I’ve never written about Vietnam although I was born and bred here. Crazy, isn’t it? The country has changed so fast for the last 20 years or so that it’s hardly recognizable from the poor isolated outpost I grew up in during 1980s, and certainly a universe away from the wonderful world of Albert Kahn in early 20th century.

Shortly after coming back home from UK, I started a mini project to digitalize all photos my family had accumulated over the years. It turned out to be an amazing experience. Looking at those color-faded, blotchy black and white photos brought back so much memory of my childhood, I wanted to write about it.


Monsoon season

-Take him out, leave him on the street, and don’t dare to bring him back home.

-Mum, but he will get wet, and cold, and hungry.

-I don’t care, take him out. I can’t stand this anymore. He has pissed and pooped on my only cooker, and my furniture. Take him out.

Mum was mad. My black cat had made a mess in the house, and in Mum’s mind. It was not the first time. And she could not take it anymore. I had to throw him away. It was heart-breaking, he was my first ever cat. Not his fault though, he was trapped, like us, with nowhere to go, even just to piss and poop.

It was raining dogs and cats. Our furniture was under more than a feet of water. Mum and Dad had piled up everything we had on the wooden divan, and we all piled up on our only bed. Every year when the monsoon season came, our neighborhood was flooded. It was like an annual rendezvous that adults dreaded and kids eagerly anticipated.

I was born 7 years after the war ended. But the monsoon season made life seem like a game of war. Roads were dangerous places, as under water lied hundreds of potholes of all shapes and sizes. Electricity was sporadic. The communal well was well submerged. We had no clean water for washing and cooking, even weeks after the flood had receded. During a business trip, Dad bought me and Brother two pairs of beautiful little buckets. They were brightly painted with orange tulips, green stems and long leaf blades, and came with a handy wooden handle. The two of us would tag along Mum and Dad to a factory nearby to ask for clean water. We would walk home, water splashed out along the way, and ended up with about a third of a bucket full. But Brother and I thought we did a brilliant job, and so did Mum and Dad.

The flood season coincided with summer holiday. So when the rain stopped, all kids in the neighborhood gathered around our favorite meeting point – a manhole near the road – to play our favorite hobby – fishing. Fish from nearby ponds and lakes loved venturing out of their natural habitat to discover a whole new world on the streets, courtyards and playgrounds. As the water receded, they would eventually end up being sucked into manholes, where kids were waiting and screaming and laughing like little bundles of joy. We didn’t bother to use fishing rods, we just stole our mums’ bamboo baskets, and placed them near the edge of the manhole. The catch was usually insignificant – some tiny tilapia and crucian carp – but the joy it brought was explosive.

Years later, when Mum and Dad built our current house, the only thing that really stood out in their design was an elevated floor, which stood 1m above the road. Since then, our house has never been flooded again.