How to make the most of the Vietnamese New Year: The story of a foreigner

(VOVWORLD) -After more than a decade of travelling around Asia, including 8 years of living in Vietnam, American teacher Todd Aydelott understands the value of delving into local cultures and customs wherever he goes. This year is going to be his eighth Lunar New Year in Vietnam.

How to make the most of the Vietnamese New Year: The story of a foreigner - ảnh 1 Todd and Tra My.

“I first met my wife in Saigon. She was actually my teaching assistant at the school whereI worked. We kept it a secret from the school for almost a year. But one day, we ran into some parents, which let the cat out of the bag”.

American Todd Aydelott, now a student at Hanoi’s University of Social Sciences and Humanities smiles at his wife, Tra My, who has been with him for three and a half years, while she prepares tea for us.

Originally from Dong Nai province, an hour and a half drive from HCM city, Tra My, has never missed spending a Tet holiday with her family. Todd, fortunately, now gets to enjoy Tet in all its authenticity. 

“I and my wife started dating shortly after I came to Vietnam so I’ve been here every year for Tet, always with her family,” he said.

Tra My’s village is in a rural part of Dong Nai province, where people barely saw any foreigners back when they first got married. Getting special treatment and fascinated reactions from his in-laws and neighbours because of his unusual appearance is now a happy memory when Todd looks back at his first years of marriage.

“When we come down to her hometown for Tet, we usually hang around the house and I play with her nieces. One is 4 and the other is 8. There are a lot of other kids who come over and hang out with me. The littlest one, who is about six now, I think, when she was two said I was a ghost,” Todd recalled.

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In the past eight years, among the Vietnamese customs that have surprised and impressed Todd the most, eating the same kind of food after day is one of the strangest.

“They make that at the beginning of Tet and they keep it the whole time and eat it again. In America, they tend to make the food fresh everyday but it doesn’t last this long as Christmas or New Year is only one day. The only exception to that is Thanksgiving when we keep a big turkey and eat it for a long time,” Todd said.

For Tra My, the first time her husband wrapped banh chung, the square sticky rice cake conjures up totally different images:

“My father let Todd wrap one because he asked to. When everything was almost ready and we just needed to tie the string around, it turned out the square mould was accidentally stuck to his hands. If he removed the mould from his hands the whole cake would fall apart. My nieces just looked at his embarrassing face and burst out laughing. His cake looked strange after being boiled but we eventually still ate it. Now he can do a much better job, but we will never forget those memories,” My recalled.

Tra My noted more than once that she considers herself a lucky woman. Eating and drinking with her families and playing with all the kids, and joining in the traditional drinking games with her uncles and cousins, her husband shown that respects and is truly interested in the cultures in which she was raised.

“When we come back home for Tet, our schedule is always filled with helping my siblings clean up the house, shopping at local markets, going to HCM city to look at the flower display, visiting the family’s graves and visiting my relatives. His Vietnamese is really limited, especially at a family party where people drink and talk faster, so I become the interpreter between them. But surprisingly my family, uncles and cousins really enjoyed talking with him,” she said.

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Todd started coming with Tra My to visit her family during Tet holiday even before they got married. He was often confused and questioned the tradition of waking up early and giving out lucky money on the first day of the Lunar Year.

“Why? Why do I have to wake up and give money to them? He was a bit angry on the first day because we stayed up late the day before. After learning that it’s the local tradition, the following year, Todd was eager to prepare all the red envelopes on the 30th,” Tra My said.  

Though communication has never been an obstacle to his enjoyment, Todd couldn’t help regretting the fact that they don’t speak the same language. He decided to take a year off from work to study Vietnamese at the Faculty of Vietnamese Studies and Language, at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities.

“Sometimes it’s difficult because my wife’s family is limited in speaking English. I have my family in Vietnam so it will make more sense if I am able to communicate with them. One thing I would say about my nieces, the oldest one when she was little didn’t understand as I didn’t speak Vietnamese. She wanted to tell me to do something and I just was like “Oh oh ok ok I’ll do it”, because I didn’t want her to keep yelling at me. This little 4-year-old then got mad at me because I said ok but I didn’t do it because I didn’t understand what she said,” Todd said.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. There are different ways to celebrate an occasion, but Todd has decided the best way to enjoy the Lunar New Year in Vietnam is to become real Vietnamese.