TET, the Viet Lunar New Year, finished yesterday–ending three weeks of prelims leading to 3 days of hedonism, profligate living, lavish spending and unbridled indulgences.
Each TET I learn something new. I used to tell people that they should visit VN during TET so they could see the lavish displays and beautiful flowers everywhere. About a week before the first day of TET, sidewalks begin to overflow with flowers, plants, orchids, bonsai, and trees of all sizes. Shops and markets fill up with people buying. They aren’t just buying food (TET is still 3 weeks away), but new clothes, home decor, and even automobiles are purchased with monies carefully saved during the past year. TET is the time of indulgence. They save so they can splurge and feel rich for three days.
I never knew why they started so early. This year I learned. During TET, prices double and triple. When you complain, the merchant simply says, “TET”, as that is supposed to deny all the stories in the paper that the government assures people that prices will not increase for TET. So, people shop early, before the greed takes over and prices increase. They buy freezable items very early, some fruits about a week before the actual holiday, and veggies and perishables the day before TET when prices have only increased about 20 or 30%. It is almost a game.
All that aside, during the actual holiday, people return to their hometown. The cities are almost deserted. In HCMC, the population is probably down by 65%, In Hanoi, the exodus is even greater. China celebrates the Lunar New Year, same as TET, and estimates that over 300 MILLION PEOPLE travel somewhere (to their hometown) during this holiday. Three Hundred Million. 300,000,000. Almost the population of the USA, on the move, by bus, rail, plane, car, or motorbike. Just imagine if everyone in America got up and traveled somewhere at the same time. The chaos would be unending. China manages, but you cannot find a discounted ticket for weeks before and days after. Everything is full price.
With that huge movement out of the big cities, nearly everything is closed, so to come here for TET really is not a smart move. Come for Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, two wonderful holidays celebrated all over Vietnam. Everything is open, the stores are bursting with sale merchandise, the food is phenomenal, and great parties are going on everywhere.
Next year I’m going to try to get all of Vietnam to celebrate Happy Chanukah. Will pass out free yamulkes and see if we can get a songfest going of Chanukah songs and latkes and sofganiot. A truly noble pursuit.
Chuc Muong Nam Moi, Chag Samaich, Happy TET.