Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year's Eve in Saigon, 2015

1 January 2015

We had a wonderful time in Phu Quoc, and flew back to Saigon so we could spend New Year's Eve here.  We're back in our comfortable hotel near the Opera House, Tan Hai Long Hotel 4.  They don't have a website, but they're listed with most of the major booking sites. 

Everyone at our hotel said to just head to the river for the fireworks - apparently the tradition has been to fire the pyrotechnic display from there.  And the river is just a few blocks down our road, so we figured fine, no problem.

We headed out at about 10:30 PM, ready for some beautiful fireworks.  (I LOVE fireworks.)  We came out and our road was packed.  Cars and motorscooters and more motorscooters and people, just one slowly moving mass of humanity and machines, barely moving.  We stopped for a quick drink (one coffee, one soda), hoping to give all this traffic time to move on.  We came out of the coffeeshop, and found that the traffic and people jam only had gotten worse.

Well, not much to do but try to walk.  Sidewalks were full of parked motorscooters, and barely moving motorscooters.  Streets were parking lots.  We sidled along, turning this way and that, climbing around and over whatever we needed to in order to keep moving toward the river.

We finally made it to the cross street, but motorscooters filled every inch of the street and sidewalks.  I looked over the crossed streets and it looked like a sea of balloons, all those helmets and heads of varying colors, bobbing in the water.  It was like approaching a cold ocean or lake, there's nothing to do but plunge in.  So we did.  

Crossing the street went like this:  shuffle a few steps, smile at a bike driver, hold their handlebars while lifting a foot high and climbing over the front tire, turn, bring the other foot over.  Say thank you.  Another step or two, and clamber over another front or rear tire, holding either handlebars or the back of the seat.  Smile at drivers and passengers, try not to knock over a motorscooter.  Slither by a car and try not to get caught on the side mirrors.  On and on, climbing endlessly and not too klutzily over scooter tires and around vehicles.

We finally hit the park across the street from the river.  Scooters were just parked, with people sitting on their scooters waiting for the fireworks.  This section of road was closed, perhaps not officially but the vehicles were turned off and not moving.  Sometimes a driver would turn a wheel or shift slightly forward to make it easier for me to go around.  Richard let me go first since the mostly male drivers seemed more willing to move for me.  (In general, age is respected in Asia, and young people are helpful to older people, especially older women.)

It must have taken us almost 45 minutes to walk the three or so blocks to the river area.  Really, it was that slow and that arduous a trip.

We finally arrived, and started asking people where the fireworks would be seen, which area of the sky - east, west, north, south, we had to idea.  Most people didn't speak much English, or were just shy - but we've become adept at charade language, so I acted out fireworks exploding (with sound effects) and people all pointed in one direction.  I thanked them in Vietnamese with a little bow, and turned around, only to encounter a little girl, maybe 10 years old, who was staring at me, dumbfounded.  Really, she was transfixed, staring at me with her mouth hanging open.  I laughed and said it's the only Vietnamese I can say, and her parents smiled and pushed her to move on.  

We ended up in an open area with a few young men who spoke English quite well, and they spent the evening chatting with us, practicing their English and asking us questions and answering our questions.  Always good to meet someone who can understand and explain!

Anyway, so the fireworks were going to be set off from the top of this big office building, the Bitexco Building.  The countdown for the last 20 or so seconds was shown on the building, and then, well, the top of the building exploded into fireworks!!!  Some shot up into the air, doing the usual big ball of sparks showering down.  Some shot out of a device on the top of the building that was sort of like the gun on the top of a tank, a round thing that fired the rockets out sideways in a spray of color.  There were flashing spotlights and colorful laser beams and continuing fireworks for about 15 minutes.  

Actually, there were two sets of fireworks, because the building has sort of a flying saucer platform jutting out one side, and the main building tapers to a narrow top on the other side.  Fireworks were shooting off both the top of the building and the disk platform, so we spent some time running back and forth to see both displays. 

The crowd was oohing and aahing and cheering, and of course we couldn't understanding most of it.  Although the oooh and aaah is universal.

It was a great display, except it was somewhat obscured by two tall buildings in front of the Bitexco Building.  Probably would have been more visible had the pyrotechnics been shot off from the river area, as usual.

I don't understand the current trend of architectural fireworks.  Why do they need to be shot from the Sydney Harbour Bridge?  Or the Seattle Space Needle?  Or the Eiffel Tower?  Why aren't just plain old fireworks good enough any more?  The fireworks off buildings and towers and such always makes it look as if the building is actually exploding.  Which I find rather amusing, in a perverse kind of way.

And of course the crowd was filming on cell phones.  And selfie-ing on phones.  I've given up on trying to photograph fireworks, it interferes with my enjoyment of the fireworks.  And they never look as good as the real thing, anyway.

So I'm including several youtube videos of the fireworks from last night.  We hung out for nearly an hour chatting with our new friends, since they couldn't move their scooters, and we didn't want to climb over the scooters that were now turned on and revving as they waited to move, one centimeter (half-inch-ish) at a time.  

Happy 2015 to all, and enjoy the fireworks display!

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