Adoptive Mother – USA
Murray, V.(2001). Adopted Vietnamese Parents. Edited for Adopted Vietnamese International.
Vikki Murray, Mother of Adopted Vietnamese daughter, writes of their recent trip back to Vietnam in 2001.
VietNam Trip 2001 April
My daughter Lieu Galvin, age 30 and myself (Vikki Murray) traveled to VietNam for the first 2 weeks of April. Our trip was truly awesome and life changing. My daughter, Lieu was born in DaNang, VietNam in 1970 and came to me at one year of age in 1971, from Sacred Heart Orphanage in DaNang, VN. It was, of course, during the war and it was also prior to their being any agencies set up there for doing adoptions…so it was rather bizarre and scary until, I finally held her in my arms. My thanks went to the Sisters at Sacred Heart Orphanage, and to an Australian woman working in Saigon, Rosemary Taylor, who handled the difficult paperwork and in-country adoption by proxy before she could exit that country.
Many years have passed, Lieu has grown to be a remarkable woman. With her Masters Degree in Math, she has a wonderful job as a statistical analyst with the US Census Bureau outside of Wash. DC. As a single professional, active member of her church and living in a lovely apt…..something whispered to her “It’s time to visit VietNam and see where you were born” Two years ago Lieu said to me..”Mom, I want to see VN, and I want us to do it together…do you think you can save up enough money in two years?” and I said “I will”. Lieu then said “I want to treat you to the transportation (a huge amount). Two years passed quickly…Lieu kept reminding me to be saving…we did research to find the “right” tour and then my FCVN (Friends of Children of VietNam) friend, Bonnie Person sent me a sheet about a VietNam Revisited Homeland Tour that was specifically for grown Vietnamese adoptees. It is the 5th year they have done this. It is organized by two women who used to work in Rosemaries critical care nurseries (these women did not know Lieu in VN as they started after Lieu had left) . We signed up immediately knowing this was the exact way for us to travel there. And it truly was the perfect group for us.
Prior to leaving, I put out a plea to my fellow dollmakers/designers who are members of FOCD (Friends of Cloth Dolls). We are an online doll club I ‘ve belonged to for 6 years. My desire was to accumulate a hundred or more nice handmade small dolls to take and distribute to needy children and at orphanages during the trip. Well !! As I departed the USA, I carried approx. 400 dolls..and therefore very little clothes!
Departure: I flew early am from Albany, NY to Chicago, to Los Angeles..5 hour layover,caught up with Lieu who flew in from DC and met 4-5 of the tour members…and then we flew by Cathay Pacific (the nicest airline I’ve ever been on) 13-14 hrs. in the air to Hong Kong, 1 hour layover, and on to Ho Chi Minh City (only their communist government officials call it that all other use the Saigon) . The blast of hot air that was approx 105 degrees never left us for the first ten days of the trip…and most of those days we were broiling at 110 degrees. I knew then and there, I was in big trouble, being very fat, having coronary disease, and legs that retain water badly and arthritis…..dying in VietNam seemed a very real possibility! Never the less we were all alive with excitement and buzzed by sleep deprivation. After a very brief (1-2 hr) rest at our hotel, all 30 of us went for lunch down the street then off on our tour bus for an afternoon of sightseeing. We were definitely off at a wild pace and stayed on that type schedule till the end….and I am still alive!! *
Aha! I have just found my journal, and will be putting its contents here.
March 31..Off to VietNam
I am sitting in Chicago Airport on a 3 hr. layover. It’s time to record some thoughts. First of all, just getting started has been an event. Yesterday I decided to finally sew some alterations on travel clothes and complete constructing some pants ( I had 3 full months to do this!). To our surprise and horror, we were hit with a huge snow storm in the morning and it put out the electric which means no water or lights or washing or sewing…disaster! Electric came back on only briefly in the afternoon and I packed the dolls into those huge plastic bags that you can suck the air out of by using a vacuum cleaner (the dolls looked hilarious!- like small prisioners all melted together into a huge cube). Right after dinner, no electric again. I ended up staying awake all nite, but did complete my sewing and showered. I look really awful and tired as I embark on this amazing trip to VietNam with my daughter, Lieu……to see her birth country. I will meet her tonite at LosAngeles airport, where we expect to meet our group and fly to VietNam. The group should be about 28-30 people, including 12 other adoptees like my daughter, some other parents like me and an assortment of extras. I expect this trip will be hard on me as I am way too fat, have bad arthritis, coronary disease and HATE the heat!! (you will find I repeat myself….even on paper !)
