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Expats immersed in Tet: A visual and emotional exploration in Vietnam

Saturday, February 10, 2024, 23:05 GMT+7
Expats immersed in Tet: A visual and emotional exploration in Vietnam
A farmer prepares bougainvillea for Tet in the southern region of Vietnam. Photo: Jet Anthony De La Cruz

There was a time when many foreigners living in Vietnam were 'scared' of Tet (Lunar New Year), as the country’s longest holiday of the year was considered 'boring,' with all shops shut down and streets turning empty.

As a result, many opted to spend their days off traveling abroad and waiting for the holiday to be over, so that they can get back to their normal life.

Nevertheless, an increasing number of expatriates are growing to love the holiday, fueled by their comprehension of its significance and their admiration for Tet's beauty and traditions.

'Captivated' by Tet

Jet Anthony De La Cruz is one of them.

The Filipino, who has lived in Vietnam for almost 14 years, called Tet “a remarkable photography journey” for him. 

Working as a creative director in a multinational advertising agency in Vietnam, he stumbled upon the world of photography while navigating the creative landscape professionally.

What started as a mere hobby quickly transformed into a second passion which has encouraged him to explore the beauty of Vietnam.

A farmer waters flowers for Tet in the southern region of Vietnam. Photo: Jet Anthony De La Cruz

A farmer waters the flowers to be sold for Tet in the southern region of Vietnam. Photo: Jet Anthony De La Cruz

Those familiar with De La Cruz on Instagram can effortlessly discover what he refers to as the "essence of Vietnam" through his posts on the handle @jetjetdelacruz, where he has amassed over 23,000 followers.

His photos capture a spectrum of elements, ranging from Vietnam's architecture and candid glimpses of daily life to the revelation of hidden cultural treasures.

“I am particularly drawn to the enduring charm of old traditions that persist to this day,” De La Cruz told Tuoi Tre News.

“[Tet] serves as a splendid example of the enduring preservation of cultural heritage, celebrated with enthusiasm and grace to this day.

“I cannot help but be captivated by the sight of blooming flowers adorning every corner of the country, adding a touch of natural beauty to the festive atmosphere. 

“Streets come alive with the lively hues of ao dai, creating a mesmerizing visual spectacle that reflects the richness of Vietnamese tradition and culture.”

Farmers takes care of Tet flowers on a field in the southern region of Vietnam. Photo: Jet Anthony De La Cruz

Farmers prepareTet flowers on a field in the southern region of Vietnam. Photo: Jet Anthony De La Cruz

A dog walks on a field of Tet flowers in the southern region of Vietnam. Photo: Jet Anthony De La Cruz

A dog walks on a field of Tet flowers in the southern region of Vietnam. Photo: Jet Anthony De La Cruz

Years of living in Vietnam have enabled him to grasp that Tet is a unique time when families joyfully come together to celebrate and forge enduring memories.

“It's heartwarming to witness people stepping out with their loved ones, embracing the joyous spirit of Tet and immersing themselves in every precious moment,” he said.

“Capturing these scenes is not just about documenting the visual splendor but also about encapsulating the palpable sense of joy, unity, and cultural pride that permeates the air during Tet."

Contrasting with the one-day celebration he was accustomed to in the Philippines, De La Cruz now wholeheartedly celebrates Tet either with his wife and her family in the central province of Quang Nam or opts to stay in Ho Chi Minh City, exploring the tranquil yet festive streets.

“The city, which is typically abuzz with activity, undergoes a temporary transformation during Tet, allowing residents to pause and reflect,” he said.

“It's not about boredom, it's about embracing the stillness and finding beauty in the quietude." 

According to De La Cruz, Tet represents more than just a festive occasion, it is a meaningful pause in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. 

“It provides a valuable opportunity for relaxation, reflection, and reconnection,” he said. 

Farmers load baskets of Chrysanthemum morifolium, a favorite type of flowers for Tet in southern region of Vietnam, on a truck. Photo: Jet Anthony De La Cruz

Farmers load baskets of Chrysanthemum morifolium, a favorite type of flower for Tet in the southern region of Vietnam, on a truck. Photo: Jet Anthony De La Cruz

The transition of Hanoi's Old Quarter during Tet

Known for a number of photo books about Hanoi, Marcus Lacey from England considers this year's Tet an important occasion because he is working on another new photo book about the Vietnamese capital's Old Quarter.

“Currently, my focus lies on capturing the disparities between the bustling streets before Tet and the serene quietude that ensues,” he revealed.

“This transition should look amazing.”

Hanoi's Old Quarter is crowded on a day before Tet. Photo: Marcus Lacey

Hanoi's Old Quarter is crowded on a day before Tet. Photo: Marcus Lacey

Before arriving in Vietnam in late 2016, Lacey had no prior knowledge of Tet, and even now, he continues to learn more about this cultural celebration.

