Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tet Hanoi style

With only a few days to go until Vietnamese Tet and this is perhaps my favourite time to be in Hanoi. Streets, particularly in the Old Quarter, are packed with motorbikes, cars and shoppers at all hours, stocking up on presents, food, alcohol, new clothes and decorations and generally being out and about in the thick of it.

There is an air of excitement and anticipation for the four-day holiday that can usually stretch into a week or even ten days of family reunions, ancestral pilgrimages, drinking, eating and celebrating the New Year.

Construction sites and home renovations have been furiously underway for months, much to the chagrin of their neighbours (including us!) so as to be ready before Tet. On every street new businesses are having opening parties complete with flowers, drums and girls dressed in ao dai. It is also the time to pay off debts and settle any unfinished business so as to begin the new year afresh. Motorbikes ferrying giant cumquat trees and brand new TVs and women on bicycles selling hordes of flowers and cherry blossom branches swarm the streets. Everyone wants to fill their homes with something new.

I went through the Old Quarter on the weekend on a mission – to find a tiger decoration for my front door from Hang Ma Street. Hang Ma is year-round decoration street, Hallowe’en, Christmas, Tet, it caters to gaudy cheer for every season.

Ignoring the endless honking of motorbikes (which becomes second nature in Hanoi) I walked along the side of the road. There’s no point trying to walk on footpaths as they’re for motorbike parking, street food stalls, old men and women drinking tea, and little children playing.

Nha Tho Cathedral is packed with motorbikes and church goers on a Saturday morning. Wafts of smoke billow as ‘lucky money’ is burnt as an offering to the gods for good fortune in the coming year. Along Hang Quat Street, north of the Cathedral, are the stalls selling jade, porcelain and bronze statues of Vietnamese figurines, tigers, buffalo and other cultural symbols for the ancestral shrines found in every Vietnamese home and business.

Up on Hang Ma, the decoration frenzy is well underway. Shops are ablaze with yellow, red and gold decorations spilling out onto the pavement and hanging from every possible space; motorbikes block both ends, shouting ‘Em oi! Chi oi!’, honking and shopping without ever getting off the bikes; people weave through the crowds carrying boxes and bags; tourists snap photos; motorbike xe oms hang out on corners looking for taxi fares; and whole families of shop sellers are converged into tiny spaces, haggling and shouting, everyone having the most marvelous time. Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

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