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Celebrating Public Holidays

One aspect of life abroad that can be both fascinating and frustrating for expats is that of Public Holidays.

Here in Vietnam there are nine weekday holidays, of which we’ve so far had 8.

Having arrived ‘post event’ in 2012, we decided to stay put for TET this year, despite the hugely conflicting advice about the wisdom (or otherwise) of such a decision, particularly given the proximity of our house to Phu Tay Ho – the main temple in Hanoi which is dedicated to the Mother Goddess.  Changing date in accordance with the Lunar Calendar, TET this year was celebrated between 9th and 14th February and the whole area around the temple was turned into a cross between a carnival and carnage.  Next year we will be going somewhere quieter – anywhere that doesn’t recognise this as new year.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

On the 19th April we had a day off for King Hung’s day to commemorate the first King of Lac Viet and this week we enjoyed a two-day break.  30th April was Vietnam Victory/ Reunification/Liberation Day (depending on your affiliation/geographic location) to mark the fall of Saigon and the reunification of Vietnam in 1975.  And yesterday, 1st May, was International Worker’s day which celebrates the economic and social achievements of workers throughout the year (not sure how these achievements are measured or whether they’re just assumed?).

Unlike in the UK where all Bank Holidays (apart from Christmas and New Year) are shifted to the nearest Monday – public holidays fall on the ‘correct’ day here so it is not unusual to have a Tuesday and Wednesday off – as we’ve just witnessed.

The reason that I find these holidays stressful is because they are completely alien to me.  I can’t always work out what is being celebrated.  I’m conscious that sometimes even the name of the holiday can be cause of contention – as in the case of Reunification/Liberation Day.  And it’s extremely hard, as a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language, to work out how the Vietnamese celebrate or enjoy said holiday.

I’m reminded of my first Introduction to Islam lecture at the University of Manchester when the lecturer posed the questions – which Islam, when, where and for whom?  His point being that, like much in life, there is no one ‘right’ answer – Islam is many different things to many different people.  So too is the way of celebrating national holidays.

Quat Tree - like a Vietnamese Christmas Tree

Quat Tree – like a Vietnamese Christmas Tree

TET is the big one – similar to the Western Christmas – with presents, food, food and more food, some alcohol, spending time with people you don’t necessarily see the rest of the year, rituals, traditions and an enormous amount of pressure.   It is, for the Vietnamese I’ve spoken to at least, both expensive and tiring and something approached with very mixed feelings.  Sound familiar?

TET feast

TET feast

The last two days have felt like a weekend and so today must be Monday, which for some reason everyone else is calling Thursday!  Hubby was off work but you wouldn’t have known it thanks to the constant beeping of his Blackberry and because he works in an international consultancy firm with colleagues around the world blissfully unaware that he was ‘on holiday’.

Which brings me onto the topic of how expats celebrate public holidays in their host country.  Many, particularly the more seasoned foreigners and those with children, simply flee.  Hanoi in particular engenders this desire because whilst it’s an amazing and vibrant city, it can drive you crazy with its constant noise, dust, humidity and general air of disorganisation.  Depending on the length of holiday many people take the chance for an adventure exploring parts of Vietnam they haven’t previously visited, others head for a beach or 5 star resort and recharge their batteries beside a pool.  Some friends of ours took advantage of one of the great deals offered to foreign residents and enjoyed a ‘staycation’ at a beautiful hotel on the opposite side of town to where they live and work.

We seem to be a little slow on the uptake and have so far been here for every public holiday.  Now that we’ve enjoyed experiencing them – in that strange twilight zone between not being a local and not being a tourist, we have both agreed that we’ve ticked the box marked ‘Experience Public Holidays in Vietnam’ and will, in future, take the chance to be tourists in another city, enjoying everything that that entails.  Staying put has meant that we’ve paid more for pretty much everything we’ve bought as local shops and restaurants all raise their prices at holiday time and we haven’t been able to enjoy the fresh ingredients we’ve become used to because, for example, the dairy producing the milk we like was closed for the holidays and the markets and small traders we usually buy from simply didn’t bother opening.

So here’s to our next public holiday, Monday 2nd of September when we’ll be celebrating Vietnamese Independence Day on a beach somewhere, or maybe even in Cambodia, Taiwan or Japan.

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You’re booked!

Flights booked – check

Fraser Suites booked – check

Furniture sorted – err, no.

Ho, hum, we’re making such a meal out of this ship v. store business that I’m tempted just to bring everything, wastepaper bins and all.  Actually, that reminds me, when we bought a house in Spain a few years ago I had a devil of a job finding wastepaper bins.  So yeah, I guess I will bring them with me!

Everything’s pretty much on hold now while we enjoy our final Christmas in the family home before everything gets removed and the house becomes someone else’s home.  The agent is coming on Thursday to take photos and is really confident about letting it quickly – hope he gives us time to move out!!!  What a strange day to take the photos though – Christmas tree and chaos everywhere but, his choice.

CELTA is finished – yippee.  I’m quietly confident that I’ve passed and will be gutted if I haven’t.  Speaking of passing things, my extremely clever little sister heard today that she’s passed her M.A. with a Merit – well done Zo if you read this 🙂

We had such fun booking our flights to Hanoi because I’d decided that I definitely want to go Air France because it’s the quickest journey time – 14 hours from Manchester to Hanoi with only the one stop in Paris.  Perfect I thought.  Perfect we thought – let’s book it.  And that’s where our problems started.  1st March, two passengers, one way to Hanoi.  Everything going smoothly until you actually click the button to confirm your purchase and then it broke us the bad news (rather brutally it has to be said):  No seats available.  Seriously?  For the 1st March next year?

Okay, we tried the following day, week, month, 6 months ahead.  Nothing would work.  We checked Singapore Airlines (and yes I was sulking at this point – 19 hours.  Quote of the evening from my husband:  Well, 14 hours, 19 hours, what’s the difference? (and him an accountant) – 5 hours I replied.  5 whole hours.  We checked Vietnam Airways, Qatar Air, Aeroflot, South China Air (oh okay, we didn’t exactly check the the last two, but they did come up as options).  The journey time was an issue, the excess baggage charge another ($50/kilo – are you kidding?) and not wanting to stop in Doha another.

After several hours and a lot of frustration I had the brilliant idea that perhaps Air France would work if we booked a return.  Eureka!  2nd March, returning 16th June (for aforementioned younger sister’s wedding) – all booked and paid for, and cheaper than a single flight.

Now it’s just my stepson and the dog to sort – Singapore Airlines here I come.  What’s 19 hours for a youngster getting a free holiday eh!  Actually, the real reason is that you need an airline that does the whole route whereas the first leg of the Air France journey is fulfilled by Flybe.