Bloom, Saigon, Bloom

The last yellow petals have fallen, the final oversized watermelons have been discarded and dried out potted mums litter the sidewalk like yesterday’s newspapers. The last vestige of Tet, Vietnamese Lunar New Year, is actually Abba’s sickly sweet Happy New Year playing an endless loop in my head, quite possibly because I’ve heard it absolutely everywhere for the last two months.

But it was quite a ride. My first Tet in Vietnam, these will be my lasting memories…

Carpeted with flowers

The city was literally carpeted in flowers. Everywhere you looked, a field of red (luck) and gold (wealth) brought a softness to the ordinarily drab urban landscape. Potted chrysanthemums were popular, as were marigolds, whose Vietnamese name vạn thọ literally means “live 10,000 years”.

Transporting flowersI loved that in addition to seeing the regular cargo of live ducks or a massive pile of boxes, you’d be just as likely to see entire flowering trees or potted plants strapped on the back of someone’s motorbike.

Colorful

The city was awash in color. Bright red flags with either a yellow star or hammer and sickle lined the roads. Colorful Buddhist flags fluttered atop pagodas. Lanterns adorned street lamps.

Flower Street

For the 10th year in a row, Nguyen Hue street in the heart of the financial district was totally closed down, turned into a pedestrian-only free flower show.

Flower Street Nguyen Hue

It was delightfully kitschy, recreating scenes of countryside goodness – fishing, planting, harvesting – all with flowers. People broke out their cheesiest poses and didn’t care that everyone was looking.

Lion Dance

Dragons danced with wild abandon, leaping from pedestal to pedestal and parents bought silly trinkets for their children with full knowledge that they’d likely be jettisoned by day’s end.

Abundance

Ringing in the new year is always about abundance. Or at least the outwardly show of abundance. Sticky rice cakes, both savory and sweet, are piled high, filled with things like red bananas and yellow mung beans. The normal-sized, oval watermelons look absolutely anemic when compared to gigantic, perfectly round ones – not particularly sweet, but impressive-looking on the altar.

Weird fruits

Produce comes in only two sizes: huge and gargantuan, a harbinger of hoped-for plenty for the year ahead. Wacky fruits make their cameo, surfacing only during Tet, such as the ornamental red pineapples cleverly draped over a fire hydrant or the creepy Buddha’s Hand fruit, guaranteed to give off a fragrant scent for six months.

Groomed to perfection

Farmers meticulously groom their plants to be in full bloom for this narrow 10-day window. Kumquat trees are impossibly laden with fruit. Flowering shrubs are coaxed to be in full bloom exactly on the first day of the new year. A small tree like the one pictured typically goes for USD 100, whereas larger ones fetch many times that price. You can even pay a “nurturing fee” for a gardener to take the tree back and take care of it for the next 50 weeks, just in time for next year’s fleeting display of flowers, fruits and frivolity.

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10 thoughts on “Bloom, Saigon, Bloom

  1. Louise Fitzgerald

    Happy new year, James. We went to a park in the city and had our fill of Chinese and Vietnamese music and noodles and Emily had her hand hennaed by an Indian woman: not quite sure how that fitted in, but she loved it.
    Louise

    Reply
    1. James Post author

      I was just thinking about you guys the other day and how I haven’t seen anything new from your blog! Will you continue with it or was it just for the trip? My sister also got her hand / arm hennaed in Zanzibar and it looked very cool! Great to hear from you. Hope all is well!

      Reply
    1. James Post author

      Yeah, but think of all those beautiful cold weather clothes you get to wear! Sweaters, coats, scarves, oh my! I bought all this merino wool stuff from New Zealand when I was there and have yet to find a cold place to wear it all!

      Reply
  2. Olivia

    All Tet means to me is finding some polite way to dodge all the Tet “treats”. It isn’t cake or pastry when you stuff it full of beans and sugar. It is just a pretty little sham.

    Reply
    1. James Post author

      I know. Vietnamese desserts have yet to catch up to its flavorful cuisine, but “sham”? Ouch! Sometimes I’ll be craving some dessert and I’ll have to settle for a green bean and tapioca / coconut milk concoction that never quite hits the spot. What I wouldn’t do for a piece of black forest cake. There are tons of Western bakeries in Saigon, but NONE remotely close to me (like <15 minute drive). I’m fat, but even I won’t drive that far for dessert!

      Reply
  3. [email protected]

    And just where do you think all those pretty posies come from, my dear? Why from my beloved Dalat – up in the coooool, greeeen mountains of course! And btw, if you’re itchin’ for a place to wear that luscious merino – as I keep telling you – come visit me in Dalat!

    Last year (my 1st Tet) I was in HCMC (the year of the Dragon) and likewise loved all the flowers. But I’m wondering… were there any fireworks in HCMC? I didn’t see any last year. But this year (year of the Snake) I gazed slack-jawed at a most amazing fireworks show on the lake in Dalat – better than any I’ve seen in the States.
    [email protected] recently posted..Wordless Wednesday, errr… Friday: Tricks with F.I.L.MMy Profile

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    1. James Post author

      I actually stayed up on VNY’s eve waiting to hear fireworks, but nothing. I’m like 20 mins from downtown but live in a high building so I was hoping to see something at least. I heard later that there was, but not viewable from where I was. For me, fireworks are great, but not worth staying up late and a long drive for. Sure sign of old age!

      I haven’t been to Dalat in probably 6-7 years so I’m definitely due for a visit! Keep you posted! Thanks!

      Reply

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