A Vietnam Valentine

February 14, 2009
Students choose gifts for their Valentines in Ho Chi Minh City

Students and celebrities in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City enjoy Valentine’s Day with gifts, trips, flowers and cards.

A well-coiffured young woman finesses her way through the crowd at a street-side shop where Valentine’s Day cards are practically flying off the shelves. She quickly snatches a card with a detachable heart.

“I’ve been looking for the right card for two days,” says Hanoi University student Nguyen Thu Ha after paying over VND100,000 (US$6) for the card. “I want to give my boyfriend a unique and meaningful gift for Valentine’s Day.”

Ha is one of many young people in Vietnam putting their hearts into Valentine’s Day.

A relatively recent western import, the international day of romance here looks similar to celebrations around the world as couples exchange roses, bouquets, boxes of Belgian chocolates and even drippy Hallmark greeting cards.

“Young people now have much wider access to information, particularly from the Internet,” says 45-year-old Hoang Lan Phuong, a teacher at a Hanoi secondary school. “They understand more about western culture and they’ve been changed by it.”

Phuong’s daughter Le Thuy Van says: “In my parents’ generation, people didn’t know about Valentine’s Day. They missed out.”

The 20-year-old is baking a chocolate cake for her boyfriend on the special day.

“I really hope he’ll like it!” she says excitedly.

St. Valentine’s Day Mass-accrue

But if young lovers who express their feelings in the right way win big on Valentine’s Day, flower shops and other merchants also come out on top.

Most shops are packed full of young people splurging for the holiday.

“Valentine’s Day is the most significant day for a couple,” says young shopper Nguyen Ngoc Ha. “The most important thing to do is get an interesting gift, no matter how much money you have to pay,” she says, adding that she had just spent $20 on a heart-shaped box of Belgian chocolates.

Every Valentine’s Day, vendors cash in on this willingness to spend by doubling and tripling their normal prices.

“Wholesale prices for roses tripled several days before Valentine’s Day, so we’ve also increased our prices,” says Nguyen Lan Anh, owner of the Hong Lan Anh flower shop in Hanoi. “The price hikes hit buyers and sellers at every shop, not just ours, so we’re still crowded.”

“We’re doing very well,” says Le Quang Anh, owner of a Ho Chi Minh City souvenir shop chock full of Valentine’s Day stock. He says young people, mostly students, are paying $3 or more per card, equivalent to the average daily salary in Vietnam.

Heart smart

Though the global economic recession and high prices might have cast a small cloud over the holiday for some, eager celebrators without cash are finding ways around spending big bucks to show their love.

“Purchasing power is weaker than last year’s,” says Tam, owner of a card shop on Nguyen Du Street in HCMC. “Sales are down 50 percent and expensive and imported cards are only available at upscale bookstores.”

John Adams, an American English teacher in Ho Chi Minh City, said his Vietnamese wife wouldn’t let him buy her anything for Valentine’s Day.

“She’s worked up about the financial crisis and got angry that I spent so much on flowers last year,” he said.

“She says everything’s too expensive around Valentine’s Day, so she doesn’t want me to buy anything.”

And as John is working tonight and has a wedding to attend tomorrow, he says a romantic dinner is out of the question. “I’ll just have to write a love letter,” he says.

Van, an architecture student, says a handmade card was the best way to express one’s love anyway.

“Instead of buying something, I’m giving my girlfriend a big handmade card containing photos telling the story of our relationship. It’s like a movie in slow motion about our love,” he says.

“E-cards are another good idea, and cheap,” he says.

Celebrity love

While some of the country’s top celebrities say they’re looking for a private day or romantic night outside the glare of the spotlight, some jetsetters are eager to celebrate in big ways.

The winner of Vietnam’s Best Female Model 2008, Vu Thu Phuong, says she often receives enough Valentine’s Day roses to fill her whole house – but she’s got something bigger in mind this year.

“I have huge Valentine’s plans this year, but they’re a secret. Maybe I’ll celebrate abroad, with a surprising and satisfying gift for my sweetheart, who knows?” says Phuong.

Pop star My Le is celebrating her Valentine’s Day with a live concert, “My Le in Symphony.”

Singer Thu Minh is spending her Valentine’s Day with her boyfriend in America.

Model, singer and songwriter Nathan Lee says he enjoys Valentine’s Day, though he can’t spend it with his girlfriend this year as she’s working in America.

“I’m really busy right now, but I still go out with my friends. Though I can’t go out with my lover, to us, everyday is Valentine’s Day. So we have no worries.”

Vietnam’s Best Male Model 2008 Binh Minh is enjoying an old-fashioned and simple lover’s day with his wife Anh Tho.

“I’m taking her to a quiet and romantic restaurant to enjoy some time alone. Then we’ll go see Chuyen tinh xa xu (Passport to Love),” says Minh.

ROMANTIC FESTIVITIES

  • The Central Highlands resort town of Da Lat is the hot spot for lovers on this year’s Valentine’s Day. Ngay tinh yeu (Day of love) will be held this morning at the town’s Thung lung tinh yeu (Valley of love) with a wide range of activities including live music, a card decorating contest and love and marriage counseling. Da Lat’s unit of the Ho Chi Minh City Communist Youth Union will also hold dancing contests and other games for love-struck youngsters around the town.

  • Vietnam’s third underwater wedding is being held by Viettravel in Nha Trang today, while in Hanoi around 500 couples are expected to take part in the Le hoi xuan hong (Spring festival) at My Dinh National Stadium. They will share their love by donating their blood in the special event held by the National Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion.

  • In Ho Chi Minh City, Da tiec tinh nhan (The Lovers’ Banquet) at Phan Dinh Phung Club in District 3 last night was expected to attract 500 couples to participate in a gigantic simultaneous kiss for the occasion.

Additionally, several of the southern metropolis’ most popular restaurants, such as Spanish tapas bar Pacharan on Lam Son Square and Pizza Hut in downtown HCMC, have drawn up special Valentine’s Day menus.

Cinemas and theaters around town are also promoting special Valentine’s Day deals today.

Reported by Bao Anh – Kim

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