A memorable old Tet market

Wednesday, 2018-02-14 04:42:48
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Children are the most eager to visit the Tet market. (Illustrative image)
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NDO – What is more fun than to go shopping in preparation for Tet (Lunar New Year)? Adults go to the market to purchase goods, while children, though having nothing specific to do, are very eager to go the Tet market, because they will have a chance to watch, play, and if lucky, get a tasty snack.

In my garden, there was an area of perennial bamboo barring the pond from the river outside. At the end of the year, my grandma chopped down a few rows to make bamboo strands and weaved with them for several days. She wove bamboo panniers, baskets and riddles, things that many people always look for when going to Tet market. As the Lunar New Year approached, we brought them to sell at the Tet market every morning. We picked a place near shops selling rice, dong leaves, and bamboo strings for wrapping chung (glutinous rice) cakes, but our goods were not selling well.

Seeing no one coming to buy our baskets, we gradually became impatient. The crispy, fragrant rice-sesame cakes nearby jumped into our eyes, making us salivate with hunger as our mouths continuously chewed on nothing. We all looked hungry and sad but my grandma still did not show any intention of buying us a piece. We strongly desired to eat one but did not dare to make a fuss, because we knew that without any of our baskets sold, she had no money to afford a cake.

... The buyers were crowding around the market as Tet came closer. At this point, none of us were able to play around because we had an additional duty - selling eggfruit. My house had a giant canistel tree with uncounted fruits.

A Tet market.

Ripe eggfruits were sold cheaply for those who want to eat a snack as they browsed through the market. It was my own "booty" to manage, sell and collect money from the customers for eggfruit. While our older sisters and grandma had to spread canvas and lay down the raw eggfruits carefully, so that the stems and leaves did not break, I was sitting with my own basket full of ripe eggfruits. The fruits were in full bloom, showing thick delicious yellow layers of flesh. They were in high demand. For a while, my full basket gradually went empty.

Grandma’s baskets were half sold but the raw eggfruits were almost remaining full. I suddenly wanted to buy something to eat but my sisters resolutely shook her heads. Money collected from the sale of ripe eggfruits and my grandma’s bamboo baskets was still very little, not enough to cover the needs of Tet. I sat down and earnestly solicited buyers. However, buying eggfruits meant they needed to purchase other fruits to get at least five types of fruits for a typical Tet fruit tray. During that difficult period, only pomelo, banana, and kumquat were enough for a normal Tet tray, so buyers were not interested in our ripe eggfruits.

The 30th day of the last lunar month of the year was the last market that could bring about hope. One year, we were lucky enough to see buyers rush to our corner to buy eggfruits. We had to take turns taking care of the customers for eggfruits, while one returned home to collect eggfruits from the tree and put them into a basket, then head back to the market to sell. We were all exhausted at that time and felt as if we were breathing through our ears but we didn’t feel any cold, only our happiness was overflowing, making us ever keener to keep selling until late in the evening.

After cleaning our corner before going home, there was only an empty basket covered with yellow flesh and the powder from eggfruits. My grandma carried this basket and took her three grandchildren to the butchers and vegetable shops. The few things we picked up were not enough to fill the basket but we still returned home filled with happiness. Grandma told us: "Now we have finished shopping for Tet. Let’s go home to prepare for the last meal of the lunar year.” Her wrinkled face was brightened, making our steps swifter. Bamboo baskets accompanied us to the Tet market and now they joined us back home to welcome a new spring.

“Bamboo baskets accompanied us to the Tet market and now they joined us back at home to welcome a new spring.”

A vignette by HUONG THI
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