For many Vietnamese, Tet is synonymous with family. Wherever you may be, it’s the one, and often the only, time during the year to hop on a bus, boat, train or plane to return to your hometown to spend time with loved ones you haven’t seen for far too long, bearing gifts to make up for time away.
Growing up in the rural Cape of Ca Mau, Vietnam’s southernmost point, freelance illustrator Yen Nhi Lu was inspired to capture the joy of homecoming in her children’s book, A Countryside Tet with Grandma, dedicated to children of the city. Her fanciful multimedia illustrations were first drawn in pencil before being scanned and colored via computer. Her simple yet heartwarming tale is loosely based on her uncle’s family who lives in the city. “One Tet, my little cousin came to the countryside and was mesmerized by the frenzy of Tet preparations. We didn’t go out to buy Tet stuff like people do in the city; we made everything from scratch, from cakes to decorations. This simple story is about the joy of a city cousin who comes home to be with her country family during the holidays.”
Tet was only a few days away, and Com’s parents were busy working late. She was often at home alone, with her dog Milo as her only company. When she got hungry, Com would go into the kitchen and warm up the food her mother had made that morning. She always remembered to share some with Milo. One afternoon, Com’s mother came home earlier than usual and they both got ready for the trip back to the countryside. Com excitedly packed her best clothes. On the journey back to her grandma’s, Com was thrilled to see the endless fields of green.
When they got to Grandma’s, Com saw that everything was different than her home in the city. There were lots of shady green trees and she saw her cousin, Gao, swinging from a jackfruit tree. Grandma called Com and her cousins into the yard to grill rice paper until it puffed up, a tasty Tet treat. More and more delicious Tet foods were prepared. Grandma made sticky rice, beans and pork and everyone helped wrap Tet rice cakes. Com loved carrying great big bundles of them to the pot. The whole family sat around waiting for the cakes to cook.
The next morning, Com and her grandmother ferried watermelons to the market. Everyone was buying and selling and in just a little while, all the watermelons had been sold. Com and her grandmother bought some flowers and lots of other goodies.
On the eve before Tet, everything was ready, and Com and her cousins helped Grandma arrange all the food before the ancestral altar. On the first day of the new year, the children put on their new clothes and wished their grandmother a happy Tet. In turn, she gave them little red envelopes to ring in the new year!
BIO: Yen Nhi Lu is a Saigon-based freelance illustrator and graphic designer. She enjoys illustrating books and creating images for teens with a hint of romanticism. More of her work can be seen in her Behance portfolio at Lu Yen Nhi. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at 01262 627 628
Illustrations By Yen Nhi Lu