Saigon is finally coming out of its Tet-induced coma. Tet, the Chinese new year, was February 14, but the country was virtually incapacitated for the entire week before and after the new year. Everything closed. The streets were quiet, crossing the street was no longer an adventure sport.
I was quite curious about the traditions of one of the country’s most important holidays. But as it turns out it’s not the best time for visitors. Aside from everything being closed, the holiday traditions are quite family oriented, so it is difficult for an outsider to participate in any meaningful way, or even really see what’s going on.
On New Years Eve (Feb 13) we walked around the city center in anticipation of the midnight fireworks display. After a day that made the city seem like a ghost town, the motorbikes came out around 11pm, when they stopped dead in the middle of the road. People remained perched on their bikes for the next hour awaiting the new year. We sat at the massive traffic circle in front of Ben Thanh Market, one of the largest intersections in the city and it was sardine-packed with motorbikes at a standstill. Thousands of them. I wish I’d had my camera. Very few people drank or ate or engaged in merry-making, they just perched and waited. The fireworks began at midnight, perched people looking on. About fifteen minutes later, just as the grand finale started, engines revved, motorbikes maneuvered, the still collection of thousands of individual bikes became a single moving whole, morphing and oozing through the maze of roads stretching away from the circle. Within an hour the city was asleep.