Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tet time

For the past week, Hanoi has been in holiday mode: it only happens once a year, but when Vietnam goes on holiday, it completely shuts down!

The occasion is Lunar New Year, or Tet; and now that I am coming up to my 8th year living in Vietnam, I finally feel like this is the 'real' new year.

In the weeks leading up to Tet, Hanoi goes absolutely crazy - as opposed to normal, which is just 'mostly crazy' - with everyone on a shopping spree, the purpose of which is to out-shop everyone else. People want to show how successful they are by bringing home bigger-screen TVs, outrageous new motorbikes and cars, and trees or bunches of flowers that are more over-the-top than the neighbour's.

Then, on the afternoon of the last day of the lunar year, Hanoi becomes a ghost town, as everyone heads out to the countryside to see their families.

One constant throughout all of this is major traffic jams. I've come to think of them now as a cultural artefact - 'traditional traffic jams' - on the grounds that every important / exciting / vaguely interesting occasion is a cause for millions of people to take to the streets and form one unending line of stand-still traffic.

Amid all the celebratory traffic jams and shopping are those who are left out: the street kids, and those abandoned by their families long ago. For them, this is a deeply sad time of year. While everybody else is with their relatives back at the ancestral home, the street kids are left to feel disconnected, worthless. In Vietnamese society, your self worth largely depends on who you are related to. Being alone is one of the worst fates a Vietnamese person can suffer.

Most of the Blue Dragon kids do head out of Hanoi for Tet: back to families which are often dysfunctional or otherwise inadequate, but there is at least some sense of belonging. A small number, though, really have nowhere to go, and so they stay back with us through the whole of Tet. At the Hoi An Children's Home, just a few kids were left behind, so the staff took turns to spend a day each at the Home until the holiday is over. Here in Hanoi, 5 of the teens stayed back for the whole time, with a few more kids drifting back to the city early. A group of expats living in Hanoi, known as the Australia-New Zealand Community Group, donated a couple of hundred dollars to us to pay for food and activities during the holiday period, so we had a pretty good time, listened to lots of music, and sometimes went rollerskating - like today!

Apart from the time with the kids, I've also been hanging out with an old friend - Chung, who was one of the original co-founders of Blue Dragon, and now studies in California. Chung only gets back to Vietnam once each year, so we've had plenty of catching up to do... Here's Chung at the rollerskating rink.

The Tet holiday is just about over now; the Blue Dragon centre and residence have already reopened, and Hanoians are starting to return home to the city. We're entering the Year of the Tiger, and my hope is that this year Blue Dragon will succeed in changing more lives than ever before.



Van said...

Defiantly your hope will come true boss ..The life is more beautiful with what BD is doing now.

Anonymous said...

When is Tet officially over, and everything is back to normal...