February 3, 2008

Sixteen years, sixteen Tet celebrations...

You can always tell when Tet has arrived...

The stores are full of people spending money as if they have a printing press in their house, the tree sellers are clogging the roads Ė especially in front of my house, the decorations are bright and glitzy and the staff at all the companies are busy thinking about the holiday rather than working, but thatís really nothing new.

Another sure sign is the Sunday Vietnam News editor hiding under his desk in anticipation of my usually barrage on his senses and banh chung jokes.

Fear not, my old friend...I will not attack the banh chung this year, you have nothing to worry about...unless, of course, you drop one on your foot.

This will be my 16th Tet celebration in Vietnam and, while I have celebrated it in both north and south, I have to say that each itís far more comfortable in the south for these old tired bones, but, somehow, it just doesnít feel like Tet without the cold, miserable weather.

For those of you new to Vietnam, Tet is the Lunar New Year and heralds the beginning of spring.

Which spring they are referring to I donít know. Car springs, bed springs, coiled springs perhaps, but definitely not "hot springs" because that violates the principle of freezing your tuchas off.

It seems that this year is colder than yeas past, so when I hear someone say "Global Warming", I have to choke back a snide comment. Tree sellers who usually find a way to make the Tet trees magically bloom right on time are none too thrilled about the weather either.

So, what to do this time of year?

If youíre Vietnamese, itís a time for family, friends and sucking up to the boss. Woe is the employee who fails to visit the boss on Tet, but remember to NEVER be the FIRST one to knock on his door or enter the office on the first day of Tet or you could be blamed for any misfortune occurring for the rest of the year. Be sure to wear a coat with large pockets to store little red envelopes when going visiting

If youíre a manager, expect to be visited a lot by your loyal employees who, of course, are sucking up to you in the guise of wishing you a happy new year. As a boss, be sure to have a lot of "lucky money" (aka Li Xi) ready. You donít want to spoil their holiday and get blamed for bringing them bad luck by not handing out the coveted little red envelopes.

The Vietnamese Government wisely outlawed firecrackers back in 1994 because they were tired of cleaning up a massive amount of paper and blown-off fingers. What people failed to understand is that "Tet firecrackers" are not like the puny little bangers found in the West. These suckers will blow your face off and are equal to what we used to call "cherry bombs" and if you donít believe me, ask any doctor who used to work in the emergency rooms back then.

Dogs are happy about the firecracker ban as well. Nothing is more horrifying for a dog than seeing someone light the fuse on a string of 100 crackers, because everyone knows that dogs cannot stick fingers in their ears.

If youíre a visitor to Vietnam during the holiday, youíre in for a treat as things really get crazy around here, but there are a few things to remember...

First of all, most shops and businesses are closed during the first few days of Tet, so do any required shopping or money changing beforehand. Secondly, make sure you have any medicines you might need. My advice is to get some Imodium, Alka-Seltzer and Panadol as you will undoubtedly end up being dragged out to various celebrations Ė which is a lot of fun and will give you something to tell the folks back home about.

If you want to play golf, the first few days of Tet are ideal as the courses are practically deserted as most of the Asian players are doing the ritual thing with their families and bosses. However, call to make a tee time as golf courses keep few employees on hand as well and you want to make sure you have a caddie.

Chuc Mung Nam Moi!


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