Following ancient Vietnamese culture, I spent my New Years at the zoo in Ho Chi Min City listening to top 40 songs.
The zoo was full of people; it was impossible to get around without bumping into someone and immediately checking to see if your passport was still intact.
There weren’t too many animals—only a dozen if you counted the giraffe statue and the sign for the monkeys, 20 if you counted the American tourists, which the locals do. At one point, a women turned away from the elephants just to stare at me. Try as I might to blend in, I must have looked out of place with my red number 25 tour sticker and tendency to speak loudly in English. She gave me a big toothy grin and a thumbs up and then snapped a photo. A part of me was waiting for her to toss me a peanut from the way she was watching me. I guess there was a sign that said not to feed the animals.
Most people weren’t paying attention to the animals anyways. Something bigger had attracted their attention. And to my surprise, it was not my mother's fannie-pack.
Thousands of young couples and their kids surrounded a huge stage in the center of the park. At first I thought they were looking at the adjacent sign pointing to the monkeys, but then Santa appeared. He was a tiny Santa, and the thinnest I have ever seen. He had the beard and red jacket, but the jolly belly full of Christmas cookies was non-existent. I guess there was another sign that said not to feed the Santa.
A group of young girls stood next to Santa on the stage. They also looked in need of a cookie or roast beast or a health care plan or something. They appeared about 15 or 16, which seemed a bit young to be working in the North Pole if you ask me. I wanted to talk to them about unionizing but suddenly the music started.
It was a familiar tune—a bit shocking given that I didn’t know the Vietnamese national anthem, which I assumed they would play on New Years. But then Santa started waving his fist in the air and the little girls began trotting like horseback riders and my dad started singing along: “Heyyy Sexy Lady.”
It was a tune as sweet as the “Star Spangled Banner,” or “Thrift Shop.” It was nothing other than “Gangnam Style.” I suddenly felt at home in this Vietnamese zoo filled with Korean music, malnourished Santas, and one elephant.