It’s the time when lucky envelopes sell faster in the shops than cheap helmets and the latest ‘must have’ votive paper product to burn for good luck is a Galaxy 8.7 smartphone. This is when my students are tired, not from doing homework, but selling mum’s vegetables all day for that extra money for new clothes and gifts for relatives. The cake gift packs crowd shop entrances so badly that you have to move sideways to squeeze inside and your local coffee shop closes for a week.
Yep – Tet, or the Lunar New Year, is coming! I marvel at the jammed parking lot tricks with which people manage to get their motorbikes in and out without a scratch while hauling so much stuff home that the roads start to resemble mobile Christmas trees on an annual migration to a warmer climate. Have you taken the bronze Buddha to the guy down the road polishing them up on the pavement next to the Mi Quang stall?
Traffic continues to be manic, people rushing everywhere for those end-of-year company parties and one of the best opportunities of the year to meet the love of their life! The main topic in my class break time for the adults is what to do with their bonuses. There’s a lot of scheming going on – figuring a plausible excuse to escape the family after the first four days of Tet for that much needed holiday somewhere with friends.
In my little street, the three young adults still studying far away at university in Hue and Ho Chi Minh City come home to help their parents with the farming and meet their local friends, long missed. Four other families will travel far, to the Mekong Delta and the north. My best friends in Hoi An, Hong and Kien, and their kids will spend a week with their families back in Hanoi. Three days with the husband’s family and then the wife’s relatives.
For the expats who are not leaving the country around this time, it’s a time to ‘hole up’, to stay home and get a break from Vietnam’s frantic pace, watch the sport from their home countries and savor the beach weather. The expats seem to fall into two groups: those that love Tet and those who loathe everything – the noise, the crowds, the music, the drinking and anything else that annoys them. It seems odd to me how we can complain about the Vietnamese celebrating their New Year when we’ve done the same just a few weeks before!
Whatever’s going on, the main point still rests with Vietnamese culture’s focus on the family. Tet marks Vietnamese family values we sometimes neglect in our Western version of New Year. As families come together again for the Lunar New Year, often after a long absence, it’s a time for all to enjoy the simpler things in life. Family meals, holidays together, catching up with relatives (and catching up on sleep!), gift-giving and reflecting on the past year become the theme.
This year, instead of watching the fireworks or spending two hours after that trying to find your motorbike parked in endless rows – take a quiet walk around your neighborhood with the dog around 7:00 pm when the air is cooler.
To see people sitting on the floor in a brightly lit living room chatting away with a huge fruit tree blocking the main door and the un-naturally large sunflowers cheerily contrasting the lantern lights and festive atmosphere is a great tonic for a bad mood or feeling of bah-hum-bug.
Grandparents murder the TV remote channel surfing while babies fumble on tiled floors for candy. Teenagers spend hours chatting outside the house gate with friends under the watchful eye of mum under the shadows of the street trees. Male neighbors set up a drinking and card table outside to take advantage of the night air. The dogs as usual simply sleep in the middle of the street copying the traffic manners of their owners. As strange as it can look to a Westerner’s eye, it does somehow resemble the bubbly, friendly neighborhoods depicted in the American movies of the 1940s and 1950s – wholesome, warm and no one is a stranger.
Tet or however you celebrate another lucky year of existence seems to me to hold that feeling of love and closeness that we all yearn for at some time. No matter where you celebrate it: in the traffic madness of Ho Chi Minh City, the serene beach views of central Vietnam or the rugged, spectacular mountains of the north or in the comfort of an expat bar, it’s still the same.
It’s the idea that we, whoever we are, have survived another year on this planet; that we share our love and warmth with others and confirm our resolve to do things and be better people next year. And no matter who and what you are, there’s always the hope of another chance to try for your dreams in the coming year.
I wish the staff of Tuoi Tre News, all our readers, my friends and the people that I choose to care about the best of love, luck, happiness and health in 2016.
CHUC MUNG NAM MOI (HAPPY NEW YEAR)!