We are flying from LA to Hong Kong (13 hrs. in air) and then on to Saigon. Lieu and I had began discussing this trip seriously almost 2 yrs. ago. It was her idea and she asked me if I wanted to share it.
March 31 or April 1……
I really am not sure what date it is, no joke. I am on the plane on this LONG long flight and we have been up in the sky about 11 hrs. . The Chicago to LA flight was wonderful…even a good dinner. This 5 hour layover is frustrating. I sat outside the terminal watching all the Philippine and Mexican folks being dropped off with SO MANY cardboard cartons, I could not believe it…HUGE boxes with ropes and numerous rolls of tape on them…it was quite hilarious to pass the time this way. I have learned that 4 people from NY have missed the plane to get here because one girl forgot her visa!
Thus far no one has “gathered” our group .That surprised me. I did meet the girl Cindy whom I emailed prior and she is with her 4 small boys (all under age11) 2 are VN adopted. Cindys kids are all dressed in bright orange T-shirts! Also briefly said hi to Xe (pronounced “Say”) and Sr. Susan McDonald.’ Met Kathryn, a 50 yr. old single doctor from Ky. who was raised in GlensFalls NY. Lieu is holding up, sort of…..a little “testy” and not interested in socializing with the others. (the sleep deprivation and discomfort are getting to us all). Both my ankles and legs are swollen/huge from being seated and not being able to elevate them.
We are here! really here in VietNam, in Saigon. Those flights on Cathay Pacific Air were excellent as was the food. For instance, for breakfast we had (in Asian custom) little tiny slices of roast pork & gravy over noodles, and yesterday shellfish over noodles…very tasty.(much better than corn flakes ! )
While on the bus ride of ½ hr. to our Saigon hotel, I immediately felt a strong comparison to Mexico – especially Zihuantanejo. Unruly traffic, some bright pastel color housing (upperclass), lots of street vendors, poverty everywhere, shacks…..and the most motorbikes I’ve ever seen anywhere. It made Americade look like childs play.
The young teen girls here who pester us everywhere to buy packs of postcards are actually ok – and have senses of humor. Tried to photograph street people 2 times today unsuccessfully -they covered their faces ! We visited a big smelly bustling market this afternoon. It was exactly like the “mercado” in Zihua in Mexico…..except in Mexico they can speak some English!
The people in our group are varied and seem nice. There is Keith (VN) with dyed spikey orange hair! He is a kindergarten teacher, and Tara, a blk/VN girl who seems very sweet, and warm, a Canadian girl (VN) Heather, who has her head shaved is with her Mom and is being followed by a camera team of 2, who are doing a 1 hr. documentary for CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Co.)
First luncheon was a short walk from hotel. It was delicious and leisurely. I’ve learned all beverages in VN cost addnl. money…For instance water is usually $1.00. Lieu is warming up to the young folks and I am getting acquainted with the old folks!! (we both needed some rest to become human again!) There are two married couples. Rita and Ray from Wisc. have 2 VN kids (at home not on trip), Kay and Otto are here with their son Damon(VN).
The heat is unbearable. I have had 2 showers in 4 hrs. in straight cold water In our hotel room we have HBO in English….I don’t have it in NY ! It’s “about” 10:00 pm – just returned from “walking” back from restaurant. Excellent abundant interesting food. Again a long and leisurely meal…but some were literally falling asleep this first nite. Prior to dinner we had gone to a rooftop bar for introductions of all of us and a beverage.
A little girl street hawk/vendor offered to sell me her little brother for $3.oo. Some of the young-uns were headed for the hotel bar..I suggested Lieu go for awhile, so I could monopolize the shower. She did. I am writing naked, soaking wet in front of the inadequate air conditioner (that’s a scary sight). April 3 Tuesday 9:00 pm Today has been so unreal, …I don’t know where to begin. It’s hard to process it all….actually, it is impossible. Lieu is out at the Disco with some of her new friends! She is relaxing more, and getting to know our travelmates.
