Dragon baby boom
"I hope you have a baby in the Year of the Dragon!" my recently married friends said they'd been told numerous times over Tet by well-meaning friends and relatives.
The intention was good, after all of the 12 animal signs in the eastern lunar calendar, the dragon year is seen as the most auspicious.
And my young friends hope to fulfil the aspirations of their nearest and dearest.
During the last Year of the Dragon in 2000, Viet Nam saw a nearly 10 per cent rise births. This year is even expected to break all records, in Viet Nam and across Asia. While it is welcome news in Singapore and Taiwan, which are struggling from falling birth rates, as for Viet Nam's overstretched health services, its boom or bust.
The standard hospital bed in Viet Nam is 90cm wide. It is not uncommon for two to three mothers and their children to share this modest space. I looked at the slender form of my newly married friend, and smiled. "Fingers crossed!" I said.
Every change is an advance
It's tough getting back into the daily work grind after Tet, and no more so than for high school students in Ha Noi. The little lambs, who have had to get up at the crack of dawn to start classes at 7.30am in the past, will now have to rise an hour earlier, as will their parents.
The move, initiated by the local government, is designed to reduce traffic congestion during the morning rush hour.
Similarly, afternoon lessons will now start one to two hours later to reduce businessmen's blues in the late afternoon.
A cousin of mine complained recently that she would now finish school at 7.30pm because she was on the "afternoon shift."
"It will be very tiring for kids to be in class that late, but at least being late sounds a bit better than being up early in the dark and cold," her mother said brightly.
But my maths-teacher friend was less than enthusiastic about the change. She has to teach both shifts – morning and afternoon – which means leaving home at six in the morning and getting back from work at eight at night.
"What will I do with my two little boys who do not start school until 8am and finish at 4pm?" she asked in exasperation, but then recovered herself.
"At least I will have a very long lunch break, during which I can feel useless."
It is common practice for retailers to give sweets to customers instead of small change. And it is irritating.
Yesterday, I went to a supermarket on Dang Tien Dong Street in Ha Noi, and forgot about the unofficial practice. After giving the cashier VND350,000 (US$16) for my purchases, I dutifully waited for my VND2,000 only to be rewarded for my patience with a couple of sweets. I refused, and stood my ground, while the cashier dealt with the next customer, and the next after that.
They, I noticed, also got the sugar-coated treatment.
Retail outlets, particularly supermarkets, say they could not possibly hold enough small change to deal properly with every purchase.
I don't buy it. It's is time for action. So what if they think I'm stingy.
In a spare moment the other day, I worked out that if 1,000 customers receive sweets (possibly out of date) instead of their VND500 change, every month, a retailer stands to make a profit of about VND500,000 ($24). Well, chew on that. — VNS