A Tet for everyone

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Foreigners in Hanoi are won over by the Tet atmosphere, even if they are a little homesick.

Strolling around Hoan Kiem Lake during Tet, Michael Brennan marveled at the colorful peach tree (hoa dao) blossoms, full of bright buds and pinkish-red flowers. He watched as local residents took pictures and lined up to enter Ngoc Son Temple, where they prayed for good health and prosperity in the Lunar New Year.

“Everything looks new and happy. The atmosphere is wonderful,” he said. “I am lucky to be here to enjoy your Tet.” The Englishman is currently on a world tour and arrived in Vietnam just one day before the Lunar New Year festival, which began on February 14.

He planned to visit Sa Pa in the north and Ho Chi Minh City in the south during the holiday, hoping that each location would be as interesting as Hanoi.

Meanwhile, Radhakrishnan, a businessman from Sri Lanka, is inthe-know about Tet in Vietnam, as he has lived in the country for over 15 years and is married to a Vietnamese woman. But he still loves the preparation for the Tet festival and the weeklong party.

Like many Vietnamese families, he took his wife and two daughters to the supermarket a week before Tet to buy traditional celebratory foods such as lean-pork pate, chicken meat and dried bamboo sprouts.

During the holiday, he also took his family to visit his parents-in-law and their relatives in the northern city of Hai Phong. He did not forget to offer red packets of lucky money (li xi) to his parents and children on the festival.

Great gatherings

Benget Besalicto from Indonesia has lived in Hanoi for three years, and his family is accustomed to enjoying Tet with their friends in Vietnam every year. This Tet, he said the city’s peach trees and delicate dark-pink blossoms were especially nice.

Two foreigners watch people release ca chep (carp) from Hanoi’s Long Bien Bridge on lunar January 23, an old-age custom to mark the day that the God of Kitchen (Ong Tao) is said to go to Heaven to report on the year’s activities

He spent several days searching for one for his home. He found the winner at a garden in Nhat Tan Village, a famous peach blossom tree neighborhood in the capital. In his living room, he hung pictures of animals and vehicles painted by his six-year-old son as gifts for his parents for the holiday.

On New Year’s Eve, Benget’s family held a small party with some Vietnamese friends. They chatted and enjoyed traditional

Tet foods like “banh chung” (square glutinous rice cake), dried bamboo sprouts and pork rib soup, and boiled chicken. “Fried banh chung is good. I eat a lot of it,” he said.

French student Cécile Pauty and her friends went to a café in downtown Hanoi for New Year’s Eve. They watched the crowd of thousands gather at Hoan Kiem Lake to see the fireworks and welcome the Year of the Tiger. She said other foreign students went traveling during holidays, while others stayed in Hanoi and enjoyed Tet with their Vietnamese friends.

Homesick

However, Tet can make some foreigners a bit uncomfortable.

Radhakrishnan complained that he sometimes suffers from boredom during the traditional holiday, as shops and bars are closed during the family-focused festival. He said he spent most of the time in front of the TV. “Tet seems to be inside the house,” he said.

He said the lack of services for two weeks caused trouble for some foreigners, relaying the story of an Indian friend of his who nearly missed his flight from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City last Tet when it took an hour to get a taxi to the airport.

Michael said that as a traveler, it wasn’t easy to experience the pace of everyday Vietnamese life during Tet. He said that Vietnamese life â€" from eating, to working to relaxing â€" takes place on the streets. Though he liked this aspect of the culture, the streets were empty during Tet. He said all shops and houses were closed, thus, he could not observe and experience the life of ordinary Hanoians at sidewalk cafes and eateries the way many foreigners do when they visit Vietnam.

Cécile said the reunion of Vietnamese families during Tet made her feel homesick. She will go home when her four-month course in Vietnam concludes after Tet. However, she wants to return and enjoy Tet here again soon.

She said she regretted that she has not learned to make “banh chung” yet, nor had she had enough of a chance to visit places outside Hanoi to get to know more about traditional Tet celebrations, especially those of ethnic minority people.

Reported by Bao Anh

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