HANOI, VIETNAM. 1917
The sunlight streams through the windows of our small house, located in an alleyway on
the second floor. The flapping sounds of bedsheets, towels, clothes, and undergarments from
the zigzagging neighborhood clotheslines reverberate along the alleyway.
Bà Ngoại (bah-ngWHY), my maternal grandma, sits quietly on the bamboo mat on the
floor, fanning herself to keep cool from the Springtime humidity. In her 50’s, her long salt and
pepper hair was pulled back in a lower bun, her loose-fitting brown, long sleeve top, and black
pants almost drown her thin frame.
Her dark complexion, and deeply wrinkled face endearingly looks up at me. As I walk
towards her to sit down next to her, she reaches for my hands. Her rough, dry wrinkled hands
pull my smooth, soft hands closer to hers. She cups them, as she begins speaking.
“I want to share something important with you. I’ve been waiting for a while now."
I slowly nod.
“A very long time ago, when your grandpa was alive, he had a friend – named Mr. De
Tham. He often visited grandpa and they spent a lot of time with each other. He and grandpa
had a very good, heartfelt friendship. Harmless.
“But that was only from appearances. Because those who were aware of the truth
about their friendship, knew that it was anything, but harmless,” she says.
My brows furrow with confusion and concern...
The weather in Saigon that April 1975 was typical – sunny, hot, and humid - about 90°
Fahrenheit, but that was the only typical thing about that month. Brother Three was South
Vietnam’s Ambassador to Iran and since he lived in Iran, he had rented out his flat, located in a
gated property inside the Tan Son Nhut airbase, an area exclusive to US government officials
and diplomats. He rented out his flat to two American state department officials and asked
me, the youngest of nine siblings, to stand in for him while he was away.
That first week of April, the men punctually arrived at my house in Gia Dinh, a suburb
outside of Saigon. Two gentlemen in their 40’s, slim framed, dressed in khakis and button-
down short sleeve shirts arrived. At about 5’11”, they towered over my petite 4’10” frame.
“I would like to talk to you in private. This is our final rent payment because we are
leaving Vietnam soon,” he said.
I respectfully took the envelope and thanked him.
“I’ll make sure this gets to my brother,” I said, my eyes slowly casting downwards to the
stark white tiled floor, reality sinking in that even more US officials were leaving the
country. Perhaps he noticed my sadness…perhaps he felt sorry for us…or perhaps, it
was his sincere gesture to simply help however little he could.
“Thank your brother for me. Your family are all very good people. Your brother’s place
was very convenient for us and we really appreciate it. Listen, there’s something you
should know,” he said.
Leaning in closer to me, his head titled downwards, almost apologetically, he whispered
to me: Vietnam will be no more Vietnam. You should prepare for your permanent
While his intentions were kind to share the insider news with me, his words shook me to
my core, sending me reeling into panic, despair, and agonizing fear...
The Vietnamese call it “duyen” (yeeng), the Chinese too – “Yuánfèn.”
When translated to English, its profound concept can best be described in loose terms
as a combination of the following meanings:
a) a fated predestined relationship
b) chance encounters
c) a predestined affinity: chemistry and attraction and/or cosmic forces attracting and
bringing two people together.
Net net, it is a profound, unforgettable term that my mom had always instilled in me, all
the while consoling me to have faith that everything happens for a reason and I will indeed
meet the right man at the right time when it’s meant to be.
They say that it’s important to know what you want in a partner and in doing so, I had
taken to task writing in my personal journal a list of qualities and values I wanted in my
partner. It was my unpublished, cosmic personal want ad so to speak, but it was my way of
putting it out there with the belief that faith will deliver.
Living in the Bay Area, the tech capital of the world, it was not uncommon that like most
time-starved residents, we all relied on technology as an enabler for our busy lives.
And as fate would have it, it was this technology that became the catalytic medium that
“introduced” me to the man who would become my husband...