The Days Before Tet in Hanoi

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Hanoi’s sidewalks become forests of orange and cherry trees the days before Tet, or the Vietnamese (and Chinese) new year. These oranges and cherries block the 10 foot wide sidewalks of the main administrative street in West Hanoi, where the Vietnamese government offices prepare to empty on the Tet holiday, when everyone there goes home to their villages. Only a graveyard shift of dedicated civil servants remain, or are forced to remain, on the Tet holiday. During the days before it, people buy orange trees, or cherry trees or branches to fill their homes with the feeling of spring. According to one of the few Vietnamese Army officers who stays in Hanoi for Tet, “you have to buy your food; two days close stores.”

A civil engineer on exchange from North Korea told me the secret to enjoying Tet: “Every day, you eat some place other. Holiday is maybe one week. Drink beer.” His project, a new concrete and steel bridge that runs parallel to a river, is also empty during the holiday. Tum told me that he will go home to a village for the festivities, where he will meet his family.

A Russian teacher also enjoys the holiday here; he informs that “you should to celebrate the Tet.” Many of the English speakers in Hanoi learned from Russian military officers, and they also speak and understand Korean, from experience abroad in North Korea, or from their teachers, most of whom come from Russia or North Korea.

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