Chinese New Year is just over a week away, and celebrations are beginning already. The streets are alive with banners of red and flowers are everywhere, including in huge arrangements spelling out messages of, presumably, good luck and prosperity.
The company I'm working with had their company party last night, and boy do they know how to celebrate. The whole office shut down at 3pm, and after dropping my laptop off at the hotel, I was whisked off on the back of a colleague's scooter to the party venue. Whisked is probably the wrong work. Traffic here reaches a top of 40kph, but averages 15-20. There's just way too much traffic criss crossing the roads (and pavements) to go faster.
The venue itself reminded me of a typical conference dinner venue, complete with stage, audio equipment and a follow-spot. Each table sat about 12 people and had one bottle of red wine (which was bottled 100km from my home in Australia!) and a bottle of vodka. How one bottle would be enough for a whole table would become clear later on.
Proceedings began shortly after arrival, and dinner was not to be served until 8pm. Dung, as I had come to notice, likes to eat a lot, and as he sat next to me, I'm sure I heard his stomach rumble over the sound of the presentations.
After the opening dance routine performed by hired dancers, the rest of the evening was created entirely by the staff at the company; we had performances by pretty much every person in the room. Groups had all created pre-recorded shows rivalling the quality of some TV production companies, and would then perform the 'second episode' on stage. We had live music and singing from company employees and comedy routines by the resident Dane which, going by the reaction of those around me, was hilarious. It was quite an odd experience to be in a room for almost 5 hours watching entertainment in a foreign language; I don't imagine I would have chosen to do something like this, but I'm glad I did.
Then dinner started coming to the tables, and the wine was poured. We received about a mouthful each (that's one way of stretching the bottle) and then everyone stood to cheers each other. Then someone on stage wished everyone a happy new year, and everyone stood to cheers each other. Then I asked Tung to introduce me to his fiancée, so he announced something in Vietnamese to the table, we all stood up cheers each other (and then; assuming he just announced their engagement!). Then someone else stood up, had a think, said something, and we all stood up to cheers each other.
I saw a pattern forming, and was starting to get the giggles.
Around the room, other tables were doing the same, and then the Vietnamese cheersing started. Imagine a wave of shouting, where each table shouts Một hai ba, yo (one two three, yo) three times, each trying to outdo the last in volume. And it's not just once per table, it's every few minutes.
Of course, with so much joy and passion, you have to share the love, and thus started the migration to other tables. Small groups would arrive, be welcomed by the table with the provision of vodka, and the combined groups would then proceed to cheer on at the top of their lungs. My contribution to the shouting created some amusement; it's possible a mispronunciation caused me to say something horribly funny, but I prefer to think it was because they were glad that I was joining in.
And so, after visiting almost every table and consuming possibly half a bottle of vodka in the process, and being dragged in to company photos, the party started winding down, but that was not to be the end of the night.
Karaoke! I imagined the scene straight out of a Hollywood movie. A room, a stage, tables, seats, a bar, a TV and someone onstage singing to the audience. Sure- let's do it, I thought. I hadn't committed to singing yet, though.
We walked in to what can only really be described as a private night club. The room was about the size of a large company conference room, had 2 flat screen monitors on the walls, and the middle was a dance floor. Three sides of the room had bench seats. The lights were off, the disco lights were on, and there was a disco ball.
If you've ever gone to an indoor disco, music performance or have worked in the sound and light aspect of any performance, you'll have experienced the volume of speakers if you're standing two meters in-front of one. This is what is was like everywhere in that room, and the music was queued up. It was continuous. There was no silence. Ever.
Naturally, two songs were in English, for my convenience and their amusement. I have no idea what the first song was and, with no idea of the tune, was reportedly "talking" the words. The second was "My Heart Will Go On", which I belted out with alcohol induced passion. I think I did my country proud.