Volunteer’s name:Jannis Neithammer
Project: Volunteers for Peace Vietnam Club (VPV Club)
Duration: 12 months
House still empty.
All the Nutella is gone.
No-one to talk to.
I am losing my sanity.”
- Tom Leigh, 17.02.’15, VPV house
It was lonely these days being a small, small guy in the big, big VPV house. Everybody was gone. Many of my close friends left the house some days before – forever; some others fled the city to tan their bellies in the warm sun of Thailand or Cambodia. Even all of the smiling VPV-Staff-faces turned back towards their hometown and just left the memory of their lively laughter behind, echoing through the cold and empty halls of the house. It was two days before “Tết”, the Lunar New Year, the biggest festival in the Vietnamese calendar and the only one that is powerful enough to transform a metropolis into a ghost town.
What remained for me were Tom, warm sheets, a laptop to have a movie marathon and fridges of food, which the staff nervously filled for me some days before as if they would prepare for a Zombie invasion. One night I left some small pieces of “Bánh Chưng” on a table in the kitchen. “Bánh Chưng” is a traditional cake for New Year that seems to be mass produced before the holidays. This one I made with my own hands. When I woke up the next morning I saw a huge hole and tiny teeth traces that covered half of the cake. A weird feeling of relieve overcame me – at least the rats didn’t leave me.
This could have been the report about the first days of my Tet holidays, if I wouldn’t have enjoyed being alone for three days quite much. You have to understand that I already lived 6 months in the VPV house, always surrounded by people (even though most of them where really awesome), so a little bit of loneliness didn’t harm me at all. And one thing was sure: The second half of my holidays wouldn’t be lonely.
In my opinion, the Tết Festival really matches the Vietnamese culture: It is the time for everybody to spend at home and cherish their family to full extend. On the New Year’s Eve big fireworks took place all over the nicely and neatly decorated city. Fortunately on this day my 4 long-term volunteer girls came back from their travel to Cambodia and Thailand and so we made our way through the masses of people to the Hoàn Kiếm Lake, the center of the city on occasions like this. It was beautiful to watch the fire flowers in the air lightning up the generously planted real flowers on the streets for a very short moment; a good atmosphere to welcome a happy Year of the Goat.
As the only people in the house around this time we had a big responsibility: In the traditional believe, the first days are decisive for the luck and prosperity of a house for the whole year, so it would be us to be blamed, if for example the VPV house would burn down in the coming year. Knowing this responsibility, it was Esther who entered the house as the first person in the New Year; fortunately her spiritual animal, the rat, apparently matches quite good to the spiritual animal of 2015 which is the goat.
After taking care of the luck of the house, it was on time to be a little selfish on the next morning. So I went to the famous temple of Literature, where a lot of people gathered around standing under the majestic ancient roof to protect themselves from the traditional Tết rain. I myself made my way to one of the calligraphists that write down noble wishes in big Chinese letters on red papers and got myself a little bit of “Phúc”, sweet happiness to accompany me through the next year.
While the first day of the New Year is reserved for the family, the second and third days are the occasion to invite a lot of people to exchange good wishes and a little bit of “Lucky Money” for the children. Because of that, I had the fortune to get invited by some of my friends and experience the Tết-feeling in 4 different families. This Tết-feeling is out of my experience mainly a result of a lot of really good food and a lot of free time in a cozy atmosphere. Vietnamese people are normally very hard-working and so these holidays are a very welcome excuse to just don’t do anything I guess – except for the tons of cooking of course. The family of one of my local supporters in VPV invited me to cook “Nem”, the traditional Vietnamese spring rolls, which were really delicious. Part of the menu is normally also the before mentioned “Bánh Chưng” with pickled onions, a sausage called “Giò”, of course lot more food that I can’t name and some wine or beer to cheer each other a Happy New Year. The importance of food for the festival is funnily even stated in the Vietnamese language: So is the word for “celebrating tết” not “tán dương tết” but “ăn tết”, which literally means “to eat Tết”. “Ăn tết vui không?” – “Was it fun to eat Tết?” – It was
I really felt welcome in all of my friend’s families and that showed me again, what a privilege I have to have such good friends. In the end this experience was probably a once in a lifetime experience, because obviously my time here in Vietnam for now is limited. Consequently I was really eager to understand as much as possible about this festival and thus where really happy when one of my friends asked me if I wanted to celebrate the last day with her family in the countryside near Hanoi. The experiences here where very special and different, many people where really happy to see me regarding that there are not so many foreigners visiting these areas outside of the big city. Eating, drinking beer, a little bit of fun gambling and singing karaoke – it was a perfect ending for an overall great experience that I will keep as a memory forever.