Chuc Mung Nam Moi – This means “Happy New Year!” in Vietnamese. As you see in the photo, these trees are being carted all over the place. By motorbike, bicycle, even carried by hand. It’s the lucky tree for the Lunar New Year.
I’m working from home today as we are now in the 3rd day of TET, the big celebration of the Lunar New Year.
I returned home from Laos on Saturday night after a wonderful and peaceful week. The entire time in Laos (as you’ll read in the post below) I didn’t hear a single horn honking. It was heaven!
On Sunday, I ran around town, stocking up on some groceries and cleaning supplies. The markets were all closed by about noon. In fact, at 10:30, when I was at the larger of the markets, the entire refrigerated section was being packed up; the frozen goods were already put away. I had a hard time getting around the market, as the employees were all mopping or sweeping the aisles. Such a different concept, you know? If we were to close a market for a week in the States, we’d wait until closing time to put away all the perishables and clean the floor.
But Tet is a big holiday for the Vietnamese. Many go into holiday mode a week before and stay in this relaxed mode until a good week afterward. “It’s Tet” has become the only excuse for things not getting done. I was supposed to have my guest bed delivered on January 17th, but my apartment manager used Tet as the excuse for the reason the bed wasn’t finished and couldn’t be delivered. A week before!
The photos I’ve included show many people on motorbikes or bicycles with large orange trees. They actually calls the cumquat trees. They consider them lucky, because like the Chinese, red is the lucky color and having these trees with brightly colored fruit on display in your home is lucky! You can also see in the photos that there are lots of other plants for sale during this time, again, all for their bright colors.
While I understand the significance of the trees and the plants, I just can’t get over how crazy everyone looks carting these big trees around on motorbikes! It cracks me up! I literally stood by the side of the highway there and snapped away!
Later in evening, actually at midnight on the 24th, fireworks and firecrackers went off all over town. From the comfort of my apartment, I watched a few different shows. What I liked more than the fireworks (because who are we kidding, nothing will ever beat the two-hour Fukuroi fireworks in summer in Japan) was the Chinese style lanterns which are lit with a candle and which float peacefully into the night sky. It is so beautiful.
While I may have been a day late, I started Tet with a cleaning streak, just like the Vietnamese. They clean their homes thoroughly and prepare all sorts of foods for the festivities. I swept and mopped and cleaned my entire apartment and squeaked in a couple loads of laundry (It takes 45 minutes to wash – cold water only – and 2 hours+ to dry. I kid you not. It’s an all-day affair). I also added some photos of the lane toward my house, so you can get a better feel of the neighborhood here.
On a feng shui/Chinese zodiac/horoscope kind of note, the Year of the Ox seems to lack a bit of fire, and therefore, 2009 will be a tough year financially. Boo. You can read this depressing outlook here:
Finally, I am spending most of this week working from home. I love being able to bundle up in my PJs with my new Laotian slippers and a cup of coffee. I really do think there is something very productive about working in PJs! Fire or no fire this year, I’m making marketing plans and will light a little fire of my own under our occupancy rates! Look out!
On the Bright Side,
I’m such a dork! – I have no idea why the Press Club photographer thought this was an opportune time to take a photo, but it actually is fitting for the swirl of emotions of the past 1.5 months.
There is no question I have been a busy little bee since arriving in Hanoi. I used this really dorky photo of me for this post, because that kind of sums up how I feel at certain moments. It’s a combination actually of surprise, joy, misunderstanding and happiness. It’s bizarre at moments, frustrating in others, and amazingly wonderful in most.
It must be the same everywhere in the world – when you start a new job, you are bit consumed for a good month or two, yes? And so I have fallen into this phenomenon for the past 6 weeks. Mostly I have been at work, attending work functions, meeting people through work and have had work on the brain for most of every day. It’s a big job ahead of me, a good challenge, and I love it. A little hard work never killed me!
Yet I’ve still had a few moments here and there to observe life in Vietnam, to laugh at a situation, to take in a new culture and to attempt getting cozy in a new apartment (even though I haven’t been home so much!). Here are some notes I’ve taken as I’ve been blazing through each day here:
- At Christmas time, we had the local orphanage as our guest choir. They (mostly girls) came dresses up like little Christmas princesses, complete with tiaras and sang all sorts of songs…just no Christmas carols!
- For New Year’s Eve, we had a huge party on The Terrace. Indeed, we were THE party in town! I really didn’t know what to wear, with trying to mix business and pleasure, so I opted for a (big surprise here) black shirt with my black pants (the outfit in this photo). Not bad except that what all our waiters and bartenders were wearing, too.
- No matter, I met a very cute Austrian boy who was in Hanoi on vacation who didn’t seem to mind the all black attire. He arrived a bit after midnight, but I got my NYE kisses in after all. Yum.
