When I was a kid, it was great fun getting every kind of pot and pan from the kitchen, a couple of big sticks or hopefully mum’s big ladle spoons and cooking up a storm of noise in the garden. It was even funnier when the grown-ups would come, running out, screaming, shouting, and making more noise than I ever could. And doing it all over again when the grown-ups were doing something quiet and civilized like watching TV! Kids love chaos!
It’s no difference here in Vietnam.
We are nearing the mid-autumn festival – Tet Trung thu – which also includes the kids’ version: dressing up in dragon costumes, banging on big drums, touring the neighborhood, and performing and asking for ‘tips,’ which are usually money or candy. It’s like a Vietnamese Halloween night for kids.
It falls around the 14th and 15th of the lunar month of August (Vietnamese calendar) and this year happens on the 8th of September, 2014. It’s impossible to ignore, you know it’s coming because every kid or at least most boys are busy practicing their drum beats on whatever is handy. Remember the corny jungle drums from King Kong? Well these drums are like that except there are only three notes – loud, mildly loud, and slightly loud…
You can also see it outside any kid’s toy shop or local school supplier: rows of drums, costumes in bold reds, blues and gold silk, not to mention drum sticks – big and small – and dragon heads from tiny to huge! Some kids get drums bigger than an adult and enlist a team of other kids to push them around on a wooden cart with the lucky drummer sitting on top. If you can recall Charlton Heston rowing in the gallery to a drum beat from Ben Hur, you’ll get the idea.
Vietnam is still a largely agricultural society and the quiet times for families usually fall around spring and autumn when parents, no longer busy in the fields, can catch with their kids and have festive dinners and fun.
The festival for the kids reaches its climax on those nights when they band into teams and raid every home or, in the case of Hoi An Ancient Town in central Vietnam where I live, every bar and restaurant as well! It’s a great photo opportunity for the tourists but by the time the tenth team comes in the restaurant, every tourist has had enough!
As annoying as it is for me to listen to this for weeks, it’s also great that the kids have a project and a purpose and contribute to their culture. I just wish someone would introduce the idea of a guitar or ukulele or something! The beat is mind-numbing, a few short drum rolls repeated endlessly and if the drum is big enough, it will penetrate the best walls in town! In my kitchen, I sometimes shout for joy when I hear some kid breaking his drum stick…
What I don’t hear is singing. Are there any good songs about this time of year to sing?
I have to admit that this time wears a bit thin on an expat’s patience – three weeks of drums – I’d better check if I have enough aspirin!
Yet it’s part of the culture I live in and it’s part of fitting in that helps you get used to it and find your own strategies to cope with the noise. Mine include beer, headphones, loud action movies, and a pillow taped to my head. What’s yours?
Still it could be worse. It’s not as loud as wedding music or construction truck horns. And definitely not as loud as Mr Vinh’s awful karaoke singing up the road!
The festival is a great time to visit central coastal Vietnam and see how the locals enjoy themselves between the blistering heat of summer and the coming monsoon rains of October.
…Now where did I put those ear plugs?