A man stands in front of his home bowing before a table laden with fruit, food and paper money, Joss stick pressed between steepled fingers, whispering prayers with closed eyes.
It is Tet 2015, the lunar new year in Vietnam, and families are gathering around low metal tables on the sidewalk cracking roasted watermelon seeds and piling up empty cans of Biere Larue under the table.
The scent of sandalwood is filling the air on the road to the Thu Bon River, incense sticking out of trees and signs and taped to stray wires, adding density to the warm night air.
Motorbikes line the sidewalks and tourists walk in gutters side-stepping traffic trying to avoid the busy street as hawkers selling candle-boxes and crab doughnuts ask passerby to “Buy something,” wandering from group to group fishing in an overcrowded fishbowl. Further along the river and away from Old Town gather greater crowds of locals waiting patiently for the show.
As we reach the riverbank a lady paddles her prow into the thick shoreline grass and asks us if we want a ride. Four dollars?
Why not. We drift amongst the floating candle-boxes lit by tourists and the Vietnamese family in the sampan gliding next to us. Clusters connect and gather at the bend where the water stills — slowing spinning and lighting the river in a kaleidoscope glow. We pull in next to ten or twelve other boats packed with people waiting for the fireworks.
Two minutes after twelve a cheer goes up for the men holding punks as they head for the fuses. Mortars explode and showers of red and blue and champagne gold rain down above us between the collective exclamations of an awe-faced crowd watching the fireworks on the screens of their phones.
Hebah’s head rests on my stomach as we lean back, looking into the smoke-filled sky with child-like smiles. We were both working on December 31st, so this is our recompense. A new year in an old land.
As we walk back home I see the man, his table cleared, standing over a small metal barrel poking orange flames with a metal rod.