The day started with a major breakfast buffet, Bigger and more varied than any in the USA. The center of the table was a miniature rural VN village scene, with growing bean sprouts to simulate the greenery -very clever. All food thus far is abundant and presented very artistically.
Visiting the VN War museum was a “trip” emotionally- as we stood by a burned remaining piece of the airplane that crashed exactly 26 yrs. ago…….and our tourmate, Heather had survived the crash, 125 died. Heather was visibly shaken, and we all were in tears, hugging etc. The inside museum nauseated me. It was a pile of propaganda.
The other half of the day was AMAZING! We took the most interesting and pretty 2 hr. ride to the tunnels at CuChi. (where the VN had miles and miles of hand dug tunnels underground , on 3 levels, with intricate ventilation system and innovative booby traps etc..during the war). It was a bit “touristy”, but the film and the lecture were very educational…..’tasted fresh raw tapioca and jasmine tea there.
I damn near died of the heat. at the daily 110 degrees, it is like the fires of hell- even in the shade. Nothing gives relief. But, best of all was the long drive (in the very poorly air-conditioned bus….we were getting more relief from fanning ourselves) Both ways of the ride were wonderful. From the teeming life in the crowded city (Saigon) – eventually reaching the peaceful and VERY rural countryside with never-ending rice paddies of a brilliant assorted shades of green….dusty, red clay roads beside the acres of rice and water buffalo walking lazily here and there.
I’ve become the lady of Kodak moments and asked our driver to stop to photograph the people way out in the flooded fields, working 10 hrs. a day bent over in the equatorial sun. As our strange looking group of mainly white people got out of the bus…it was evident the workers were as curious about us as were about them and made the long walk thru the fields out to the road and greeted us with toothless grins. One 40-ish lady was pregnant. Meek and friendly, with leathered skin, they greeted us with smiles –happily allowed us take photos and motioned for our adopted VN kids to enter into the photo group. They showed us their antiquated small cycles (rusted chipped and with repaired and broken handles). It was an amazing event. I must add they wore long sleeves up their arms, tattered gloves and headgear AND a bandanna across their faces like a bandit in the old American west…(in all that heat.)
The women do not want to get a sun tan. Pale skin is considered beautiful by them. Also occurring on this day…a tourmember named Mark from NYC (Black/Vietnamese law student) went to visit his orphanage. It was an all morning sidetrip done by just him and Sr. Susan. (I gave him a big sack of cloth dolls and teddy bears to distribute there). Mark said the kids went bonkers when he started to give some to handicapped kids in cribs and then he was totally surrounded by giggly, wiggly children. Mark was visibly changed when he came back to the group and totally quite for hours. Later that day, he did say the director said “I know that boy” (28 yrs. passed) He was also told he was the first and only child that ever returned. He said it was NOT clean, and Sr. Susan remarked “not a speck of upkeep has taken place in 28 yrs.” **
The rest of the ride was SO exciting and informative – the never ending tiny shack-like stall shops, most having no electric or sign, sold everything imaginable. I saw huge coffins made of ceramic tiles (like we use in our bathrooms), live animals of all types, fresh fruit and veggies so bright and beautiful, furniture, pipe, plasticware, hats…. Lots of stagnant greenish puddles everywhere -yukky.
Another “Kodak Moment” occurred on the road returning from the tunnels on a dusty road with water canals and rice paddies on both sides. There were skinny low boats on both sides and several makeshift stands selling pineapples and lukewarm sodas. These people who lived on these small boats were simple, friendly folk. They were migrant workers….. in that area because it is pineapple season. (I ate so many whole pineapples in those 2 weeks, I am surprised I didn’t come home with yellow skin) The people enjoyed being photographed. Lieu and I were the only ones who spent money there, buying some cut-up pineapple) The crowded dingy boats had wonderful thatched roofs, and funniest of all each had a very tiny TV that they powered by a car battery! VietNamese people are very innovative…and everyone has a TV. Another observation…everyone loves to grow potted plants in great quantity…even at shack houses without any furniture…they get joy from their plants
the 26th anniversary of the tragic babylift plane crash The group (including former childcare workers from Rosemaries nurseries) presented and participated in a Memorial service for the deceased babies and valued staff that died in that crash during the final falling days of VN. Over 100 perished. We drove forever to a remote rural area with skinny dirt roads that could barely accommodate a bus..ahead of us was the Saigon River and wet rice paddies. Everyone walked about ½ mi. into the rice paddy to the exact spot of the crash and held a Christian service and a Buddhist service. I learned that the Buddhist people believe in an after life and leave things for children including cookies and candies and small clothes and much burning incense. In the god-awful heat it was a torture and especially hard on Heather who survived that crash. Everyone felt they deserved our elegant relaxed lunch that day…at which I drank a quart bottle of water and 2 cokes !
