Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rockin' the Lunar New Year, Hanoi-Style

After our less-than-exciting New Year's eve in a Laos border town where we didn't quite make it till midnight, we were really looking forward to Tet, the lunar New Year in Vietnam. We had heard it's the craziest party of the year--with tons of fireworks and general merriment.

I guess it's not surprising that a few days in the cold and rain without a chance to warm up would lead both of us to get nasty colds. Just to clarify Dennis' post about Nihn Bihn: It's not that our guesthouse here lacked heat, it's that every building in northern Vietnam lacks heat. When people from South Vietnam joke that northerners are hard-asses, I'm convinced that it's true, and it's because they freeze their asses off 4 months a year. Anyway, as Tet rolled around, we weren't really feeling up to the festivities. The nice folks at our guesthouse made up a Tet dinner and drinks for us, which was very nice, and we did make it to midnight-just barely.

Tet wasn't really what we expected. The government outlawed fireworks in the mid-90s, so the pro and amateur displays of fireworks only went on for a couple of hours on either side of the New Year. Most of all, the holiday is a time when businesses shut down for a few days, and many Vietnamese take vacations or visit family for about a week. In essence, it's less about the party and more about frantically cleaning the week before Tet (that's what those 6:30 am gov't announcements are about, BTW) , getting your drink on with your extended family on New Year's eve, and then staying home the week after. Not the most exciting time to be in the city for a tourist.

Despite some of the inconveniences of being in Hanoi this time of year, and being sick, we really enjoyed our time here. We had several days, so we explored in a pretty laid-back way. We even ended up running into our friend Channi, who we first met way back in the Delta, again in Saigon and Hoi An, and finally in Hanoi. He gave us the excellent idea of buying a hair dryer, both for drying clothes and for warmth, and it helped us ring in the New Years comfortably--thanks Channi, and safe travels in snowy China!


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