2019 – The Year of the Pig

7th February 2019

Lunar New Year in Vietnam, the country’s biggest holiday. Shops will be closed all week, if not longer, schools closed (hooray !) and roads can be relatively empty though not necessarily safer.

For the significance of the pig in Asian astrology, this link will provide some information:

https://chinesenewyear.net/zodiac/pig/

The New Year started on Tuesday and I was lucky enough to be invited to a typical family celebration with four generations of Vietnamese. In a garden on the outskirts of HCM, I was introduced to a grand-uncle, his children and nieces & nephews, their children and grandchildren. Outside we had this spread:

The traditional banh Tet is in the centre (Tet cake made from sticky rice and beans, sometimes with meat, sometimes sweet with banana).

The family very considerately made me eggs as I’m vegetarian. After the food, I took a nap in a hammock then headed back to town.

Yesterday, I went to Nguyen Hue walking street. Every year, people go there, admire the flower displays, take photos, people watch, dress up, see and be seen. It gets busier as the sun goes down and can start to feel uncomfortably overcrowded … and just try getting a taxi home.

This photo is from 2016 (Year of the Monkey) but it is so beautiful, I thought it was worth posting. Yes – I asked permission before taking the photo.

However, it is not all wine and roses; there is a downside to Tet. That the shops are closed all week is a minor inconvenience. It is a time of partying, of drinking and some people think nothing of getting on their motorbike and driving afterwards. Crossing the road is daunting anyway, but at Tet it can be suicidal. My first experience was in 2016. I was crossing a street in District 3, a busy, one-way street. Normally, pedestrians walk slowly and the bikes swerve behind or in front of them. Not this time. One driver swerved deliberately to hit me and I had to jump to avoid being struck. That same week, a friend of mine was knocked down by a drunken rider and left with severe bruising on her leg, and was unable to walk properly for weeks.

Then we have the noise. My area is a nightmarish aural atrocity city, wedding parties and open – air karaoke prevalent seemingly all the time.

My Tet began last Saturday – no school, no need to get up at 05.50 BUT … at 06.45 the loud speakers on the street started blaring out a Vietnamese folk song which merged into the monotonous metallic muffled mumblings of the news filtered through loud-speakers and I do mean ‘loud’.

And then the karaoke began, the jolly old karaoke.

Some people in my area seem to think they are responsible for entertaining everyone by cranking up their wretched, impossibly loud, sound system, not to a ‘Spinal Tap’ 11 but to a stadium-filling 111. The … ‘singing’ then begins. Imagine the most obnoxious person you know, the big mouth, the narcissistic know-all. Imagine said person drunk and then given a microphone … welcome to my life. Karaoke isn’t a sprint … it’s a marathon, an all-dayer. One would think that after some hours the novelty would wear off, or at least the vocal chords would give out. Not a chance. The screaming and screeching continues ad nauseam.

I appreciate it’s a holiday and a chance for music and celebration but having to listen to moronic moaning is excruciating. One can forget watching a quiet film or reading a book. Studying Wittgenstein ? Good luck … it ain’t gonna happen.

Crime also rises during this period. I’ve been informed that because many leave to city (to return to their family home) swarms of undesirables come to the city and commit petty theft. Nguyen Hue is a major attraction and therefore a major pick-pocket hotspot. And some of the thieves are terrible – I had a young lady put her hand in my pocket with all the grace and delicacy of a raging hippo. I told a policeman or security guard and he merely nodded. Maybe they were under surveillance … maybe.

Like a lot of holidays, it does tend to drag on too long. However, next week, I’m off to Bangkok to meet up with an old friend, eat some scorching curries and to enjoy a week of traffic lights and road safety. And NO karaoke.

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