By Son Tung
A Saigonese love story told ahead of Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2012
Their love story started 21 years ago. In 1991, after his erstwhile wife had migrated to France together with their children, he remained alone in Saigon, and then met her. By a strange twist of fate, not long after their first date she had to resettle in America with her extended family. The almost 15,000-km distance failed to separate them, though.
More than a decade ago, he was head of the geophysics department in the faculty of physics at the University of HCMC (now the HCMC National University). Aside from teaching, he was a contributor to several newspapers. He also worked as a part-time copy editor for an English-language weekly and a French-language biweekly in HCMC. Till early last year, twice a week in the morning, he hopped on a bus to go from his house in Thu Duc District to the Ben Thanh Market central bus station which is near the newsroom. In the afternoon, he took the same bus back home.
In the newsroom, reporters and editors called him “a living dictionary.” He read expansively and was extremely knowledgeable. From natural to social sciences, from English and French to Chinese, every time he was asked, he would give a satisfactory answer. He said he didn’t know all by himself, but due to references, particularly the Internet as the “greatest mentor” nowadays, “if you spare no effort, you’ll find the answer.”
He is sociable, helpful and considerate. However, in discussions on sciences or accuracy, he tolerated no compromises, be his “opponents” a reporter or a member of the editorial board.
She has had an aptitude for needlework since childhood. A grownup, she taught herself the craft of dressmaking without realizing that such a skill would help her earn a living during the nine-year stay in the States.
She said in 1991, the plane carrying her had hardly landed in Thailand, when she felt something wrong. The first thing for her to do as soon as she had set foot on the American soil was to find a way to go back to Vietnam. “At the time, no official diplomatic relations were established between Vietnam and the U.S.,” she recalls. “So, I intended to go straight to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to discuss my case. But my family members prevented me from doing that.”
Yet some years later, when she had received her green card, nobody could stop her from flying to Saigon. Flying back and fort between the two countries for a while, she settled down in Vietnam in 2000.
“In my life, I love nothing more than music,” she says, “especially music by the legendary song composers Pham Duy and Trinh Cong Son.” In their house, the most valuable asset is her collection of CD albums of songs by the two musicians. She says she is so crazy about their songs that “each time I find a good CD, I’m bursting with joy.” “I told my cousins that after I die, it will be a blessing for me if they bring CDs to my altar. I need no other offerings.”
She must be a nature-lover because she always grows ornamental plants around her residence. Once she told about her childhood in the highland city of Dalat. “It was about 1954, and occasionally tigers were bold enough to wander around what is now the center of Dalat, which scared me to death each time I had to go out of house. Now, tigers are also strolling in downtown Saigon. But they are in the form of tiger bone glue!”
He and she
In 2000, he and she received their marriage certificate with the signature of Pham Phuong Thao, then vice chairwoman of HCMC.
Once, he and she invited the colleagues at the newsroom to visit their house in Thu Duc. She cooked the meal herself. “It required little effort,” she says. “I made a what-to-do list and everything was OK later.” Listening to her sentence, he butted in on her, saying, “Oh, yes! The list said ‘at 3 o’clock, have him go to the market to buy things.’”
About her wish to have CDs as her “posthumous gifts,” he comments, “I say, hey, stop buying CDs. If you have money, buy milk to drink to prevent osteoporosis.”
Each year, she packs his luggage for his trip to France to visit his children and ex-wife.
Now their house in Thu Duc is one of roughly 10 houses in a private lot where the area of flowers is bigger than the area of construction. He says the residence accommodates only houses owned by his brothers and their children, where each family lives in a house. “My elder brother gave me the land so that I could build my house.”
He and she have sold their house on Nguyen Phi Khanh Street, District 1, to resettle in Thu Duc because they like the pure atmosphere there. “Every month we have a VND2.5 million pension, plus some more from the savings interest. By practicing thrift, we’re able to make both ends meet.”
He’s now 75, and she’s 65. Their love story is both routine and strange in this Internet world where love is so fast and life is so hasty.