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January 22, 2004

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Chuc mung nam moi - Happy New Year! (Lunar Year). The Tet Nguyen Dan, or Festival of the First Day, celebrates the incoming year. It's the most important celebration in Vietnam. For us, it's an explosive introduction to a new country. Fireworks crackle in the streets and ward off evil spirits. No public transportation will run today and so we're stuck in a small village, Hong Son, in the mountainous spine of Vietnam, near the border with Laos. One hotel exists in this village and since restaurants have closed for holiday, the hotel staff let's us eat with their family. They serve banh chung, a square cake of sticky rice and pork, wrapped in banana leaves and boiled for 10 hours. Banh chung is the traditional dish of Tet, the christmas goose of the Vietnamese New Year.
By our experience, one Tet ritual involves dragging a foreigner off the street and into the home to drink shots of rice liquor.
Every house in this village has an incense burner on the balcony, a red flag in the yard, and children playing.