Tết is the Lunar New Year. Think of it as Christmas, your birthday, the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving all bundled together. Families get together, go to the home village, tidy up the house, venerate their ancestors, visit friends, party – and eat.
For one evening, I was transported back to Việt Nam but I was actually in San Antonio, a place more often associated with cowboys, Mexican food, and the Spurs. There is a small pagoda in the city, supported by the relatively small Vietnamese population. It was the perfect place to gather – have a party – pray for your ancestors – sing the old songs – and enjoy fireworks. (Interestingly, the only forms of fireworks now permitted in Việt Nam today are displays put on by city or village government. Families are no longer permitted to set off fireworks – too many people getting hurt every year.)
Trang and I made the four hour drive from deep south Texas to San Antonio where we joined Tuan. Along with some of the other Vietnamese students at the University of Texas – San Antonio, he was to do the lion dance. I suppose it’s not really a dance, and the lion could easily be mistaken for a dragon, but the two men inside are extremely vigorous. Accompanied by drums and gongs, onlookers (often children) write out a wish for the new year, add a small bit of cash, put it all in a red envelope and “feed it” to the lion. Much fun – much laughter – much tradition. Tuan was pretty whooped after the first dance and needed a little recuperation before dancing a second time.
Of course, there was entertainment. A Vietnamese pop singer from southern California was there – not only was she easy on the eyes, but had a gorgeous voice. The band was a group of locals, most of them about my age or only a little younger. When they played “Black Magic Woman”, I wondered if they had played for an American audience a long time ago.
Then the cacophonous end of the evening. Firecrackers – big ones – huge strings of them, suspended from a high wire – and guaranteed to scare little kids and evil spirits. The two lions danced, the people whooped and hollered – and I kept brushing little pieces of burnt firecracker paper out of my hair.
The only way I could have had a better time would be that I had spent it in Việt Nam.