The holidays and Tết thoughts

This particular season the holidays have been stretched out for some time for me. I was grateful to have the opportunity to travel to Ohio for Thanksgiving with my extended family, although unfortunately Ngân didn’t come along this time. My time in the states was brief, but it was nice to see family and friends that I hadn’t seen for over three years (an exception were my parents who traveled to Vietnam last December for our wedding).

I flew back into Vietnam and wanted to hit the ground running, but stumbled instead due to delayed flights and congestion which left me very hard of hearing for a week or so. I finished a class in early December. A friend’s wedding was near Christmas. I had a wonderful Christmas morning with Ngân and a great Christmas party with a close group of friends (featuring homemade eggnog!).

The New Year has just passed and now it’s time for the pre-Tết squeeze. People are restless waiting for the holiday to arrive. I’m looking forward to a decent amount of time off. However, I just got started with a tough new class in finance, which I will be able to pull through, but it sure looks hard at the beginning.

When speaking about Tết to other expatriates in Saigon, there are usually two reactions: 1. I can’t wait to get out of the country. Or, 2: I can’t wait for Saigon to empty out and for the traffic to die down.

I am neither one of these. I have, and will always, as long as I live in Vietnam, go to Long Xuyên for Tết. It’s where I met my wife. It’s where we got married. It’s where my wife’s family lives. It’s where some of my best and oldest friends in Vietnam live. It’s where I started in Vietnam. It’s my “quê hương thứ hai.”

I have always believed that expatriates who leave Vietnam during Tet are missing out on the country at its best. Fewer vehicles are out on the streets, which makes every town and city more peaceful. There are always invitations to eat and drink. You can take a nap or go for coffee at any time and it’s normal. Now that I have in-laws here, I basically have a supply of savory thịt kho, bánh tét and fried lạp xưởng almost any time I want – who would pass that up?

Certainly, I can identify with the expatriates who wish to stay in Saigon to experience a peaceful city; I would enjoy it too. But the thought of trying to celebrate a holiday in a sprawling, impersonal hunk of urbanization is too much for me. For Tết to be Tết, I need to be surrounded by friends, family and a friendly town that I know well.

Everyone in Vietnam enjoys Tết, and this includes expatriates. I guess I have certain things that I need to do, certain people I need to visit, and certain things I need to eat for the Lunar New Year, and all of them can only be found in Long Xuyên, An Giang.