Teachers’ Day and that time I had to eat meat.

chào mừng ngày nhà giáo Việt Nam!

Not content with celebrating Christmas Day, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Women’s Day , Children’s Day, Easter, Independence Day, Reunification Day,  Tet, Lantern Festival, the anniversaries of various kings, Workers’ Day and a whole host of lunar and Buddhist related days, the Vietnamese have had Teachers’ Day for 30 years.

And in true Vietnamese fashion it’s very overstated, emotional and full of language that wouldn’t look out of place on a propaganda poster. There’s not just a ‘Happy Teachers’ Day’ card, but a long message professing gratitude for your continued dedication, wisdom and sacrifice for the generation of tomorrow.

I got invited to a celebration at the university I work out. I turned up having woken up half an hour before, hair still wet and not looking great. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, the westerner in my thought it was just another card company conspiracy. I was wrong. I walked into a room full of students and staff, got a standing ovation, a bunch of roses and cards and approximately a million people wanting to take photos with me, all I did was turn up! I met the president, chancellor and directors of the university and was violently hugged and genuinely thanked many times. I felt like some sort of celebrity fraud. The whole thing lasted about two hours, everything was in Vietnamese so I had no idea what as going on. Every now and then everybody would cheer or clap so I tried to keep in time with that. They sang karaoke, played a Vietnamese version of ‘catch phrase’ ( I think) and presented some awards. They asked me to present some awards, which was funny seeing as I had no idea what I was presenting or what anybody was saying. It was great seeing my students singing and dancing, some of them were fantastic.

Then came the food section. Every class had spent the day preparing a dish for the teachers. As the only non-Vietnamese person in the room I was invited to try the dishes. Cue me standing on a stage, with a microphone, in front of hundreds of eager looking staff and students who’d given their time and were excited for me to try their work. There was not one vegetarian dish. I didn’t know what to do, there’s no way I couldn’t have refused without greatly offending so many people who’d been so generous. So, for the first time in 12 years, I knowingly ate tiny pieces of meat. In all honesty, I hated it but I reckon I pulled off the ‘don’t be sick and say ‘delicious’ in Vietnamese’ act very well. I did manage to say ‘no thank you’ to anymore though.

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