Symbolizing good luck and happiness, the colour red can be found just about everywhere right now in Hanoi, and most notably on Hang Mã street. Some friends took me there the other night and we walked around as they told me all about their Tết traditions.
Even before this night, I would have said that Hang Mã street was one of my favourite places to walk around in Hanoi. It is always filled with decorations to suit the season and is full of activity. Seeing the street covered in red for Tết made me love it even more!
With Tết comes many decorations, each symbolizing luck, prosperity or something similar. One major component of Tết decorations are the trees and flowers.
Sometimes referred to as Tết trees, kumquat trees are used to decorate homes and offices to brighten things up! The fruits represent prosperity which the family hopes will come in the new year. The more fruit on the tree the better!
Peach blossoms have quickly become my favourite Tết decoration. The vibrant pink of the papery petals adds so much colour to the city! Like kumquat trees, they are said to bring luck to the family.
Both trees play a similar role to a Christmas tree, and greeting cards and good luck symbols such as this one are often hung from them.
This peach blossom tree is the first thing I see every morning when I walk into work at the Vietnam Women’s Union.
So hooray for Tết trees and flowers brightening up the city and bringing warm weather with them!
Over the past few weeks, the streets of Hanoi, particularly in the Old Quarter, have been beautifully decorated to prepare for the New Year.
Here’s a glimpse at what it looks like!
This area has been full of activity with friends and families walking around, stopping to take pictures, and simply celebrating the coming of the New Year. I myself have spent every night this week here, walking around and enjoying the atmosphere.
Once winter hit Hanoi, I decided to hit the tarmac and fly to southern Vietnam. Some friends and I travelled to Mũi Né and Ho Chi Minh City to ring in the New Year. Now that I am gearing up to celebrate New Years for a second time (Vietnamese New Year which goes according to the lunar calendar), I wanted to remind myself of how wonderful it was the first time around.
We started our trip in Mũi Né where we enjoyed squishing sand between our toes and cooling off with a swim in the refreshing sea.
We visited a fishing village, full of activity and vibrant colours that stood out so beautifully against the water in the morning sun.
We drove along the coast, enjoying the view and every breath of fresh air that we don’t have in Hanoi.
And then we ended up here.
These are the white sand dunes (we also went to the red sand dunes later the same day). It was truly like we stumbled upon a desert. We spent a good amount of time just walking across the dunes, in awe that something like this could exist naturally there. After a visit to the Fairy Springs we were on our way to Ho Chi Minh City.
We spent New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in Ho Chi Minh City. HCMC is so incredibly different from Hanoi. Where Hanoi is very traditional, HCMC is modern and somehow even more full of activity. And, it is home to a Baskin-Robbins so that certainly won me over. We walked around the city at night on New Year’s Eve, enjoying the elaborate decorations, and then headed back to our snazzy hotel to countdown to the New Year.
We made grilled cheese and KD—a perfect way to start the new year!
For Vietnamese New Year I will be traveling to Thailand and Bali! Although I am sad to be missing the first days of the New Year in Vietnam and all the celebrations (I didn’t think at the time that I would have Vietnamese friends to spend the holidays with!) I am certainly excited to spend the time exploring more of the world.
In Hanoi, I am a visible minority. Walking around the city I get stared at intensely, I am pointed at, and I am the recipient of numerous comments or the topic of many street side discussions.
It’s hard to remain unnoticed here, especially as a foreign woman. I’ve watched foreign men walking maybe 10 feet in front of me be largely ignored by locals. As soon as I pass by though I get hounded by xe om drivers, or anyone with a motorbike really, asking me if I want a ride. Most days I don’t mind saying a simple no thank you to xe om drivers and I can mostly ignore the curious stares of street vendors and shop owners. I know that I’ve probably unintentionally stared at people here that interest me. But some days it just gets to me. Sometimes I honestly dread walking to wherever it is I need to go because I don’t want to deal with the unwanted attention.
Unlike minority groups in Canada or the United States though, my minority status in Vietnam does not significantly disadvantage me, in fact, in many ways it probably grants me privileges. Realizing this makes me feel awful for complaining about stares and comments, but even still it can’t erase my feelings of being out of place.
Sometimes sticking out does have its advantages. It can be a great conversation starter. I have had taxi drivers and security guards make small talk with me in a mix of Vietnamese and English. Children have passed by me excited to say hello, and share whatever other English words they know. Restaurant staff will take extra time to help me with my pronunciation so I can order more clearly the next time. Interactions like these make everything else seem insignificant.
Sometimes though, I still really wish I could blend in.
I have been in Hanoi for one week now and I think I am settling into my new life here considerably well. At first, I was honestly intimidated by the city. There are so many people around ALL the time and personal space doesn’t seem to exist. A combination of unrelenting heat and pollution/dust makes you feel icky during daytime walks around the city. And I have yet to find a quiet space in Hanoi. Days are filled with the sound of car horns, people yelling (which is really just talking, but VERY loudly), and other miscellaneous noises.
Yes, Hanoi is a chaotic place, but it is also a truly beautiful city. For every bad smell there is the delicious smell of food cooking on the side of the road. Every honking motorbike reminds you that you are not alone. I think it is all of these things that make Hanoi such a special place and that have allowed me to grow so fond of this city in such a short time.
Simple tasks have become much more complicated here. Calling a taxi. Trying to order exactly what you want from street vendors. Even crossing the street. These are all very easy and basic things for me to do in Canada, but in Vietnam add in the language barrier and millions of motorbikes and suddenly you’re left with a challenge.
Things have already gotten easier though! I can successfully order my staple foods: a sinh tố xoài (mango smoothie), bánh mì trứng (egg sandwich), mì xào chay (vegetarian noodles), and bánh phở/phở chay (vegetarian phở). Every time I go out to eat it’s an adventure. You never quite know what you are going to end up with but it makes the experience that much more fun. Communication is still a challenge of course, but people are friendly and patient with me as I struggle to learn and speak Vietnamese.
Crossing the street isn’t such a big deal anymore either! There are just as many motorbikes and the traffic is just as crazy as when I first arrived, but I think I have discovered the structure to the unstructured driving: as you make your way slowly across the street, motorbikes and cars will just part around you and then resume to their regular pattern. Or that’s the hope anyway.
My flight to Hanoi has been booked! On September 9th I will start my eight-month journey abroad, living and working in Vietnam.
It is going to be a very long plane ride but I could not be more excited, and anxious, but mostly excited! Although I was desperately hoping for a layover in Tokyo, it will actually be in Seoul, South Korea and I cannot say that I am disappointed in the slightest. Seoul is home to Incheon International Airport, which has been ranked one of the best airports in the world. It is pretty clear as to why, given that the airport has a spa, skating rink, Korean culture museum, a cultural experience zone where you can make traditional Korean handicrafts, and the list goes on and on. If that wasn’t enough, the airport facilities also include a casino and golf course, which are just a free, five-minute shuttle ride away from the airport itself. I don’t think four hours in this airport will be nearly enough time!
Having my ticket officially booked has reaffirmed that this is all really happening. I am really going to be leaving in only 2 months to embark on what is sure to be one of the greatest experiences of my life!