A purr-fect New Year: Vietnam fetes Year of the Cat

HANOI Mon Jan 31, 2011 4:39am EST

Cats sit in front of a pot in Vietnam's northern Hoa Binh province, outside Hanoi, April 2, 2009. REUTERS/Kham (VIETNAM ANIMALS SOCIETY)

Cats sit in front of a pot in Vietnam's northern Hoa Binh province, outside Hanoi, April 2, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Kham (VIETNAM ANIMALS SOCIETY)

HANOI (Reuters) - While China and others in Asia ring in the lunar Year of the Rabbit this week, Vietnamese are purring about the coming Year of the Cat.

Exactly why and when Vietnam dumped the rabbit and adopted the cat for its version of the 12-sign lunar zodiac taken from China is up for debate and may have been partly the result of a complex translation error.

These days, though, the idea of hopping back to the rabbit would be highly disagreeable to most Vietnamese.

Besides the cat, the other 11 zodiac signs are ox, tiger, dragon, snake, rat, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Each is believed to bring its own peculiar and unique characteristics to the cycle.

"It's appropriate that the Vietnamese swapped the cat into the calendar in place of the rabbit. Rabbits are a kind of rodent and the rat is also a rodent. The animals (in the zodiac) should be different," said pet enthusiast Nguyen Bao Sinh.

The cat helps offset the dog, its natural enemy, said Sinh, who runs a pet hotel in Hanoi that charges 500,000 dong a night per animal for a stay.

"This expresses a balance of yin and yang in the cosmos that is more complete, that better unifies the contradictions, and so it is richer and better to have the cat," he added.

In China, the rabbit is thought one of the happiest signs, with people born in that year renowned for their kindness, reliability and loyalty, though with an air of mystery.

In Vietnam, rabbits are considered food. Cats also appear on the occasional menu as "little tigers", although the practice of eating them is technically banned.

To most, though, they are clean, sociable and smart companions, and their year brings high hopes for harmony.

"The image of the cat is cultured and the nature of a cat is gentle, sociable and close to people," said Hoang Ngoc Bao, a veterinarian and cat enthusiast."

"I want that gentleness, that sociability that is special to cats to make our society better so that we can live for the community and more humanely."

At an outdoor pet market not far away, Hanoi resident Cao Thu Ha was buying a new cat for the new year, saying that cats are like children in bringing happiness to a family.

Fashion boutique owner Khuc Hoai Thuong has had about 20 cats over the years and is also a believer.

"When people have a love of pets their demeanour is softened a bit," said Thuong, who brought a two-month-old kitten to Sinh's hotel shop to buy a new red satin outfit and to get groomed.

Pet shows have celebrated the coming year, with a feline show in Hanoi last week crowning a portly Siamese "Miss Cat."

"I hope that in the new year all people and all animals are healthy and have good luck and success," said the cat's owner, Nguyen Minh Ngoc.

"I also hope that in the new year there are more cat shows like this so that all the cats can show off their lovability." (Reporting by Nguyen Van Vinh and Do Khuong Duy; Writing by John Ruwitch; Editing by Elaine Lies)

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