Palestinian Ambassador and his 15 Tet celebrations in Vietnam

NDO—Palestinian Ambassador to Vietnam Saadi Salama speaks Vietnamese as fluently as his native language. This year marked his fifteenth Tet (lunar New Year) celebration in Vietnam. After more than 36 years as a strong connection to the land and people of Vietnam, the ambassador has adopted many habits common among Vietnamese.

Ambassador Saadi Salama visitd flower market in Hang Luoc Street.
Ambassador Saadi Salama visitd flower market in Hang Luoc Street.

First days in Vietnam

Saadi Salama’s home village was dubbed as anther Hanoi in Palestine due to the strong revolutionary movement there. Salama first heard about Vietnam—a resilient country which shares many similarities with his motherland in its struggle for national liberation, in the 1970-1975 period when he was a teenager. He could feel the bond that connected the two nations in the trenches fighting for the common goal of national independence. Each victory gained by Vietnam during its war gave the young Palestinian man more respect and love for the country and its people

After graduating from high school, Saadi positively took part in political and revolutionary military activities in his country, which helped him win scholarships from the Palestine Liberation Organisation to study abroad. Although he had only heard about Vietnam through books and newspapers, Saadi developed such big curiosity and love for Vietnam that he decided to choose the country as the destination for the next stage of his life.

In 1980, the young Palestinian man who nurtured an aspiration to contribute to his country’s national revolution, took his first steps in Vietnam, making himself one of the first Palestinian students to study in the country.

Talking about the past, the Ambassador can recall his emotions on the first day he arrived in Vietnam in a Soviet aeroplane. It was an autumn day in October; the scenery of the surrounding mountains and hills at that time was solitary. He took more than two hours to travel from Noi Bai airport to his inn. He still remembers the image of Vietnam on that day with ox carts on the road, Vietnamese men wearing khaki clothes with hats on their heads, Vietnamese women wearing black trousers, white shirts and conical hats. He can never forget the shining light of the lunch mess kits people held in their hands. He said he was lucky to arrive in Hanoi in autumn, when the city is in its most charming and peaceful beauty.

Staying in Vietnam, the young Palestinian man had to get acquainted with its humid and wet weather and “boiled rice”—in his words in Palestine, rice is seasoned with spices and cooked with broth rather than just cooked in water as in Vietnam. On his two first days in Vietnam, Saadi just had bread and butter. On the third day, he tried rice with braised pork sauce and vegetable soup.

He revealed one of his habits that noone knows: having cold rice with cold soup, which comes from his first days in Vietnam when he was among the last students to come to the canteen, by which time the rice and dishes had already turned cold.

He tasted his first bowl of pho (Vietnamese noodles) after two months in Vietnam, and since then it has become an indispensable dish on his menu. He typically enjoys pho at least once a week.

The first and most memorable Vietnamese Tet celebration

After 36 years living in Vietnam, Ambassador Saddi Salama is proud to be the father of four successful children sharing Palestinian and Vietnamese roots in their blood, who are the fruit of his happy marriage with a Vietnamese woman. He believes that his children are bridges connecting Vietnam not only to Palestine but also to other countries where they are studying and working.

“The first Tet celebration I had in Vietnam was the most impressive one, which I will never forget,” the Ambassador answered when being asked about his memories of Vietnam’s Tet holiday. He first experienced the Vietnamese Tet atmosphere in the last days of 1980 according to the lunar calendar, when he witnessed many new things in Vietnam for the first time that he had never seen during his previous three-month stay in the country.

Walking across Hanoi’s Old Quarter, he saw braches on peace blossoms. The last day of the lunar year 1980 was a special day for him when he saw many people flocking to Hoan Kiem Lake to welcome the lunar New Year together. The lunar New Year’s Eve came with the rumbling sound of firecrackers, which brought about strange feelings for Saadi and helped him learn more about Vietnam. He remembered that he was told by his friends not to visit other houses on New Year’s Day without an invitation because of the Vietnamese custom relating to the first person to call on a house in the New Year.

According to him, the Tet celebrations in the 1980s were much more joyful and cheerful than these days since at that time, Tet was an occasion for people to enjoy the fruit of the past year. Industrialisation is a heartening sign of growth, but it has also made many Vietnamese Tet customs disappear at the same time.

This year will mark the Ambassador’s fifteenth Tet celebration in Vietnam. Now he can explain well to others about traditional Vietanmese practices and customs during the holiday, such as worship of Kitchen Gods and the habit of decorating houses with a peach blossom branch, as well as the importance of these practices in Vietnamese people’s spiritual life.

A master of the Vietnamese language

Participants who were present at a seminar on securing the purity of the Vietnamese language on mass media in early November 2016 might be surprised by an ambassador who can deliver a speech fluently in Vietnamese.

Asked about his key to mastering the Vietnamese language, he replied that when he started learning Vietnamese, he realised that it was not easy. He figured out the first steps for Vietnamese language learners must lie in pronunciation and spelling skills and the ability to acquire homonyms.

He then tried to practice Vietnamese regularly and dig into the language through reading many Vietnamese books. What motivated him the most to learn the language was his love for Vietnam. Without that love, he would have just stayed in Vietnam for a short time and returned to his home country after finishing his studies.

For ambassador Saadi, learning Vietnamese is just not about acquiring a new foreign language but it is also a way to explore Vietnamese culture. The more he learns Vietnamese, the more similarities he finds between Vietnamese and Arabic. He found that many concepts in Vietnamese can be expressed precisely in Arabic, although they have no specific meaning in many other languages.

He was proud to be the first person to translate articles and books from Vietnamese to Arabic, including Dien Bien Phu: Five Miracles Never Seen Before in the History of War by Mai Trong Tuan, which attracted much attention from Arabic readers. He was upset that translation from Vietnamese to Arabic has not yet developed and he has not had much time to work on it.

Ambassador Saadi Salama said that no matter whether he continues his diplomatic career or not, he will still work side by side with Vietnam, stating that it is an important way to foster Vietnam-Palestine relations. He declared that Vietnam was his second motherland, stressing that this was not just a formal saying but that it was from his heart.