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Monday, 21 May 2007

The New Year. Tan Dinh, Saigon, Vietnam

I remember one Tet festival. In fact I'm never likely to forget it. Now I was more or less integrated into the Vietnamese way of life such celebrations were becoming much more agreable. The house was full of flowers. My mother would have approved, she always liked flowers everywhere. Yellow dominated, with if I recollect some form of Japanese miniature oranges as another prized decoration. I'm not good at remembering the names of plants or food dishes. That always seemed a domain that women took care of.
Everybody had new clothes and the young women and girls always seemed especially pretty.
Food was prepared days in advance as no cooking was allowed during the three days of festivities. No cleaning either. The house was thoroughly cleaned until it was spotless. One could not of course greet the New Year in old clothes or a dirty house.
All debts had to be paid off. It was very bad luck to carry old debts over into the New Year as well. Money was given to children in small red envelopes. Always new notes.
There was a strict ritual of presenting offerings on the family alter. One had to greet the deceased and later bid them farewell. Much incense was burnt. I've always found the smell pleasant. I've never found it much use against mosquitos as some people have said though. It was important who the first visitor was. There was a day for visiting familly and another for visiting friends. One hoped that one's first visitor was the richest or most succesful member of the familly.
As we had earlier celebrated Christmas, and to a lesser extent the occidental New Year this was another most pleasurable addition. The curfew was relaxed, but people never forgot the New Year of 1968.
I knew a teacher, German married to a Vietnamese, who in 1968 had sent the familly off somewhere and shut herself in in her apartment for a long session of house cleaning. When fighting broke out for control of a strategic bridge not far away she just thought it was fireworks. These were often accompanied by automatic arms fire. I thought it a strange time to be alone. Perhaps a familly row. Women often set about strenuous housework when this happened. I know KC would start to wash the curtains or do something utterly useless when very angry. I did think the woman rather stupid though not to have understood what was happening for two or three days. Did she never listen to the radio? Most strange?
Some people seemed to spend a lot of time gambling but I never took part.
This particular year our maid went back to her village and we were alone.

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