It's heartbreaking for workers in Ho Chi Minh City not to be able to afford to return to their hometowns to visit their relatives for Tet, Vietnam's biggest holiday, which peaked this year on February 10.
As homesickness looms especially large during the festivities associated with Lunar New Year, a lack of money is the primary reason for workers' holiday blues.
Hung and Thuy, a couple from central Vietnam, welcomed another Lunar New Year in HCMC with their newborn.
They told a Lao Dong reporter that they have not been able to spend a single Tet in their hometown during their three years of marriage.
Hung said even if he had been fortunate enough to receive one of 4,522 tickets given by the HCMC Labor Union to workers to help them return to their hometowns for Tet, he would have refused it since he would have still had to buy a ticket for his wife, not to mention return tickets for both of them.
Furthermore, he and his wife would have to buy presents for their relatives since they have been away from home for so long, Hung explained.
"If we want to come back during Tet, we would have had to have been saving money since the start of this year. But my wife gave birth at the beginning of the year, so how could we have saved enough?"
"You (Hung) must stay, but you have your wife, your child; I'm here all alone," interjected Van, a garment worker. Van left her family in the northern province of Thai Binh for HCMC seven years ago and in that time has only been able to spend two Tet holidays with them in 2008 and 2010 when her company was successful.
Van said she could not afford the tickets for her travel under the constraints of her current salary and Tet bonus. Last year, she remained indoors during Tet and cried when receiving calls from her husband and daughter.
"Whenever I think about the upcoming Tet, I'm so sad."
Thu Nga, a textile worker, said she has often gathered with other single female coworkers on New Year's Eve to make it more fun, but when one of them cries, the rest are unable hold back their tears.
"This year, once again I didn't go home. As seeing the others busy preparing to return home for Tet, I felt self-pity, but [if I went] home, I wouldn't have the money to return," said Nga, wiping away tears.
She said her next door neighbor named Thuong left her daughter to work in HCMC before the child's first birthday. When Thuong returned home after four years, the girl did not recognize her own mother and even suspected she might be a kidnapper.
Relief from loneliness
Sad as they to be stranded in cities far away from their hometowns, the workers said nevertheless, they try to make the best of the Tet holiday.
Hung said other workers live near him, many of which hail from his hometown of Nghe An or the adjacent province of Ha Tinh and most were unable go home this year and often welcome neighbors into their homes to exchange New Year's greetings.
"The first time I lived far away from home, I went well-wishing for Tet on New Year's Eve until 5 a.m. When I came to the last room [of the boarding house] and was so tired that I fell asleep there, but it was fun," Thuy, Hung's wife told Lao Dong.
"[We may] cry all the time but it is Tet, so we should try to create fun so that we will be luckier in the coming year," they said.
Echoing Hung and Thuy, several other workers also tried to find some happiness during holiday by getting dressed up to go out for Tet, gathering for New Year's Eve parties and singing together.
"Everyone has said that workers who must spend Tet in Saigon will be sad, but if we find fun for ourselves it's not that bad," Phuong and Thuy, two 19-year-old cousins from Quang Binh Province said with smiles. "During Tet we should be happy so that this year we will be lucky. Who knows, we may have our salary increase or prices could fall," Thuy was quoted in Lao Dong as saying.
Tran Thanh Hai, deputy chairman of the HCMC Labor Union was quoted by Lao Dong late last January as saying that in addition to 1,500 presents handed out to poor workers staying in the city this Tet, local authorities will distribute 20,000 tickets for workers to enjoy their Tet at amusement parks, as well as gather workers to cook and wrap traditional rice cakes and arrange get-togethers between the city's Labor Union and the families of 500 workers.