“You know, this day isn’t really important for Vietnamese people,” my friend said as we sat on the balcony overlooking the market.
The morning sun lit up her face in crisp relief. There was a fair breeze in the air from the nearby river. I picked at my chocolate mousse cake – which had previously been a cute teddy bear face with cocoa-dusted “fur” – with the small spoon it had come with. It was January 1st, and the market bustled below as on any other day.
This was it, the new year. The new decade.
My friend – who goes by Tammy – was right: the day wasn’t very important for Vietnamese people, who have a traditional lunar new year called Tet, which normally falls later in January or in February. Of course, nothing looked or acted different, either.
Maybe something inside me wanted it to.
The night before had found me in, of all places, my room. I had been lazy and decided against going out to find a party, which isn’t my natural environment, anyway. So I just sat at my table, drinking a glass of wine, writing in my diary, listening to a karaoke party reverberating from somewhere down the street. The tail end of the decade slowly went tick tock tick tock…
That whole mentally bundled span of college, jobs, adventures, traveling, friendships, relationships, miseries, experience, personal growth – was there any merit in saying farewell to what had already long passed?
My phone clock showed the final stretch, the last minute. Was I ready, ready for it all to end? Too late to answer, last 10 seconds…. I think I said something that was sort of like a prayer in my head.
The karaoke party erupted in euphoric cheers. I heard them clap along to a New Year’s song I had never heard before.
Now here I was, facing Tammy and my nearly devoured bear on New Year’s morning.
Later in the day, I decided to go for an evening drive. I took the bridge over the river, beneath the dark clouds that were sailing in on the wind and casting stray drops of rain. Then I decided to pull off and drive as close as I could to the riverbank, where things are less developed and discolored houses sit beside the tall weeds.
Roads: they tell more stories than we are willing to perceive. There are the smooth, clean-swept, asphalt-paved streets where headlamps flow in a blinding river; then there are the narrow concrete-laid paths that snake through the untamed extremities of the city, pockmarked, sullied, darkly puddled with rainwater, sparsely lit only by the sickly light of street lamps. And then there are the beaten dirt paths that go by the aged blue skiffs dragged up onto the bank, as well as makeshift boathouses that were thrown together with tarps and bamboo poles. A middle-aged man must have noticed my Western face passing by in the darkness and said “Hello!”
Indeed, nothing changes on New Year’s Day.
I went back onto the main streets, slipping through neighborhood after night-soaked neighborhood without much sense of direction. Here, a market still operated with old women crouched on the street side selling basins of fish and vegetables beneath white LED lights. There, a gaggle of kids played amid the shadows of monolithic apartment blocks. The air was not cool, not warm.
What will happen during this decade? Will I get married? Will anyone I know die? Will I die? How will the world look in 10 years’ time?
Such an eerie shroud of mystery to poke at.
I ended up slowly cruising through one of the quiet areas outside the center of town where large opulent houses are going up, the kind of properties that make one wonder – but not really – what some people did to afford such palaces. Some of them, still unfinished, had laborers carrying on their work within the brightly lit interiors. The rest of the area was flat, dark and not yet developed.
If one chose to look for such things, they would have noted the low-hanging clouds glowing pale from the city lights.
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