I first heard the word “Tet” the day I arrived in Vietnam in 1965. I knew the country was in the middle of a civil war but Saigon was relatively safe. I discovered a street full of flowers for sale, the last thing I expected in a war. That first night, alone in a hotel room, I heard what sounded like machine gun fire. I was frightened and wondered if the Viet Cong had invaded. But it wasn’t gun fire. It was firecrackers – scaring away the evil spirits. Next morning I learned that New Year celebrations were more important than the war was to some Vietnamese.
Last weekend in Toronto, I joined the Vietnamese Tet celebrations. No firecrackers, but lions danced in the CNE’s Better Living Centre. I again found customs similar to Chinese traditions: lucky draws, special foods, lucky red envelopes labelled “Tet,” and traditional opera. There were hundreds of people there including Mayor Rob Ford, who appeared to be very happy surrounded by beautiful young people wanting to take their picture with him.
A nice young man was giving away free samples of health-giving ginseng. Women in a couple stalls were distributing free calendars. The Vietnamese use the Chinese calendar too, and the Year of the Horse. Tet too is January 31 this year, just like the Chinese New Year. The celebration also had a wish tree where you could leave a note or money hopefully in return for a granted wish.
I found insurance agents, real estate agents, and an aspiring politician running for the Conservative party. Vendors were selling cosmetics and jewellery, chairs for foot massages, and television packages. Volunteers were raising money for a Vietnamese retirement home in Toronto, and for blind and orphan children. I found lots of silk flowers for sale.
Everyone was friendly. I was sorry more outsiders weren’t there because it was fun discovering Vietnam in Toronto.
Here are a few of my pictures: