Spending Christmas or New Year’s in Vietnam is rather surreal. If you’re in Saigon, it’s hot but there are holiday decorations and Christmas music. I particularly love the fanfare on December 31 because Saigon locals come out for fun; Tet (Lunar New Year) is typically a quiet time for family. Vietnamese people love public celebrations like the one on New Year’s Eve, and the park in front of the Reunification Palace is a giant party and public performance area. Young families ride up on their motorbikes, 3 to 4 people on each, and they hang out, snacking and visiting with friends. It’s loud, colorful, and fun. Multiple stages are set up and you can choose from classical music performance, torch singers, and dance performances by cute young girls dressed up in frilly outfits with stage moms in tow. That night, the scene in the park reminds me of the crazy Asian variety shows that my parents watch on Vietnamese-American television channels.
Indeed, much has changed for the better in Vietnam in the past decade and people, especially young people, are full of optimism. But there is still much to be done to provide greater opportunity to more people. Lots of people visit Vietnam during this season and part of the experience is to understand the needs and potential of the country. We can help out with tourist dollars but you don't have to visit to contribute to change.
Here are three non-profits that are doing interesting work to help improve the lives of Vietnamese people, particularly in the kitchen: