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The Year of the Tiger roared like no other

The Year of the Tiger roared like no other

Saturday, January 21, 2023, 15:11 GMT+7
The Year of the Tiger roared like no other
A bee sucks nectar from an apricot blossom, the flower considered as a Tet (Lunar New Year) signal in southern Vietnam. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

As the Year of the Tiger makes its final roars, and we welcome the Year of the Cat, it is a good time to look back at a year that brought us back to humanity and recount the little things that made us feel human again.

In 2020 and 2021, Ho Chi Minh City, like most places around the world, was a difficult place to be. Most of us were locked in our homes or apartments for up to six months, and life was very challenging for everyone.

COVID-19 brought Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam to a standstill, and the memories of this time are etched in our memory forever.

But 2022 saw the Year of the Tiger enter into our lives with a roar. The pandemic was put under control and the numbers of sick and dying people were rapidly falling.

It was around this time that most people in Ho Chi Minh City began getting second and third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and getting back to school and work.

Ironically, my year began in the hospital. For me, COVID-19 and social distancing had inflicted a number of physical and mental injuries that I needed to focus on in order to recover.

My weight was up from not exercising and I had a severe nose infection from a wayward COVID-19 test some months earlier. So, it wasn’t a great start to the year, but great things were sure to come.

Thankfully, a successful surgery on my nose allowed me to start exercising again and, by February, I was back to running and riding.

As Tet arrived, I began to focus on the good year ahead. It was also a party time like no other. My family and friends came together and enjoyed just being normal. My time in District 12 and Binh Duong Province was exceptionally enjoyable, and I even got to meet my nephew, who was born during lockdown, for the first time.

White apricot blossoms are blooming in this illustration photo. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News
White apricot blossoms are blooming in this illustration photo. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

For an expat living in Vietnam, to see happiness in the eyes of local families who were able to come together and enjoy the festive season will probably be my most enduring memory from this time.

After Tet, I returned to work and my company trip, which was cancelled in 2021, was planned for April of 2022 in Da Lat. It was simply amazing to see the mountains and fresh countryside again.

Working at a large IT company, we used the event to raise money for the less fortunate. We raised a significant amount and were able to sponsor two orphanages in Da Lat. And, as a challenge to promote more donations, I decided to ride my bicycle from Da Lat to Ho Chi Minh City in one day, a total of 282km.

Still recovering from lockdown and not having fully regained my health, the bicycle journey from Da Lat to Ho Chi Minh felt like it would be a monumental challenge.

I left Da Lat at 3:00 am on a cold Sunday morning and rode through the day. I reached Bao Loc around 8:00 am and I was back in Dong Nai by 11:00 am. The hot sun in the middle of the day slowed me a little but by sunset I was only 80km from my company office in Binh Thanh.

Finally, at 11:00 pm Sunday night I rode into my company office and collapsed on the front stairs. It was an amazing feeling to say “I did it”. The “WOW” moments of 2022 moments were building fast.

Cherry blossoms signal Tet in norther Vietnam. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News
Cherry blossoms signal Tet in northern Vietnam. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

But the Year of the Tiger was just warming up for me. Not only did I get to have my one pleasure in life return – Satuday afternoons watching rugby at the bar with friends – but I also had the opportunity to travel to Angkor Wat and run in my first ever half-marathon outside Vietnam.

The sight of the sun rising over Angkor Wat on a still August morning was simply breathtaking, and being able to run 21km around the temples was a stark contrast to the days and weeks of isolation I had endured only year before.

More was to come for me in the Year of the Tiger. After three years of isolation, October found me on a plane home to Australia to visit family that I had not seen since 2019. It was one of the greatest moments of my life getting to see my family after such a long break. Landing in Australia and hugging my son was yet another “WOW” moment.

While in Australia, I decided to make the Year of the Tiger one to remember by competing in my longest ever running race. High in the mountains of New South Wales, I ran a 50km Ultra-Marathon which included around 2km of climbing the endless valleys and mountains of the region. It was brutal and spectacular at the same time. The Year of the Tiger brought me successes that I never thought possible.

White apricot blossoms are blooming in this illustration photo. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News
White apricot blossoms are blooming in this illustration photo. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

My friends also had some amazing stories of recovery. Wayne Jorden, from England, had been an English teacher in Vietnam for around six years. He is married with children and spent 2021 in a small apartment in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City.

Wayne used the world’s reopening after COVID-19 to travel back to England to be with family and work at home.

Wayne looked back on the Year of the Tiger and noted “It was great to finally get back to England to see my family and I decided to stay there for a while to pick up some contracts and get back in front after really struggling through 2021.”

Business owners, too, were pushed to breaking point with two years of lockdowns and restrictions.

Jamie Tuckwell has been a long-time bar owner in Ho Chi Minh City, and the lengthy closure of all entertainment businesses in 2020 and again in 2021 caused many to close their doors. But Jaime fought on and was able to re-open after a four-to-five-month lockdown in 2021.

For Jamie, 2022, the Year of the Tiger, started slowly with many people apprehensive about returning to public spaces. His bars took a long time to recover to pre-pandemic levels, but as foreign tourists started arriving, things started returning to normal.

Jaimie recalls, “The start of the year was very difficult for many businesses, but as the year went on, we started to see tourists return to Ho Chi Minh City and welcomed old friends and regular travelers from pre-COVID-19 times. And, after moderate successes with the rugby league during summer, the big winner for our bar was the World Cup. Locals and expats filled the bar all night to watch the games and have fun. It was a great feeling to see so many people having fun together.”

Apricot blossom bud are ready to bloom for Tet. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News
Apricot blossom bud are ready to bloom for Tet. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

For many of us, illness was part of the Year of the Tiger. Many of us got COVID-19 and were lucky enough to have recovered really fast. With that recovery came a new outlook on life. Somehow, we just began to appreciate the small things a little bit more. For me, going to work became a pleasure. The idea of working from home makes me cringe after being stuck at home for so long.

In a way, this past year has been like living two or three years in one. From super bicycle adventures to marathons in Cambodia and Australia and travelling all over Vietnam, “WOW” is the only word that comes to mind, and for this reason I am sad to see the end of the year approaching so fast.

But, as the Tiger goes back to the mountain to rest, the Year of the Cat is arriving on our doorstep, promising even more fun, more excitement, and more adventure. Vietnam is in a great position and is set to welcome a record numbers of tourists. The economy is growing and things look very exciting. I will make sure that the Year of the Cat is yet another “WOW” year for me, with more adventures planned across the country.

Chuc Mang Nam Moi to all expats and locals in Vietnam and may health, happiness, and adventure grace you in the coming year.

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Ray Kuschert / Tuoi Tre News Contributor


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