by Hoang Lan
Tet is nigh. Thousands of overseas Vietnamese are returning to their country to celebrate the traditional holidays — the Lunar New Year, starting on January 23.
Meanwhile, many foreigners working in Viet Nam will remain in the country to share the Tet atmosphere with Vietnamese people, particularly with their families.
Daniel Vanhoute, originally from Belgium, has been living in Viet Nam for nine years and says he enjoy the Vietnamese welcoming of Tet.
Life is busier than usual with everyone buying things to decorate their homes. The streets are crowded all day until very late at night.
Peach flowers, kumquat trees and other bonsais are all over the city for the enjoyment of shoppers and street-goers.
"My Vietnamese students and I often come to Hoan Kiem Lake to join locals watching the fireworks. Happiness can be seen on so many faces as people relax and enjoy the benefits of their year of hard work.
"After the eve, we walked around the lake to enjoy the hidden charm of Ha Noi by night. Last year I was invited to celebrate Tet at the home of one of my Vietnamese friends and I was so happy," said Vanhoute. The holiday and the family left an impression on him as well.
"They thanked me very much for my presence because I brought luck to them in the new year. They presented me li xi (lucky money) and I gave them red wine and chocolate. We sat together drinking wine and talking until the next morning," said Vanhoute.
Rebecca Vernon, from Germany, has been living in Viet Nam for three years. She said she has previously welcomed Tet in Da Lat, and Sa Pa. "Last Tet, we climbed to the Fancipan's peak and ate banh chung (glutinous square rice cake). It was excellent."
"This Tet, I will fly to Nha Trang to welcome the holiday on the beach," said Vernon.
Kesley Alves, from Brazil, whose wife is Vietnamese, said he likes Tet because he can be with his wife's family and his little son.
Alves said although his wife has tried to teach him Vietnamese, it is very difficult to learn, except the phrase "Chuc mung Nam moi — Happy New Year".
"I received Vietnamese nationality and can feel how the new year is considered a sacred holiday," he said.
Alves's Brazilian friends, R Antonio and M. Trindade, said they will welcome Tet in HCM City's Pham Ngu Lao Street where many foreigners stay.
"Tet is good time for us to meet and enjoy our holiday together on the streets decorated with flags and different kinds of flowers," Antonio said.
A group of overseas Vietnamese friends from Los Angeles, led by Lai Quang Chung, will arrive this week to welcome Tet in the northern province of Cao Bang (their birth place).
Chung said his family left Viet Nam almost 30 years ago and it's the first time he is returning.
"After leaving my hometown in Cao Bang to resettle in the US, we had to work very hard year round to earn a living. I miss my hometown very much. I had many nights sleepless and often dreamt about it," said Chung.
He said he will join his relatives to make banh chung and cook traditional Tet dishes such as suon nau mang (bamboo buds with pig ribs) or boiled chicken with lemon leaves and many others.
"Apart from cooking and meeting with old friends, I will travel to Pac Bo Cave in Ha Quang District, Ban Gioc Waterfall in Trung Khanh District and several other places to enjoy their virgin landscapes," Chung said.
He reveals that he is seeking an opportunity to open a hotel chain in these places to help promote Cao Bang's tourism. — VNS