Hoi An, Vietnam – February 16, 2014
We arrived in Hoi An on February 7th and checked into the Hoi An Life Homestay. Initially we were a little disappointed, the room wasn’t exactly as we were led to believe, but we had received such a warm welcome from the family that we decided to stay and make it work, we even extended our stay by a few nights. I am glad we did. The Homestay offers free bicycle use and a shuttle service, which we took advantage of, they also had awesome breakfasts.
Hoi An is an amazing low key place to hang out for 10 days. We were only 3 kilometers from the South China Sea beaches and a kilometer or so to the Ancient Town. An absolutely perfect location. There have been only a few places we have stayed over the past 9 months that felt this comfortable and safe. Some may feel the city is too touristy, but we loved walking the streets, the inexpensive restaurants and the friendly people. We rarely felt pushed into purchasing things from the shop keepers, it was such a pleasant change from the usual canvassing by shop owners that we’ve become accustomed to.
Many people come to Hoi An to have clothes tailor made, and as a result there are so many tailor shops competing for your business. I did my research on shops and had a pair of pants and a skirt made for a reasonable price. From what we noticed it was mostly younger men having suits made, there were only a few women in the shops. The shops take the orders and send the orders out, usually to someone’s home, to have the garments made. Young men on motorcycles are constantly coming and going from the shops picking up orders and delivering garments. When I was out walking the backstreets I came across the garment district where the garment shops are located. The shops had 4 or 5 sewing machines, each manned by a young man. Not once did I see a women making the clothes, then again not once did I see a man in the shops selling the clothes.
Over our last week in Hoi An, we noticed a gradual change within the city. Things were transforming a little bit each day. Things were getting brighter and more colorful, people were happy and laughing, and people were busy cooking. They were preparing for the Lunar New Year much like we would prepare for Christmas. It’s the pre-TET frenzy, just like the pre-Christmas frenzy we experience each December. We were told that the Vietnamese believe everything must be cleaned and freshened up for the New Year otherwise it would bring back luck for the next year.
As we walked down the same streets we have walked for the past week we noticed people were painting their fences, washing vehicles and motorcycles, sweeping driveways, raking leaves, collecting the trash, roadside flower shops popped up where just days before there was nothing. Cumquat trees were arriving, by way of motorcycle, to homes and businesses, along with new shipments of large truckloads filled with more Cumquats. Huge potted yellow flowers were proudly decorating yards and driveways. Colorful paper lanterns were strung from telephone poles across the roads and at night were lit up. Little shops were selling TET (New Years) decorations little envelopes for money and fireworks.
We also noticed more people and motorcycles converging into the town. As we walked around the city we saw large groups of families and friends gathering, mostly often eating and drinking together, we heard more and more… “1, 2, 3, cheers”, chants. More and more motorcycles were blocking the sidewalks making it difficult to walk. TET celebrations occur over 10 days, everything shuts down. People from all over the world return to be with their family in Vietnam for the New Years Celebration. We were noticing more and more businesses closing for the season, even our Homestay was closing for the holidays.
Many times throughout our stay we were asked when we were leaving. Whenever we said February 17th, there was always a little sigh of relief. Everyone always said, “That’s good, you don’t want to be here for TET. Nothing is open. Everyone is with their family”. By the way, we did not intentionally book ourselves out of Vietnam on February 17th to avoid being there for New Years, it was just the date we picked that worked with our other plans. So we inadvertently booked our time in Vietnam very well without knowing it. The TET New Years was scheduled for February 19th.
Being in Vietnam during TET preparations taught us so much about Vietnamese culture and beliefs. Wanting to get into the TET spirit we set out to try to bring good luck to our Homestay hosts. We did a little research of TET etiquette and set off in search of the little red envelopes for money, a bottle of red wine wrapped in red cellophane and a little pineapple with a red bow. Red is one of the predominant colors of New Years, the little red envelopes are given with money to children, alcohol is a common gift, and fruit represents an offering for good luck. Vietnamese put fruit and food offerings out for New Years, because they believe their loved ones spirits’ also return home on New Years to be with family, and the food is offered for their loved ones. We were so excited to give our TET gifts to our hosts and we felt they appreciated it too, especially the grandfather. We hope we help set the tone for a positive and lucky year for them.