2023 is the sixth year Thai national Natalya Thanasirimethee celebrates Tet in Vietnam, and this year she has got a piggy bank to save all the red envelops that people love to give her.
“My wife is a foreigner and she speaks Vietnamese like a small child. My relatives seem to enjoy interacting with her and so they give her a lot of li xi during Tet, which makes her happy,” her husband Le Anh Tuan said,
referring to the tradition of giving people money during the Lunar New Year to wish them luck.
The two got married in 2016, and have been traveling from Thailand to Vietnam’s central province of Thanh Hoa every Lunar New Year as she enjoys the local food, including the stinky shrimp paste.
During their first visit, her parents-in law had to look for ingredients everywhere to make her the traditional bun dau mam tom made from fried tofu, rice vermicelli and shrimp paste.
She fell in love with the dish. The next year she made them some Vietnamese food herself after learning
the recipes from her husband. “My mother-in-law was shocked because my Vietnamese cooking skills had
improved so much within a year.”
This year Nat also helps Tuan’s family sell banana leaves and other ingredients to make banh chung, a
square-shaped pack of sticky rice with meat and bean fillings wrapped in green leaves. They also plan to make some banh chung for her parents in Thailand.
Le Anh Tuan and his Thai wife Natthaya Thanasirimethee pose for a photo in Thanh Hoa Province. Photo courtesy of of Tuan
Japanese national Shiho is celebrating her second Tet this year and has in the last few days spent a lot of time taking care of her in-laws’ garden and chicken flock to prepare for the New Year’s Eve dinner, considered one of the most important meals in Vietnamese tradition when family members reunite and eat together.
Her husband Bui Ho’s family lives in the southern province of Vinh Long, and he has been showing her how to take care of flowers so they bloom at the right time.
Shiho said: “During my first Tet I was mostly an observer. But this year I am doing some real work.”
The two met while working for the same company in Japan, and the differences in cultures fascinate both of them.
“Vietnam’s Tet is festive. In the countryside, people play loud music and eat right at the door. They even invite neighbors to join the fun.” In Japanese culture, people are often reserved and keep to themselves, she said to
point out the contrast.
Shiho soon learned that most people in the small town know each other and so her appearance as a foreigner attracted a lot of attention. “Everyone was looking at me when I went to the market. I was shy at first, but their friendliness made me become comfortable.”
As Ho prefers to live in Vietnam, Shiho supported him and agreed to move. “We want our two-year-old daughter Homi to be able to speak Vietnamese and understand the traditions of both countries.”
South Korean Ara was initially terrified at seeing big chunks of bloody meat being laid out in the market when she first celebrated Tet in 2018.
During the three days of the Lunar New Year, relatives flocked to her house and tried to make conversations with her. Ara knows Vietnamese, but still struggled to understand their fast-paced conversation and felt out of place.
“Dishes piled up and as it is expected that the women should clean them, I had to work and my back hurt badly.”
She discussed this with her husband, who then began ordering food in so his wife and other ladies could have some rest.
The following years things became more comfortable for Ara as he took her to many places and she got used to eating more Vietnamese food. She became closer with his family, and is now excited to celebrate the New Year with them.
Czech national Alena Famova gives a child ‘li xi', an envelop containing cash to wish him luck and health in the Lunar New Year. Photo by ThuyLinh Pham
Czech woman Alena Famova also complained that cleaning up is a pain for Vietnamese women during the festival, and she said husbands should either hire people to help or themselves help out more in the kitchen. “The Tet traditions are interesting, but they can be time consuming.”
She has been married and living in Vietnam for 35 years but is only celebrating her fourth Tet in the country, and learned recently the actual meaning of the red envelope tradition.
“I thought that they gave each other cash to buy gifts, but now I know that it is more than that. It is to wish the recipient luck for the whole year.”
Duc Anh and Anita celebrate the New Year 2023 at their home in Hanoi. Photo by Michale Jordan
Ukrainian Anita and Duc Anh first met each other in 2020, and this year Anita is celebrating her first Tet in Vietnam. “I am very excited and have been preparing my ao dai for a month. Tet in Vietnam is very different from what I am familiar with.”
Anh plans to take her to visit his family and temples since she cannot return to Ukraine now that the crisis with Russia continues.
“If there were no war, we would be spending time with our family and friends drinking champagne and counting down to the new year.”
Anita hoped the war would end before next year that so she could introduce her husband to the Ukrainian way of celebrating New Year.