We visited PhuMai orphanage that afternoon…seeing all those children was amazing and sad … We saw handicapped children who were silent and unresponsive,getting clean custodial care….also saw some sad classrooms. We all enjoyed giving away dolls to the children and playing with some. We also visited by bus, all of the nurseries that RT had operated at one time or another…most are now private homes and we could not go in. The one Lieu had been in for 2 mos. preparing for her departure, was now a private home, but the man living there invited her in when Xe explained why we were gawking at the building. He was very kind and let her view all the rooms up and down.
There are numerous cyclos all about this city. Their drivers are known to be shysters when its time to pay -they then insist on MORE money than was agreed upon when you got into the thing! Well, our new friend Tara (the queen of charisma) had made friends with a cyclo driver she felt she could trust and arranged for a nite tour of the city by cyclo for anyone wanting to do it. 6-7 of the young-uns and me ‘the old lady’ all took off sort of caravan style for a tour of the all nite market. It was absolutely wild. As I mentioned all traffic there is insane and no one follows any rules and its very congested with motorbikes…. So, as you sit in this open thing that is being peddled by a person behind you, it can be very scary (but fun) They took us thru streets that no tour groups ever go to ,for sure.
The all nite market was totally amazing. It reminded of the NYC all nite fish market or meat market -it was the same atmosphere. There were foul smells weird sights, little dirty children playing in the dark streets at 11:00 at nite, old people sleeping on army cots or grass mats on a wooden wagon, people pushing by hand, huge heavily laden wagons of fresh fish over uneven cobble stones, and moving colorful fresh fruit in enormous handmade baskets. Again and again, I have to say the Vietnamese people are the hardest working that you can imagine.
When we stopped for a lukewarm drink, and to let the cyclo drivers rest a moment…..all these scruffy friendly children came out of the woodwork! They were greatly amused by this old white woman who was so large! They squealed with delighted giggles as they gently pinched my fat arms! An “older” girl of about 8 stepped forward from the group and spoke a few sentences to us in English. She was extremely proud of herself and we could tell she enjoyed practicing on us. We praised her generously. We also gave some soft toys to the little ones. Our greatest joy in doll distributing has been to children on the streets.
.Lieu has been photographed and interviewed several times in these few days by photo journalists doing adoption stories. Two of them are from Time Mag.
Sometimes at nite Lieu falls silently into bed…sometimes we talk about our feelings of that day. This evening… both of us a little teary, expressed some deep feelings and Lieu told that she DID feel a definite connection to this beautiful country….and that the words at the service “You are the sons and daughters of VietNam” had brought tears to her eyes. I am so happy for Lieu and ALL the adoptees…because each one is starting to REALLY understand what being Vietnamese is..and at last they can be truly proud to Vietnamese. Both Lieu and I are so glad we are here.
April, Wed.? it’s hard to know what day it is.’nice to not listen to world news!
Lieu wakes up very alert each morning and totally ready to attack the day. I make her nuts…I move slowly like the water buffalo. I encourage her to go ahead and I will toddle along later. We both work hard to allow our different personalities brush past each other gently and not collide! I am suffering big-time with swollen legs and my right leg won’t work sometimes and will drop-out at the knee. One time, I was totally unable to walk. We spend 10-20 dollars a day on beverages…mostly water (which we sometimes our over our heads) The heat is so oppressive I have not words to define it. But I can say being terribly overweight and old makes “doing VietNam TOUGH”
‘CanTho was our final destination today….and despite a 2 hr. bus ride both ways in this brutal heat it was a good day. We were able to distribute many dollies and take some good photos to take back and show the dollmakers who donated them. It was sheer joy giving them out….and as we know, children are the same the world over….a tickle, a smile , a hug, a gift, speak volumes. Providence Orphanage at CanTho has many children but not available for adoption. There are the handicapped ..and there are many who are from destitute families and they live there and go to school there (see their parents 1 time a year). The sister explained it is her hope that these children can break the cycle of poverty and no education in their families and will be able to make their way in the world.
