One hand on the steering handle, and the other holding up her drunken husband behind her, Huyen gently started her motorbike and then moved slowly ahead with the speed of a bicycle.
During the last Lunar New Year holiday, Huyen, 27, had to take her drunken husband home like that every night from a relative’s house in the village.
“He didn’t even recover from the last drinking session before he had to go to the next. My husband is drunk and I’m exhausted,” Huyen said, recalling her first Tet with her husband’s family in Thanh Liem District, Ha Nam Province.
Huyen’s husband Long is not someone who enjoys drinking. It’s just that in his first year of marriage, many of his relatives wanted to celebrate it by drinking.
When Huyen saw people forcing Long to drink, she tried to stop them but couldn’t. Most of these people were relatives and if Long didn’t drink, it would mean that he didn’t respect them. A drinking session could last from noon until evening, or even as late as midnight. That’s also when Long got super drunk and couldn’t walk straight.
The same thing happened again the next day, but the only difference was the location. Long was forced to drink every day until he was drunk. When he got home, he could barely move, vomited constantly and couldn’t get up until the next morning.
A typical family and relative gathering during Tet, with food and drinks. Photo courtesy of Huyen
During the first five days of Tet, Nhu Quynh’s husband, who lives in Nghe An Province went out for a drink early in the morning and didn’t return home until the evening, completely inebriated.
Every Tet, the 34-year-old man leaves his wife and kids to go out and drink with relatives, neighbors and friends from high school, middle school, and even elementary school. When they got married, Quynh also prepared all kinds of snacks and drinks that her husband liked, but he never wanted to stay home. He often misses the new year meal with the family, only coming home when it was late, with an uncomfortable smell of alcohol on him; even his kids didn’t want to come near him.
Quynh got angry when the drinking continued, but he calmly replied: “Men getting drunk during Tet has been the tradition of my family for many generations.”
According to cultural researcher Nguyen Hung Vi, former lecturer at Hanoi University of Social Sciences and Humanities, alcohol is an indispensable part of the Tet holiday.
“Tet is a time when many people force each to drink, to see who is stronger,” Vi said, however, he said that when they are saying for drinking, they justify it’s the traditional culture.
For Vi, culture is something that brings benefits, happiness, and the ideals of truth and beauty to the community and people. As for drinking, it’s a waste of money, time and energy, and is an uncultured behavior.
Writer Hoang Anh Tu has the same opinion. He is that the drinking culture in Vietnam, as you always have to drink up when you’re at the table, otherwise it will be seen as if you’re looking down at others. He created this view is a gender stereotype by men themselves, which makes them suffer.
Tu said the most obvious thing about alcohol abuse is the series of health problems and negative changes in behavior. Data from the General Statistics Office in 2019 showed that the medical cost for treating six common types of cancer in Vietnam that are related to alcohol use is about VND26 trillion ($1.1 billion). The cost of handling traffic accidents related to alcohol abuse is about VND50 trillion.
Vietnam ranks second in Southeast Asia, 10th in Asia and 29th in the world in alcohol and beer consumption, according to statistics from the Ministry of Health. It is estimated that each year, the country spends about $3.4 billion on alcohol. During Tet, alcohol use skyrockets.
The beer and alcohol market records strong growth in the last months of the year. The most recent four-year reports of the two largest domestic alcohol producers, Sabeco and Habeco, showed that their net revenue growth in the fourth quarter of each year is usually higher, due to the increased consumption of alcoholic beverages.
In HCMC alone, during Tet every year, people consume 44-45 million liters of beer on average, an increase of 30% compared to normal months, according to data from the Department of Industry and Trade.
Huyen much understands the harmful effects of drinking too more than anyone. Ten years ago, her father died in a traffic accident while drunk on the Tet holiday, so she doesn’t want her husband to be the next victim. Although she hates drinking, she still has to accompany her husband and watch him, as she’s afraid that Long will get drunk and get in an accident.
After four consecutive days of drinking, Long had severe stomach pain. In the emergency room, the doctor said he had acute pancreatitis due to consuming too much alcohol in a short time.
“When Long woke up, he expressed regret and sorry to me,” Huyen said, “The first Tet with my husband’s family was an unforgettable one.”
Researcher Vi said people like Long often feel guilty after waking up from a night of drinking, and express sorrow for their loved ones. Therefore, when the habit of drinking is formed, even though it is difficult, it can still be changed.
“No one can force anyone to drink alcohol if they don’t want to,” Vi said.
According to writer Anh Tu, most husbands are aware of the harmful effects and consequences of constant drinking, but few people can stop this habit, especially during Tet. Part of the reason is also because the wives are not determined enough to make their husband realize what they will lose if they continue the irresponsible lifestyle.
This year, before leaving for her hometown to celebrate Tet with her husband’s family, Huyen told Long that whenever he goes to a relative’s house, he has to sit next to her. That way, she can control the amount of alcohol that he drinks, as well as making sure that he doesn’t drink with an empty stomach.
“You have to find a way to refuse drinking as much as possible or you can just take a sip, no matter how much other people encourage you,” Huyen told Long. “It’s your health and no one is responsible for it but you. “
As for Quynh, since last year, she has recorded videos of drunken and vomiting moments of her husband and played them to him. This method was quite effective this year when her husband promised to take her and the children to travel.
“If it’s an empty promise, I will not wait for my husband to come home every day drunk, I will go and find my own joy,” Quynh said, adding that she planned to take her children somewhere until the end of Tet, so that when her husband comes home to an empty house, he will understand how lonely Tet can be, just it has been for her.
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