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No more Tet getaway: expats learn to celebrate with Vietnamese spouses

Sunday, January 19, 2020, 10:03 GMT+7
No more Tet getaway: expats learn to celebrate with Vietnamese spouses
Meigo Mark and his Vietnamese wife Nguyen Thi Sam are seen in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News.

As many expats have plans to uphold their tradition of traveling outside of Vietnam to 'escape' the week-long Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) holiday, when many shops and services in the country shut down, others have decided to stay and enjoy the holiday spirit with their Vietnamese spouses.

British Wayne Jordan is one of them.

‘A true Tet holiday’

The 2020 Lunar New Year will fall on January 25, with preparation and celebration typically taking place a week before and after the date.

For the past two years, Jordan said he had always traveled outside of Vietnam during Tet, probably because of his unpleasant first impression of the holiday four years ago.

“I spent my first Tet holiday in the Mekong Delta. Lots of lovely people [were] enjoying the holidays, but one thing I didn't get was the craze for dragons [for decorations], and when I get back to Ho Chi Minh City, it was like a ghost town,’ he recalled.

“Hardly any shops [were] open.

“For unsuspecting foreigners, this could pose a real problem. What if they need to buy food or nappies for their baby?”

Since that confusing first experience, after four years in Ho Chi Minh City, Jordan has started to notice the signs of Tet arriving when flowers are sold on the streets and the city roads are amazingly silent.

From seeing the city as a 'ghost town' during Tet, Jordan admitted he now feels that the atmosphere around Ho Chi Minh City when Tet nears is rather nice.

“It’s a welcome back from the hectic life the city has. No ‘beeping’ [of vehicle horns]. However, hardly any shops are open, which is a drawback,” he said.

His recent marriage to a Vietnamese wife was another major factor that changed Jordan’s mind about Tet.

“I'm a bit excited about experiencing Tet with [my wife] and her family. Usually, I [would] travel outside of Vietnam, but I will stay with the in-laws this Tet to experience a true Vietnamese Tet holiday,” he told Tuoi Tre News.

Is Tet really boring?

When Australian Rachel Louise Soubra first experienced Tet two years ago, she called it “boring.”

“I was invited over to my friend’s house for one of the days [during the Tet break]. We went to her home in the countryside and spent the day with her family,” the woman from Melbourne recalled her first Tet holiday when she was single.

“The other days I was mostly alone, so it was very boring for me because everyone was busy with their families or traveling to different parts of Vietnam,” she added.

However, her perspective changed during Soubra’s second Tet in Vietnam when she was celebrating it with her Vietnamese boyfriend, who is now her husband, and his family in the Mekong Delta province of Tra Vinh.

Rachel Louise Soubra and Vietnamese husband Quach Trong Trung are seen in a photo she provided Tuoi Tre News

Rachel Louise Soubra and her Vietnamese husband Quach Trong Trung are seen in a photo she provided Tuoi Tre News.

“I had also been studying Vietnamese for more than one year, so I felt that this time was a great holiday,” she said.

“We traveled to neighboring An Giang Province and went to a lot of famous temples to pray fortunes for the year.

“Then we stayed home for the rest of the holidays, played games and drank a lot of beer.

“I was told about certain traditions."

After more than a year together, Rachel Louise Soubra and her boyfriend Quach Trong Trung, who works in construction, decided to get married.

They tied the knot in March 2019. A traditional Vietnamese wedding ceremony was organized in September the same year when the bride’s family flew from Australia to celebrate their love.

Rachel Louise Soubra and Vietnamese husband Quach Trong Trung are seen in a pre-wedding photo she provided Tuoi Tre News

Rachel Louise Soubra and her Vietnamese husband Quach Trong Trung are seen in a pre-wedding photo she provided Tuoi Tre News.

The couple is expecting their first child and already have a plan to move to Australia this year for the wife to give birth.

“But in the future, we want our child to grow up knowing and understanding the importance of Lunar New Near in Vietnam,” the 26-year-old mother-to-be insisted.

Soubra, who is working as a copy editor in Tra Vinh University, admitted that her perspective about Tet changed from deeming it boring and not interesting, to looking forward to spending it with her family and not going into work.

