|Proud mother: Hoang Thi Thue talks to the press. — VNA/VNS Photo
by Cong Khanh
It has been two months since China illegally placed its oil rig Haiyang Shiyou 981 inside Viet Nam's continental shelf and exclusive economic zone.
That is the amount of time that fisheries surveillance force members have been working in the East Sea to ensure safety for fishermen and their vessels, oversee the country's fisheries resources and protect the country's waters.
For 68-year-old Hoang Thi Thue too, it has been two months since she heard from her three sons who have been tasked to fulfill their important missions in the East Viet Nam Sea as ship operator, mechanic and electrical technician.
In a letter to her sons, Thue wrote, "Dear sons, my heart constricts when reading and watching the news about China's ships firing water cannons and hitting Viet Nam's fisheries surveillance ships, injuring our men and causing damage to their property ."
"But I am not afraid because I trust your skills and spirit as well as those of your comrades. Be confident, as your father and I are always on your side…"
Thue and her life partner, Tran Dinh Xuyen, became husband and wife in 1970 when the war against the US was on. Then, she was a young brigade and her partner was a sailor. When Viet Nam became united in 1975 they chose the northern central province of Quang Binh to settle down. They had five children - three sons and two daughters.
It is no coincidence that all three men have taken after their father, binding themselves to the sea waves and winds.
Wartime injuries have left Xuyen, now 72, and once a naval sapper in indifferent health, though his voice remains sonorous when talking about his sons.
"I named my first two sons Tuan Minh and Minh Tuan in the hope that since they are intelligent they can contribute to building a wealthy and beautiful country. Hoang Hai is the name of my third son, reminding me of the sky and sea which were once a part of my life.
"Who knows that all of them have gone out to sea," Xuyen said with bright eyes, stroking his moustache with his hands.
The blazing sun, hot, dry westerly winds in Quang Binh often remind one of the hardships the locals face while earning their livelihood. And Xuyen is no exception.
Yet, life's challenges did not deter the couple from working hard to feed all their children. Instead, they brought them up to become well-educated.
Their two daughters are teachers and three sons are in the fisheries surveillance force members.
The eldest Tran Tuan Minh studied at the Viet Nam Maritime University in Hai Phong port city first. His two brothers followed him soon after.
"Father and sons have all been on the sea," Thue said, recalling the day when her three sons told her husband and her about their departure as soon as China placed its oil rig on the Viet Nam's continental shelf in the East Sea.
"Mom and dad, we are going out to sea to do our tasks. Please maintain good health. We will return when we have finished our tasks," they said.
At that time, Thue and her husband were unclear about what their children had been asked to do.
"You will go on the sea, where else?" Thue remembered telling her sons.
China's illegal placement of the drilling rig has destroyed their sleep.
"I thought that China just wanted to do exploratory drilling. It is beyond my wildest imagination that they could be so greedy," Xuyen said.
"Take care and complete your missions. Be wise and straight in your actions to cope with China. No worries for parents," he told his sons.
Xuyen said he was worried by the increasing cunning of the Chinese Government, which defied international laws and fraternal friendship between Viet Nam and China.
But he said he believes that defending the nation is the most holy mission. So he usually encourages his wife to stay healthy, to help their children keep their mind on their work.
The phone call at night
Xuyen and his wife know that the strip of the sea their sons are on is very special this time, so they do not miss any daily news about tensions in the East Sea.
It was at midnight of June when they were awakened by the ringing of the phone. To their surprise it was a phone call from their eldest son Minh.
"I am well. My ship is deformed on its backside after an assault by Chinese vessels. We have to dock at Da Nang port to repair it. No worries! parent," forty-two-year-old Minh said through patchy telephone signals.
As soon as Thue heard from her son she instantly caught a bus to Da Nang to meet him. The day after, Minh's wife and his daughter also travelled from Hai Phong to Da Nang to see him.
When Minh saw his mother he put his arms around her shoulders, dancing three times around her, singing, "I want to live in your arms."
Thue said all her children do the same after they come back home from work.
With permission from his commander, Minh was allowed to meet his loved ones for eight hours, before he resumed his task at sea.
Joy overflowed from Thue's heart again when she received a phone call from her second son, Tuan, whose ship was going to dock at the port for repairs as soon as his elder brother left.
"I was so lucky and happy that I could meet two of my sons at the same time. So, I stayed back at Da Nang to meet my second son who came back from the sea," Thue said.
When Tuan's ship was in dock his wife was already there to pick him up. She was weeping bitterly when she saw him. Tuan looked much thinner with bushy hair and beard. He was as black as coal.
Though Thue felt unhappy seeing her son in such a condition she still joked, "Hey, we are lucky to meet this foreigner, why do you cry?"
Having heard that, Tuan and his wife burst out laughing.
During such unusual meetings, Tuan and Minh narrated how their ships had been hit by Chinese vessels, forcing Vietnamese crew members on board to use their clothes to fill holes before rushing ashore to mend their ships.
Hiding her tears, Thue told her son to be patient and to hold on to the sea, though she knew that the damage of their ships and the injuries to the crew members are alike.
"Today, young people of your generation must defend the nation's sky and sea. I know it is a fight of hardship and complexity, but I expect you to be calm and to set an example for the next generation," Thue said before her son left again.
"Their ships are big, but our will is bigger than all because we are defending our seas, whereas they are transgressing our territory. It is understood that our sons and their comrades must work hard. But I believe in our victory, and our sons will come back to us," Xuyen said.
Their sons owe Xuyen and Thue a promise.
"They have pledged to save money to help us repair our house next year," Thue said.
Their concrete house has been damaged so badly that half the house is submerged. Last year's floods had forcibly kept them indoors for three days. — VNS