BLOG: ‘Giao Thua’ – Tet’s eve

by Hoi Trinh

Moscow, Russia.

It’s exactly 12pm here in Moscow. And 12am in California where I am heading to, the one place I want to be at this hour of ‘giao thua’. When the clock strikes at midnight bidding farewell to a year that has just passed and welcoming a new one with full of promises in the lunar calendar.

Traditionally, this moment is considered to be a most momentous occasion in Vietnam. It is the equivalent of both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve combined. When families gather around to celebrate Tet (New Year) for at least the next 3 days amidst the deafening sound of fire crackers exploding, the soothing sound of prayers by the elders and the unforgettable feeling that a new day, a new beginning has just begun.

Thus, ‘Giao Thua’ was, by far, the most expected moment in my childhood. One that I would start to count down, day by day, a week prior to the moment, and hour by hour on the last day. Without a doubt, it still remains a most momentous in my personal calendar. Important enough for me to share the custody of my one and only son, Trinh Phi, with his mother by mutually agreeing that she can have him for both Christmas and New Year but I would have him for Tet.

It is precisely because of this arrangement that I had to take a flight out of Geneva just a few hours ago before ‘giao thua’ arrives, because at least, even with a 10-hour layover in Moscow, I will arrive in LA on Vietnamese New Year’s Day. In time to be with my one and only. As I have long figured, in order to achieve a desired result, one must be prepared to bear some losses. Give and take. There’s no such thing as the winner takes it all. Believe me. ABBA was just fooling themselves.

But, what I didn’t expect was how lonely Moscow airport at 4am can be. Nor is it warm. With an outside temperature of – 11 Celcius according to my iphone, it felt as if the airport’s central heating system just couldn’t cope. But it could be worse, I told myself. Because although I can’t get out of the airport and go for a short tour of Lenin’s maosoleum (note to self: a visa is required for all US passport holders), at least the toilets here are clean and there’s wireless internet that works.

So for the last 8 hours, I’ve been trying to comfort myself with a good pasta, a not bad café latte, and surfing the net. I was able to facetime with my family in Melbourne, catch up on all my work emails, and had more than enough time to reflect on the year that was.

It had certainly been a busy year. And this year of the wooden horse so far fares no better. But I must also admit, it’s been an exceedingly good busy year thus far (as opposed to a bad busy kind), so frankly, I don’t really mind. After all, at this prime age of productivity for all men in their 30s through to their 50s (or so I was told), what would I do with all the energy I still have and daily crazy ideas running through my head?

If it were not for VOICE and the cause of vietnamrightnow.com, I think I would go completely mad with all the pent-up frustrations. Not just over multiple wrongs currently committed by the powers that be in my beloved homeland but also for the simple fact that no matter how hard I try, no 6 pack can been seen on my widening belly.

And so with that in mind and realizing how other colleagues and friends of mine are at this very moment spending ‘giao thua’ alone in their prison cells, I take comfort in the present regardless of its imperfections. Just like how I posted my last note for the year of the snake that has just passed:

While I’m far far away from all my friends and family on this night. All alone at this godforsaken hour. At least now I know how tough it must be for all those who remain in prison for simply caring too much. Freedom is certainly not free. That I can feel. But it will always be a fight worth breathing for till the last moment. Lonely or not.

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