Towards the beginning of December and the end of November, My aunt came to visit us here in HCMC! It was so nice to show someone around the city and it made me realize how much I've learned about HCMC in just three short months (and how much I still have to learn about it!). I felt like I got to see another side of Saigon, we finally had a chance to be tourists for a bit instead of focusing on getting settled, saving money, and working. We finally went to the Reunification Palace, which felt like it was frozen in time in the 80s, bought some things at the Ben Thanh Market and I joined my aunt on a few tours on which I learned a lot more about the city!
During December Brian and I had a bit of a scare when one evening we smelled smoke in our room. I looked out the window onto our balcony and saw that the Honda dealership building directly across the street from us had smoke pouring out the windows!! Brian ran downstairs to find someone to call the fire department while I packed bags for us upstairs in case we needed to leave. Brian found a man in the street and through pantomime/pointing told him what was happening. The man jumped into action and he banged on the door of the building until the night guards woke up then he stopped a woman on her motorbike to call the police. The night guard hadn't even realized there was a fire upstairs and were all in their boxer shorts and tank tops still! (they spend the night there so they were in their pjs) The firefighters were called, they cut the power to our block, and Brian and I sat downstairs watching the fire department doing their thing through the glass doors of our apartment building while our landlord also looked on.
One thing I felt really encapsulates how often i feel that Vietnamese people look on the bright side of almost all situations, was the fact that the firefighters were joking around together and smiling even during this intense time, they were working hard breaking down walls inside and carrying hoses up int the building and most of them didn't even have masks or oxygen tanks. Even the night guard was smiling and chatting with each other and the firefighters after the fire was under control. Very C'est la vie attitude.
As it got later into the month, Brian and I had to decide what we wanted to do for Christmas. I have been working a lot since December and we were both going to be working on Christmas Day so we wanted to do something low-key together. In HCMC during holidays, a lot of bars or restaurants will sell tickets to specialty dinners or exclusive themed parties. They can cost anywhere between 350,000 vnd to over 4 million!! We decided not to buy tickets for parties or dinners like this for Halloween or Thanksgiving so we wanted to do it for Christmas. One of the teachers at Brian's campus owns a restaurant on a canal in District 3. They were doing a traditional christmas dinner (turkey and mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, green beans, gravy and stuffing!!) and their tickets were for a reasonable price so we booked a spot there. It was a lovely quiet dinner together on a rooftop overlooking the water; exactly what we needed.
Brian and I bought a small tree for our apartment the next week and bought each other a few small gifts. Brian knew what all of his gifts were because he was no help in telling me what he wanted, I got him custom made blue suede shoes and some books. He got me a really nice handbag from a shop I like here and a new small hardshell suitcase! Sounds a bit boring but I've been wanting one of them and it will come in handy when we start traveling a bit more.
Overall our Christmas passed quietly and we were missing home and our families a lot. It's strange that even though Vietnam celebrates Christmas it didn't feel very christmasy besides the beautiful light displays they put up around the city. We did drive through the main mall to see the lights like all the locals were doing and it was definitely a sight to see. Everyone was walking around together taking pictures with all the displays and families were squeezed onto their motorbikes to take rides around the lights together.
We did have a nice surprise when a Christmas card arrived from our friend Christina! She decided to just see if we would receive it since we were so unsure about the reliability of the postal service. Her card arrived a bit bent and beaten up but in one piece!
At work, we only got New years day off and had to work New Years Eve. In HCMC, they do a big fireworks display by the Bitexco tower for New Years eve. We weren't sure of our plans for New Years but Brian had heard from the teacher he works with that his restaurant was doing another special dinner/party for new years and that you can see the tower clearly from their rooftop. I was invited out to dinner with some of my coworkers and we finally got to know some more people here! As a group we decided to book tickets to Brian's co-worker's restaurant because it was really cheap compared to other places and because of the great view we would have. So after work on the 31st we hopped on our motorbike and met everyone at the restaurant. They had overbooked the rooftop so it was pretty cramped but I had a great time chatting with teachers from my school and getting to know them over food and a bucket of beer. It feels a lot more like home when you have people you can commiserate with! No one really paid attention to the time so we didn't have a countdown and midnight snuck up on us! Suddenly the fireworks were going off, but they were a lot lower than everyone thought they were going to be! One of the teachers from my school, Natalie, brought a ton of sparklers with her which I felt made up for the lackluster fireworks show.
2016 in Vietnam has been good so far! I am still working a ton and everything is going all right. We are beginning the process to get our work permits so we can stay in Vietnam for 6 more months. I'll update everyone on how that goes!