On Tet (Chinese New Year)’s Eve, the roads were deserted as people retired to their homes in preparation for the ceremony at midnight.
From my bed, I was awoken with firecracker noise as the universe was stepping from the old to the new year and my parents were praying and made obeisance to the Bhuda and our ancestors.
On the first New Year day, we visited our maternal grandmother which was ten houses from ours. My siblings and I were very happy with the lucky money handed out from grandma, aunties and uncles. Afterwards, we visited a temple.
On the second day we planned to visit Dad’s friends. We were just 2km away from our house when we heard from the car radio the communist attack on Saigon. It was January 1968. Dad – a Signals Captain – immediately went to work.
It was hard then to make out if it was the firecracker or the gun noise in the air. From time to time, we heard a big explosion.
As my family was having lunch on the ground floor, we heard gun noise near the house. Mum grabbed me and my sisters to hide behind the stairwell wall.
I disobeyed Mum and took a peek from my hiding. Thru the wide see-through folded door, I could see a man in his civilian clothes holding a gun and took cover from the tree in front of our house. On the opposite side of the road, a GI from behind a tree was aiming his gun at the man. As the man sniped at the GI, he tried to run.
Fear, hatred and anger overcame me as I realised that I’d seen the back of a Vietcong – Vietnamese Communist – the killer – for the first time. I’d heard a lot about the VCs. Broadcasted on TV were the disaster scenes of schools, villages that they fired rockets into causing death to young and old people . For the first time in my life as a six-year-old girl, war and VC appeared at my doorsteps .
Part of the New Year attack, the Hue siege and massacre , in the middle of Vietnam, where my paternal relatives lived lasted more than a month. Dad’s older brother – who was District Chief of Phu Vang – hid on the ceiling beams to avoid being captured and executed when the VCs searched houses. They were working from a blacklist prepared by underground VCs that listed politicians, bureaucrats and military officials of the South Government as well as employees of the Americans and the families of those people. Luckily, his family had evacuated earlier.
On TV later, I saw mass graves discovered in Hue soon and some years later. Those graves were also the resting place of foreigners as well as innocent Catholic civilians, anti-communism believers, teachers, intellectuals,… recognised by the underground VCs.
We nearly lost the South!
We nearly lost Saigon!
Destruction, deaths emerged
When smoke had all long gone.
A ruined, dazed, mourning Hue!
Each mass grave came across,
Skeletons among mud,
Sobs, wails grew for life loss.