Expats join the Tet fray

Thanh Nien News

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Ten days away from Tet, Vietnam's biggest holiday of the year, excitement is in the air. People are shopping, gathering materials to cook Tet specialties, preparing to travel to their hometown or travel to other places with their families.
The bustling excitement does not leave expatriates untouched. Foreigners living in the country are also caught up in the festive atmosphere and long timers in particular match the natives in readying for the event.
"The atmosphere is so great, especially the foods - I'm as excited for the holiday as my wife and child," says Kiril Grudin, executive officer of Vietnam's first international hotel management company Celadon in Ho Chi Minh City, speaking in fluent Vietnamese.
Grudin has lived in Vietnam for 11 years, is married to a Vietnamese and has spent all the past nine Lunar New Year holidays in the country instead of taking the break to visit his hometown in Bulgaria.
Once, he invited his friends from Bulgaria to Vietnam for Tet. They were all amazed by the sophisticated making of Vietnamese traditional foods for the holiday, the variety of pickles and bánh chưng, the square-shaped glutinous rice cakes wrapped in green leaves which is an essential Tet food.
"Then they all understood why I love Vietnam's Tet so much," Grudin said.
Some foreigners are excited for an opposite reason. They like the totally different atmosphere in HCMC during the three main days of the Lunar New Year festival, when it is much cleaner and quieter.

Mr. Udo Loersch, a German expat in Ho Chi Minh City, enjoys his travel to Mekong Delta.
Udo Loersch, General Director of Mercedes-Benz Vietnam, says he loves the city on the first day of the Lunar New Year with its "clean streets and fresh air, which is totally different from the busy normal days.
"It is as though the city is sleeping. Only a few restaurants are open."
Loersch also prepares a lot of food and decorates the house with his wife, like all the natives. His children from Germany come to visit him every Tet. This year the family will visit the UNESCO world heritage site of Hoi An.
David Watts, Group Account Director at the global market research company TNS, has similar impressions about HCMC during the holiday.
Watts says he enjoys many places across Vietnam but always wants to come to the southern city for the holiday.
"I like its transformation before and after Tet. Before the holiday, there's big excitement like in a grand building site. People are shopping crazily for flowers and foods.
"But on the New Year's Eve, there's a switch and everyone stops, and begins celebrating the moment, going out to deliver wishes and visiting each other. After Tet, the workflow just returns."
His alley on Hai Ba Trung Street is also busy ahead of the holiday, with families gathering in front of their doors to make bánh chưng.
"I've watched people making the cake for two years now and I think I can do it, just need a bit practice."
Last year, he learnt the meaning of Vietnam's five-fruit offering during Tet. The five fruits are mãng cầu (custard apple), dừa (coconut), đu đủ (papaya), xoài (mango), and an optional one among banana, watermelon, peach and others. The number five represents the five elements of the universe and the fruits' names represent the prayer Cầu vừa đủ xài, meaning "Praying to have enough to use."
"It's very lovely. People just ask for enough," Watts said. "This year, I also wish to have enough health and enthusiasm to live happily in my new home."
The director arrived in Vietnam four years ago and has decided to make the country his second home.
Vietnamese streets during the holiday are also enjoyed by Sophie Hughes, who works for the London based Future Shorts, the world's biggest pop-up film festival, screening latest short films by filmmakers from all over the world.
Hughes said "My first Tet was in 2009, when HCMC was almost deserted. It felt like the whole city was your own."
Every year, Hughes spends the holiday with her Vietnamese friends, eating foods for good luck like bitter melon. The Vietnamese name of the fruit is khổ qua, which makes eating it mean all the difficulties (khổ) will pass (qua).
Tet is no longer a new, exciting experience, but a reminder of home for Seiki Furudate, the cultural affairs attaché at the Japanese Consulate General's office in HCMC.
"I've worked in Vietnam for 11 years and spent eight Tet festivals here. The traditions are very close to Japan, as we also visit families and relatives during the first days," he said in fluent Vietnamese.
Furudate said he has loved Vietnamese people since he first arrived. His Vietnamese language teacher visited his dormitory and took care of him like a brother when he was sick, he recalled.
"That's the first reason pushing me to try my best to develop diplomatic relations between the two countries."

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