The children were ages 4-12 approx., all a little skinny, have poor teeth, and tattered clothes (yet laundered) and each wore a smile as they lined up in rows of a dingy dark depressing classroom and sang for us. They sang in English! It was evident they had no idea what the words meant, but the Sister was so proud of her teaching them. When passing out the dolls I “hammed it up” as I slowly went to each one….having the teddy bears tickle their necks, and the dolls kiss them , I encouraged them to say “thank you” in English and each did so with such a proud grin. I expect good photos from this visit. I was momentarily angered when a woman traveling with us would point out children in a particular room and say “they are not orphans, don’t give to them”. I ignored her.
It has been hard to find time to write this journal and I am sure I will miss some things. I will recount our amazing yesterday. We were headed for our nite in the jungle, proceeding in 4 open boats across a big wide brown dirty watered river, over to a large island. Once there we proceeded at a lazy pace for a few hours thru remote twisting and turning canals.
Jungle fauna on each sides so close you could touch it. I felt like I was in a Tarzan movie! Once in a while there was a thatched hut, but it was largely uninhabited. Our destination was a very old (once abandoned and still worn down) French rubber plantation villa/house,. Some local entrepreneurs, have a done an innovative thing making it available as a “guest house” for us brave tourists!! In its hey day, it had to have been a gorgeous extravagant home. Our one nites stay was unique! all 30 of us slept in the same room on army cots so close you could easily tickle the person next to you. Xe slept next to me and her cell phone was ringing many times which seemed hilarious in that setting. When we bedded down. each persons cot was covered with bug nets that hung from above. Meals were served outside on child type plastic furniture. But food was good. Plumbing primitive, but the toilet flushed! I would not have missed that experience for the world…the jungle birds making noisy calls during the nite, dogs barking in the far distance ALL nite and an extremely enthusiastic, and loud rooster who called non-stop from 4:30 am till we left !
Rose at 5:00, put the bug nets back up over our beds, breakfast with fresh backed french bread, back onto our 4 boats, to the mainland, onto the bus headed to lunch (several hours travel all together) The heat continues to be my enemy. I have completely sweated thru my clothes by 9:00am. I take along wet terry towel in a plastic bag and lay it over the back of my neck, and keep dousing it with my 1$ bottles of water! It helps. Sometime during this day we toured and shopped in this town of HoiAn. One thing this town is known for, is being able to get clothes custom made overnite.
There are many shops that do this. Every one of us ordered clothes…all of the skinny women and all of the adoptee women ordered the traditional Aodai dresses that are so becoming on those trim little bodies! the men ordered shirts, robes, pants, some gals got 3 pieced woman’s work suits, blouses etc. I got a purple silk long kimono over pants (I believe I paid $30) The clothing is then delivered by bicycle to our resort the next day !! I regret not getting more.
Right before lunch we arrived at a luxury beach resort (as gorgeous and new as the finest we have in Florida)…with ALL amenities…even good AC in our rooms. Gorgeous landscape and potted plants….we drive back into Hoi An town for lunch and for the afternoon we have a choice of lounging around the pool and ocean or getting on the hot bus and driving even deeper south into the lush Mekong Delta to another Orphanage. We chose the orphanage, and were glad we did…the children were wonderful and enjoyed their gifts and the ride, as always, it was so interesting…..and I should add throughout the trip, our guides spoke to us for hours about what we saw out the windows, the country’s history and would answer all questions asked of them. The guide in the south was named Viet, and was very well spoken, a personable man about 35 yrs, married and expecting his first child soon, the second man, “John” (Viets asst. was equally wonderful. We returned at 6:00. I walked directly into the cold shower in our room in all my clothes even my shoes!
That evening we ate a late meal in this luxury resorts dinning room. Delightful. Often I sit with Xe, my new friend at meals and find she is such an interesting lady (she is also so helpful as our interpreter) She is near my age, but younger, with three grown children and lives in Denver Colorado with her husband. Her young family escaped VietNam and emigrated to the states after being moved several times and being in three different refugee camps. Anyhow we have a lot of fun. Lieu told me we sound like giggling school girls in the front of the bus. I am greatly enjoying her friendship. She is gracious and helpful as often as she is teasing me and making jokes. Her oldest daughter Thuy is the tour organizer and contact in Saigon. Xe has gone for three years on these tours.
