the park and I found a place in the humid shade to watch and listen.

A nuoc mia (sugarcane juice) stand with very nice decorations.
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Can Tho is famous for its early morning floating market tours which we had no intention of ever going on especially since it was 10:00 but the ladies who know three phrases of English followed me around trying to sell me one anyway. Just in case. You never know, foreigners are fickle. Maybe this time she will relent.

Afterward we had time to pop into our Christmas dinner restaurant, a place that specialized in nem nuong, a “roll ‘em yourself” local spring-roll sort of thing. They were delicious and inspired a lot of envious comments in our Instagram feed even from those enjoying their cioppino back home. Since I couldn’t have cioppino, envy and nem nuong were my consolations. And they were delicious.

Our Christmas dinner of Nem Nuong. You roll up sausage, starfruit, little rice cushions, herbs, pickles, and other goodies into a rice paper and dip it in peanut sauce.
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After the Facebook time of love and jolly greetings (I miss my kids so much!) we walked to the market which was actually a pretty good hike away, especially since I refused to take what looked like a really sketchy path along the river. My radar was telling me not to walk there and I try to listen to it.

“It would suck to get murdered by the river in Can Tho on Christmas,” I reasoned to Bruce. He didn’t really buy that but at least we got to pass some more weirdly decorated Christmas trees. We were also a little disappointed because even though there were still a few folks selling red-and-white Santa-themed Christmas clothing for children on the streets, probably at clearance pricing, we hadn’t actually seen many children wearing them here in Can Tho. We found the market finally and had a look around, but it was closing up. We may have bought the last viable papaya so mission accomplished.

A Christmas tree covered with cottony stuff.
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This one had lavender tinsel wrap.
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Feeling the jolly spirit.
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This one was safely protected from him.
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The results of a long march to the Can Tho market.
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Our second festive meal was takeaway from the night market of xoi ga, a tray of shredded chicken, boiled quail eggs, rice, spicy toppings, and sprinkled with peanuts. Delicious and cheap, two words that strike joy into the hearts of two who don’t really need a religious holiday to feel that joy has been a reliable companion on this trip. Add safety to those two words and all is well in our world.

The night market area in Can Tho.
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Little Japanese something-or-others on offer at the night market. Ours were delicious.
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Can Tho, Vietnam
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