27 Dec Finding Some Christmas Cheer in Vietnam
Being away from home at Christmas time is hard. I’m surprised by how tough it feels because when we lived in England, Christmas wasn’t a big thing for me. In fact, I hated the present-buying culture and although I’d usually have about a week off from work, the stress of driving around the country squeezing in visits to our scattered family usually left me tired and deflated come January. However, after battling through our second Christmas overseas I’m determined to make sure we’re back home to celebrate next year.
Last year we spent our first Christmas abroad here in Vietnam, up in the pine-covered hills of Dalat. I feel vastly different from the person I was then: a backpacker constantly on the move with months of new destinations and unfamiliar roads stretched out in front of me. Back then, experiencing a foreign Christmas was novel. Now I feel rooted down here in Hanoi, I have a job and an apartment, a wardrobe full of clothes and a kitchen to cook food in. Life here is no longer alien and strange, it feels normal and routine but still, throughout the festive season I’ve felt pangs of homesickness.
I miss the dark frosty mornings in the UK, colourful decorations and trees strung with fairy lights. I miss the sense of anticipation and even the awful dread of the Christmas Work-Do. I miss meeting friends for drinks in London where the pubs are packed, Christmas tunes are playing and lights sparkle everywhere as people hurry through the streets late into the evening on present-buying missions. I miss those hectic visits to relatives, cold walks with my family’s dogs and Christmas dinners followed by Eastenders and Doctor Who Christmas specials on TV. Oh my god, I miss the food. Roast dinners and mince pies, Christmas puddings, cakes, crackers and cheese and that obligatory tin of Cadbury’s Roses.
Searching for Christmas Cheer in Vietnam
By contrast, Christmas in Vietnam feels strange and muted. The weather has cooled off but it’s not freezing. There are lights hanging in the malls and decorations being sold in the Old Quarter; there was even a fireworks display on Christmas Eve that we missed because we were so shattered after getting home from work at 9pm. Schools are still open on the 25th December so we spent the day and evening teaching as usual but we’ve tried to get into the Christmas spirit.
We sung Christmas songs with our classes and dressed up as Santa to hand out gifts. We tracked down some expensive jars of Mincemeat from a western grocery store and cooked up batches of mince pies in our tiny electric oven. We found a small Christmas market to visit at the Hanoi Social Club and we sat on the roof terrace drinking mulled wine and hot chocolate, Christmas songs playing in the background. We Skyped our families and ahhed over pictures of my baby nephew wearing an elf suit and we wished we were there. It’s at this time of year that our desire to travel feels like a sacrifice.
Still, as this Christmas marks the end of another year filled with adventure, I’m so grateful for everything we’ve experienced and achieved since that Christmas in Dalat last year. Back then I never would have guessed that in a years’ time I’d be teaching in Vietnam, that our savings account would be filling up so nicely or that our plans for the future would take us back to the UK, over to America and beyond. Merry Christmas everyone, here’s to a new year of adventures!