Saturday, April 6, 2013

Long Sơn Pagoda

Sure it's a tourist attraction with a giant white Buddha that looms large high on a hill and one has to climb 152 odd steps to see it. If you've seen one pagoda you've seen them all, right?

From my grandparents house (which was confiscated by the government when they left Vietnam) the Buddha was clearly visible up on this will, and a constant reminder of my family's personal loss as a result of the infamous Tết Offensive in 1968.

Tết is a huge festival; new year, new moon, first day of Spring, optimism. It's also a time when the Viet Cong knew everyone would be in celebration mode and vulnerable, and a period when no attacks were supposed to take place due to a prior agreement to "cease fire". My uncle, my dad's eldest brother, went to the Long Sơn Pagoda that night in 1968 and never came home. My grandmother sent my dad up to the temple the following afternoon, and this was where my dad found him.

He had been kneeling and praying in front of the Buddha, and unbeknownst to him and other worshippers the Viet Cong were hiding inside the base, waiting to ambush. My dad found his body, slumped over but still in the kneeling position. My father was 20 years old, and he peeled his brother off the stone floor, put him on the back of his scooter and took him home. My dad was now the eldest child, and the responsibilities for the entire family rested on his shoulders from that point on.


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