Merry Christmas from Vietnam! At this moment I am laying in my hammock looking out the front door of the house I’m staying in with my brother, Jeff, his friend, Raul, and Jeff’s fiancé, Trang’s, family. I hear so many noises, such as the motorbikes riding by honking their horns, the chitchat of locals at the coffee shop next door, and roosters that never stay quiet, no matter what time of day. It really is an entirely different world here, from no air conditioning to the businesses and houses stacked on top of another. Even though it’s “winter” here, it’s still 70-90 degrees everyday, but feels MUCH hotter due to the high humidity.
Yesterday was my first full day in Vietnam, and I already have so many experiences to tell. We started off the day riding the motorbikes to a tailor to be measured for my traditional Vietnamese dress I will be wearing for the wedding ceremony. Jeff and Raul warned me that riding the motorbikes is not as exciting as it initially may seem because of the “every man for himself” mentality of drivers here, but to me it was the most exciting part of my day! I rode on the back of Trang’s brother, Bi’s, motorbike and we zoomed in and out of cars and people alike. Street etiquette is chaotic, and traffic laws are more of a suggestion, when it comes to the roads of Southern Vietnam. There are no crosswalks, barely any traffic signals (and if there are no one follows them). It’s pretty sketchy, to say the least, but at the same time exhilarating.
After the dress shop, we hung out at a coffee shop called Yumi that had AC and free wifi (thank goodness), and ate lunch there. My jet lag was beginning to set in at this point, so while Jeff and Trang ran a few errands to prepare for their ceremony, I went back to the house and slept for a few hours.
Once I awoke I got dressed and ate dinner with the family, and by that time it was time to go to the local Christmas celebration with the tallest man-made Christmas tree in Vietnam. It was a gathering similar to what you would find in the states, except there were a few differences I found interesting. They take at least the first thirty minutes to thank all of the sponsors of the celebration, giving them flowers and letting them give their speeches before it even begins. Once it did finally start, after it rained on us twice and the sponsors had their moments, 300 children and teenagers walked out in Santa Clause costumes, and announced they met the Vietnamese record of the most Santa Clauses in one place at the same time. Then the Christmas tree light show began, complete with spotlights changing colors and fireworks. The other cultural difference I found interesting here is that no one claps or cheers for the performances. Sure, there were a few oohs and ahhs as the fireworks burst, but I found myself the only one clapping. After the impressive Christmas tree light show, a couple of local pop sensations took over the stage and performed their hit songs for the fans. Although at this show, the pop artists weren’t the only famous people. Jeff and I were literally the only white people, we constantly got stared at, and I even caught a few people taking pictures of us from a distance.
As we left we fought through a sea of motorbikes and partook in the most dangerous action in Vietnam three times…we crossed the street. We headed to the cathedral for midnight mass, since it was after all Christmas Eve. The entrance of the church was so grand, but it felt more like a festival when we arrived. People were carrying balloons and selling cotton candy on the steps leading up to the entrance. We crowded inside, and borrowed a few plastic chairs to make our own pew because they ran out of room. There was no AC and we were packed in like sardines, so needless to say it was very uncomfortable. But when the music began and the priest and children dressed as angels walked down the aisle, it was totally worth it. Sure, during the entire service I could not understand a word they were saying, but I understood the intention and the routine of the service, and just that gave me comfort and put me in the Christmas spirit, even on the other side of the world.