To be honest, I’ll be glad when it’s all over.
Vietnamese New Year – Tet – is a big deal. I get that. I get the importance of clearing out the old and bringing in the new, of paying off debts and giving out gifts, of visiting family and sharing meals. It’s very grand and formal, and also very bright and joyful and, well, exhausting.
These past few weeks, one has struggled to get down the footpath without tripping over ‘lucky money’ trees and collapsing towers of dragonfruit. Grungy vendors have built homes of tarpaulin on the roadsides from which they sell watermelons, jackets, sappodillas, t-shirts, pomelos, sticky rice, bedspreads, oranges, bonsai, bananas, roses, custard apples, roosters. They camp each night between rows of potted mandarin trees and barbecue their breakfast each morning amongst the pedestrians.
All day, every day, for the past three weeks, there’s been this fervent, burning need to buy, buy, buy. There is stuff everywhere, and it’s all for sale. At ridiculously inflated prices. But, no matter: locals and non-locals swagger down the footpath with bulging bags and aching arms, motorbikes weave drunkenly from market to home, laden with gifts and treats and trees. Flowers are a thing. Minature trees are a thing. Packages of sticky rice and pork/mung beans/sugar wrapped in banana leaves is a very big thing.
And now, with Tet mere hours away, there’s been an endless stream of soap suds underfoot as homeowners scrub their floors, cars, driveways. Rubbish has been hauled out and tossed into grossly overflowing skip bins. Or into the road. I’d call that counter-productive, but whatever.
The kids are all out of school and out of their minds on sugar.
The fireworks – or, fire flowers, as my landlady refers to them (and which is infinitely better) – start in a couple of hours. I’m tired and old and I want to go to bed but I’m going to the fireflowers, because – well, why wouldn’t you?.
From tomorrow, Vietnam will shut down. Dalat will be a ghost town. Two days of empty streets and closed doors. That’s the part I’m not so keen on.
I plan to work. What else does one do?
Still, there’s something kinda alienating about being here – as a foreigner – during the most culturally significant holiday of the year. Behind those closed doors will be families toasting the New Year and their future health. There’ll be karaoke and rice wine and boiled chickens.
I’m not having a cry. I mean, it’s not my country, and it’s not my holiday. I’m not missing out on anything. It’s just all sort of like being the only kid in the class who doesn’t get invited to the birthday party.
Anyway. I’ve stockpiled dragonfruit and tofu. And gin.
Happy New Year, Vietnam.
Chúc mừng năm mới!