When a whole country goes mad: A once in a lifetime experience in Vietnam
I won’t say that Vietnam isn’t good at soccer, but the last time Vietnam won anything, it was the war. That being said, none of us really follow soccer that closely, despite it being such a popular sport across the world. This misunderstanding lead to one of the greatest experiences of our lives.
Daniel is from Houston, an area that sees hurricanes fairly regularly. Every once in a while, he says, a big one heads right for Houston, and the entire coast starts preparing for the worst. Typically between 48 to 24 hours before the storm actually reaches the coast, everyone has finished grabbing the last of their supplies from the stores, boarding up their windows, and tucking inside. He says that walking around outside during this time is like walking through a cloud of static electricity. There is a nervous, excited charge in the air, despite the streets being completely empty.
This is how Daniel compares the start of this entire saga. Come one afternoon while we were all walking around Hanoi, looking for something to eat, or photos to take. We didn’t pay attention to it at first; that the normally busy streets of vendors and mopeds was growing quieter and quieter, but after a few minutes of walking around on an almost abandoned street, our ears started to perk up.
We peeked into the nearest cafe to see if there was any life there. Inside, huddled around a small, static-y TV were dozens of people, eyes glued to the screen. Unbeknowst to us, a very critical soccer game had begun.
The reason why we don’t see Vietnam that often in the world stage of soccer is that there are multitudes of various other tournaments and circuts that are going on while America is fixated on other things. This such tournament was the AFC U23. The Asian Football Confederation, duking it out to see who would be placed into the final round for the next game. While this game was not the ‘deciding’ game of who won the tournament, just who got to the top two or not, Vietnam didn’t care. It had been a long time since Vietnam had done so well, and even to make it to the top three was better than most years.
It was this game, Vietnam versus Quatar that set the entire country ablaze. Folks from every district, from every walk of life were focused on their screens, with regular life coming to a complete standstill. Flags had materialized, headbands were strapped around, and copious amounts of beer were being drunk.
As far as the game went, to me it seemed like any other game. Fairly low score, nothing too crazy exciting happening. The game closed out with Vietnam ahead, and the fuse had been set.
Once again, the streets went quiet. Sure there was cheering from the initial win of the game, but nothing outside of what you’d see at the average baseball or football game. But much like before, where we didn’t notice how quiet the streets had become, we didn’t notice how loud they were getting either. That was until it was in full swing.
Vietnam has about one motorbike for every two people. Somewhere between 40 and 45 million of them roam the Vietnamese streets, and in that evening, I was sure I saw over 100 thousand different ones. More flags had seemingly been pulled out of thin air, every man woman and child was sporting the iconic red and yellow headband. Those old enough to drive pulled their motorbikes out and laid on the horn for hours and hours. Those too young to drive blew into horns, whistles, and anything else they could produce sound from. The smell of unburnt gasoline and cold beer whipped into the air. Fireworks were set off, grandmas were dancing, and everyone was losing their minds.
I have never, in my entire life seen a crowd of people so large, so encompassing, all collectively lose their shit together. It was bigger than Vietnamese New Year. It was awe inspiring. Its difficult for me to truly write out how I felt, as I stood there I recognized that this was the reason I came to Vietnam. I have never felt so included, so welcomed, and so proud to be Vietnamese as I was there, so I can only hope my photos explain it best.
The streets were more quiet than usual.The roads got emptier as the day went on. We noticed people putting on red ribbons around there head all around town, but didn’t think much of it. Just thought it must be some kind of performance movement they were a part of.
We turned the corner and every where we went if that coffee shop or business has the luxury of a TV then they were all jam packed. Any businesses without one didn’t have tenants anyways. They were off next door watching the game.
Every business was distracted and huddled into small spaces to watch the tiniest TVs.
There was not one empty coffee shop unless they didn’t have a TC. Everyone would park their mopeds outside, and some would be sitting on their mopeds as their make shift seat for the evening.
A man peeping out of his bedroom window above the coffee shop filled with soccer watchers.
Reactions from a group of Vietnamese women sitting outside of a convenient store on plastic tools with boba drinks in reach.
A vietnamese man’s tire and wheel shop was also watching the game by himself since he didn’t have any customers at the time.
These were a group of students that were in charge of running a small neighborhood temple and store, but paid no attention to us as they were gathered around a laptop. This was the perfect time to get any pictures of yourself without worrying about tourists walking into frame.
People were watching on every device. Many people were watching from their phone. You can see this green screen in everyone’s palms. Except, I looked over another man’s shoulder to get another picture of a guy on his phone, but instead I saw flesh bouncing and pounding together. He was watching porn! Right there in the middle of the street, casually. Sitting there as if he was watching a serious crime documentary.
We walked down alley ways towards the homes. I find myself at a dead end and very excited woman waves us over. What the table looked like to me was equivalent to an American’s Super Bowl table full of food.
I walked towards her and made a left entering her home to find her family around the TV as well.
In Vietnam, most of the homes we passed didn’t have AC so they kept their doors open for fresh air even though we were there during the “Winter”. I loved how everyone’s home was open and you can get a peek into a small window of their lives. People from the streets would stop by and watch someone’s family tv from standing outside while grandma is chilling and laying out on the floor.
When Vietnam scored and made it into the finalist game.
Excitement bursted out in every direction when Vietnam made their winning score.
The youth began to trickle into the streets with a loud bang everyone jumping around, speeding down the street with their mopeds and arms were in the air.
As we’re walking around taking in the excitement everyone wanted a white guy to pick them up. People were practically hopping into Daniel’s arms without hesitation.
We crossed a bridge to get to the other side of the street to catch a taxi. You can start hearing a gang of moped parading down the high way. Workers stopped to take a picture on their cell phone to capture what was about to happen.
We finally got into our taxi and this was our view from it. There was no chance a full car was going to make it through this heavy traffic.
So we got out of the taxi and decided to walk the streets and join the crowd.
Within an hour everyone and their mommas flooded the streets, most of the time gridlocking.
Daniel picking up girls, again.
Everyone loved having something to celebrate and be proud of.
Entire households would impressively stack and ride on mopeds!
Daniel and I decided to head back and came across the cleaning dish crew outside of a pho shop.
We ended up grabbing a snack at a quaint smoothie coffee shop below our airbnb before we call it a night. At this point it was 2:30am. The roucus would happen late into into 4am!