Thursday, March 8, 2007

Chuc Mung Nam Moi

Allright back to Vietnam. . . We happened to be in Vietnam for Tet, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, which is their biggest holiday of the year. (Also, the holiday that gave its name to the Tet offensive, but that was the topic of another post) After witnessing the holiday first hand, I wholeheartedly agree with the guidebook's description that it's like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year's all rolled into one 4 day holiday.

We were in Hanoi for the run-up to Tet and the city was abuzz with activity. So much so in fact, that the Spaniard's friend commented that this was the most animated she had ever seen the population. Everybody was buying gifts for family, food for the big meals, and flowers and mandarin trees for decoration. To accomidate the crush of commerce, impromptu markets sprung up everywhere, especially along the side of major highways (and sometimes in the middle of major highways) which made getting around very slow moving.

This proved to be a significant hassle as we prepared to leave Hanoi to go to our next destinations, Hoi An and Hue in the center of the country. We had heard really good things about both destinations and thought that they would be good places to pass Tet since their beach access would allow us to while away days without worrying about things being closed for the holiday.

Given the aforementioned markets, our cab was caught in a lot of traffic on the way to the airport, and we had a tense ride where we worried about missing our flight. Luckily we got to the airport with enough time(5 minutes to spare), only to find the flight overbooked and the Spaniard's friend was designated the potential bumpee. The check-in lady explained that since it was Tet the flights were overbooked with Vietnamese returning home to their villages and preference was being to Vietnamese wanting to get home for the holiday. This was not the first time we had been discriminated against.However there was still 1 unclaimed seat and we only had to wait 5 minutes before the flight closed for check-in and she could get it. We anxiously watched for signs of any Vietnamese people, but luckily for us (and for them because the Spaniard was talking about blocking their path). Luckily nobody showed and we all made the flight with no problem.

We arrive in Hoi An 2 hours later to begin the Tet eve celebrations which included everybody in the whole town (and every tourist within a 100 mile radius) on the waterfront partying in anticipation. There was also a carnival set up where people could win various food items at various games along with bingo for bigger prizes. We all try our hands at one game and the Spaniard's friend wins a box of cookies. She asks "What am I going to do with this". . . well actually it was "Que voy a hacer con esta" but that's a small detail. . . Well she gives a cookie to one kid and soon that was no longer a problem.

At midnight the fireworks went off and we were treated to a 20 minute show. Everybody oohed and aahed at each firework. We're too spoiled in the US to get worked up over fireworks anymore, so it was kind of cool to see everybody really get into it. After the show we fight our way with the throng of humanity towards the heart of the party. Almost every store we passed along the way had opened their doors with offerings for the new year, which I assume was to bring good fortune.

Also along the way local kids were jumping behind the Spaniard, without him knowing, to see if the jump as high as the top of his head. Luckily he didn't get smacked, which from my vantage point almost happened 3 times. Our journey ended to find the party in high gear.

However we had to cut the festivities short, since somebody wasn't in a party mood:

The next day we toured around Hoi An, which is a great little town to spend a couple of days.

It's famous for its custom tailoring where people can get suits made in 3 hours for US$60. However given it was Tet most of the stores were closed. There were a few open, where I was able to buy some souveneirs for back home. Despite being double priced for the holiday, it was still very reasonable. However given the dearth of shopping we quickly decamped to the beach for some R&R.

While sitting in a beachside restaurant enjoying some lunch and a few drinks, a local girl approaches to offer her goods for sale. She really nice andfriendly but guilts us into buying some things by giving a sob story about how business hasn't been good lately and thus she needs to work on Tet. We buy some peanuts and Tiger Balm for about $3. As she leaves she says Chuc Mung Nam Moi which means Happy Tet (or lunar New Year in Vietnamese).

However, if it has a similar meaning to Kung Hei Fat Choi (Happy Chinese New Year in Cantonese), which literally translates into something like "Congratulations on getting wealthy" then our Vietnamese friend is off to a good start.

PS: Given their new years greeting, how the Chinese (or the Vietnamese for that matter) ever thought they were communist is beyond me and Tripper.

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