by Phuoc Buu
Is it the worst or the best time to travel? Ask the millions of people on the move because of the Tet holiday and you will probably get a fair share of weary shrugs, especially from those who had not booked their air, train and bus tickets early enough.
For the most important holiday of the year for Vietnamese, carriers in the country have to operate many extra flights to meet the demand that increases dramatically before and after the holiday.
Vietnam Airlines and Jetstar Pacific Airlines began to sell air tickets for Tet in July last year, five months before the festival. The tickets were sold out within three days.
So, no more air tickets on routes from HCM City to the biggest airports in the central region - Da Nang and Hue, customers looking for flights in the days before the festival are being told. The story was the same for the flights back. Any attempt to book tickets online was also futile. They seemed to have put a permanent "sold out" stamp there.
The story was no different with the railways. Tickets were booked and sold in advance, with people waiting for hours and hours to get them, and many failing.
Soon after, coach ticket agents announced tickets were open for Tet travel. The announcement was quickly greeted by a mass of people, many of them students, queuing up to get a ticket home, to Phu Yen, Binh Dinh, Quang Ngai, Quang Nam and so on.
What fuels this travel mania for Tet? Culture. It is important to be home for the festival, but it is more important for some people than others, as can be seen in the fact that many people, especially in the bigger cities of Ha Noi and HCM City, are increasingly choosing to visit other places during the holiday.
Hence Tet travel becomes particularly important to migrants from other regions who go to work, study or do business in bigger cities. It is a must-happen visit for them. Even those who have permanent registration in other places want to welcome the Lunar New Year in their native place.
History and culture researcher Tran Duc Anh Son once spoke of typical cultural characteristics of people from the northern, central and southern regions. He said the focus on family culture, including the observance of ancestral worship and other rituals was more intense among people in the central region, especially Hue. In the northern region, Ha Noi in particular, people were more articulate and also loaded their words with meaning. In the south, more so in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, a fertile and abundant land, where sustenance is more easily found than in other regions, people are more easygoing and relaxed.
Thus, Tet is the most auspicious and preferred occasion for migrants from the central region to return home and visit their families, fulfil their filial obligations and perform rituals like lighting incense at ancestor's altars or tombs. They also consider this is the best occasion for their children to learn about their cultural and familial roots.
While people in the country's biggest cities like Ha Noi, Da Nang, and HCM City seem to be more open-minded about Tet these days, using the occasion to visit other places in the country or go abroad, people from the central region tend to be conservative about the Tet tradition.
For instance, a Hue native residing in HCM City thinks she has had an unsuccessful year if she can't go home for Tet. Those who do not visit their hometown for a couple of years are looked down upon as being irresponsible and worse. —VNS