Although the city has been building up this festival for weeks, the joys of Tết first became apparent to me on Saturday morning.
I have one class which has a boy with special needs in. I’d hazard a guess at some form of autism but I’m not sure. Anyway, he is a bit harder work, especially in ‘mainstream’ class where I don’t have enough time to give him the attention he needs. However, this doesn’t cause too many problems apart from a few tantrums. He threw a crocodile toy at my head last week when he didn’t get to be in the ‘dinosaur’ team. He is obsessed with dinosaurs, it’s all he talks about and he can tell you anything you’d ever want to know about them ( if you happened to want a paleontology lecture from an 8 year old in broken English). Anyway, his mum usual drops him off to class. I’ve never properly spoken to her, but on Saturday she came to the door as usually, gave my Vietnamese Teaching Assistant a red bag and smiled at me. After she’d left the TA gave me the bag which contained a gigantic tin of Danish butter biscuits and a note saying ‘happy new year’ in Vietnamese. I happily accepted this deliciously baked, biscuity bribe and decided that I really liked Tết.
On Sunday, however, this whole Tết business got a lot more fun. The father of one of my students came into the room, shook my hand, said happy new year and passed me this:
It’s a red ‘lucky money’ envelope. Adults traditionally give them to younger children with a little bit of money in, usually about 2000 dong, which is about 6p. I thanked him, shook his hand and he left. After he’d gone I sneaked a quick peak and saw a blue note. I guessed it was a 20,000 and thought wow that’s nice of him. It wasn’t until after the class I realised it was 500,000! Half a million dong is a lot of money here! I spend about 100,000 on an average day, including all my food and transport, so it’s 5 times what I’d spend in a day. It’s around £18 but considering everything is four to five times cheaper here, it’s the equivalent of giving your kid’s teacher in England £80!
I did feel a bit guilty that he’d given me so much and that it may be verging on bribe territory. But other teachers got money too and the students I teach come from quite well off families, the fees for the school are ridiculously high so a lot of the parents are very wealthy. Other staff said it’s quite normal and some long timers told me to wait ’til national ‘Teachers’ Day’ in November, that’s when the big bucks roll in apparently!
The best gift I got however was this:
It’s from one of my teaching assistants. She’s my age, is training at uni to be an English teacher and is the best TA I have, she’s really helpful and kind and joins in all the activities. She gets more into the hockey cokey than the children! She gave me another lucky money envelope with 2000 dong in it, which was really sweet. Again, I didn’t look properly until i got home and realised she’d written a lovely note which read:
From the bottom of my heart, I hope that you’ll have a wonderful time in Vietnam especially in this new year. To be honour, I hope that I can become a really really nice teacher like you in the near future. This is a lucky money, I give you as my wish: luck will be beside you Emma, Your friend Minh.
I’m going to keep it forever.