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Jac and Jay’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 17 Feb 2007

Location: Saigon, Vietnam


For those who don't know, Tet is the lunar New Year, celebrated all over Asia. During Tet everyone goes home and hangs out with their families for a week or so, which means that HCMC is creepily empty. Also nothing is open, apart from on the most touristed and expensive roads in the city. It's even hard to find a moto driver - make that impossible if you want a sober one. There are flowers everywhere and the lights are pretty, and it's cool to see the people dancing and banging drums everywhere to drive out the evil spirits for the new year. Also, because 2007 is the Year of the Pig, the city is covered in pigs - pig postcards, balloons, lights, plush pigs, plastic pigs, clay pigs, stuffed pigs, cooked pigs, pig t-shirts - and all these pigs are smiling which i've never seen a pig do before.

On the night of the 17th we went into Le Loi, one of the main streets near the waterfront. This was the centre of celebrations for the first night of Tet, which officially starts at midnight. The place was packed.

What was originally streets crowded with cars and motos became crowded with people as everyone jostled to get a photo next to their favourite piggy. There were street vendors everywhere offering everything from balloons to ice cream to dried fish, and for once they didn't have to hassle anyone because they already couldn't keep up with demand.

This was certainly not New Year's Eve as we know it in the west. Tet is far closer to a western Christmas in sentiment and the visitors to the displays were usually families. Among the dragon dancing and flowers and the many, many pigs (I know we've said it before, but there were heaps of them!) there was a real atmosphere of togetherness. Most notably, I didn't see one person drinking or drunk despite alcohol being freely available in any beverage dispensary.

We tried to learn how to say 'Happy New Year' (Chup Mung Nam Moi) , but we kept getting blank looks from people, so we can only assume we got the intonations wrong and actually were asking for fried tofu or something. Either way, people were so friendly they all stopped us to shake hands or have photos, despite not having any fried tofu to give us.

There are countless traditions during Tet, from flowers and pigs, to lucky money (which we have seen being handed to people like Christmas cards) to having the annual major cleanup. The first visitor of the new year is also a strong omen for families here. Wealthy and successful people, strong community members and priests are all lucky. Strangers, bereaved, accident prone people and pregnant women are unlucky. Go figure.

We will be back home soon, looking forward to seeing our family and pets.
Take care,
Jac and Jay