As 2011 comes to a close, it brings with it not only an eight month anniversary of travelling but also my first holiday season away from my family. It’s a strange to be surrounded by 63 other travellers and partying all day!
It didn’t feel Christmassy….
Back home in the UK Christmas period is simply all about the shops wanting you to buy as much tat as they can possibly make you. Christmas music is blasted out everywhere and you simply cannot escape.
Here in South East Asia it is slightly different. Singapore has a large Christian population and is also very western in it’s approach so there are Christmas lights, lots of shops selling gifts and music playing. The thing was, the celebration wasn’t everywhere so it was very easy to step into Chinatown, Little India or anywhere else and escape for a while. It was, well, nice.
Head into Hanoi, Vietnam and it’s different again. There is a void of Christmas decorations pretty much everywhere except those catering for the Western market and life just continues as normal. It’s refreshing that the people pestering you to buy tat, will do that any day of the year, not just at Christmas!
Christmas Eve is just manic
So, Christmas eve arrived and I headed out into town with three English girls aiming for the market and then the cathedral. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
The story goes that the Vietnamese descend on the Old Quarter of Hanoi for one huge party / celebration and they all come on their scooters or motorbikes. Even if that story is wrong, it looked pretty accurate – every road was log jammed, every junction was at a standstill, every market stall surrounded by people looking at the gifts, horns tooted less than you’d expect, and exhaust gases billowed!
We eventually arrived at the Cathedral to see the square filled with people and as we walked forward the girls stopped for a picture and ended up been treat like celebrities – everyone wanted a picture taken with the attractive, tall, ginger haired white girls. It was hilarious the way people literally took a step back and gasped when they saw the girls beside them – I was rightly invisible around then and it was great. Amusingly, directly above the cathedral the only star visible shone brightly – it almost felt like the nativity play.
After we got back and gulped down a beer we all headed out to a bar to continue the party and whilst the first place wasn’t to my taste (it was a hotel lobby pumping out trance music), the second was – lots of great music and people dancing about like loons. They even played Slade’s Christmas classic and it was brilliant to hear (exactly the opposite of what happens back home)!
Just after midnight I was able to call my family back home and explain to my young nephew and niece that we had just seen Santa Claus and that I’d left him a note to make sure he pops across to their house that night. Even many thousands of miles away I can still tease them!
Christmas Day was just a little bit messy.
So, Christmas day started at midday when the 64 people sat down at the table for lunch. The table was so crowded it made the school dinner tables positively spacious. We sat on each others laps, eating as fast we could so the next person in line could have their turn. We couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves, although I guess the free bar helped as the wine, beer, gin & tonics, rum & cokes all flowed freely. The food came out and was delicious – pumpkin soup, roast chicken, potatoes, green beans, honey glazed ham and apple crumble.
Sitting there, surrounded by strangers, drinking the free beer, toasting the missing loved ones, eating the great tasting food, playing a simple drinking game and cementing friendships whilst making new ones made for the best Christmas I’ve ever had. Sure I missed my family back home but here there was no worries. Here we free to just have a crazy party and enjoy the day for what it is – a purely happy time.
Boxing Day was unsurprisingly a subdued affair. Everyone woke late and was suffering from hangovers of one description or another so the majority just sat in the hostel chilling. It was therefore time to bring out my Christmas treat which I’d been carrying for the last month or so and share them with new friends. The 6 Mr Kipling Cherry Bakewells and Ambrosia Custard have never, ever tasted so good!
Reflections of a Seasonal nature
I don’t know if other people do this, but Christmas for me is always a time of reflection. It’s a time of looking back over the last year (or years) and thinking about everything that has gone by. This year is no different, except that I’ve got more to think about.
Thus, this year, I’m raised a quiet toast to the people I’ve left behind and the new ones I’ve met. To those I travelled with, I’ve shared dorms with, I’ve chatted lightly and those I’ve shared life stories. To those who made me laugh, that made me cry. Those that walked a different way to I and those I met again. I raise my glass and simply say “safe, happy, travels”.
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