|Paying respect: Visitors and local residents salute the national colours on Truong Sa Lon Island. — VNS File Photos
by Le Hung Vong
"It's a peaceful and beautiful place to live in," says Pham Thi Sau of HCM City after a visit to Truong Sa (Spratly) Archipelago last month.
But she offers a slightly odd reason for the idyllic state - a lack of traditional markets.
The islands have residents who have built pagodas, schools, post offices and other facilities, but they do not mar the peace as far as she is concerned.
Sau, 54, a war veteran, who visited her son posted on Truong Sa Island. She was a member of a 132-strong delegation drawn from mass organisations in HCM City and Ca Mau Province, which made a four-day trip to the islands in early April, the first visit of its kind from the city this year.
Her eldest son is Lieutenant Le Duc Hai, 30.
"I can take pride in my son, a soldier who is stationed on Truong Sa," Sau says on board Naval Ship 960, which left Cat Lai Port, HCM City.
Hai joined the Navy in 2006 and has been posted twice to Truong Sa Lon Island in the archipelago, 18 months the first time and a year the second.
Like many locals and other soldiers on Truong Sa Lon, Hai was "shocked" when he returned to urban life in HCM City.
"It is uneasy living in the 'cramped conditions' and 'grossness' here", he told an amazed Sau once when he was home on annual leave.
He quickly cut short his leave and returned to the islands to enjoy the peace and quietness there.
Hai has also forgotten the habit of splurging money like many people living in big cities. He saves almost his entire salary and sends it home every three months, Sau says.
|Peek-a-boo: Young citizens of Truong Sa town.
But Hai will soon have to return to city life again to enter a military academy on the mainland in July.
While sailing to the island, Sau reveals her plan to convince her son to marry.
"My husband, who is also a war veteran, would like to have a grandson to live with at home."
But when she expresses her desire to him, Hai just smiles and says nothing.
The visiting delegation also included officers from Military Zone 3, Buddhist, Catholic, and Cao Dai monks and nuns, artists, overseas Vietnamese, and common people.
They began the trip by burning incense at the President Ho Chi Minh Commemorative House and at the cemetery in memory of martyrs, who had fallen to defend the islands.
They called on local residents, the military garrison, Truong Sa Pagoda, and Truong Sa Primary School, handed over gifts to locals and on the first afternoon put on a big entertainment show for their hosts.
They later visited the islands of Da Lat, Da Dong, Tien Nu, Nui Le and An Bang and the DK1/19 and DK1/8 ocean structures (houses built on sea).
Nguyen Thanh Phong, deputy secretary of the HCM City Party Committee and head of the delegation, said the visit would help emphasise Viet Nam's sovereignty over the Truong Sa Archipelago.
With more than 100 islands and islets spread over 160,000-180,000sq.km, the archipelago is situated 203 nautical miles from Phu Quy Island in Binh Thuan Province.
Truong Sa District comprises Truong Sa town and the communes of Song Tu and Sinh Ton.
The town often serves as a safe haven for fishing vessels from Phu Yen, Quang Ngai, Khanh Hoa, Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan and other provinces during bad weather at sea.
Last year more than 90 fishermen from the mainland received medical treatment at the Truong Sa town medical centre, according to the local people's committee.
With its favourable geographic location, Truong Sa is an ideal port and fishing services centre.
"Above all, my Truong Sa visit is a pilgrimage," Sau says on the return trip from An Bang Island.
"It is part of the motherland, a land belonging to our country.
"I was happy to witness the activities of local residents and soldiers, including my son, on Truong Sa. It helped me to consolidate my beliefs that 'Truong Sa is a pilgrimage," Sau said again when she finished the trip at Cat Lai Port. — VNS