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
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