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The smoke billowing to the sky

Perhaps only Vietnam and some Asian countries have the lunar calendar for their own people. But we also use the solar calendar; people call it the Western calendar. Western calendar is for humanity all over the world. But what's unique and different is that yin and yang on the same calendar paper. (A vignette of Y Phuong)
The smoke billowing to the sky
. A vignette of Y Phuong

Perhaps only Vietnam and some Asian countries have the lunar calendar for their own people. But we also use the solar calendar; people call it the Western calendar. Western calendar is for humanity all over the world. But what's unique and different is that yin and yang on the same calendar paper. Sometimes it also causes complication, which leads to misunderstandings. Misunderstand just because of confusing day of lunar calendar with day of solar calendar, and vice versa. Especially for wedding day, baby's first full month, baby's first birthday, etc., or generally referred as celebration days. They keep on mistaking the days and confusing the ones who are invited. When it's all over, the host and the invitees just laugh together, and blame it all on the calendar.

Lunar calendar is based upon cycles of the Moon's phases. Every day, the tide rhythmically goes high during the day and low at night. Each year, the lunar calendar gives birth to twelve moons. The moons go full and chubby and then go skinny and crescent. Twelve moons or twelve tidal phases. Moon and water are both yin elements. Yin corresponds to the virtuous temperament of the women. It corresponds to sweetness, softness and ecstatic radiant scent. From ancient times, our forefathers has made the calendar based on the Moon's phases. Chinese people call moon "nguyet". They also use moon to refer to months. Nham ty nguyet, Tam ca nguyet (translator: three moons - trimester) etc. We Tay people call the moon "Ms second". The name Ms second sounds so far away. There's a faint, distant moon, but it makes your heart flutter. Hey Moon, come down here to play with me. Oh there's no real Moon to play with. I'm just playing with the moonlight. I'm just talking to and smiling with the moonlight. But sometimes when I cry, I don't need the moonlight anymore. Hey Moon, please go to sleep, let me be sad. A sadness with no concept of time. Sad for a life where you haven't done anything significant yet get old already.

Tay people in my hometown almost exclusively use the lunar calendars, rarely use the solar calendar, and hardly anyone cares about it. The lunar calendar has the risky, impulsively up and down temperament like animals, but close to human. Every animal is lovely because they are the nature that can lively eat and sleep. For example I was born in the day of rat, at the hour of snake, in the month of buffalo, year of goat… it's clear and accurate to every single whisker. Men who were born in the year of goat should choose a wife having which animal zodiac, for instance. Day of dog often counter to people born in year of dragon. Day of horse is compatible to people born in year of tiger. Every Co Xau market day must be on slo et, slip ha, new moon, full moon Co Xau market.  Clear and accurate like the agricultural calendar. 
March is for sowing, May is for weeding. If we do it too late, the rice will turn into barnyard grass.

In my hometown, people don't gather at market according to the solar calendar. No one predicts phalanges by thumbs, tells fortune, casts coin based on solar calendar. No one chooses groundbreaking day by solar calendar. No one records the time of birth in the luc menh book based on solar calendar. They say the solar calendar is the calendar of bearded western men. Solar calendar men have xù lù xà là  blue eyes and long noses, unlike us with sloping shoulders and olive skin. I'm telling all this to show how much our people love our own culture. Though it's not a sign of racist attitude. When talking about culture, we have to about the differences. That's all. When there are differences there's a need for cultural identities.

 
ngon khoi

April is the month in which farmers work the hardest. Everyone looks slatternly with dark tanned skin. Their faces are haggard. Their arms and legs are scarred. Their hair is messy. Their bodies stink. And yet, April is the month when not many people eat and sleep enough. In the past, April was also a between-crop month, the hunger lasted for so long. Lack of fish and meat or even salt in family was normal. April is a splattered month. Splatter. Splatter on the stone sitting by the bank, on browses on the top of trees and on the grass under rains and dews. People carrying plows and harrows walk while they chew. That means they are enjoying breakfast. The buffalos chew again and again. They chew the sour thing that they spew. Some people chew cassava, sweet potato, and popcorn. There's not enough grass to eat but the buffalos still have to pull the plows. There's not enough food for humans but they still have to carry rice straws and harrow the fields. People and buffalos plow together from dawn until when the moon rises. The moon rises on the buffalos' horns. It seems that the Moon also cares about humans. So its color radiates exhaustingly and sweatily.

