Fam­ily re­union: A jour­ney back home

With only one black and white pho­to­graph to go by and the name of a dis­trict in north­ern Thaùi Bình Prov­ince, con­trib­u­tor Mathilde Tuyeát Traàn set off to Vieät Nam from her home in France on a jour­ney in search of her grand­mother’s grave. Out­look

Outlook - - HISTORY -

Ihave been find­ing rea­sons to keep pospon­ing this trip to my ma­ter­nal home vil­lage in Vieät Nam. I was re­luc­tant be­cause of the long dis­tance but also be­cause I am not fa­mil­iar with the peo­ple, their cus­toms and tra­di­tions. Deep down, I was also afraid I will not be ac­cepted by those who are liv­ing there now.

This is a trip of courage for me. I am chas­ing a dis­tant mem­ory, with only one black and white photo to go by. It shows a lady in a north­ern Viet­namese out­fit and head­dress with a three-month-old baby girl in her lap, taken in front of her house in Saøi Goøn in 1952.

I call my trip "coura­geous" be­cause I want to find my grand­mother's grave, and burn in­cense, but I can­not fathom what will be hap­pen­ing around me or where I shall be.

The painful sep­a­ra­tion of Vieät Nam in 1954 still leaves un­healed scars which my gen­er­a­tion still deeply pon­ders. The fol­low­ing gen­er­a­tions, though, may for­get them as time goes by.

We Viet­namese re­tain a tight re­la­tion­ship with our roots. or my an­ces­tors' home vil­lage, is a generic term but it is as­so­ci­ated with par­tic­u­lar peo­ple, places and ex­pe­ri­ences. Though we go far away to work, we make trips home for Teát (the Lu­nar New Year fes­ti­val). Oth­er­wise, we would feel lost and home­less.

One's home does not just mean Vieät Nam for those who live abroad. It's a house, a ham­let, a vil­lage, no mat­ter how far away or re­mote it may be. It's the place where one was born or where one's an­ces­tors rest in eter­nity.

No mat­ter where one lives, Haø Noäi, Hueá or Saøi Goøn, the urge to travel home for the New Year is strong, no mat­ter how far away it is.

We miss ev­ery­thing, ba­nana leaves, an an­cient tree, a grow­ing gourd. We miss a river, a boat, a wharf; the view of a for­est at the foot of a hill, a nar­row vil­lage road, a paddy field or a lit­tle pond. Each per­son has more than one home: fa­ther's home, mother's home, hus­band's home, wife's home. Each home calls for un­end­ing love and emo­tional ties.

I set my­self the task to find my grand­mother's home. But I have no vis­ual clues.

The only emo­tional tie is as­so­ci­ated with the words: "ma­ter­nal grand­mother". She was liv­ing with us and doted on me un­til 1954 when I was two years old and the Geneva Agree­ment drew a line at the 17th Par­al­lel at the Beán Haûi River, di­vid­ing Vieät Nam into two parts. When many Viet­namese went south, my grand­mother went against the tide. She left me and her daugh­ter in Saøi Goøn to board a ship to Haûi Phoøng to be re­united with her youngest son. She must not have known that she would never see her daugh­ter and me again.

I re­mem­ber my mother telling me that Grandma used to feed rice to me by chew­ing it first. But she chewed be­tel with areca leaf, an habit com­mon for north­ern men and women. It tasted spicy so as a baby I would not take it in, I would spit it out.

My mem­ory of her was limited by this un­pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence. I longed for her all my life. Is it be­cause the longer we live, the more we are drawn to­wards our roots by mem­o­ries of our child­hoods.

I have been won­der­ing for quite a few years, since I first vis­ited the north: "Where did she fi­nally get laid to rest in this wide Kieán Xöông Dis­trict in Thaùi Bình Prov­ince? It's a big dis­trict with more than 200,000 peo­ple (statis­tics in 2008) liv­ing in 36 com­munes and a town called Thanh Neâ. Which com­mune did she live in?

I am told to go to the com­mune, but who would know? Then I ask my­self: Do I go there to find her or not?

So fi­nally my hus­band and I set out on a grey, driz­zly morn­ing. We told the driver of all the stops we wanted to make. I also told him it was an ad­ven­ture, it would be good if we could find some traces, but it's okay if we don’t find any­thing.

Thaùi Bình City is sit­u­ated 150km from Haø Noäi. We stop on the way at the Tem­ple of the Traàn dy­nasty kings in Thaùi Bình and pay homage to the kings and Bud­dha at the Keo Pagoda be­fore tak­ing lunch.

"Madam," says the driver, "I sug­gest you go to the Peo­ple's Com­mit­tee to ask first."

I don't know what a

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