My parents grew up in Móng Cái, a small town in Quảng Ninh province, Vietnam. A country that had seen thirty years of war and my father had fought to protect. The town lays four miles in from the coast, just below the Ka Long River running along Vietnam’s northern border with China. Since we have lived in England, I have been told many stories about my homeland and the reasons we left.
My Mother told me she had cycled across Ka Long bridge every morning as a young girl – her hair blowing back as she peddled against the morning breeze. Every bump and irregularity made audible through the rattles and clanks of her bicycle, with the river flowing gently below. The days, however, were not always peaceful. After the war had ended the government began to assert more control over the people and life became uneasy.
I was told how we had left Vietnam from Đảo Cô Tô by boat one evening, without planning to go back. My Mother told me about the days and nights spent at sea in a fishing boat, the waves that came crashing down upon us. How the Hong Kong authorities had detained us, moving us from island to island, while they worked out what to do with us. We eventually spent two years living in the city.
In 1990 we boarded a plane to England, my Mother recalls the calm as she looked down through the clouds upon the ocean below. She thought about all she had left behind and the family members she may never see again. Even now, she speaks of the beautiful landscapes, the mountains and the greenness of the trees.
There were no family photographs taken in Vietnam, just the one inch passport photos in shades of grey, attached to official looking papers. Since being in England, we have, from time to time, received envelopes containing laminated pictures. Images sent from those who stayed and those who have returned. We haven’t been back, but one day we will. For now we have the photographs.