It all started in early December, about 2-3 weeks before Christmas, when the major stores and malls started putting up Christmas decorations and they started playing Christmas music. It was neat to hear things like Jinge-bells in Vietnamese, but strange too I must say (there was a mix of English and Vietnamese songs). I had seen X-mas trees come into the stores back in November, but this was a whole new level of decorations. [The fascinating thing was that even though there were TONS of decorations at the store (to buy) up to the week of Christmas, the day after everything was GONE.] Another funny thing was that most of the decorating was done right before Christmas, like days before, and we've been assured by our friends here that it will likely stay up for the better part of this year before it is taken down (though Gameloft has taken down their decorations already, yay!).
Here's Michael with some of the creepy reindeer at the building where he works. They totally looked like they would kill you in your sleep...
Santa is by far the greatest symbol of Christmas out here - most of the decorations centered around him - but with one big difference - they are usually skinny! This Santa had an amazingly long mustache that curled up instead of down - and everyone was taking pictures with him. There were plushie santas at the store that were really popular, but a bit pricey, we got a little one to hang on our tree. Santa outfits were EVERYWHERE, stores full of them in every size. It was really fun to see a bunch of skinny Vietnamese guys wearing Santa suits riding motorbikes around town Christmas Eve. On the walk by the river there were a bunch of them sitting around with little sleighs that you could pay to get a photo with them, and I must say I regret not getting a photo with a skinny, dark tan, smoking Santa Claus this year, oh well.
When we first got married, we thought we'd purchase a special ornament each year, like a tradition or something, but admittedly we usually forget until the after-Christmas sales. But when we saw these guys -
We knew we had to keep up the tradition. Santa Gremlins will always remind us of our XMas in Vietnam.
In this photo you can see our little X-Mas tree on the right side of the photo. They had much bigger ones but we didn't want to spend the money. We were lucky and passed a shop that sold lights, so we bought a few strands for decoration also. What we consider as Christmas lights are every-day decoration here for stores and restaurants, so they are sold at general hardware stores and not with the Christmas decorations elsewhere. We had a strand over our window too, it was fun, we might live true to Vietnamese fashion and leave them up until summer.
For Christmas we figured we hadn't heard anything from friends, so we decided to throw a party at our house on Christmas Eve. I was thinking this would be a fine day, as Christmas Eve is more for friends whereas Christmas Day is usually more for family, but it was an interesting cultural discovery to find out that not everyone in the world looks at it that way, anyhew, it was a bit stressful but ended up just fine in the end. I wanted to have a bit of a cross-cultural experience, so I decided to make Egg Nog for the party.
It actually ended up really good! I used this recipe - without the rum of course - and although it took a while to make (trying to boil milk without scorching it takes forever!) it was worth the effort in the end. If I make it again I will add some more spices (you couldn't taste it much). It was interesting to see our friends' reaction to it - they had never heard of it before - and some liked it, some didn't, and everybody said it tasted like something they have in their own country; Maxi from Argentina said it tasted like a cake that they make there, Charles from France said it tasted like something they have there, and it went on. Michael and I ended up drinking most of it, but ultimately I was proud of myself for making a "traditional" dish that tasted pretty good.
As for the rest of the party, it went pretty well. Here is everyone with our hard furniture:
Simon, on the right with the dreadlocks, is British, he had just moved here from Canada to be lead Producer at the studio. He's really cool - and his hair grants him celebrity status here as everyone wants to have a photo taken with him. From Right to left there is Simon, Xavier (France), Charles (France), Michael, Marie (France), Maxi (Argentina), and Phi, one of our best Vietnamese friends. Xavier's girlfriend Geraldine was home in France for the holiday, but joined us on Skype for a few minutes at the beginning of the party.
And here is our crazy food spread! I was worried it would be all candy and no food, but we ended up having WAY too much food. Marie was amazing and made ratatouille, some fish and egg dish, and some really spicy potato pancake things, and Maxi made Empanadas (in the bucket), and Charles brought the epic Foie Gras from his latest trip home before the holidays (it's in the front center, the pink stuff). Foie Gras is a French delicacy of duck liver that you eat with bread, Michael was brave enough to try it and he said it was pretty good. Maxi caused a cultural uproar with Marie when he put some of it between two slices of bread like a sandwich, and I didn't dare try it - I claimed my "recovering vegetarian" card and got out of it.
Our neighbors Haroeth and Alfa came later too, and brought Apple Walnut Raisin cake and an awesome Cranberry tart (not photo'd here), and we watched Elf, not a bad party.
Christmas Day came and Michael took the morning off of work (no work holiday here), and we talked with family and went to a fancy lunch at the Red Sky restaurant with friends. Here's Michael with his Carrot Soup. I got some Schnitzel, and it was good, but I missed the hot potato salad and the German red cabbage like you get at Siegfried's Deli in Salt Lake City. But it was nice to have a sit-down dinner with friends for the holiday. It was kind of funny/sad though, because we discovered that Christmas really is celebrated on the 24th of December in Vietnam instead of the 25th - all the Merry Christmas greetings, the lights, the smoking Santas, parties, the whole shebang, was gone for the 25th. Weirdest. Christmas. Ever.
Here's a photo of our Christmas present to ourselves - chocolate covered Sunflower Seeds! They are imported from Korea apparently so they are a bit expensive for these parts. They are our favorite treat, so we bought some as an XMas gift to ourselves. **Special Thank You to all our family who were generous and put money in our home account for Christmas! WE LOVE YOU!** We told everyone not to send us presents because it costs so much to ship, and so finding that we still had gifts was really neat.
Oh, and Michael was really sweet and brought me home one of these for Christmas:
A Santa balloon! As you can see from the photo, the vendors walked around with these HUGE clouds of different Santa balloons, all month long, it was pretty neat. I will call him Santa Ballooney and keep him as a friend forever and ever :)
Christmas Day evening we invited whoever wanted to come over to our house to finish the leftovers from the party and maybe play games or watch a movie. Lo and behold, as soon as people showed up - the power went off! It being the first time the power has gone off at night while we were awake, we were scrambling a bit for our headlamps, and luckily we still had candles left from Halloween so we put them in empty jam jars for makeshift lanterns:
It worked out ok, Michael and friends played cards by candlelight while I tried running to the store to buy more candles as we really didn't have more than would last for a short while (so I thought). So I made a mad dash to the store through the rain and, yup, you guessed it, not 5 minutes before I got back to the house the power came back on. That and the candles lasted until we went to bed. Ah well, we are prepared for next time now.
So, there you have it. The weirdest Christmas ever. But it was great to be able to spend it with friends and still be in contact with family on the other side of the world. We love you all and miss you!