Another Christmas in Vietnam. According to annual tradition, last week I hosted the 4th annual screening of "It's a Wonderful Life" at VietnamWorks. ["A toast! To my big brother George -- the richest man in town!" chokes me up every time.]
This year I decided to spend Christmas with the North team in Hanoi. Special thanks to Bryan Pelz for a special Christmas Eve dinner at his house on Nha Tho street, ground zero of Christmas Hanoi. He had great company and Bing crooning Christmas faves. Felt all Christmas-y!
Like Saigon, Christmas in Hanoi is a big party. The big day is Christmas eve. Kinda feels like New Years in the USA. People flock to areas with public Christmas decorations to pose and snap pictures with their kids dressed in little Santa suits. Oh, and they cruise like massive schools of fish coursing down the streets. I took a bunch of pics of my own. Enjoy!
As long time readers of this blog know, the Vietnamese are crazy about Christmas. Every year it gets bigger.
Last night I visited what I can describe only as a "Christmas Depot"
next to a church not far from my house in District 3. I needed to pick
up some supplies to decorate my office area. There were Christmas
supplies galore -- snowmen, snowflakes, santa outfits, lights,
Christmas trees (fake), everything. You nameit they had it. I snapped some pics on my swanky new phone.
There were several shops set up, each with different proprietors. An efficient market at work. I bought some snowmen from these cheerful women. Definitely into the Christmas spirit!
The "Santa Suit Shoppe," Saigon outlet.
A nativity scene done in signature Technicolor Vietnam style.
Christmas tree section showed impressive variety.
For more Christmas goodness, check out my Christmas post from last year here.
Christmas has come to Saigon once again. This will be charvey's fourth Christmas in Saigon. The first was five years ago during my first ever visit to Vietnam. Christmas struck me then as totally, completely, utterly nutty. Well, 2003 was nothing. Over the ensuing five years it's gotten even nuttier. This year is head and shoulders above last year -- the decorations are more elaborate, the crowds are more frenzied, there are more tiny children in Santa suits. The Vietnamese love pageantry and parties. They have embraced Christmas and made it their own in a special Vietnamese way. I love it.
Last night I went out for a walk on the main drags of Saigon. I took some pictures and an eight-minute video tour (narrated by charvey, of course). Enjoy!
Yet another wacky Christmas in Vietnam. The Vietnamese have adopted Christmas and made it their own. They've also added unique Vietnamese Christmas traditions. One is dressing up little kids in little Santa Claus outfits. Another is the Christmas Eve Cruise, where pretty much everyone in Saigon gets on their motorbikes on Christmas eve to take in the spectacle and create magical Christmas traffic jams. Yet a third is blinking Christmas lights suspended over the street and *everywhere*. But the absolute weirdest thing I saw took place about two weeks ago. I was walking to work one morning and saw two tandem bicycles (bicycles built for two people, where one rider sits behind another) sail through a busy intersection piloted by four men and women dressed in full-on Santa suits, pedaling away madly under the tropical sun. I'm totally bummed I couldn't get my camera phone out in time to snap a pic, because it truly was surreal.
Christmas is in full swing here in Vietnam. The office staff have gone nuts decorating their spaces with Christmas stuff -- trees, lights, snowflakes hanging from the ceiling and even a giant stuffed Christmas bear. The Tech Team even built a walk-through "ice cave" decorated with lights. Not really sure about the Christmas relevance of the ice cave, but it *is* consistent with the winter theme. It sorta reminds me of my hometown of Burlington, Vermont USA. It's cold like Russia there in the winter. Every few weeks I check out this webcam to see what the weather is doing in Vermont, real time. Looks freakin' cold. Funny how I never thought that freezing cold that will kill you in an hour if you are unprotected was unusual when I was growing up.
I am collecting pics that capture the experience of Christmas in Vietnam for a later post. If any of my readers have good tips for Christmas-y scenes in Saigon, let me know!
Here's a little tidbit to tide you over -- a Christmas tree, Vietnam-style. Enjoy.
Living in Vietnam not only provides the opportunity to learn about Vietnamese culture, but also to share a bit about American culture. The Vietnamese are eager to learn about all things foreign, particularly what life is like in other countries.
Just before Christmas I was missing the annual American tradition of watching the 1946 holiday classic "It's a Wonderful Life" starring film legends Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Not only is it a great film, but it holds particular sentiment for me. I remember the first time I saw it in December 1988 like it was yesterday. I was a first year college student at UVA. A student film club has a tradition of showing the film every year just before exams begin. I saw it with some of my buddies from my dormitory. The club president introduced the film with an outstanding Jimmy Stewart impression.
Watching this film touched me deeply. As I waxed poetic about the meaning and spirit of the film walking back to the dorm, my buddies began humming "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." They were having a bit of fun with me, but the tune happened to be perfect accompaniment. At exactly the same time, it began to snow (snowing is used as a metaphor in the film). The warm feelings, the holiday season, the camaraderie made it one of those perfect moments you remember forever.
It simply wouldn't do to watch this classic by myself, so I decided to share a Christmas tradition and showed it at the office with a computer projector. While turnout was light at only about 6 people, I noticed more than a few watery eyes by the end of the film. Several people asked me for copies of the film, wanting to share it with their families and friends. Given that the Vietnamese are crazy about all things Christmas, perhaps the "It's a Wonderful Life" tradition will take root here as well.
Many of you will be surprised to learn that Christmas in Vietnam is *huge*. And I don't mean the Vietnamese kinda sorta like it. They freaking LOVE Christmas. The Vietnamese have taken to Christmas like Packers fans to brats, cheese and tailgating.
Last night I went to a Christmas Eve service at a Catholic Chuch in Saigon with some Vietnamese friends. It was a lot like services in the States, except with a uniquely Vietnamese twist. All the familiar songs were there -- "Silent Night, Holy Night" etc -- but with Vietnamese lyrics. There were lots of colorful lights and many images of Santa and reindeer in the accompanying slide show presented to the left of the stage. It was quite well done, and felt suitably "Christmas-y."
One of the many choruses that performed. All were quite good.
Close-up of the earnest young performers.
Lyrics were projected helpfully on the wall to the left of the performers.
These girls filed in solemnly, struggling to keep their candles from going out under the powerful fans cooling the room.
The kids performed a smashing rendition of a biblical scene. Budding actors, all.
I'm not sure what this couple sang, but it made me feel all warm and Christmas-y inside.
After the service, my friends took me on a crazy tour of the Christmas lights, animatronic Santas and Baby Jesus scenes in a few neighborhoods in the city. Here I am with one of my friends, Cuong. One incredibly surreal scene was a girl cozying up to an 8 foot tall animatronic Santa. She was standing on a step ladder, rubbing Santa's belly and beaming from ear to ear having her picture taken. Wish I had a shot of that.
Check out some of Jon's great pics of outdoor Christmas decorations in Saigon here.