Halloween in Hanoi

by aengelson | November 2nd, 2010

Dead Poets' Society: me as Edgar Allan Poe and Jen as Walt Whitman

Halloween is quickly becoming my favorite American holiday. When you live overseas, you start to get some perspective on your celebrations and traditions, and I’ve come to appreciate the bizarre creativity of  Halloween. I’m not sure what the Vietnamese make of the antics of westerners on Halloween. From the bemused smiles, I’m sure they find it entertaining.

(For more pics, click on this link or any photo in this post.)

The night before Halloween, I was part of a poetry reading and music party at Le Cooperative in Hanoi. Members of my writers group dressed up and read a selection of morbid and spooky poetry. I dressed as an undead Edgar Allan Poe and read The Raven. It was a blast, and I did my best to ham it up. Suzi, another member of our group, told a creepy “true” story from the caves at Mai Chau, Jen was dressed as a dead Walt Whitman and read some zombie poems, and Helen read some selections from Poe and Byron. Caroline, a new member of our group, wrote a vampire song to the tune of “Strange” by the Doors and sang it alongside two gyrating female vampires. Fun stuff! Then several bands played, including The Props. They rocked. I’ve had “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes echoing in my head for days after.

Reading "The Raven"

It was fun to get completely decked out in a costume (and that black velvet jacket I found was worth the 200,000 dong I paid for it–just 10 bucks!). It was also a challenge trying to explain to the silk merchant and tailor how to make a nineteenth century bow tie, or at least a close approximation. At the Halloween event, there were quite a few Vietnamese families trying to make sense of the dressed-up westerners. It was a blast spooking the little kids, who ran away screaming when you growled at them.

The girls pose with the pumpkins

For Halloween, the girls dressed up as rock stars (shiny pants and tiger-striped shirts are easy to find in Vietnam–every teenager here aspires to look like Hannah Montana). A group of expat families in the Nghi Tam neighborhood organized a trick-or-treat event, complete with a map to each home with treats (Halloween hasn’t yet caught on with the Vietnamese).

It was great to connect with a little bit of culture from home. Thanks to all the members of Hanoi Writer’s Collective and the bands for a fantastically fun evening!

2 Responses to “Halloween in Hanoi”

  1. Great costume, Andy.

  2. I remember searching for pumpkins the right shape to carve, when I lived in Hanoi in 2001. The women at the market were really perplexed by my need to have ones that were taller rather than wider. My Vietnamese friends enjoyed carving the pumpkins but still thought it a strange tradition

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About This Site

Andy Engelson is a writer and editor who lives in Hanoi, Vietnam. He's currently working on a historical novel set in the Northwest United States during World War II. He's also a freelance writer, essayist and member of the Hanoi Writer's Collective. In a former life, he edited Washington Trails magazine for six years and before that was freelance journalist. He likes to hike, travel, and play with his family.

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It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens. — Woody Allen

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