Anyways, back to Tet. As I got older and as the economy took a toll on my relatives, not to mention the death of my uber rich aunt, the lump sum dwindled and I stopped caring. Believe it or not, but I've never been to the Tet Festival in Little Saigon in my entire life. Tet is like any other day to me. Tet in Vietnam feels like any other day as well. I try to treat every day like Tet, minus the candied snacks and minus the superstition.
Tet in Vietnam appears suddenly. Every year its a different date. The locals use an alternative calendar that doesn't really make sense to me. Then again, not everything about Tet makes sense. I mean, why celebrate the white man's January 1st New Years when suddenly, a month later you're just going to do the same shit again, but this time with more flowers and off days? The answer is rather simple. Tet is not about celebrating a new year. It's about having moments of returning home to a more peaceful state. Hundreds of thousands of city residents flock home to their simple countryside retreats. Laborers in the city migrate in droves back to all miens of Vietnam. Buses bound to off the path beaten places like Ha Tinh to Bac Giang to Pleiku from Saigon leave every day all the time. The migration doesn't happen all at once though. The days leading up to Tet are slow, unproductive, and people disappear as shops close one by one. The onslaught of bonsai trees, yellow flowers, cherry blossoms, giant watermelons, and so many other fauna and flora laid out for sale on the streets trigger the Tet sensation. Some streets, especially Nguyen Hue in District 1, are transformed into gigantic gardens that attracts droves of visitors. The streets are beautiful, but the vendors remind me that not everyone can appreciate or enjoy Tet. Tet isn't as universal as everyone believes it to be. Only the lucky ones get to go back home and be with their relatives. Some people still have to work. To me, it's a bigger deal than having to work on Christmas. Then again, I'm biased because Buddhists never celebrate Christmas the right way.
It's not clear exactly when Tet should be observed. Friends get together for pre-Tet celebrations called Tet nien. Remember, everything is just an excuse to get together before the rise and grind of the following year. It's all about friendships, families, and fun. (Oh gosh, this entry is beginning to be too positive for this blog.) Tet lasts for a while. I'm not clear for how many days. The first day is usually spent with families as the streets are relatively empty. The second day, however, is when relatives and friends start to come on by to visit. Gambling, drinking, and more drinking ensues to round out the remaining days. Everyone has to decorate their houses with traditional crap with shades of red and gold. The yellow mais plants/flowers are beautiful to me. In America, I used to remember back in the old days when the live branches weren't available yet, I would spend time decorating fake ones. This was my Christmas tree. In more recent years,living un-blossomed mai branches were sold, but these are not the same variety as the ones found in Vietnam. Eventually, my family settled for cherry blossom branches, but once again, these don't compare to the same quality as the ones found in Vietnam. It's funny how people make scrap money, yet during Tet, they are more than willing to spend money on plants and flowers that will fade rather soon. That's human nature I guess. Everything will wither away eventually.
Then all of a sudden, everyone has to go back to work. That's it. Is Tet really the best time to visit Vietnam? If you have family and are still close to them, then yes. It's an ideal time because many people tend to be off during this time. I would love to see all my relatives in America back here together at the same time. Both worlds of family in America and family in Vietnam would collide for the first time. When I was younger I really looked forward to that. Now, it's not really that big of an issue for me because I know it will never exist unless someone wins the California Lottery or something. Other than that, Tet to me is not a real big deal. Most foreigners try their best to get out of Vietnam because many shops are closed and they have nothing to eat. Many of them use the off days to travel. I will be one of those people. However, I still get to experience the eve and actual day of the new year in Bien Hoa. I'm not looking forward to spending money to give away red envelopes to all the ankle biters that are related to me, so I will try my best to avoid them. I don't like giving money to my relatives when there are many more needier people. These little second cousins don't really give a shit about me anyways. All my problems are first world problems, and all their problems make me want to cry. We really have nothing in common. We meet up and stare at each other with nothing to talk about. So, I'll try my best to minimize contact until after Tet.
I'm pretty content just relaxing these last few days before Tet. My trip to Burma is looming. I'm busy editing the Thailand video and prepping for days after Tet. Im smiling right now as I think back to how my parents believed in all that superstition about things to do and not to do before and during Tet. How about the one about the first person to come into your house sets the mood for the entire year? Or how about the one where you have to look your best, wear new clothes, and be presentable for Tet. Hilarious. For whatever reasons, I have inner peace. I don't mind being single at this very moment. It's great to not spend droves of hard earned money on someone who doesn't appreciate the food, environment, or you because in the end you have few things in common. I'm imagining myself having to translate and explain, "That's what she said." to a Vietnamese girl and I often chuckle.
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