‘went to bed so tired, I had blurred vision and was shaking. Got up 5:00 am, had the usual wonderful big buffet breakfast (why aren’t these people as fat as me?) , then we departed to take several river boats to the floating market, which was SO WILD.-maybe 200 boats all selling their wares, which are mostly produce, some meat…..they put up a tall bamboo pole with, for instance , an onion tied on top to show what they sell (no need for signs). ‘SO crowded, boats touching each other at all times, whole families squished into their boats, both selling their stuff and living from the boat, young mothers nursing their babies on the hull, old men sleeping in hammocks slung gingerly on deck…..and often small children just sitting with nothing to do while business was going on. We were so close to these boats that I could reach across and give away some dolls to tiny children in the next boat. You should have seen their amazed faces!
I chatted with our river boat driver and he told me he was #10 child in his family. His older brother and his sister were also river boat drivers. He really enjoyed practicing his English and told me “If you want to make better money in my country, you better learn English” (I heard this statement again and again during our journey).
Sunday April 8th (I may have missed a few days along here-no writing) At this very moment I am “waiting” on the AC bus (and this new bus has a GOOD AC and the heat is still ferocious and over 100 even here up north) Our group (minus a few, including myself) are climbing Marble Mountain in DaNang. We have also seen and stepped onto beautiful China Beach…it’s very much like Trancones in Mexico, even has some small palaypas! At this time all of the adoptees except Lieu have visited their orphanages. Lieu is next and last.
THE MOMENT——————- this morning we got up at 4:00 am to go to the airport and fly north to DaNang where Lieu was born. After all the lengthy airport nonsense, we drove to the convent where nuns associated with Scared Heart Orphanage live and do business….all are quite old. The place is beautiful and in beautiful repair and all Sisters wear habits complete with head gear, neat and clean and starched. BUT- the emotional moment came when Lieu was allowed to look thru a 30 yr. old ledger book with its tattered corners….listing all babies who came thru there, and suddenly, there it was LE THI THUY PHUONG, my Lieus original name. Tears were rolling down my face mixing with the salty sweat. Lieu shed tears , and we all hugged. We gave the sisters a money donation and Lieu showed them photos of her thirty years ago at the orphanage (a few blocks away)…
One nun there felt she recognized her…more hugs. There are NO words that explain these moments. I don’t think I will EVER be able to explain seeing my childs name in a book thousands of miles away and also getting to hug ladies that held her before I did. Watching Lieu fill with emotion was very moving. I have NO idea what she felt inside. She will choose when to speak of it. For instance, last nite she “chose” to speak of some of her feelings along this trip, things she heard, things she saw, and things she spoke of with other adoptees. She and I also spend a lot of time NOT together. She “hangs” with the VN kids, and I have a number of others whose company I like.
I enjoy hanging or eating with Cindy and her 4 boys…they are fun and have a unique perspective on this trip. They visited the northern orphanage they came from AND visited their birth family ! Cindy and I clicked right away, I think she is a superb Mom and has the most wonderful laugh and sense of humor. Last nite the CBC crew took all the VN kids out to dinner and I had a delightful dinner with Carol (mother of Heather who survived the plane crash) Carol is a recent widow of a minister, Heather who is featured in the 1 hr. documentary of her life is 28 yrs. old, silent and serious, and has her head shaved !
OOoops, I got off the track- after visiting the convent, we went to the former Sacred Heart Orphanage nearby, by bus. The buildings are the same, but it is not for children anymore – it is an old-age home for nuns. The convent ladies told us there were many women over there that cared for babies when Lieu was here. We were greeted warmly, in English (isn’t it amazing that they remember?) and N, with the constant help of Xe. Two older nuns recognized the photos Lieu carried with her as an infant and all were joyous. We took pictures, we cried (at least I did). Then our group was being led upstairs to visit the very elderly nuns who were residents in the home, and who were childcare workers in 1970.As the entire group proceeded up the stairs, I was last in line. Before stepping up, I felt a small hand on my arm and a Sister (about 75-80 yrs. old) who I didn’t even realize was there, motioned to me and spoke, “come sit, we talk”. The several minutes I remained there – just the two of us – woman to woman , will remain clear in my memory for all time.