One of the aspects endearing Tet to the photographer is the abundance of subjects he finds enjoyable to capture through his lens.

In his Food Odyssey Hanoi book, Lacey introduced banh chung, a requisite dish for Tet, alongside the famous dishes that represent Hanoi's rich food culture.

A Tet meal at a family in Hanoi. Photo: Marcus Lacey

A Tet meal at a family in Hanoi. Photo: Marcus Lacey

“I will spend Tet photographing as much as possible the old quarter, the flower market, and food marketplaces,” Lacey told Tuoi Tre News.

"I look forward to spending quality time with my landlord's family.

"We enjoy homemade chips together, savoring drinks and food for an extended period -- it's a delightful and enjoyable experience."

Having been in Vietnam for more than seven years, Lacey said that he loves nature, history, the people, and landscapes here.

“The people in Hanoi have a great sense of humor and are very friendly,” he said.

"The history of Hanoi fascinates me; there are many parallels with cities and towns in the UK, most of which originated as ports or markets.

"There's an abundance of subjects to photograph, and that's why I love it here."

A motorbike carries spring flowers on Hanoi street. Photo: Marcus Lacey

A motorbike carries spring flowers on a Hanoi street. Photo: Marcus Lacey

According to the photographer, Hanoi provides wonderful photographic opportunities throughout the year.

"Even during the winter months, with the mist and fog, it can be exceptionally beautiful," he remarked.

In the days leading up to Tet, Lacey's Facebook, followed by 33,000 people, was adorned with photos capturing the celebratory spirit in Hanoi -- featuring peach blossoms, lively spring markets, flower vendors infusing a spring atmosphere as they traverse the streets on their bikes, and more.

A peach blossom garden in Hanoi. Photo: Marcus Lacey

A peach blossom garden in Hanoi. Photo: Marcus Lacey

Women don ao dai (Vietnamese traditional dress) while visit a peach blossom garden in Hanoi. Photo: Marcus Lacey

Women don 'ao dai' (Vietnam's traditional long gown) while visiting a peach blossom garden in Hanoi. Photo: Marcus Lacey

A peach blossom garden in Hanoi. Photo: Marcus Lacey

A peach blossom garden in Hanoi. Photo: Marcus Lacey

'It's fun to see the family together'

Having chosen Hanoi as his place of residence, South Korean Lee Hyo-seung holds a special affection for the city's street life, nurtured over five years of living in the capital.

Browsing through his photographic portfolio on the Instagram handle @orbis.hanoian, one can quickly gather the impression that he captures every corner of Hanoi, as he aptly describes in his profile as being "inspired by the streets of Hanoi."

Tet atmosphere in Hanoi captured by Lee Hyo-seung

The Tet atmosphere in Hanoi as captured by Lee Hyo-seung

Lee’s photos of Hanoi bring an old but gold sense.

His photos encapsulate scenes such as moss-covered brick gates, street vendors' bicycles weaving through the streets of Hanoi, the warmth of sunrise casting a golden hue on the surroundings, and glimpses of the capital city's modern facets.

A woman rides a bicycle on a street festooned with Vietnamese national flags in Hanoi. Photo: Lee Hyo-seung

A woman rides a bicycle on a street festooned with Vietnamese national flags in Hanoi. Photo: Lee Hyo-seung

As a South Korean, the Lunar New Year is not too strange to him, plus his wife is Vietnamese.

As Tet comes, he has familiarized himself with Vietnam's Tet traditions, including rituals like honoring the family's ancestors and the symbolic act of releasing common carp into rivers and lakes, a tradition associated with the Kitchen Gods ascending to heaven on the 23rd day of the twelfth Vietnamese lunar month.

Lee also lamented the diminishing enthusiasm and effort people seem to invest in preparing for Tet in the modern context, where everything is more developed than before.

For this year's Tet holiday, Lee celebrates the holiday in Vietnam. 

"I may have to prepare myself to drink a lot more alcohol, but I like it. It's fun to see the family gather together and talk about this and that," he shared.

“When I went to my wife's house to celebrate the Lunar New Year for the first time after I married her, I was surprised to see all the relatives of around 30-40 people gathering and eating together."

People wear ao dai on the street of Hanoi ahead of Tet. Photo: Marcus Lacey

People wear 'ao dai' on the street of Hanoi ahead of Tet. Photo: Lee Hyo-seung

A woman carry a branch of peach blossom in Hanoi. Photo: Lee Hyo-seung

A woman carries a branch of peach blossoms on the street of Hanoi. Photo: Lee Hyo-seung

Peach blossoms signal Tet in Hanoi. Photo: Lee Hyo-seung

Peach blossoms signal Tet in Hanoi. Photo: Lee Hyo-seung

A shop selling Tet decorations in Hanoi. Photo: Lee Hyo-seung

A shop selling Tet decorations in Hanoi. Photo: Lee Hyo-seung

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Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

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