By Anna Grieve
Hai Duong city can be found 50 km north of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. It is home for nine months to my daughter Jenelle and me, while I teach nursing here as part of a Canadian International Development Agency project in conjunction with Memorial University in Newfoundland.
Hai Duong is primarily a rural community, The countryside is dotted with small garden plots now growing kohlrabi, cabbage, carrots, beans, tomatoes and potatoes. Soon the rainy season will be here and the second planting of rice begun. Looking out to the horizon, it is likely you will see a slowly lumbering water buffalo, tail swatting flies, pulling a plough, prodded along by a sinewy short (by Canadian standards) farmer.
Elderly women laborously squat and weed, the rhythm of their work only broken as you approach, carnera in hand to attempt to snap a photo. Shaking their heads they smile broadly, displaying blackened lacquered teeth, faces heavily lined by stories of a troubled past.
Ghosts of the past; Vietnam is full of them.
Enter homes and you will frequently find shrines burning incense, a small tubby Buddha prominently displayed in front of a sepia toned photo always of a man, young, serious, handsome and in uniform.
Arriving in Vietnam in August of 1998 was like stepping into an oven. The heat was relentless. It seeped into every pore and seemed to invade brain cells so that the top of your head felt like it wanted to come off. It took every ounce of energy to walk up to my apartment, luggage in hand.
Now it is winter; it is sunny and cool. Many tell me this is the nicest time of year to see Vietnam. I think back to those first months and realize it has thus far been an incredible experience.
There are so many stories to tell and share, images to recall. At times the contrast between our culture in District 69 and the one I am living here is overwhelming. It's impossible to describe or even understand. Other times the similarities between our worlds are comforting and I am reminded of the term "global village."
Christmas in my part of Vietnam - what is it like? The area I am in is primarily Buddhist. The trappings of Christmas can, however, be found in Hanoi, an hour's drive away. There you will find that a few businesses catering to "westerners" have Christmas decorations. The Fivi Mart plays Frank Sinatra singing "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas."
Celine Dion can be found on a copied CD singing Christmas songs. I buy it, grasping for a piece of Canadian content. Ciao (hello in Vietnamese) cafe has a huge gingerbread house regal in red and green candy, Santa surrounded by fluffy cotton. Jenelle is mesmerized and cannot comprehend why she cannot touch this object of her desire.
Here in Hai Duong it is much different. There is no indication that Christmas is approaching. In fact the, farmers are lovingly tending their fields of flowers, mostly yellow chrysanthemums, in anticipation of Tet (lunar New Year) the second week of February. Floral arrangements are big business.
I feel the Christmas spirit is alive & well here despite the semblance of no celebration ...