Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Tet - Happy New Year!

It's the most important event in the Vietnamese calendar, on the same day as Chinese New Year, Tet is the celebration of a new Lunar year. We were pretty naive, turning up in Hanoi as the locals finalised their plans and preparations, as to how big a deal it was - in England you go out, get drunk, spend New Year's Day hungover, and then go back to work. In Vietnam, you go back home to be with your family, get drunk (but in a respectful and orderly manner), and spend time with your family for at least the next few days. As a foreigner this means that the buses and trains are fully booked and more expensive than usual, and many shops and restaurants are closed, and tours are off. So, while some things were made off limits, I think we managed to get some different added extras.

The best of these was the New Year celebrations themselves. A very friendly woman working in our hotel informed us that the best place to go in the city was Hoan Kiem Lake, so we headed there around 10pm to get a good spot to sit down. Of course, we then had two hours to wait until the excitement of midnight and fireworks, so we had to fill the time with naming an A to Z of bands and films, and people watching. The latter activity was particularly interesting, as the youth of Hanoi - which seems to hide somewhere during the day - was out in force, clutching at little bags of popcorn, and tottering on ridiculously high heels. Not so different from what you'd find at home, except that there was no swigging alcohol, no violent pushing, no shouting. Evidently, you don't get Vietnamese chavs.

The fireworks themselves were distinctly average compared to what you can see at New Year in London, but it was the reactions of everyone around us that made it special - genuine awe and excitement, with 'Oohs' and 'Aahs' and everything!

Walking back to the hotel, everyone seemed to be on a high, and - somewhat oddly - Abba's Happy New Year was blasting out from shops and restaurants as we walked back to the hotel. But there was still no escape, the damn song was on repeat in the hotel lobby, where we were obliged to stay for a little 'party' we had just walked in on. This consisted of the guys working in the hotel (who, by this point, were both rather drunk, which was funny) forcing cans of beer, glasses of whisky, and trays of fruit on a slightly uncomfortable group of their guests, and every so often going into long stories about what the Vietnamese do on New Year - which, in fairness, was quite interesting. I'm not sure whether many hotel workers in England would provide an array of food and drink for their guests on New Year just so that they can involve them in their celebrations. The whole evening was a great experience.

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