I decided to stick around the city for Tết given that I’d just taken ten days off to go to Cambodia and that means a dwindling bank account. Plus, it was time Bagheera and I spent some time apart given that our sexuality is now in question…
Recently, Bagheera and I realised that the fact that we spend so much time together, our schedules overlap and we ride to work on the same freaking motorbike was a little confusing for some folks *cough* lesbi-honest *cough*. So when we were all together at a staff get-together about a month ago, good ole Bagheera made the coming-out announcement to the entire table of about twenty people that we were, in fact, not lesbians and that we were just good friends.
Most of the staff just burst out laughing but our friend Pug admitted he’s dropped a few questions over the past couple of months to try and decipher if we were. We both think he was secretly disappointed that we weren’t lesbos but oh well… He’ll just have to find another set of Canadian girls who live and travel together and pretty much spend every waking moment together to fulfil his fantasies.
Back to the actual purpose of this post…
First of all, I should explain what Tết really is. To most Westerners, we know this event by the more common name: Chinese New Year. This, however, is a misnomer given that five other Asian countries celebrate the New Year at the same time, including parts of Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Tibet and, of course, Vietnam.
Lunar New Year (LNY), to which it is more properly referred, is based on the Chinese lunisolar calendar (versus the Gregorian calendar). The New Year falls on a different day each year depending on the moon cycles but it generally falls in January or February. This year, LNY’s Eve fell on February 9.
I had the distinct pleasure of spending LNY’s Eve with my landlady’s family. They invited me months ago and on the day of, our lovely (and beautiful) landlady came down with her eldest son to give us a bottle of wine to re-extend the invite to spend the night with her family.
I ventured up to the rooftop of our building shortly before midnight as I knew that the festivities would be getting underway as soon as the fireworks went off in District 1. The landlady’s eldest son, Chau, met me on the roof and explained to me the rituals that would accompany the evening including blessing the home and giving thanks and offerings to Buddha.
Chau then left me with his little brother, Joe, to go and complete the rituals with his father. I assumed that he was the one performing the rituals with his father because he is the eldest son but he corrected my assumption. It is actually that he is a Snake and because 2013 is also the Year of the Snake, it is even better luck to have your house blessed by a Snake himself. I found this fact very interesting.
Joe stayed with his mother and me and we watched the fireworks from the top of our building. They were stunning and lasted for at least fifteen to twenty minutes.
Then all the men came back into the house and joined us on the roof for champagne, wine and a massive assortment of traditional Vietnamese food, including our landlady’s amazing spring rolls which we’d had the pleasure of tasting a few months prior. She surprised us one night in December at our door with a platter of them. (We’re pretty sure she thinks we don’t eat enough.)
Our landlady is a true mother. The only things she wanted know was whether we were settling in well, if we have managed to find things in the city, if we’re being safe and if I miss my family. I answered all of them to her satisfaction and then joked that I didn’t miss my family because I had my new Vietnamese family now (them). They laughed and then proceeded to take the joke seriously.
They now refer to me as their Canadian daughter and sister. It’s really quite touching. Chau told me that his mother is really quite fond of Bagheera and me which warms my heart. She and her family have been so good to us and I’m so grateful for them.
After our delicious feast and the opportunity to unload my litany of questions on the two brothers, they made me chug my wine and head downstairs to their flat (on the top floor of our building). We continued the half-serious joke that I was joining their family by taking a montage of family photos in their living room and then each and every family member wanted one with me separately.
I’m working on not feeling uncomfortable about the added attention being white affords in this country but it can still be difficult at times. I find I just laugh uncontrollably… a lot.
I bid my “family” goodnight around 2 AM and promised to send them the photos. All-in-all, Night One of the Lunar New Year was a smashing success and I feel incredibly lucky to have been taken in by a Vietnamese family.
I was told when I decided to stay in HCMC for the holiday that the only way to enjoy it was to spend some time with Vietnamese families and, boy, did I ever get my fill. The week had only just begun and there was so much more to do and see.
I woke up the following morning to the clearest sunny day I’ve seen since living in this city. So naturally, I packed a bag and headed down to Phú Mỹ Hưng district to my favourite residential pool. It was nice to finally get a full day of sun. Yeah, surprising eh? I live in a place that’s constantly hot and sunny and yet I’m not nearly as tanned as I would normally be in this climate. A day by the pool was the best way to start off my week of decompression and relaxation.
February 11 was my friend Lucia’s birthday so I treated her to coffee and a catch-up at our favourite coffee joint, Highlands Coffee (think Vietnamese version of Starbucks – they even serve you at your table). She’s a stellar real estate agent here in the city so she filled me in on the crazy week of client meetings she had in the week leading up to Tết. She then invited me to join her family for one of her many birthday dinners the next night.
After coffee, I followed her to Phú Mỹ Hưng to join Rhino and Pistol for dinner. It had been far too long since we’d all done dinner. M&M has recently moved into their spare room so I got a night full of belly laughs out of it.
