Anticipating the Lunar New Year in Hanoi, Vietnam

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February 3rd 2011
Published: February 4th 2011
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The entire city is gearing up for Tet holiday, the lunar new year is on February 3rd and its the biggest national holiday of the year, and one of the biggest events in Asia. Everyone is busy cleaning, cooking, putting up every flag under the sun, praying at temples and picking up the customary Kumquat tree, sort of like a Christmas tree, which can be found passing by on a scooter every 3 seconds, being delivered to everyone's house. It's a sign of stature how big your Kumquat tree is...

Trung's parents have already planted theirs, and they have it proudly in a pot in the living room. Trung and I hung some Christmas tree decorations on it already, but its not really needed as the tree is covered by a hundred small, bright orange kumquats.

Trung's Dad is a manager at the American foreign affairs office in Hanoi and has the office over for lunch to celebrate the holiday. It was kind of exciting for everyone to have two people from North America to each lunch with. People are very friendly.

This, and ever other meal I've had so far in Vietnam is a huge affair of 10 different dishes served over small bowls of rice. Its a very communal thing, eating. The dishes are served in the middle of the table and everyone 'pecks' at the food for hours. A good idea, except for that it encourages over-eating 😉 No pictures shall be taken at the first beach of Mr. Dough-boy North American!

Trung and I have been venturing out each day to discover different parts of the city. The first real learning experience comes when we leave the twisting, quiet alleyway Trung's parents live on. The street is a short climb up an embankment and is absolutely full of scooters. There's a line in the middle of the road, but if there is too much traffic in one direction, everyone drives on the wrong side of the road. There are no real driving laws to be had here.

Having said that, there are also no street lights. You can have two large roads, 20 scooters across, meet at an intersection, nobody slows down and there are no accidents. Every once in awhile people have to stop and bunch up here and there, but otherwise the traffic is perfectly fluid. I'm completely amazed that
The American Foreign Affairs LegionThe American Foreign Affairs LegionThe American Foreign Affairs Legion

No, I'm not sure what it's called, but these are colleagues from the Foreign Affairs office in Hanoi. Trung's Dad on the Right.
this happens, and I haven't seen anything other than a little rub of a taxi and a scooter fender.

Our standard walk leads us down the main road, along the space between the street, the gutter, and the place where people park their scooters in front of the street vendors. Its precarious at best, with scooters threatening to take off your arm or run over your foot. There's an intersection about 500 yards down the road where we can catch a taxi. The first time we come to the intersection its chaotic at best. Surprisingly, the best way across is to simply walk in a slow, controlled manner, in a straight line, no stopping, no running. Its as if you're oil and the scooters are water, or like Moses parting the Red Sea.

As I mentioned, everyone is preparing for Tet holiday, where people believe the spirits who regularly live in their houses return to heaven to report on the year's family happenings to relatives who have passed on. In order for this to go well, you must prepare offerings to these spirits so you'll get a favorable reception in heaven, and your ancestors will bring you good luck in the new year. Trung's mom has a bunch of food, money, cigarettes and various other things laid out at a small shrine in a spare room of the house. After we finish new year's dinner and I start doing the dishes, Trung's mom leaves for awhile and comes back with a pan full of something and she turns on the gas stove. I figure she's going to cook something.. again. Out of the corner of my eye I notice a flickering and I turn around to a huge inferno on top of the pan, she burns a large pan of orange peels which fills the entire house with fragrant, orangey smoke. Once the pan is burning, she puts it on the floor in the middle of the kitchen to burn out. It smells good, but its pretty smokey.

Trung and I left after dinner on 'Tet Eve' to go watch the fireworks downtown at a small lake with a shrine in the middle of it. We're lucky and catch a cab right away and head towards the festivities. The 20 minute ride costs $1.50 and EVERYONE is going in the same direction, towards the lake. We make
8 million dong.8 million dong.8 million dong.

I bought Trung's parents a laptop from Canada, it was $430CAD, now I'm a millionaire!!
it just in time. The fireworks are huge, and much better than any I've seen in Canada. The lake is about a kilometer in diameter and surrounded by weeping willows. Coloured lights dot the embankment, and thousands of lights hang from all of the trees, bridges and surrounding buildings. At the stroke of midnight, everyone celebrates, apparently all of the problems of the previous year are now forgotten and everyone can start fresh. After the fireworks, general chaos ensues. People start countless street fires, burning things which can be used by ancestors in heaven. Apparently by burning it, it will ascend to heaven with the other spirits when they leave your house. People are burning wads of cash, paper (what looks like) donkeys, etc. etc. We found a pagoda in the middle of the city jammed with people praying, burning incense, burning money, and leaving cash in and around Buddha statues.

Eventually we made it home, but it was quite the riotous party night. We went out to a bar on a boat for some drinks, they're 60,000 dong each, or about $3. Not the cheapest, but its Tet. Otherwise they'd be $1.50-2.00.

The next three days are
Trung at Ho Chi Minh MausoleumTrung at Ho Chi Minh MausoleumTrung at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Just us touring around before Tet. Usually you can go see the body, but its closed for Tet.
usually reserved for spending time with family, relaxing, eating and catching up. Trung's extended family is in the countryside, so Trung has already been out there to visit them (plus the extra time I've already written about). We'll just hang around here and have some family friends over for lunch or dinner the next few days. Everything in the city is generally shut down, so its a nice, quiet time.

I'm looking forward to the next few days, Trung's birthday is on the 6th, so we're taking his mom for massages and facials, then the family for dinner and a traditional Hanoi water puppet theatre.

We visited a travel agent the other day to help us book tours to: Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site; Sapa, the tribal region in the mountainous North; and the Perfume Pagoda, which I don't know about, but people say to go, so we're going.

We've also booked our flight out of Hanoi on the 13th, the 1000km flight to Da Nang, near the historic imperial city of Hue cost us $29USD, with taxes and fees, $33USD. The temperature south is very warm and I'm looking forward to our first
Hanoi Traffic CopHanoi Traffic CopHanoi Traffic Cop

Not too sure what he's accomplishing under that beer umbrella, but he's not really moving, or doing...anything.


Additional photos below
Photos: 10, Displayed: 10


Kumquat tree at templeKumquat tree at temple
Kumquat tree at temple

The Kumquat tree is absolutely everywhere and they're really stunning. Lots of fruit, too bad it tastes like battery acid!
At the literature templeAt the literature temple
At the literature temple

People having papers made with traditional text

5th February 2011

Good to see that you made it there alright and having a good time. Makes our 5 day trip for free to Jamaica kind of lame!!!

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