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Pollution, Animal Abuse Turn Vietnam's Time-Honored Tet Tradition Ugly

Many of the carps Hanoi residents released into the city’s waterways as part of a symbolic Lunar New Year ritual quickly died due to pollution.

On the 23rd day of the last lunar month, people all over Vietnam release carps to honor the kitchen god who will ride the animals to heaven to communicate one’s yearly deeds. VnExpress reports that unfortunately many of the fish rapidly expired or suffocated in plastic bags that were released alongside them.

Beginning Wednesday, Hanoians ventured to their nearest bodies of water such as the Nhue and To Lich rivers to perform the act, but unfortunately many are highly polluted and the carp were soon seen struggling for oxygen or bobbing belly up in the oil-slicked surfaces.

While the actual ritual, which has been around for centuries, is a beautiful Tet tradition, many are questioning the way some local residents carry out the fish release nowadays. For some, "release" means dumping the fish and its nylon container straight into the nearest water body without considering the act's environmental implications: the fish will almost certainly die, either due to suffocation or the pollution in the water.

Environmentally-minded onlookers gathered on banks and bridges with signs urging people not to throw bags in along with the fish. One woman in attendance, Tran Thi Thuy, explained that West Lake has been clogged with plastic bags and incense burners in years past. Thich Tinh Giac, a monk, added that the mistreatment of the fish is unacceptable especially considering that releasing carp is an act meant to honor life.

A few industrious individuals began recapturing the fish after others had released them. One many named Nguyen said he will “feed them to the pigs, or sell them to people who keep ornamental fish. The water is heavily polluted and the fish will die otherwise.”

The state of the waters should come as no surprise to anyone. In the past few years, the country has experienced a streak of environmental outrages including mass fish die-offs in Vung Tau, Dong Nai River, and Saigon’s Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe Canal, in addition to deaths in the afore-referenced West Lake and of course the Formosa calamity.

Vietnam remains woefully unprepared to deal with the amount of toxic refuse it produces, and citizens seem to have little interest in curbing their littering habits. VietnamNet recently wrote that water pollution across the nation has caused economic losses of VND11.6 trillion (US$510.7 million). In 2015, Ocean Conservancy, an environmental non-profit, claimed that 60% of all the plastic trash entering into the seas originates from only five countries - Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand.

[Photo via VnExpress]


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