She remembered 1970, the GI’s, so many babies left there. Her voice was soft spoken, she spoke slowly recalling her English words. (she knew I was Lieus Mother). She told me again and again “thank-you”…and asked several times “you feel lucky?” you feel proud?”
I would tell her Lieu is a wonderful daughter, Lieu has been a wonderful daughter and sister, She works very hard and makes a lot of money…..after each sentence she would “beam” with her smile and say “that good”.
I dragged my self up the cement outdoor staircase to find my group surrounding the oldest looking Nun I have ever seen, and she was in a wheel chair, squinting her ancient eyes and Lieu was at her side (she said she was 95). This lady had taken care of the babies in 1970 and was now deaf and felt she knew Lieu. She asked Lieu in English to write what she had to say, and Lieu write several lines in large block letters telling her the story of her beginning at Sacred Heart. All of us fell in love with this frail lady with plenty of personality…and I would venture a guess that her picture was taken at least 30 times. She wanted one of the stuffed animals and was thrilled when we gave her one. Another very very old and very tiny lady who was bent way over walked into our midst with a worn old cane and sat beside me on a cement bench. She had a lively twinkle in her eye and only had every other tooth (all were brown!) She launched into many questions “you the mother?”…using the same words as many others she asked “you feel lucky?” you feel proud?”….she then paused and looked me straight in the eye and said “guess what” (I had to contain myself from laughing) I said “what”…and proudly and LOUDLY she exclaimed “I am 97 years old”. Lieu kissed that darling woman in the wheel chair as we bid goodbye, and headed to the bus…me, again bringing up the rear.
As I lastly rounded a corner catching up with the group in an outer courtyard……this is what I saw. Lieu was engaged in a lively big smiled conversation with a younger nun (probably 40’s) who had evidently just drove in on a motorbike….(evidentally summoned by someone). I learned that when she pulled in and saw Lieu..she kept saying again and again “I know you…..I took care of you” she was very joyous. Under her arm she had a worn small photo album with not too many photos in it…….and she took from it, 2 photos of Lieu at about 18 mos. that were taken in the USA, that I had mailed over to Sr.Angela who was the director at that time. One of her alone, and one with her brothers and an Aunt. It took all my breath away. It was REAL…this lady had really helped care for my daughter when she herself was just a young girl living at the orphanage. She cared for Lieu and she loved Lieu.
I want to explain part of the emotional revelations here. We were often led to believe that these children in the orphanages were almost anonymous little humans, not seen as individuals and not worried about with the depth of emotion that we felt today. Lieu and I now KNOW, those women cared A LOT….and we saw how much it meant to them for her to come back and say thank-you, and let them see that the ugly rumors of kids being used for farm labor in the USA was just propaganda etc. This has made the whole trip worthwhile for me.***
One of these afternoon we drove over Hai Van pass, enjoying spectacular views of Trong Son Mt. and South China Sea. The pass is three very pointy, very tall peaks with the scariest road I have ever been on……also breathtaking views and we saw a large leper colony from the bus. It still exists.
I have lost my chronological order somehow, and there were some blank pages in my journal which I am copying onto this computer (very difficult for a lady who types slowly with 2 fingers and never learned punctuation or spelling!!) One funny item is the making of rice paper. When I read the itinerary before we travelled here, and saw that we would see the making of rice paper….I got all excited. I told all my painting friends, I would bring them some. I was quite embarassed when I learned it was rice paper we eat (as in spring rolls!) Anyhow, one evening we went for a Royal Dinner at a fancy old house somewhere (Emperor Bao Dais place)….and the people there put everyone into oriental robes of brilliant Asian colors seen in satins, complete with headgear and one couple were dressed as King and Queen and all ceremoniously marched into dinner with live VN music. It was hilarious and there was an 11 course dinner…each one presented beautifully..like vegetables carved and then constructed into a 3-d bird, and swirly little cakes and meats decorated and arranged flat on a big plate to make a peacock with feathers and so forth.
One day we visited a govt. run artisans hostel where deaf young adults live as a community and have been taught the trade of sewing -both by hand and machine- many were creating gorgeous hand embroidered scenes. I bought some. As we were ready to leave, the workers in residence were outside for a lunch break. Otto and Kay and their son Damon all can speak “sign”….and got into a lively conversation with these guys. A good time was had by all.
