Do you choose turkey for your expat mates or some chopped-up chicken and banh mi pâté for your local mates? Gravy for the Tays (Westerners) or hot chilli sauce for the Vietnamese around you? Would you serve fresh apples with sugar or chilli fruit? Ouch! My taste buds might not survive 2020!
Yep, it's time to think about food and catch up with people during the festive season.
Recently, I ate traditional roast lamb with a mate at a popular expat restaurant in Hoi An last week – it was quiet, rainy and dark, not the kind of night you are going to meet buckets of mates you haven’t seen since March! The pub was nearly deserted due to the weather and the lack of international tourists; also the disappearance of a lot of expats who fled back to their countries.
Thankfully, there are still enough expats around, in smaller groups, to keep up our spirits as COVID-19 and economics have eaten away at everyone’s mood. But it’s still going to be a strange Christmas and New Year’s Eve for foreigners in Vietnam.
The problem is our Western-style festive traditions usually signal the end of a year and look forward to another year. Yet the extraordinary events of 2020 are not really over yet and will darkly spill over in 2021. It’s very difficult to avoid the subject of COVID-19 and everything related to that. So for me, at least the moment, I’m hovering between moments of sadness and the joy of the impending end of this horrible year.
This will also be tinged with missing loved ones, mates, and friends who have left town, maybe for forever. There will be some uncomfortableness as the expats celebrate while life is still so hard for so many locals battered by the coronavirus, losing businesses and jobs, and the wild storms and floods which will take them years to recover from. And there are still the issues of loved ones separated by travel restrictions unable to get back to Vietnam yet. That’s gotta hurt. All we can really do is raise our glasses in toast to those who we miss yet want to wish well for next year.
There are still a lot of expats around, torn between the wish to travel home for a while and the gratitude for being in Vietnam instead of the seemingly endless dramas back in the Western world. Australia is my home country but I wouldn’t go back there in the middle of their weirdness. The outside world seems unreal to me at the moment; disorganized, fragmented, angry and frustrated. Why should I go back?
Still, spending money in the local hotels and cafés or quaffing down roast turkey and wine is a good thing and there’s no point staying home feeling gloomy and listless. And it’s even better if you are married into a local family – ‘the more, the merrier’ as they say.
There are plenty of three- and four-course dinners being advertised at the moment although generally I can never eat everything on offer – main meal (meat) and dessert (anything chocolatey) are my thing. When I was younger, champagne and fine wine, cocktails and exotic drinks were my favorites; these days it’s just a few beers – no strong alcohol any more. I don’t miss any of that, I count myself lucky that I got to experience all these goodies. A lot of people in this world haven’t.
In general, I like to hit up one or two places for Christmas cheer, munchies, and a chat with friends. I don’t often stay up late to celebrate New Year’s Eve outside in Vietnam simply because the traffic is so chaotic and dangerous for little old me. But the fridge is well stocked with goodies and booze to keep me awake into the wee hours of the morning. One thing is to watch on the Internet celebrations around the world although we all know it’s going to be a very muted party mood at the end of this year.
For many of us in the expat communities, it’s not unusual to not see each other for weeks or months as our lives and activities are varied so Christmas and New Year are great to at least say hi and quickly find out what’s going on around us. This year has felt sadder to me as friends have also struggled with personal heartbreaks, health problems, and serious money issues; many of which won’t be really resolved for a long time to come.
Yet the world will turn, time will pass, and we’ll still battle away. I’ve heard many comments over the last few months comparing people’s moods and attitudes to the hardships of the past: The Great Depression and the years of World War 2. Whether the comparison is suitable or not, the one thing that always holds true is the desire to celebrate a religious tradition and survive another year on the planet. We’ll never give up on that!
So, whatever your plans are over the holidays, I wish you all well, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!