FRIDAY 11 JANUARY 2013 ______NEW YEAR IN HOI AN, VIETNAM
A happy new year in Hoi An
First, I must apologise for the lateness of this blog, and for my 'silence' during my holiday in Vietnam. Cyber-space and the technology of my phone remain a mystery to me and I was unable to send emails, tweets or anything else! This made for a very relaxing but uncommunicative holiday! Now I am back, here is a tale of new year in Vietnam...
The new year in Vietnam should be a relatively quiet affair - it is a normal working day for every one; at least I though so until we reached the small jewel of a town called Hoi An, which normally hums to its own rhythm… but not last night.
I had forgotten that 30% of tourism in Vietnam is British-made. The streets, cafés, restaurants and bars were truly in the mod for a proper feast (or new year celebration) and so were we! As we walked along the banks of the Hoi river, hundreds of lighted lanterns of all colours floated gently by. By 9pm the party was on: it was such a wonderful, festive ambience. "Bon enfant", a Frenchman would say! The streets and cafés were filling up so we chose our café quickly. Called the "meat market", appropriate for a chef, but actually it is the "meet market bar", with a packed terrace, pool and a lot of British singing! We had a few mojitos (three, I think!) and we had a wonderful time with some very young entrepreneurs, aged 7-10, selling Chinese toys, lanterns, sparklers, bracelets… of all sorts. In Vietnam, if you do not bargain you lose respect. These kids were amazing; and brilliant at their jobs. I ended up with a plastic helicopter, a 100% zinc, hand painted dragonfly which cleverly balanced on the tip of my finger (and very pretty too), a Spiderman electronic toupée, a tiger remedy (good for your back, and I am sure not made of real tiger!), and four sets of sparklers at 50,000 dongs. So I spent a total of 350,000 dogs which sounds a lot until you find that 20,000 is equivalent to a single US dollar! My son Oli felt a little embarrassed as I was bartering with the kids, cutting the price…
"Papa, how can you do this to these kids, taking the bread from their mouths?" but the whole process was enjoyable and if it helps these kids in employment well. At all times they were courteous, friendly, honourable and they never begged… and nor did they run off with my money!!
We met quite a number of people who had seen my programmes: chefs and consumers, and made lots of new friends: that is the power of TV! We didn't book a restaurant, so we meandered around the streets, catching up, enjoying the company of father and son. We ended up in a French/Vietnamese restaurant called Bamboo Buddha www.bb-hoian.com. It was already 11pm so we only had two courses. He gave us two little starters, an excellent Bayonne ham and a well made gazpacho.
I then had a promising dish: pearl of the China Sea: sea scallops and a very large prawn. (I was told that it came from a good farm rather than a bad one!) It was simply panfried with onion seeds, and was very good. My son, a confirmed meat eater, had a duck breast with caramelised apple slices and a simple jus. Very pleasant. We drank a very nice bottle of Gewurtztraminer from Gustave Lorentz (floral, spiced and elegant) and the owner/manager M Renauld joined us for a glass.
You might say that it's not much of a réveillon feast. I will say that it was not meant to be. I wanted something simple - not to end up like a stuffed goose after 10 courses (Christmas with Maman Blanc had done that for me already!).
The we joined our bar a few minutes before midnight. There was a magnificent ambience, happy, joyful, mindless – and we danced! I showed my sone all my moves and he was suitably impressed (he is a very polite fellow and would more to be critical of his father (he might regret it!) but he didn't seem embarrassed). We dance until late - nearly two o'clock - and then I decided that was perfect. We said goodbye to all our new friends and went back to our hotel. Oli, as it happened, had a little romance with a very blonde young woman, strikingly dressed in red and black!
What was remarkable about this new year was that it was full of fun, unthreatening and at all times joyful. There were thousands of people in the streets but I didn't see a single incident. This is simply defined by the town ethics and who it attracts - who comes there. Although there were a lot of drunk British people - some very drunk - each did Britain proud.
So I wish you all a happy new year, une bonne année, wherever you may be.
All the photographs from my trip to Vietnam can be seen on my Pinterest board: www.pinterest.com/raymondblanc/vietnam-2012-13
Hoi An was recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1999. It is a truly magical town. 400 years ago, it was an international port with merchant ships from Japan, China, Britain, France, Italy, Portugal… Many of these sailors and merchants settled in the city, bringing with them their own cultures, traditions, religions, architectures and art de vivre. So there are temples and places of worship from many religions. It is a delightful mix and has created a peaceful and harmonious ensemble.
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