|Charlie Winston at Lunch Show’s studio.
Charlie Winston, an American actor, TV host, and model, is now familiar with most Tet customs after living in Vietnam for 11 years.
Before the 2022 Lunar New Year Festival, Charlie was invited as our Lunch Show’s studio guest to share with us his knowledge and experiences of Tet in Vietnam. Have a listen.
Reporter: Let’s get back to the period of 10 years ago when you first arrived in Vietnam. Were you aware that there would be such an occasion called Tet?
Charlie: Actually we learned about Tet through school book through the Tet offensive which is a famous battle in Vietnamese war. So to understand what Tet is, most people, like myself, we don’t certainly know about Vietnamese heritage but we might know east Asian heritages in general, including China. We know about Chinese New Year. We figure that Vietnam also follows the lunar calendar. We understand there would be a Lunar New Year in Vietnam but don’t necessarily know what it entails.
Reporter: What was your first impression on Vietnam’s Tet then?
Charlie: Most people come from provinces and they go back home or they will be with their family. For foreigners, all we can see is that on the first day of the lunar new year, everything is closed. It’s like a ghost town and it looks like the day after the apocalypse. When you want to look for something to eat, you can’t find anything. Over time, you adapt, but the first year when I came here, it was quite a shock.
Reporter: After 11 years in Vietnam, what have you learned about Vietnamese Tet?
Charlie: Although I would say it hasn’t been my own experience in my own family – I’m washing dishes, preparing food, and all of these with family members to help. But I would say things are changing. As Vietnamese families get tired of putting on feasts, the endless parties where we have to ‘Di nhau’, go to meet the extended family who they don’t meet much during the rest of the year. Now what’s happening is that they’ll go on a Tet vacation in Vietnam or overseas. There’s a beautiful thing I’ve seen, especially children who can take their parents on their first vacation. A lot of parents of previous generations don’t travel. They even don’t know what a vacation is. So it’s very nice when kids can take their parents to go, to share, and that’s a really meaningful activity. One of the things I love about Vietnam is that it’s a traditional society. With the way that Vietnam is entering the global stage, life is becoming more modern and fast. People are very quick to trade traditions for convenience or novelty. I think Vietnamese culture and history are wonderful things that should be treasured. I’d have to say going on a vacation is great, though it may not be every year. Maybe after, like, the second or third day, then you guys can go on a trip for a few days.
Reporter: Does Tet play any special role in your life?
Charlie: Yes, of course. I think when I first came here, like a lot of foreigners, we find the Lunar New Year to be a little bit lonely because we don’t have a lot of connections here. The longer I live here – almost 11 years now – I find that the Lunar New Year is almost the same for me as it is for you guys. It’s the most important time of the year, even though the Western New Year has just passed. It’s already 2022, but I also just feel like, you know, it’s the end of the year. Because we’re all hustling and bustling trying to finish all of our work so we can take a break. I love the Lunar New Year because it gives you a good solid week, almost 10 days, to take stock of your life, to reconnect with family and friends. It’s really a beautiful thing. So it’s becoming my ritual as well.
|2022 is the 11th year Charlie Winston has been in Vietnam.
But for Jeon Hyong Jun from South Korea and Lin Bai Lian from China, this was their first Vietnamese Tet. Let’s hear their stories.
Lin Bai Lian from Shanxi province had briefly visited Vietnam three times before, but this is the first time she has stayed longer in Vietnam because her visit coincided with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although her Vietnamese friends took care of her, helping her with accommodation, food, and travel, she was still a bit sad that she was unable to return home to celebrate the lunar New Year with her family.
Lin said the lunar New Year is a time for family members to reunite, get together, and wish each other a prosperous year ahead.
New Year's Eve is when family members watch beautiful fireworks in the night sky together to mark the transition from one year to another.
“Because I have been in Vietnam for almost a year, I’m not too surprised at Vietnamese traditions around daily activities and food dishes. The Tet holiday is for me a valuable experience. I’ll enjoy and remember every moment and every activity of each day of Tet and consider it a memorable part of my life,” said Lin.
|Like many people in north Vietnam, Tuan Jeon buys a bunch of peach blossoms at Tet.
Jeon Hyong Jun, known to his Vietnamese friends as Tuan Jeon, has been in love with Vietnam for a long time. Late last year he returned to Vietnam to attend a course for a master's degree in International Relations at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam.
The Year of the Tiger 2022 was Tuan Jeon’s first Tet in north Vietnam. The way Hanoians prepared and welcomed the Lunar New Year was quite strange to the Korean man.
|Tuan Jeon learns how to make Chung cake, a symbol of Vietnam's Lunar New Year (Tet).
Tuan Jeon recalled, “Before Tet, Hanoi people are busy making careful preparations for the holiday. In the streets, everyone brings home peach blossoms, not small but big peach blossom branches or trees. Decorations to welcome the Year of the Tiger are everywhere. I see that Vietnamese people spend a lot of money on Tet.”
