A small and quiet house with mint-green-painted walls, floral decorations, and mellow lights on 246th Dang Tien Dong Street, Hanoi, seemed pretty hectic on a Friday night. All of the family members gathered around to savor the culinary delights of Thai food in the middle of Hanoi. In that atmosphere, there was a quiet 88-year-old man sitting on the sofa at the corner with a gentle smile on his face and his forehead creased with a frown to stay focused. The retired soldier is Mr. Tran Van Chan.

Mr. Tran Chan

Mr. Tran Van Chan when retrieving his memories in the wartime
Credit: Nguyen Thu Thao

Dating back to those days when he was still a child, Chan was the youngest boy in the family who followed his two elder sisters to flee from the Vietnamese war in 1945. “After a long journey, we crossed the border between Thailand and Vietnam by climbing over the mountains. After a grueling journey, we finally set foot on a foreign land, Thailand”- He started to express his vivid recollection of the past. Having lost touch with their own parents who stayed in Vietnam contributing to the resistance war, the three siblings were brought up by the Vietnamese adults in the evacuating group with the other kids.

“I really appreciate the way Thai Government treated Vietnamese evacuees with the political alyssum. In the first two months, we just registered in the subsidy form and received provisions as well as accommodation from the local authority. The people there were very friendly and kind to let us stay in their house and be a part of their daily life. Then, all of us were allowed to make our living wherever we want”. He started to warm up the conversation with passion with a cheerful voice.


The small gallery around his living room with rewards in recognition for his military service in Vietnam and photos of his family in Thailand
Credit: Nguyen Thu Thao

He led quite a comfortable life, being protected by his two sisters. He described his peaceful adolescence with the everyday favorite fruit “Coconut” which has refreshing sweet water and soft snow-like flesh. Undoubtedly, Thai culture and its people exerted such a great influence on him to the point that he could have settled life there had it not been for his patriotism for Vietnam.

With the call for overseas Vietnamese of the Military of Vietnam in 1951, Chan expressed his wish and determination to join the national liberation movement. Indubitably, he encountered the strenuous objection from his two sisters. “I would rather die than stay here and not sacrifice for my country”- he narrated the exact words he said to his family at that time. Feeling growing enthusiasm and a great surge inside, the young man packed his bag, walked away with his own choice and left behind his well-off life.

It appeared that the warrior in Chan was woken up through the series of events he told me. “I narrowly escaped death by inches one”. He giggled with delight when it came to his feat. “I bear in mind clearly the occasion when I was operating with my troop across the bushes and trees in the jungle. It was such a dense and dark jungle that I could not keep track of my troop”. During the withdrawal, Chan was lost in the middle of the old-growth jungle, totally apart from his comrades. It was solely him against the mysterious wild kingdom. Chan got through the dark cold night by dry wood sticks he collected with the hope that predators wouldn’t come to him. A pocket of rice cooked in bamboo cylinder, a handful of salt, and spring water helped him to survive through that tough time. “Fortunately, after 3 days, my comrades found me. I thought that my life was going to end and my body would be returned to the mother earth”- He laughed.


His hand-made scrapbook collecting featured photos of important events on Vietnamese newspaper as a way to treasure every memory
Credit: Nguyen Thu Thao

With the help from his comrades and leaders, his sisters in Thailand could finally reunite with the brother, passing down both Vietnamese and Thai culture to their descendants. Probably, thanks to the separation years ago, the whole family now carries in itself not only the heart of Vietnam but also the soul of Thailand.


By Nguyen Thu Thao, ASEAN Correspondent from Vietnam