If this trip has a theme song it would have to be Jingle Bells – we’ve heard it in every imaginable form, in every imaginable location, even in the middle of the Mekong Delta played on traditional Vietnamese instruments. We got to the point where we begged a waiter at the resort in Hoi An to turn it off. He was puzzled but decided to have mercy on us and replaced it with 70s disco music!
The Christmas decorations had started to appear the first few days we were in Ho Chi Minh City and at each stop the hotels, shops and city fathers were busily decorating. It progressed from city to city – more and more elaborate light displays, fake snowmen and towering Christmas trees appeared every day. And everywhere those bloody bells were jingling.
By the time we arrived back in Ho Chi Minh City on December 19 the city was a riot of twinkling, chasing, flashing, pulsating lights. Palm tree trucks were wrapped in blankets of white lights, strings of lights hung from trees like Spanish moss, Christmas trees and snowmen adorned the fronts of stores and very young, very slim and very Vietnamese Santa’s were welcoming shoppers. And that song was sounding from every available piece of audio equipment in the city. It was getting to be a bit much: we were getting a case of the Christmas grumps – after all this was Asia not North America.
But the evening of December 21 – our last night in Vietnam – our Bah Humbug demeanor was demolished. Lam Son Square and the surrounding sidewalks were swarming with people – most of them children. And it looked like any child under 5 – and a few verging on their teens – was wearing a Santa Claus suit: red flannel, faked fur trimmed from pants to toque, some with matching mittens. Mothers proudly stood in front of storefront decorations holding their babies as equally proud Papas made cooing noises and took digital photos. Shots of elderly grandparents with their families were captured beside outsized Nutcrackers – whose purpose were mostly likely a puzzlement to everyone in the group. Groups of giggling school girls posing with fake snowmen called at friends to take pictures with their cell phones. One young girl took a moonstruck pose in front of a photo of Tiger Woods – and dissolved into a fit of embarrassed laughter when she realized she was being watched by a foreigner.
It was simple fun, it was joyous and it was contagious. We gave in! It was Christmas, it was Saigon and it was a celebration. But we’d be damned if we’d sing Jingle Bells!