Amid the growing Tet festivities, Dana Filek-Gibson tries to stay on the straight and narrow.
By the time you read this, the magic will be over: most of the life-sized plastic zoo animals downtown will have been disassembled and carted away. On street corners and in front of churches, desperate vendors will hawk their leftover stock of children’s Santa suits. No more turkey. No more gifts. No more outlandish purchases or constant overeating. As everyone nurses a New Year’s hangover and jots down a hasty list of resolutions — which we will later forget, lose in our pants pockets or actively ignore over a cheese binge and a few dozen reruns of CSI — 2014 is upon us.
If you’re an optimist, there’s still plenty to look forward to. The world does, after all, continue to turn. But even with the limitless possibilities of a new year, January can be tough. For many expats, it marks the beginning of a tedious stretch in which we are forced to work nearly three months without a government-sanctioned holiday. Abba’s ‘Happy New Year’ returns to being completely irrelevant but no less overplayed, prices rise and the money we spent on large, communal dinners and all-you-can-drink hotel buffets has left us both embarrassed and ashamed. Only those who love Jesus and/or chocolate will remain hopeful, turning their thoughts toward Easter.
But despite these somber realities, coming down from the holiday high is an important character-building process. The relatively uneventful months that start from New Year’s and reach Halloween are our annual reminder that life is unfair. We take stock of our successes and our shortcomings. We reflect. And, through it all, we aspire to be our better selves in the coming months because, unfortunately, life can’t be about expensive gifts and bottomless drinks all the time.
That is, of course, until February. Then it can be about as much alcohol and snack food as you want. As soon as those standard-issue Styrofoam flowers start blooming across every window display in town, the giddy, carefree spell of Tet is practically a handwritten invitation to return to indulgent behaviour. Some of us escape the phenomenon by going on vacation, but those who stay in Saigon are left with a perfect dry-run to the apocalypse — a lawless wasteland infested with rice cakes, booze and flowers. Almost instantly, the importance of ATM withdrawals and grocery shopping increase tenfold. Children as young as four stop you in the street to shake you down for lucky money, and every kid in Vietnam gets a haircut, usually with hilarious results. In a world turned upside down by holiday frenzy, it’s hard not to slip back into your old habits.
For someone with poor impulse control and almost no willpower, this is an environment ripe for irresponsible decisions. On the one hand, I appreciate any pre-fabricated excuse for my behaviour. I can survive off several of those heavily cellophaned New Year’s gift baskets throughout the three-week holiday and chalk it up to necessity. But just because I can, doesn’t mean I want to. Sometimes, it pays to stick to those New Year’s goals. To wake up on time. To eat right. To leave the couch. I’m not necessarily excited about getting through a day without Christmas cookies, but I understand that it’s probably for the best. And yet, just when we’re at our weakest, missing the holidays and slightly diabetic, Tet comes along and, suddenly, my better judgment gets lost in a cloud of rice wine and sunflower seeds. I hate to say it, but Tet has come early this year and I’m not happy about it.
Dana Filek-Gibson is a Canadian expat living in Ho Chi Minh City.