We had the joy of a lengthy boat ride on Halong Bay with its many craggy islets throughout (a photographers dream) We were served a wonderful fresh seafood lunch onboard (and then the boat staff tried to sell us souvenirs!!!!)
This stinks…we are stuck in the Hue airport. We were to fly to Hanoi this am, but it’s been pouring and they say we can not fly if rain does not stop, It will mean the airport will provide small buses to drive us “backward” (south) back over those scary mts. but this time in pouring rain!) to DaNang and then fly from there to Hanoi. We will have to carry our own luggage to the airport busses.
We are all praying this doesn’t happen, and we are not sure if all of us could fit in the small bus. Xe is insistent we all stay together and it seems a good idea.(We are all always thankful for her presence….no matter what is happening she remains totally calm and in control) Hue was no big deal, very crappy hotel. We viewed 3 huge mausoleums which were amazingly ornate, but boring after the first one. Because the walking was long, hot and difficult, I went by cyclo (only 2,000 dong).
The drive thru the mtn. pass was SO amazing and wild…….terrible road, hanging off the side of the cliff with numerous hairpin turns, big trucks and small motorcycles passing us even on dangerous turns. We were about to sing “Nearer My God To Thee”. That road made the roads on the way to Montego Bay seem like bowling alleys It was over 100 degrees in the bus, we passed local broken buses with chickens on top, people inside crammed like sardines, passengers relieving themselves on the side of the road – awful- ‘saw one accident where a full bus “fell over” into a ditch and a small car.
The drives thru the countryside are wonderful, these innovative people work like slaves often rebuilding every year as the floods destroy everything. DAMN! It was just announced -No Flight. We are being shuttled back to DaNang. It’s a long and dangerous ride. We are losing a whole day to this mishap. We are not happy campers.`
later…… well, we did it! in heavy fog and pouring rain on that treacherous road. The drivers are so highly qualified they could drive in NYC with their eyes closed. I always sit in the front seat with a full window view of the road. I must admit (true to Vikkis habits) that I let out a few loud squeals as I covered my eyes. (the driver just laughs). Legs, knees and feet are in grueling pain 24 hrs. a day. I’ve taken so many pain killers I am a little high, I think. I’ve met some Aussie people who I conversed at length 4 days ago and we all keep seeing each other over a 4 day span at different locations…funny, friendly outgoing folks.
On last nites flight, I got to fly 1st class ! That was a nice bonus. We went to a local restaurant (LATE after our arrival). Many chose to not go after the harrowing, exhausting day, but I went. Maybe being up north was why the food had some different flavors. that all of us enjoyed. There were curry dishes and peanut sauces on chicken that were delightful. The hotel is old , large and clean…but the people here are not as genuinely friendly as they are in the south. There are many large old french buildings that were once beautiful, a few still are. While shopping in this city of Hanoi, I had a silk brocade pants and blouse outfit made. Gorgeous….and it was ordered at 3:30 in the afternoon and delivered to my hotel (same day) at 9:00 pm! I tried it on and came down barefooted to show the tailor ladies in the lobby…where I twirled and did a silly dance of delight ! They giggled loudly at my antics.
The group are beginning to tire of some things…. like mausoleums. We all want to shop at this point as we held off doing so in Saigon because there was a weight restriction on in-country flights.(were supposed to be under 44 lbs. all together). Lieu has said she is more or less satiated and has been totally satisfied with the trip. I feel the same. I want a hamburger!
post script- On my grueling return trip , I met a special person in the Los Angeles airport…Major Denny Bowen. Denny had been stationed in VN, near Sacred Heart while Lieu was there in 1970, and had allowed the nuns and us (the adoptive parents on stateside use his APO address to communicate and to send TONS of supplies. He was wonderful to all of us here in NY…and he took (and mailed) pictures of our kids while we waited, and wrote us letters (to calm us down!…..we have to remember Lieus adoption was BEFORE there were any agencies working over there) Anyhow, I had lost touch with Denny by mail over the years, but located him by the internet right before Lieu and I left and he said he would come to the airport on my return, so we could meet for the first time. It was a very special 3 hours we spent together talking non-stop! (*and he doesn’t look any older!!)