Unfortunately for the boys, they’d spent the afternoon playing shoeless footie on the roof of the building and had massive blisters on the balls of their feet. Ridiculous, I know. They could barely get their feet in shoes when they had to run out to the store to grab supplies for our feast.
(Vegan) dinner was delicious and the company was even better. It’s so nice having Rhino and Pistol back in the city. The four of us chatted about our plans for the New Year. Which includes a whole lot of floundering and trying out a bunch of new opportunities. It always makes me feel better to have others in my court – not knowing exactly what we’re doing but enjoying the journey.
The following afternoon, I met Lucia for coffee and then followed her, yet again, out of the downtown core to her parents’ house in Phú Mỹ Hưng. The first person I met upon pulling up to her gate was her uncle who would turn out to be the most hilarious part of the evening. More on him later.
I met her mother and a couple of her aunts upon entering the house and they were so excited to meet me and have me in their home. I can’t say I was any less excited. It’s such an honour in a friendship for someone to feel close enough to me to invite me to spend time with his or her family.
Lucia’s mum speaks a little bit of English but she’s more proficient in French! She doesn’t get much of an opportunity to practice anymore so when she found out about my second language we were able to instantly bond over that connection.
We sat down for a traditional Vietnamese dinner including soup, pickled onions & shrimp, chicken, pork, a lot of rice and “Chinese eggs” which I avoided like the plague given that they were purple and I feared that they were the famous delicacy of eggs with small fetuses in them.
The dinner was delicious but Lucia’s uncle was the pièce de résistance. He was telling hilarious jokes that Lucia would translate for me. The kicker that ended the whole night was when Lucia and her father began discussing a father-daughter getaway to their vacation home in Hà Nội. Lucia’s uncle tried to get in on the action and expressed an interest in joining them. He then leaned back so that his wife couldn’t see him mouth to Lucia that he’ll look for a girlfriend in Hà Nội. Lucia translated for me amidst a fit of giggles and we all dissolved into laughter… unfortunately for his wife who was left out of the loop.
After dinner, Lucia’s friend Pippy came to join us and we headed to Le Pub and then Lush for a leisurely night of dancing and drinks. I met a few of Lucia’s German expat friend, chatted away and then we called it an early night and headed to our separate homes with plans to head to a water park in District 10 the following day.
I met Lucia for coffee the next morning as we waited for her expat friend, Steven. He arrived in a cab with another expat friend, Bob, and his Vietnamese “friend” whom he mistakenly introduced to us as Han. Bob turned out to be a real piece of work. Some may have even referred to him as a sexpat. Yeah, “Han” was about eighteen years old and he was at least forty.
To top it all off, it was around 11 AM and they had gone to bed until 5 AM and were savagely hungover. Bob became more and more obnoxious as he sobered up and I was extremely happy to get out of the cab, settle into lounge chairs at the water park and tune his unsavoury arrogance out.
It turns out Bob & Steven were too hungover to enjoy the park so less than an hour later after one trip down the waterslide and some intermittent bitching, the three of them left and Lucia and I were left in peace to enjoy the water and sun.
Some great things I noticed at the water park:
- So many tattoos! Almost every single boy, aged fifteen and up had a massive tattoo somewhere on his shoulder, arm, back or chest. Most fifteen year olds with tattoos have the dumbest tat of their name, nickname, favourite sports team or bad song lyrics that I know, with no shred of doubt, they will regret by the age of twenty-five. But these kids had some remarkably artistic tats of traditional Vietnamese dragons or animals. Kudos to them on choosing more timeless designs.
- The pool was an absolute cesspool! There were so many people at the park that day and there were some disgusting things floating in the water. I scrubbed everything when I got home to avoid contracting something bacterial.
- There had to be at least several hundred people in the pool at all times throughout the day. And not many Vietnamese swim. They more or less bob. When I figured that out I had to turn my lifesaving instincts off or else I wasn’t able to enjoy the cool water. But then, just as I thought the pool couldn’t get any more dangerous, the waves began. Yup, we were in a wave pool… pretty much the most dangerous place non-swimmers could possibly be.
- I was in and out the pool all afternoon given how hot it was but I couldn’t stay in the water for very long, for reasons I mentioned above. I was pretty much the only white person at the park so I know I was an anomaly getting in and out of the pool. Compared to Vietnamese women I’m significantly taller and, shall we say, voluptuous. So I’m pretty sure I now know the Vietnamese word for boobs…
It was a great week full of exploring the city, learning about Tết customs and spending some time with myself, laying out goals and plans for the Year of the Snake.
Chúc mừng năm mới!
*Shout out to my girl, Amy-Patricia, who is a quarter-of-a-century-old today! *Whoop, there is it!* I wish I could be there with you but I know you’ll celebrate yourself properly today – with some crystal meth or something. Happy aca-birthday! Sending so much love, strong hugs and gros bisous! xo