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Hoi An, Vietnam – February 8, 2015

Shortly after checking in to our homestay, we were invited to our host’s Lunar New Year party for the staff of his travel agency. How could we refuse such an offer?

The party was to start at 5pm and we were fashionably late, arriving back form sightseeing at around 5:20. When we returned the courtyard had been transformed.  Large round tables with table cloths replaced the small square tables. There was a large screen in the corner, tables with gifts wrapped in colorful paper (later we realized the gifts were prizes for his staff).  Colorful lights we strung up. The courtyard was perfectly arranged for an evening party.

There were not many people gathered when we returned, but from the decibel level of the music pumping out of the speakers, we knew this was going to be a fun evening. We quickly ran upstairs to freshen up.  By the time we returned, there were many more people milling around and the drive way was filling up with motorcycles.

We found our seats, with the other homestay guests; a young couple from France and three elderly people from Australia. It didn’t take long before the first of many cans of beer were placed in front of us, and cans of Coca Cola, for the kids.

Guests from three large round tables migrated together around each other’s tables, but primarily around one party table and there, at that one table was gathered the happiest bunch of coworkers I have ever met. They were all proudly wearing their staff blue polo shirts with the travel agency’s logo.

This was an annual party put on by the owner of the travel agency (who also happens to be the owner of the homestay). His happy staff look forward to this party which wraps up the end of their work year. There is no doubt that they enjoy their jobs with the tour company and that they have a lot of respect for their employer.

It didn’t take long before the copious amount of food started to arrive at our table. Dish after dish the food and drinks kept coming.  All traditional Vietnamese food.  Len and the kids were great at sampling most of it, but we all passed on the octopus soup.

In between the courses of food, were speeches and gift prizes. These were not small gifts or prizes, they were big.  Just from what we could see, there were TVs, washing machines and rice cookers. The Vietnamese were so polite they didn’t open the gifts, they just graciously accepted them, put them down beside their table and continued with the festivities.  Now you have to understand that we had no idea what was being said as it was all in Vietnamese, but that didn’t take away from the fun.  There we were sitting, being part of life in Vietnam, enjoying the food, the beer, the karaoke, the people and the laughter, we laughed right along with them.

It was amazing how we were complete strangers to everyone at this party, yet we sat through this party feeling as welcome and at home as if we were one of the tour company’s employees. So many people kept coming up, introducing themselves, chatting with us, opening up a beer and trying to teach us the Vietnamese toast. If my memory serves me correct, it is something like: một, hai, ba, vo! (translation: one, two, three, cheers).  Actually, whenever we asked what that means, we got many different answers. So, we hope we are not offending anyone with our translation or interpretation.

With every toast to the New Year, we were always asked if we were happy; because our happiness was so important to them. And why wouldn’t we be happy?  We were surrounding by wonderful, joyful people. We were really, “Happy in Hoi An”.