- I get e-mails addressed to “Shanna oi”
- Some of my co-workers don’t close the door to their bathroom stall and think it’s OK to pee when talking to me.
- On the way back to work one afternoon, I saw a very large, very pink and very dead pig in a trash can, feet sticking straight up in the air.
- I caught a bad cold just before the big trade event in town. I met some key players in the company with my stuffy nose and a voice like a toad. Great first impression! And also on all the new contacts at the trade event!
- Vietnam hosted the Asean Travel Forum for the first time. It was a very poorly organized event (but that was done my folks from Singapore), and at the end of the event, when all of the exhibitors had left, a gang of thieves came and stole all the furniture from the booths. This does not fare well for Vietnam. It’s bad on so many levels. What’s worse is that one week later, the event organizers have yet to contact us and we have been unable to get help from the police. Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore!!!
- I just have to say this, and it is not very nice, but at the trade event the weirdest people I met happened to be American. Why do we feel the need to talk so much? And what’s with all the catch phrases and corporate lingo? We really need to relax a bit and learn how to just sit down with someone, relax and just have a normal conversation. Please.
- In finally moved into my apartment on December 28th. I have a long way to go before it feels cozy and mine, but I am happy to finally have a place to call home. Living out of a hotel is simply not fun at all.
- In the beginning, the manager said that 4 single men who worked for Ericsson were moving into the building. I could only dream and hope. In reality, 6 men and 1 woman, all Phillipino and doing IT work for Ericsson moved in. All very nice, but no hot single studs like I was hoping. Is that so wrong?
- It’s totally normal in Vietnamese culture to go into a tenant’s home when they are not there and have not set an appointment or invited you in. I’ve had several discussions with my manager and am two seconds away from changing the locks. You see, I booby trap my apartment everyday, with a simple piece of black paper in the door jam. So I know exactly when someone has been in my apartment. You, too, would be disturbed if you saw how often this happens.
- On one occasion when I was home and had the “security” man and the maintenance man here to fix my water heater (I was getting only 4 minutes of hot water), the “security” man thought it was ok to make himself at home and take an empty bottle from my cupboard, open the windows and water the plants in the window box. Since he couldn’t understand me and wouldn’t listen, I finally grabbed the bottle from him and said, “No!” He just smiled back at me.
- Now that the water heater is fixed, I get a whopping 7.5 – 8 minutes of hot water from the 30L tank. Boys, that may be plenty of time for you, but for us girls, it’s nearly impossible to wash/condition our hair and shave our armpits and legs and bikini lines in 8 minutes.
- The current exchange rate is 17,500 VND to US $1.00. Even so, there are 500, 1000 and 2000 VND notes. However at the grocery store, when they are out of 1000 VND notes, they give you this change in the form of candy.
- On that ‘note’ the Vietnamese currency is called Dong. Dong. Dong. Dong. How can you not laugh?
- Mr. Thanh (pronounced like Tang), is my motorbike driver and now pipcks me up everyday from my house to take me to work. I SMS him something like… 15.1.09 7:30am ok? …and get a response “OK”. That’s about as much communicating as we can do for now! But it works!
- Until I get my own motorbike, I am also taking taxis to get around. These are more expensive than motorbikes and I hate the fact that the drivers never seem to have change. So when your meter says 20,000 and all you have is a 50,000 note, you have to argue with the driver a bit to get your change.
- I finally bought a vietnamese phrase book, but haven’t the faintest clue how to pronounce anything in it! And for some reason, Japanese doesn’t work in this country!
- I can see a lot fromt he back of the motorbike on the way to work. One of my favorite sights is men getting a haircut from the barber. A barber who has hung a mirror from a tree trunk and plopped a chair on the sidewalk. These stations are everywhere!
- I’ve had two suits made by my new tailor. Good looking suits. In V-style, the suits are very form fitting. In fact, when I lift my arms, the suit jacket goes up with ’em! I’ll have to work with them on that. My suits look nice, though when I’m not moving too much!
- There are plenty of places to find amusing forms of ENGRISH. I like the menus in particular. At the City View Cafe you can get a “Generous turnip with tomatoes.”
- We Americans haven’t played too nicely in SE Asia. I had to pay $10 more for my visa to Laos than my buddy Kurt. He’s Swiss. The Swiss know how to play nice.
And on that note, I’m off to Laos tomorrow! I’ll visit our two properties there and get to know Luang Prabang as a destination. Since I didn’t get to visit Laos this past spring, I am more than eager to visit now. After Laos, my schedule is a bit more calm and I hope to fall into a MUCH better routine of updating the blog and photos. You can see there are a few updates below…especially one on my boxes! Thanks for keeping in touch and tuned in. Check back soon!
On the Bright Side,