Sunday, February 15, 2009

chuc mung nam moi

Chuc mung nam moi means happy new year. Well, literally, it's something like "good/advantageous/lucky year new". And don't even try to say it if you don't speak Vietnamese because I can't put the accent marks that tell you the tones, and even if I could you wouldn't know what they mean. I've actually come to believe that it would be easier for me to teach everyone here English than to learn Vietnamese myself.

Anyway, Tet is by far the biggest holiday of the year. Preparations, and the actual celebration, seem to go on for about 2 months. First, the decorations start to go up. Tet predates communism by centuries, but the party isn't about to miss an opportunity for self promotion.
There are 2 kinds of Tet trees. One with little citrus fruit, and another with pink blossoms. I think someone told me that the ones in the south have yellow blossoms. In any case, it seems like every other motorbike had a tree on it.
The kids get ready for the Tet pageants, which involve flowers, and singing, and dancing (and nose picking if you look closely).
Blue Dragon helps a bunch of kids out in the countryside and goes out a few times a year for big assemblies. The Tet extravaganza had a dancing dragon, Tet gifts, and contests... This one involved blindfolded participants trying to feed each other yogurt. The kids loved it.
And I got invited to a Tet party at the house where I lived when I first arrived. Hot pot seems to be the standard celebratory meal. One or two pots of boiling water are put in the center of the table and bunches of plates with things ready to be boiled. It honestly seems to be much more about the communal experience than the food itself. I didn't try the fetal duck. It didn't look so good. But the conversation was excellent.
Along with the trees, vendors sell a lot of Tet gifts. People spend the first few days of the new year visiting family and friends. The clean their houses, get haircuts, cook special food, and buy gifts to hand out on their visits. These gift baskets have everything you need to make someone's day - including booze and a pack of marlboros.Any important celebration in Hanoi seems to involve balloons. This is the year of the ox (or cow, or buffalo depending on who's telling it) and so there were plenty of ox balloons on new year's eve. And fireworks. Even the cops stopped to turn their heads skyward in awe. Maybe this is why pickpockets are so fond of these celebrations.And just after midnight, the ancestors are paid tribute. People burn fake paper money among other things, and they are conducted by smoke to the next world. So I imagine that the ancestors enjoy tet too. After that, you go to Thailand because everything is closed for a week.

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