“Chuc Mung Nam Moi,” I chant, as I push my beer up in the air – and the clash of a dozen beer bottles rings in the New Year. “Hurry, we’re going to miss the fireworks,” a young boy says, in honour of his yearly tradition.
Running down the gravel street, in thongs, I’m clearly unprepared. My attention turns to the explosion of colour awakening the black sky. I smile – a smile that is deeper than the anticipation of a new year but one of appreciation.
I didn’t plan to be in a Unesco World Heritage site on New Years Eve – like an unexpected new year kiss from a stranger. I’m in Hoi An, on the central coast of Vietnam and I see the real life behind Hoi An’s tourist façade. I’m smack bang in the middle of Tet, the Lunar New Year Festival in Vietnam.
Two streets lined with palm trees and people run parallel to a bustling bridge. Coloured flags connect tree-to-tree and illuminated paper boats shine light on the water. The bridge is decorated with dragons and people admiring this humble culture. Looking out to the river, it’s covered bank to bank with a rainbow of twinkling light and the streets overflowing with flowers to adorn.
Lanterns are strung up everywhere and people are strolling and cycling outside the ancient houses and restaurants. Local families are sitting on the side on the street, the father sketching his wife and son on a creased white canvas – his only light the illumination from the lanterns. “Can I draw you?” he offers. I smile appreciatively and buy his drawing instead, not wanting to sit down for a second.
The savoury smells invite me further along the street. Oil sizzles as a young lady throws two donuts into a silver bowl. She’s frugal at digging the warm donut in sugar and hands it to a young boy. Tiny bananas sway left to right from the top of her silver cart and she’s keeping herself warm from the chicken rotating under coal to her left.
Walking to the riverfront, I notice a hint of Venice in this quaint town. Its narrow streets and canary yellow buildings gleam with history.
A fisherman in shorts and a thin long sleeve top waves at me as he sits on the edge of his wooden boat, seemingly going nowhere. Picking up a long stick cradling my candle, I release my container to welcome in the New Year as I watch it dance on top of the reflection of the night.