Tet has been and gone this year, and I spent it without my family. The very first time I have done this in all my years on earth.
There was one Tet that I spent with only my eldest brother, when I moved to Melbourne. I was miserable. I rang my mother and father to say “chuc mung nam moi” and started crying. Given that I had fought so hard for the scrap of independence that moving to Melbourne meant to me, I lied when my mother asked if I was okay: “Yes, I just have a cold because the weather here has been changing all over the place.” (cue Crowded House’s Four Seasons in One Day).
My brother took me to his wife’s family for Tet lunch and festivities. Although I had previously enjoyed their company, I did not on that day. And I really did not want to play cards with them, or roll the dice on bo cua ca cop game. It was all reminder of what I should have been doing with my real loved ones – not this fake family.
This year, far away from home, I telephoned my parents at midnight my time and 10am their time, to say “chuc mung nam moi” and Ba responded with a hesitant “happy new year“. It was very sweet of him to make a nod towards my distance from my family and culture by saying those words in English. Um was in high spirits because the family were coming over, banh chung had been steamed all day and a feast was to be had. Our Tet conversations, like most of our conversations, lasted no more than 5 minutes – me shivering in a telephone booth with my partner beside me and Um & Ba sweating together with the phone to their ears (I can picture it because that’s what they do when they ring someone in Viet Nam and because they were talking over the top of each other at me).
Then I went home and went to sleep.
We had no Tet festivities because it was only the two of us, and we were still in transition at that stage. But I was not sad, and I am not entirely sure why. Possibly because I did not speak to any of my nieces or nephews, who have a remarkable ability to make me cry by saying such charming things as: “Are you coming to mum’s house next weekend?” and then asking “Why?” when I say no, or demanding to know why they have not seen me for a while, or worse still, being quiet because they are shy of me.
Does this mean I will be in transition all year, but stoic about it?
Tseen over at Banana Lounge put on a fabulous feast for her loved ones for her new year. I wish I could say our family feasts look like this, but they are never this organised or beautifully laid out. The food is half eaten before it even hits the table. But I like the chaos, and I miss it too.
I also enjoyed reading how Tet celebrations are held by diverse folk, over at Nha.* I am looking forward to initiating new traditions, and possibly having a belated Tet feast (I can hear your gasps of shocked horror and I defy you all) when I feel more settled (ie. when I have friends – cue violin music). Oh, and I need more crockery, too.
* thanks to Sume for directing me there!