It’s Tết here in Hồ Chí Minh City. Tết is the Lunar New Year, often known as Chinese New Year in other countries. The city is bustling with activity as people clean their homes from top to bottom, buy new clothes, pay off old debts, give gifts to employees and friends, and prepare for the holiday itself with flowers, specialty foods, veneration of ancestors, and visits to their hometowns. Tết officially begins on the 16th, but many people leave early to head to their hometowns in the countryside. In another week, the streets will be nearly deserted.
It was fifty years ago this Tết. The plane carrying my mother, brother and me began its slow, calm descent to the Saigon International Airport. We were joining my dad who was living here working for a civil engineering firm. I was nine years old.
I still remember the unexpected lurch of the plane and the steep surge as the plane rapidly changed direction and climbed upward. We were shocked and stunned, frightened and confused. Then the news – the Saigon airport was under attack, and we were headed elsewhere for safety. The Tết Offensive of 1968 had begun.
Hong Kong graciously housed us and many other stranded travelers until it was deemed safe enough to travel to Saigon. Ten days later we finally made it safely on the ground at the small terminal in Saigon. As Customs officials meticulously scoured through our belongings, I explored the area around my seat. Damaged walls were visible from the earlier attack, and I found an empty bullet shell on the ground. But my dad had been safe during the attack on the city, and now we were there to join him. In a strange war-torn country, and in an odd kind of way, we were “home”.
Scenes from our Tết of 1968
|Barbed wire across the streets|
|From the roof top of our house, watching|
attack scenes like this were not uncommon
Fifty Years Later - Celebrations of Tết Today
|"̀50 year anniversary of the general offensive and rebellion 1968"|
Today, however, Tết is definitely the happiest time of the year. It is kind of a combination of Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years all wrapped together. The festive spirit couldn't be brighter.
The beautiful wide Nguyễn Huệ Street, or Walking Street as it is known to foreigners, transforms into a garden paradise at Tết.
|The pink water lily, or lotus blossom, symbolizes resurrection, purity, and enlightenment. Growing out of muddy ponds, the flower emerges perfect and beautiful. It closes at night and opens each morning with the sun. Truly a remarkable symbol.|
|Everyone's doing selfies! Buying new clothes for Tết is a popular tradition.|
|Tết gift bags lined up for sale at a local shop|
|Celebrations continue on into the night with song, dance and festive foods.|
Tết lights outside the Catholic Archbishop's Palace
But for us, Tết just means continuing our service in trying to bless people's lives. Our last two weeks of mission time have arrived, and between Tết celebrations and mission assignments, we are fairly swamped. There are more branch builders arriving soon, and Elder Coffey and I have the blessing of finding, renting, and outfitting 4 new apartments (2 as replacements for already existing branch builders and 2 for new branch builders), moving them to their new apartments and cleaning and closing out the old apartments - with help of course!
When we first arrived here, there were 3 branch builder apartments. Now there are 11. There were 8 branch builders. Now there are 26, with more on the way. We think these are by far some of the top missionaries in the world. They are incredibly faithful, funny and fearless, like the stripling warriors of old. We just love working with them!
|Moving into a new apartment, cleaning out the old.|
|The apartment is now all clean!! Branch builders and senior couples pitched in together.|
The work moves forward like a stone cut out of the mountain. Truly, hurrah for Israel!