If the humans walk then the buffalos walk too. Humans and buffalos have become friends for generations. Humans are hard-workers and buffalos are hardworking. So the mud and the farmers never rest. Blazing sunshine or heavy rains, they're still not allowed to stay home to breathe slowly. But the country people never hesitate. They want to take a farming session off to go to market and see people. But they dare not to. A session off makes them miss a whole day. Missing a day will lead to a month behind, and a whole year of hunger. So people from my hometown are afraid of free time. When time slips through your fingers, everything gets screw up. Seasons and weather is directly related to the stomachs. Good or bad crop is related to the living of elders and children. Therefore, in these days, people mock and laugh at anyone dressing up to go to the market. Some people run to the market with muddy arms and legs, untidy pants to buy gift for their sick parents and packs of peanut candy for their children. Just half kilogram of fat, 200 grams of salt are enough for a 10-day fair. That's all fine. Then they hurry to the fields to work. Their legs walk like running, their arms swing like swimming. Walking and swimming at the same time. They call that kind of walk "shaking dog".

I think, the oldest sport in the world - marathon, probably derived from this type of activity. The farmers walk like running. For their whole lives the farmers never dare to get sick. Their whole lives, they have to be tough so they can conquer the difficulties in their lives. It was not a picture of a Greek soldier running day and night to announce victory. It sounds like a myth.

April. You wake up to work. Work is waiting in the palms of the plowman. Children take the buffalos to the field to feed them with grass, take the calves to the field to feed them with sunlight, wind and dews. Calves are also kids. Before they can eat grass, they have to practice by eating the sunlight and dew. Elders of about sixty, seventy, sit by the stove to cook lunch and dinner and wait for their children and grandchildren to come home. Men of forty have to go to the fields, taking plows, harrows, hoes to bank up the river,  taking spades to dig trenches, taking trowels to build dams to hold water. Women and girls have to sow seeds, do weeding, carry dung from the barn to fertilize the soil. Right after finishing harrowing, they stoop down to sow. Their silhouettes shake rhythmically on the fields. The field is full of mud. Human sweat drops fast on the mud. Wherever it drops, the rice grows in a tilt angle. So please don't waste the rice.

I can never forget, must never forget, the image of those women sowing rice. They look like arched door frames. Their silhouettes are arch wise, heavily swing above the water. The surface of the field is longer than human face. Humans and the field bet their every breath. Because of the field, the humans can live, can love and reproduce. The field spread out immensely, from the foot of the village to the foot of the forest. From the foot of the forest to the foots of humans. The human-arches undulate like waves over the muddy field. The mud is as dense as glue. They work from when the roosters crown in the morning until when the first stars appear. They only hear the sound of the sticky mud when they puddle. The sticky mud talks to the humans' foots. It is the most ancient and persistent voice of mankind. Persistent as roots absorb water. Persistent like rocks on the mountain to catch each drop of dew. Persistent like fish in the river slowly grow up. Pesistent like flowers on branches slowly bloom and radiate aroma. Persistently live forever and never be extinguished. It's all thanks to women.

I have never ever seen women anywhere like women in my hometown. They live a life of hardship. Their whole life they live for other people. They sacrifice their youth and beauty for others. But I've never ever seen them complain about suffering. Look at the way women walk so softly like floating clouds and smoke. Look at the way they gently eat. Listen to them softly speaking. You'll see that Tay women are as sweet as clear stream water. If only judging by the look, no one would think those women have their lives full or hard work. These women still strangely maintain the rustic beauty, the countryfied and pureness. Their bodies still radiate a gentle, fresh and natural smell like grassland. They carry the odor of ripe orange, sweet tangerine, grapefruit and seedless persimmon… Especially the spicy fragrance of indigo leaves. Indigo is the kind of tree mainly used for aroma not for color. No matter how durable the indigo can be, it eventually fades over time. No matter how beautiful the dark blue color can be, it fades because of weather. But the spicy smell of indigo is absorbed into sleep and flesh. That spicy fragrance can still last after fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety years later. It means even when we have grandchildren, we still remember the smell. Whenever we feel sad, we can just breathe to our palms and then we can smell indigo. Then we stop being sad. There were times I said that, there was a harmony between them and the nature. They're humans but just like the green. The green is just like women. Wherever Tay women are, there are bees and flowers blossoming. They're like a moving flower forest. The moving is like crops.

Someone once said that women gave birth to the world. Indeed, they gave birth to kings who reclaimed land and expand their realm. They gave birth to the heroes who fought foreign invaders and protect our nation. They gave birth to artists and intellectuals whose talent glorified our nation… The more you think about it, the more you see that it's not wrong. It's not wrong at all.

Please! Don't call women the weaker gender. It's correct to call them beautiful gender. But we also need to call them the strong gender. As strong as magnet sucking iron. Just try to study folk poetry, we'll suddenly be enlighten on this. The dai yem (translator: Vietnamese traditional brassiere) is so strong, it can make a bridge. Something soft like lotus branches can hang clothes. So, without them, we men dress up, dye our hair, shave our beard, wear cologne for whom?

Translated by HIEN NGOC