Two foreigners living in and outside Vietnam recalled their cozy memories with the Lunar New Year, or Tet in Vietnamese.
I’ve witnessed ten Tet since I started living here. In the early years I went to the fireworks and partied with friends in the expat bars around Hoi An. Often I would meet people I hadn’t seen for months as I tend to live quietly but was also busy with teaching. In the more recent years as I had some dogs as pets, I tended to stay at home or take the dogs for walks during the holiday evenings because it’s so calm, peaceful and lovely to see how people have decorated their houses.
I like the idea of “starting afresh’ – throwing out old things, cleaning up and yet, remembering their ancestors. I’ve lost both my parents in the last two years so this has been on my mind. I admire the devotion to the family, helping out with the Tet chores and working for the parents while they do stuff for Tet. I like the energy of it – everyone off to buy something nice and being excited about seeing their hometown relatives again.
Tet is the time for family, friends in Vietnam
Stivi Cooke in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News
Society has changed rapidly, but I don’t think Tet’s changed so much. However I have seen more noticeable status symbols – new cars, big TVs, brand new motorbikes or bicycles – and especially students with the latest smartphones which cost a small fortune. Also I’ve observed more families eating out in a fancy restaurant instead of home cooking as a way of enjoying their rising prosperity. And definitely more young adults cruising around on their motorbikes just for fun and company rather than doing traditional home customs.
I think there’s a Vietnamese proverb, “A day of travelling will bring a basket of learning” – I think young people are curious about their country and hungry for new experiences as daily life in Vietnamese can be monotonous. It’s also an empowering feeling to have the money and opportunity to see new places and show off or post on Facebook selfies of where you are. Also travel is becoming more affordable with cheaper flights, more buses and more local destinations opening up to domestic tourists. And given all the stress of life in the big cities I think it’s becoming more natural to think about ‘getting away from it all’.
A lot of foreigners (particularly living in Vietnam) are a bit jaded and it takes a bit of effort to impress them whereas the young Vietnamese tourist probably has a lot more appreciation for the simpler experiences of something new. Foreigners are looking for more exotic places and wilder experiences but the Vietnamese just revel in the sheer joy and fun of getting out of town!
Stivi Cooke, Australian
‘Tet is important to me and my family’
My first Tet in Vietnam was 2005. I was told by other American expatriates that the streets would be deserted and to make sure that I had enough food to eat for a week as all of the stores would we closed. That first Tet in Vietnam, I stayed at home and played video games a lot. I know many Western friends in Saigon who speak of the loveliness of the deserted streets of the city during Tet. But they don’t know what they’re missing.
I started to get a taste of the true spirit of Tet one holiday when an adult student of mine invited me to his house during the break. Hospitality was overflowing as we chatted, snacked, drank beer and gave lucky money to the roving bands of lion dancers going through the neighborhood. As the years went on, I got more and more invitations to come to people’s houses to experience Tet, and I really came to look forward to the holiday.
Then I moved to Saigon and got married. Now Tet was even more fun as it was a chance to get out of the big city and spend time in the Mekong Delta with friends and family. Empty streets of Saigon are no comparison to the festive nature of the holiday in the delta.
To be honest, Tet is in many ways more enjoyable than Christmas or Thanksgiving for me. I love driving and walking around the streets festooned with yellow and pink flowers picking up soft drinks, beer and snacks for the holiday. I love delivering gift baskets to close friends and family. I love meeting up with friends and relatives that I don’t see very often. And I love a little time to just be “ở không” (doing nothing).
However, now my family and I are in America. Tet has always and will always be different here. It is not a national holiday here, and it is not widely celebrated either. Tet can be a little sad in the U.S. as we sit in the midst of cold weather and remember the warm days full of fun in Vietnam. But Tet is important to me and my family and always will be. Even though the weather is dipping below freezing and nothing in the streets suggests that a holiday is approaching, we will be celebrating Tet in the US. We are fortunate to know other friends and families that have lived in Vietnam, and we will we celebrate Tet with them.
Even though we are on the other side of the world from Vietnam, I will observe the tradition of my wife’s family and eat vegetarian food until noon on Mùng Một (the first day of the first month in the lunar calendar). And even though I am in another country, I will remember with fondness all of the many wonderful times I have enjoyed Tet in Vietnam.
Eric Burdette, American
By Dong Nguyen – Hong Van/ Tuoi Tre News