Tonight is New Years Eve. The Vietnamese know it as TET and it can be a horrendous time for a traveler to be here and even worse for the foreigner who lives here. The Vietnamese take this holiday very seriously and for 10 days, almost the entire country will come to a standstill. For the poor foreigner it becomes a time of chaos and frustration. I will try to explain what goes on here, but even I shake my head in confusion to the mindset that takes over.
I have mentioned in previous blogs about how the Vietnamese people are creatures of
habit, conformity, and perhaps even a herd mentality at times. Do not get me wrong! They are wonderful people with large hearts open friendly lives they are willing to let you enter, but dear me….. Sometimes I just have to give my head a shake. Every TET is such a time. For more than a week prior to TET, it is almost impossible to find a person to work for you because of all the preparations they have to do for the big day. And what is that? Many sit on hard tiled floors peeling and making the ingredients for the same sticky rice cakes that everybody else makes. Millions of people making tens of millions of rice cakes! There is a bit of variety as some will be vegetarian or have an extra ingredient, but to us they are all the same. Those that do not make them push in chaotic crowds to purchase from those that do. They all travel to their
family homes all on the same days creating havoc and danger on the roads and making it impossible for a tourist to move. Rather stock up in advance, they all rush the supermarkets the same days and even though the stores make a half hearted attempt at bringing in enough stock, shelves become empty and remain so for weeks. For 10 days there will be the booming of drums and dragon dancers everywhere. Perhaps I can best describe the TET phenomenon with a tale of what I have gone through in the past 2 weeks. The homestay was finished it was declared and it was time for all workers to return to their families to prepare for tet. But alas, the air
conditioners were not installed; there was still plumbing and electrical issues. I pointed out what seemed to be still needed and the jobs were to be done. I took Mai on her long deserved trip to the Mekong and returned to find that the work had been supposedly done and all the contractors paid. To my frustration, I wee that the air conditioners were installed without a level making the rooms look out of whack. I called to have then return and straighten them but was told sorry…….. It is a week before TET and all of the workers have gone to their home towns to be with family. The same was said for all people so I have to do without a light switch for my bedroom for 3 weeks, I cannot have full power to start taking more than a few guests at a time without blowing the fuses, I cannot have water pressure to my shower, and other small announces. I decided to do work myself but when I went to buy 4 of the same model of light fixture, I could not because no store was ordering in stock for a month prior to TET in order to start fresh…… AArrrgghh!! But probably the worst issue……….
I just returned from a motorcycle tour where I took 2 nice young fellows to Saigon via the back roads. On the return trip to Nha Trang, an electrical part on my motorcycle burned out and my battery would not recharge. It was a minor issue and I took it to my regular mechanic a week prior to TET. He shook his head telling me that he would not be able to find someone to rewire it for at least 15 days. Oh OH!! I have another tour to host over TET. I could not find a mechanic anywhere to repair my bike and I returned home in frustration and anger at not being able to get a single Vietnamese person to help me
during their so called regular business hours. It was bad enough just trying to stay alive in the traffic of all the people emptying out the stores of their few remaining products. To my surprise, my brother in law owned a business that specializes precisely in what needed to be done, so my nephew and I tore open the bike and gave him the part to be repaired. The next day he returned with the wired part and since I was away for the morning, they reassembled the bike for me…… oh oh. I was told of how my brother in law wired it even better and now my motorcycle could run without a battery…. Oh Oh. I saw the neutral light on and pressed the ignition to almost get myself injured as the bike leaped forward. The new part was wired incorrectly and the neutral and safety switch were not functioning correctly. After finding neutral, I fired it up only to have it cough, fart, and get confused over which cylinder should fire. Even though it ran perfectly before the part was changes, I am now
being told that is because of another part being weak…… Bulls**t! Has he simply wired with the same as original, everything would have been fine. He had me follow him franticly looking for a mechanic to fix the problem and we ended at a small place in an alleyway. To my surprise, this guy actually specialized in large bikes. After examining my bike he declared that my whole ignition system was wrong and it should be rebuilt the same as a Yamaha Virago. Hold on!! This bike has been running excellent for 3 years on the existing electronics, but I was told that it was not possible. It had to be changes he declared in order for it to run more efficiently. OK….. I relented totally expecting to have a good motorcycle returned a piece of crap. The nest day when I picked the machine up after paying 2.5 million for the changes, I was pleasantly surprised to have it running good and seemingly having more power. Still at lower RPMs id is a but rough. He has declared that it is bad gas or moisture in the carburetor but he cannot do the 30 minute job because he has to get ready for TET. Come back in 12 days. HUH? He just spent hours rewiring my whole ignition. I so not understand. So in the end I now have a running motorcycle that I can use for tours. The bad part is that he has used mew modern electronic parts that are next to impossible to find outside of Saigon or Hanoi and I doubt I can find a mechanic anywhere in the country that would have a clue on how to repair the system should it ever fail.
My advice for visiting Vietnam during TET is…….. Unless staying in Nha Trang or Saigon where there is an established tourist area that never closes, or unless on an organized pre-booked tour whether through a tour company or even an easyrider……. Simply avoid being here 10 days before and 10 days after.