During the last week of the volatile 2020, Maria Velikaya, a Russian national in Vietnam, was surprised by a birthday gift from her friend Anna while sitting on a bench in the yard of her guesthouse in the coastal town of Mui Ne.
Normally, the last week of the year is a time Velikaya calls an ‘intense’ period of celebrating Christmas, her birthday, her mother’s birthday, and New Year’s all over the course of just a few days.
This year, however, has been unusual for the 30-year-old who has been forced to stay put and celebrate alone in Vietnam while mother battles COVID-19 in Russia.
Sad but safe
"For many Russians, New Year’s is a holiday for family. People gather with a lot of food and wait for New Year's Eve together,” Velikaya told Tuoi Tre News.
“We also spend a lot of time cleaning the house, shopping for groceries, and preparing gifts.
“This year I plan to join some Russian friends here in Vietnam, eat Russian foods and look, and try to create a New Year’s atmosphere like we would have at home,” she added.
Despite feeling a bit down about the situation, Velikaya called herself “extremely lucky and grateful” to be in Vietnam at the moment, adding that New Year’s in Russia would also be extremely atypical.
“Many people around the world are not able to return home to see their parents because they don’t want to put them at risk,” she expressed.
“Here, although I am not with my family, I know I am in a good situation. I am safe here and can do many things. Sometimes I even forget what is going on around the world until I talk to my friends in other countries.”
“My mother is infected, my friend's father is infected, many of my friends and their families are infected,” she continued.
“People are scared, distressed, and lonely, many haven’t been able to leave home for weeks.
“It’s a feeling I can’t fully imagine because I have never experienced it,” Velikaya continued.
Maria Velikaya first came to Vietnam in May 2019 for a one-year working contract.
She then travelled to Mui Ne last year for a New Year’s celebration because she loved the beach vibes. Five months later, she decided to move to the coastal town in order to better enjoy the peace and tranquility of the ocean.
Currently, Velikaya commutes about 40 minutes each day for her job as a teacher at an English center in Phan Thiet City, 20km away from the guesthouse where she rents a room.
For her birthday this year, Velikaya was able to celebrate with fellow Russian national Anna Shafran and Moroccan national Amy Oumaima El Gaddar.
Her ‘super friendly’ landlord even presented her with a birthday cake.
“I think it’s going to be ok,” 28-year-old Anna Shafran shared about her New Year’s away from home.
Meanwhile, Moroccan Amy Oumaima El Gaddar said she will spend the holiday in Saigon with a group of friends from Australia, South Africa, and America.
“I think I will only meet with people I know, and people who care about the virus like me,” she said.
“The virus is still out there although Vietnam is a safe place, so we have to be careful.
“We’re already living here alone, if we get sick and cannot go to work, the situation would be terrible,” she explained.
Hope the pandemic to be over
When it comes to New Year wishes, Amy Oumaima El Gaddar did not hesitate to call out COVID-19.
“For the virus to disappear and everyone to travel and see each other again is my main wish,” she expressed.
“Before, you could plan out where you’d be in two months. That’s impossible now.”
“I’m not talking about travelling to explore the world, but there are moments in life you need to be by someone’s side, and I really hope that people can do that during the next year,” Maria Velikaya revealed her wish.
“In Russian, on the New Year’s Eve, people write their wishes on a piece of paper, then burn it and drink the ashes with champagne before 12.
“I know what I’m going to write on my wishing paper this year,” she continued.
Sharing the same wish that “the world finally gets a handle on COVID and I can finally see my family and friends,” American travel blogger Samantha said this is the first time she has celebrated New Year in Vietnam, as the pandemic has extended her one-month plan in the Southeast Asian country by nearly a year.
|American travel blogger Samantha poses for a picture in front of a building in downtown Ho Chi Minh City decorated to celebrate the occasion of Christmas and New Year of 2021. Photo: Supplied|
"I’m meeting with friends at a little house gathering. In other countries, I don’t know any one celebrating as they’re all still trying to social distance,” Samantha said.
“I feel extremely blessed to be in Vietnam where things are still feel safe and they treat every new case more seriously than some countries treat thousands,” she continued.
Make 2021 more meaningful
As COVID-19 has changed people’s ways of New Year celebration, some foreigners living in Vietnam have set up their New Year resolutions in a ‘Vietnamese’ style.
Danny Flood from San Diego has ‘taken advantage of’ his time being stranded in Vietnam due to the pandemic to travel across the Southeast Asian country.
|Danny Flood is seen in a photo taken during his trip to the central city of Hue. Photo: Supplied|
Calling himself a nomad, Flood said he had been to many places around the world and without the pandemic, he could never tell his whereabouts at the moment.
The self-employed man spent his 2020 Christmas in Hanoi before travelling to the central Da Nang City for New Year celebration with some friends.
“We may celebrate near the Dragon Bridge,” Flood told Tuoi Tre News on his way to Da Nang Airport to pick up a friend from Saigon.
Aside from spending time exploring the country, the man having a strong interest in learning foreign languages has made ‘learning Vietnamese’ one of his major resolutions for next year.
“During my time in Vietnam, I wanted to put more effort into learning Vietnamese,” Flood recalled.
“Before, I only knew a few phrases like ‘xin chao’ (hello), ‘cam on’ (thank you), ‘bao nhieu’ (how much),” he added, saying he wanted to improve his Vietnamese speaking skill and memorize more words in 2021.
To share his passion among other expats, the American man has encouraged foreign members of a Facebook group with a post affirming that “Vietnamese is not as difficult as people thought.”
Meanwhile, John Petter Klovstad from Norway decided to make his 2021 a greener year by picking up trash during his morning jogging routine.
Since the beginning of December, the 59-year-old man has put on gloves to pick up rubbish around his home in Ho Chi Minh City, calling his act a Christmas present to everyone.
|John Petter Klovstad from Norway poses for a picture with a bag of rubbish he picked up during his morning jogging routine in December in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Supplied|
“During my morning walks in the last 2 weeks, I have collected 35 bags of rubbish in the surrounding area to make it a nicer place to walk around,” Klovstad wrote on a group with nearly 182,000 members including many foreigners.
“I challenge all of you to spend one day picking up a bag of rubbish, no matter where you are from. Make our new year cleaner. Feel free to share and challenge your friends to do the same,” he continued.
Klovstad said he felt encouraged by people who gave him a bottle of water, a cup of ice tea or came to give him a handshake and told him that he “is doing a great job.”