“It is a whole new experience once you can fully participate in the Tet holiday,” she said.

“Tet is a very family-orientated holiday and if you do not have any family here or a close friend willing to have you stay the whole time, it is very boring and lonely.

“This Tet holiday we are planning to play more games, and travel somewhere for one day with the whole family, so our Tet holiday will be spent surrounded by many family members.”

Soubra is well-connected with her in-laws, as she commented, “his family are not really strict with me and are happy as long as I am happy.”

“During Tet, I help cook Vietnamese traditional foods such as ‘thit kho’ (braised pork) and my husband’s aunties usually tell me what to do in the kitchen so I never do it by myself. It's a group effort,” she said.

Rachel Louise Soubra (R) is seen wearing ao dai on her wedding day. Photo: Supplied

Rachel Louise Soubra (R) is seen wearing ao dai on her wedding day. Photo: Supplied

He picked up the wrong flowers

Estonian Meigo Mark had no idea that he should not have brought some “nice yellow flowers” he loved when visiting his girlfriend’s relatives during Tet.

“It was only one year later when she told me that the flowers I bought are for worshipping ancestors,” Mark recalled his experience.

But he was lucky that the people he visited did not feel dismayed, as they knew that he did not understand local customs, Mark’s then-girlfriend, now his wife, said with a laugh.

So far, Meigo Mark has spent three Tet holidays in Vietnam, and the upcoming one will be his fourth.

In 2017, Meigo Mark stopped by Vietnam on his walking journey around the world and spent his first-ever Tet holiday on the roads in central Vietnam.

“I was really amazed how important and how big Tet is,” he recounted.

“Many Vietnamese living in foreign countries also come home for that time.

“It was also that time when I first saw closely the rituals of offering food and money [to] ancestors and suddenly I also had a lot of questions about many rituals, [the] afterlife, and spirits."

Recalling his remarkable Tet experiences, the man from northern Europe still remembered the day when he was invited to a local home to celebrate Tet, where he joined some men to drink beer and rice wine.

“I thought that I [would] just drink a bit but ended up sitting and drinking all day long from morning until evening,” he said.

Normally, Mark said he only drinks a little alcohol on one or two occassions in a whole year, so to drink for the whole day was “really funny” to him, not mentioning the language barrier making the men’s conversations hilarious.

After marrying Nguyen Thi Sam, a Vietnamese woman from the northern province of Thai Binh, in October 2018, Meigo Mark has learned even deeper meaning behind Tet.

“My wife, her family and relatives have done a very good job in teaching and explaining [to] me about Tet rituals, traditions and beliefs,” Mark said.

“I also experienced many things like making 'banh chung' (glutinous rice cake) myself, giving and receiving lucky money, doing many rituals, decorating the house, visiting Tet markets, buying [Tet ornamental plants like] kumquat and peach trees, and organizing a project called ‘Warm Tet’ to give food and warm clothes [to] the people living in the streets of Hanoi."

Meigo Mark and his Vietnamese wife Nguyen Thi Sam are seen in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News

Meigo Mark and his Vietnamese wife Nguyen Thi Sam are seen in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News.

Tet is also the time when big cities become empty and peaceful because people return to their hometowns where their family, friends, and neighbors are waiting and happy to see them, Mark concluded on what he has observed.

This year, Mark and his wife plan to spend their holiday with their daughter in Sam’s hometown.

“I would like to teach my daughter when she grows up that Tet is a very special time to be with family and friends, to celebrate the start of something new and very exciting, to look back, to make plans for the future, to remember our ancestors, to be grateful, to share and give, to play, enjoy and relax,” Mark said.

Meigo Mark, his Vietnamese wife Nguyen Thi Sam and their daughter are seen in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News

Meigo Mark, his Vietnamese wife Nguyen Thi Sam and their daughter are seen in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News.

Mark’s in-laws do not hesitate to show their favor for him.

“My husband often received much more lucky money than me,” Sam described how her family members like their son-in-law.

Meanwhile, Sam is also close to her mother-in-law, wishing that someday her Estonian mother could come over during Tet to spend the holiday with her family.

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Dong Nguyen/Tuoi Tre News

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