Bringing Tết to far-flung soldiers protecting us

January 21, 2024 - 08:11
It's been a tradition to visit and show our respect and love to far-flung islands such as the Spratlys, or to border guards at remote checkpoints as Tết nears.
Illustration by Trịnh Lập

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

The month leading up to Tết (the Lunar New Year festival) has always been beautiful. You can feel the anticipation for a better future in the air.

Those who cannot go home to be reunited with their families may feel sad and lost. Without their loved ones, Tết never seems to come.

"Mum, I know you're waiting for my news by now," goes a popular song about a son who cannot make it home for Tết.

The tune is melancholic, and the lyrics seem heart-wrenching due to the absence of the eldest boy, a soldier, in the family. Mother and younger siblings await his return.

But the boy is serving in the army, and he cannot go home as his peers are suffering, reason the song's lyrics.

Many of us could have spent a Tết or more without family. Now, looking back, we can see that it was a lack of fulfilment and joy everyone needs to experience at least once in their life to feel the real warmth of family bonding and value family more when we can get together.

Whether being a soldier, a student studying abroad, a nurse on night duty, or a worker who cannot afford a return ticket home, many of us have had to miss out on the joy of spending time with our families at one time or another.

A veteran soldier now in his late 60s recently recalled his memories when he had to drop college studies to go to battle.

As his mother saw him off, she whispered to him, "Do not try to go home, son!" which he remembered many years later. His mother was a poor farmer with seven children. She was neither rich nor well-educated, but she knew what was right, and taught her children accordingly.

The son went to war and, luckily, came home later safe. He survived the fierceness of war, but more importantly, he survived to prove his mother right. Her love for her son is not any less than other mothers who want their child by their side for Tết, but this mother advised her son to place country and duty before his own comfort.

Acknowledging tough times or melancholic sentiments is one step towards overcoming them. When you feel homesick, you can do something to relieve the tension: sing a cheesy song or write in your notebook, or even cry. Suppressing your feelings will not help. Melancholic feelings, like happy ones, cannot last forever. Time passes, and you will overcome them before you realise it.

In 2023, the reality TV series, When a Star Joins the Army, created by the Ministry of Defence and produced by Viettel Media, brought top entertainers to the vigorous training of military camps.

When entertainment stars become influential and have an impact on the youth, the glare of the spotlight means they often feel the need to give back to society.

A new wave of young popular artists want to spend some time in the army. The rough training and discipline of the army gets them out of their comfort zones to be trained and carry out tasks and follow orders. Time in the army can do people good, as they get training, expand their view on life, and what it means to be serving your country.

Unlike in some other countries, entertainment stars have to fulfil their military service according to law, and the artists sometimes lose momentum during their time in the army, which disappoints fans enormously. Their post-army career is often never quite the same.

Now when Viêt Nam is in peace, military service is not a must, and young artists want to experiment with the rough training and discipline to get out of their comfort zone.

It's been a tradition to visit and show our respect and love to far-flung islands such as the Spratlys, or to border guards at remote checkpoints. Navy boats heavily loaded with food, vegetables, goods and love from inland carry new batches of soldiers to replace those who have completed their duties.

"Mum, this spring I am going home to you," would be what these duty soldiers sing.

Over the past week, a video has gone viral showing young soldiers crying as they say goodbye to their comrades for two years. After two years of fierce training in the army, strangers have become close friends, like family even.

These young men now are returning to life to find jobs or go back to school. But before all of that, they will run home to be with families who will see how much they have changed, grown up and matured.

When they are at home, they will miss the sea, the harsh training, and the tough work serving the country. Now they can sing whatever song they want, for they have successfully accomplished their duty. VNS