About two days into Tet (the Vietnamese lunar new year) I was totally over the whole thing and ready for the bakeries to reopen. I want a croissant. This holiday seems to last longer than an American election campaign!
I definitely did not expect everything to be closed this long, and for the city to be this quiet. I have spent the last couple of days riding my roomates bicycle through the quiet streets, about the only time I think I can enjoy such a ride. I feel lucky to have already met so many Vietnamese people, and they all want to show me what Tet is all about.
I should have been warned about some things, like the fact that people give red envelopes of 'lucky' money. I received about 10 of these, and I'm sure they were all thinking 'great, a cheap-o' when they saw a foreigner walk in the door! But apparently it's forgiveable for a foreigner to not have lucky money to give, especially an international volunteer.
Before visiting some shrines, I also had the opportunity to eat some bamboo soup and some vegetarian banh chung at another friend's house. Banh chung is a square rice cake that is usually stuffed with pork and beans, wrapped in giant leaves and then boiled for almost a whole day. It's offered to ancestor's beforeTet, and then finally eaten afterwards. Mine came off of Buddha's alter, because as we all know, Buddha and I are both vegetarians! It didn't taste so bad once you get over the green colour and the fact that it was boiled for a whole day and has sat on some alter for god-knows-how-long soaking up incense and growing bacteria. I was trying to tell myself that boiling it in the leaves is like sterilising something in a glass jar... kind of like canning! It helped.
I spent today visiting the homes of the director and vice-director of the organisation. It was really quite enjoyable despite about 95% of conversation happening in Vietnamese. I spent most of the time staring at the muted television wondering what the hell those Vietnamese music videos could possibly be about (skimpy women singing in fields of flowers...). Every now and then a co-worker would give me a vague idea of what they are talking and laughing about: She is talking about picking a tree for Tet... Apparently I am quite a commodity, as it is considered lucky to have a foreigner come into someone's home during Tet.
Lunch was quite interesting, just as soon as everyone stopped eating the men started drinking heavily and smoking while the women would peel citrus fruits. I couldn't really engage in either of those activities, though I was taking very small sips of the black-rice alcohol the men tried to feed me, fearing that if I drank it too quickly they might fill my glass up again. I think I've eaten enough dried fruits, nuts and sticky rice to last me a lifetime!