Considering Vietnam his second home and loving culture and discovery, Tuan Jeon enjoyed the Vietnamese Lunar New Year in an orange Ao dai like any Vietnamese would.
“I bought a Vietnamese traditional Ao dai to wear during the Tet holiday and take photos by Sword Lake with my Vietnamese friends. Wearing an Ao dai makes me feel Vietnamese. I’m a person who loves traditional things. For a foreigner who loves Vietnam, wearing an Ao dai is meaningful, and walking around Hoan Kiem Lake gives me a very special feeling of reverence," said Tuan Jeon.
|Tuan Jeon in Vietnam’s traditional Ao dai.
Both Tuan Jeon and Lin Bai Lian celebrated the Lunar New Year in Vietnam without any family, but they felt warmly accepted by the Vietnamese people around them.
Lin prepared a Tet costume for each day from the last day of the old year to the second day of the New Year.
In a diary she recorded her memories of each day of the Tet holiday and described how she and her friends enjoyed the occasion.
“I went to Sword Lake on New Year's Eve. On the first day of Tet, I visited pagodas in Hanoi. Visiting communal houses and pagodas in Vietnam, which have many similarities with those in my country, made me feel less homesick,” Lin told VOV.
“Luckily, Vietnamese friends have helped me a lot. They invited me to their houses to celebrate Tet with them, eat Chung cakes, and experience the Tet atmosphere in their family. I want to tell them thank you for giving me so much support and welcoming me to your country and your home,” she said.
Moath Jaradat of Jordan has enjoyed four Tet holidays in Vietnam and each one has left unforgettable memories. Here’s Moath’s story.
Reporter: Hi Moath, tell us about our most memorable Tet experience!
Moath:I have met many Vietnamese families. I can visit them. I enjoy with them nice food and everything, and the nice culture. For many years I’ve received lucky money from Vietnamese families. I got one lucky 500,000 VND note, and I’ve kept it since 2017 in my cabinet because it was the first lucky money I got from a Vietnamese family. The Tet atmosphere is everywhere. People are smiling. I like seeing flowers everywhere. I bought some Tet trees and keep them in my home.
Reporter: What do you usually do during the Tet holiday?
Moath: Actually, I'm very happy. My problem is that I haven’t got my family here during Tet. I visit all my colleagues’ families and then travel around Hanoi to see the kids, if they’re happy, and we share the happiness together. I go around for 2, 3, or 4 days. I usually go to places near Hanoi, within 200 or 300 kilometers.
Reporter: How about this Tet, the Year of the Tiger?
Moath: My plan for Tet this year was like every Tet. On the first day, I visited all my Vietnamese friends’ families. On the second day, I went to the countryside to see the kids and play with them. Because of COVID, I couldn’t go to Saigon or certain other places. I stayed here to ensure my safety and the safety of others. The challenge of this Tet was different from two or three years ago, such as Tet in 2019, when it was more comfortable. I really enjoyed it. This year was a bit harder, but, of course, we must never give up.
Reporter: Are there any differences between Vietnam’s Tet and New Year celebrations in Jordan?
Moath: I’ll tell you one interesting thing that’s the same, totally the same, with ours. On New Year's Day we also visit relatives, pray, and gather with family all day. We share lucky money on those days. But the difference with Tet in Vietnam is the Tet treats here. In Jordan we share foods like beef and other meat. Do you know Eid Al-Adha, which is the same as Tet? On this occasion, I’d like to say ‘Chuc mung nam moi’ to my friends and all the Vietnamese people.
Reporter: Thanks you for you story and the beautiful wishes!
|Sonya Firsova, a Russian woman who considers Hanoi her second home, says she now feels happy with her choice and gratitude because Vietnamese music, culture, and people have helped her mature.
For Vietnamese, the Lunar New Year is the biggest and most important festival of the year.
For foreigners, Tet is an opportunity to enjoy Vietnamese culture through experiences that may stay in their heart forever.
Here are the opinions of several expats who are living and working Vietnam:
- “To prepare for the Tet holiday, I really like to spend time with my friends. They invite me to go to the park, wear a traditional Ao dai, and dance together. We eat food together. I’m really happy and enjoy Tet in Vietnam.”
- “I’m Lee Seon Gu from Korea. I’ve been in Vietnam for 3 years and this is my third anniversary of the Vietnamese New Year holiday. Like New Year celebrations in Korea, Tet is a time when family members are eager for a get-together. But the pandemic makes it harder for families to gather. I hope the epidemic will soon be under control and everyone can have a happy Tet.”
- “We try some fun food like ‘bánh tét’, the ones wrapped in banana leaves. We try durian. Vietnam has beautiful fruits, so you have to try them all. We should try other candies. We’re all excited about Tet gift baskets.”
- “I wish all Vietnamese people a very happy and successful new year. And that all people in all sectors will gain achievements. I strongly believe that as Vietnam develops, Cambodia will also grow, because we are neighbors, are united, and will cooperate for common interests.”