with Robert Bicknell
You can always tell when Tet has arrived...
The stores are full of people spending money as if they have a printing press in
their house, the tree sellers are clogging the roads – especially in front of
my house, the decorations are bright and glitzy and the staff at all the
companies are busy thinking about the holiday rather than working, but that’s
really nothing new.
Another sure sign is the Sunday Viet Nam News editor
hiding under his desk in anticipation of my usually barrage on his senses and banh
Fear not, my old friend... I will not attack the banh chung
this year, you have nothing to worry about... unless, of course, you drop one on
This will be my 16th Tet celebration in Viet Nam and, while I
have celebrated it in both north and south, I have to say that it’s far more
comfortable in the south for these old tired bones, but, somehow, it just doesn’t
feel like Tet without the cold, miserable weather.
For those of you who are new to Viet Nam, Tet is the Lunar New
Year and heralds the beginning of spring.
Which spring they are referring to I don’t know. Car springs,
bed springs, coiled springs perhaps, but definitely not "hot springs"
because that violates the principle of freezing your tuchas off.
It seems that this year is colder than years past, so when I
hear someone say "Global Warming", I have to choke back a snide
comment. Tree sellers who usually find a way to make the Tet trees magically
bloom right on time are none too thrilled about the weather either.
So, what to do this time of year?
If you’re Vietnamese, it’s a time for family, friends and
sucking up to the boss. Woe is the employee who fails to visit the boss on Tet,
but remember to NEVER be the FIRST one to knock on his door or enter the office
on the first day of Tet or you could be blamed for any misfortune occurring for
the rest of the year. Be sure to wear a coat with large pockets to store little
red envelopes when going visiting.
If you’re a manager, expect to be visited a lot by your loyal
employees who, of course, are sucking up to you in the guise of wishing you a
happy new year. As a boss, be sure to have a lot of li xi (lucky money)
ready. You don’t want to spoil their holiday and get blamed for bringing them
bad luck by not handing out the coveted little red envelopes.
The Vietnamese Government wisely outlawed firecrackers back in
1994 because they were tired of cleaning up a massive amount of paper and
blown-off fingers. What people failed to understand is that "Tet
firecrackers" are not like the puny little bangers found in the West. These
suckers will blow your face off and are equal to what we used to call
"cherry bombs" and if you don’t believe me, ask any doctor who used
to work in the emergency rooms back then.
Dogs are happy about the firecracker ban as well. Nothing is
more horrifying for a dog than seeing someone light the fuse on a string of 100
crackers, because everyone knows that dogs cannot stick fingers in their ears.
If you’re a visitor to Viet Nam during the holiday, you’re
in for a treat as things really get crazy around here, but there are a few
things to remember...
First of all, most shops and businesses are closed during the
first few days of Tet, so do any required shopping or money changing beforehand.
Secondly, make sure you have any medicines you might need. My advice is to get
some Imodium, Alka-Seltzer and Panadol as you will undoubtedly end up being
dragged out to various celebrations – which is a lot of fun and will give you
something to tell the folks back home about.
If you want to play golf, the first few days of Tet are ideal as
the courses are practically deserted as most of the Asian players are doing the
ritual thing with their families and bosses. However, call to make a tee time as
golf courses keep few employees on hand as well and you want to make sure you
have a caddie.
Chuc Mung Nam Moi!