Tribute to those who work far from home

February 17, 2024 | 05:00 pm PT
Bui Vo Investigator
My family took a train trip to my hometown for this Lunar New Year. Besides the fact that air tickets were too expensive, my wife and I wanted our children to experience the north-south train journey, which was a big part of our younger years.

I am from the northern province of Thai Binh. I moved to Saigon in 2006 to attend university, and back then, I only came home once a year for Tet.

A train trip in those days took more than 40 hours, but it felt much longer because of how badly I wanted to arrive home. Memories from those trips are still ingrained in my mind.

During one trip in 2009, I sat on the carriage’s hard wooden chair with a woman from the southern province of Binh Phuoc.

After half the journey, she kept asking me where we were and how much longer until we reached Nam Dinh.

She told me she had moved to Binh Phuoc to work when she was 20 years old, and had not come home for 25 years.

She was traveling back that time because her mother was getting weak.

She turned her face away once in a while during our conversation, hiding her tears. That night, I let her sleep on the chair, and I slept on the floor. Some of her tears dropped on my face.

Any trip returning or leaving home is emotional – the hometown is a holy place, unique to each person.

A family of migrant workers from the Mekong Delta return to HCMC after the Lunar New Year holiday, Feb. 14, 2024. Photo by VnExpress

A family of migrant workers from the Mekong Delta return to HCMC after the Lunar New Year holiday, Feb. 14, 2024. Photo by VnExpress

Every time I came home, I would have loved to see a billboard at the entrance of town that read: "Welcome home!"

And another on the other side that said "Have a safe trip" would have been nice as well.

In 2011, my friend went to the U.S. to study. When she reached the security check, she turned to hug everyone and burst into tears. She was normally a tough person.

Later that year, my family also went to the airport to receive my sister who was coming back from working in Cyprus after more than five years.

Her eyes were all red when she landed, saying she had cried the whole flight home.

My hometown Thai Binh is an agricultural province without many opportunities for other jobs. Thus, a lot of natives of the region have migrated far from home, myself included.

My village alone has lost nearly 20 residents who have left home to work in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, mostly working in manual labor.

They say life overseas has not been easy. Although they've been able to earn more than at home, the money has come in exchange for a lot of sweat, tears and even blood. Thoughts of their families and home have helped them overcome their troubles abroad, they say.

Vietnam receives one of the highest totals of overseas remittances in the world. In fact, it's in the top 10 countries globally in terms of remittances from abroad. The figure reached a record US$16 billion last year. The total was more than $200 billion between 1993 and 2023, more than all the FDI disbursed to Vietnam since 1986.

The remittances have helped increase foreign reserves and have directly boosted the economy. They are the contributions from millions of Vietnamese living overseas and hundreds of thousands of migrant workers.

Having traveled across Vietnam, I’ve seen many welcoming billboards put up by cities and provinces that cost billions of dong, but the messages were not very meaningful. There are also many billboards that serve as advertisements at airports, but not any that welcome Vietnamese coming home from overseas, or send farewell wishes to those leaving the country to work or study abroad.

A billboard at a respectful location, with a message that pays tribute to the people who leave their hometown to work, and encourages them to follow the rules in their host countries, is not a bad idea.

Such billboards could warm the hearts of those having to fight for a living far away from home.

*Bui Vo is an investigator at the Supreme People's Procuracy of Vietnam.

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