Pieces of the past

For those of you that have been following my journey in Laos, the good news is that we are almost at the end of the road. Today is a post about my last day in Laos and I will wrap up everything in the next post. Thank you for your visit.

On the morning of the last day in Vientiane, I got up at 3:30 AM, took a cold shower and packed my things. I didn’t get much sleep because I was too anxious for the day to start. I couldn’t believe more than a month has gone by and I had to leave Laos again. I was not ready and had so much unfinished business to take care of.

At breakfast table my uncle-in-law grilled me on who I was out with the night before and how late did I get home. I felt like one of his children. It was not surprise to see that he is still protective of me. He was always like that when I was younger. To him and his wife I was their lucky charm, the person he chose to wash his feet before entering the house on his wedding day. I told him about Fong and how we all became friends and in the end all was well. I thought it was kind of odd for the subject to come up at the breakfast table, especially when we were about to leave the country later in the evening.

After breakfast I went over to another aunt’s house (Bee’s mother) which was in a few minutes of walking. My aunt Vanh and I walked passed the old house that I often came by to visit with my Great-Uncle (Aunt Vanh’s father). The only thing that is left of the two story house is the kitchen. I was very sad to see the almost empty land. This was my sanctuary for one particular summer. It was a place where I was able to live and act like a normal kid, after the passing of my sister.

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When my sister passed away, I was devastated. I was having nightmares and was not able to sleep. I later became ill and was hospitalized for more than a month. I must have had the same thing that my sister had from mosquito bites. In the US we call the disease “West Nile Virus.” Unlike my sister, I survived but was having problem coping with the death of my sister and having to do all the chores on my own. I can’t recall what was the turning point but one night after dinner, I decided to run away from home. I gathered all my clothes and started to walk to my Grandmother’s house. Right before I got to Patouxay Monument, a teacher that was giving English lesson to my friends saw me and asked where I was going. I told him that I was running away to my Grandmother’s house. He said to hop on the back seat and he will take me there. I don’t even know this man’s name but have seen him a few times before. He took me to my Grandmother’s house but she was not there so he waited until she showed up and told her about my intention of running away from home.

My mother showed up later to take me home but I refused to go home. I told her I want my father and my mother said she would take me to my father. I said to her that my father is not my father and I want my real father, I want my Papa. My mother said that I was being childish and tried to drag me out of my Grandmother’s bedroom. I tried to hold on to the bed post and my face hit one of the bed posts as my mother yanked me away and cut my upper lip. I can’t recall the details of the event but somehow my Grandmother got my mother to let me stay with her for one night. The next day I had to go stay at my Great-Uncle’s second house. He was my Grandmother’s older brother.

Many years later I found out why I was not able to stay there. My Grandmother was on probation from the re-education camp. They would let her out for good behaviors and go visit her family for a month or two each year. I was not able to stay there since she couldn’t take care of me for too long and must be back to the camp before some sort of authority come to take her back. Failing to return on time would probably meant not being able to visit her family the next time.

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I can’t recall how long I spent at my Great-Uncle’s second home. But Aunt Vanh, along with my cousin Bee and his sisters were living there with my Great-aunt-in-law. I was able to have a peaceful time there, doing chores, watching cartoons, and Thai soap opera. I was playing with the kids next door, but was not getting along with them well if I can recall correctly. They were mostly boys and somewhat of a bully and being the boy in me that I was I didn’t hold back. In the end I played by myself in the rice fields behind the house. I tried to catch fishes in the canals during the day and ran along the dirt road as far as I could go.

I also played on the front yard, riding the old tractor. It is no longer there as you can see in the picture. What is not there is also the big Thon Maak Yom tree to the left of the entrance gate. I used to climb on the tractor and pulled down the branches of maak yom, looking for the biggest maak yom I can find so I can eat them with salt and chili peppers.

Now, all that is left is the kitchen with so much memories. I can still remember where the refrigerator was standing and where the oven was. I can still see images of my two aunts making French bread and baking a birthday cake for one of my cousins. I can still see the room where the other aunts were packing and talking softly in the dark the night before they crossed the Mekong to the refugee camps.

I wanted to go back to this house all these years so I can retrace my steps. Not much is left on the ground. No more fish pond. No more Thong Tha Krop by the fish pond. No more rice field and no more water well. Only the kitchen is left and ready for one of us to knock it down.

Before walking away, I asked Aunt Vanh who is going to build a house there. She told me that anyone of us can build a house there if we want to. I wonder how many of my cousins are on the waiting list to build a house on that plot of land. I don’t think I have a claim to this piece of property. I don’t need a hiding place anymore. I am no longer that frightened little kid anymore. Having pieces of the past with me is good enough.

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your story Darly, my childhood memory was nothing like yours, I spoke to my uncle (my dad younger brother) that lives in France over the weekend, he recently visited Laos, and went by our old house, he said that it was beyond recognized and will e-mail me a photo of it. I was only 5 years old when we left but I could remember that we had 2 ponds in the back of the house, and an old house (I was born in that house) which was behind the main house, it was my grandparents’ house. My uncle was telling me that he didn’t know who house it was back there, very old and small, and I thought it was rather strange that he couldn’t remember because he was at least 25 years old when he left Laos and he grew up in that house, strange that I had to tell him that it was his parent’s old house. I think the war must have traumatized him and he now has selective memory, my dad said that at one point, he thought that my uncle was going crazy, a 25 years old asking someone that was only 5 years old at the time, funny ah.

    I remember that we had farmland in the back of our house and a beautiful view of the mountains, but no more, he said that it’s a big road that ran right behind it, but the road in front of the house was about the same, still dirt road.

    I remember that we played house a lot when we were little, there were many of us so we didn’t need any friend. I recall one time, I was only 4 years old, it was the day that my youngest sister was born, my sisters and I played house and they married me off to a boy, might have been about 4 or 5 years old and his name was Lim but I can’t remember what he looks like, I’m not sure where he is now. That was the good old day, no worry, play all day, and when it rains, we were allow to play in the rain, that was a lot of fun, some of us were allowed to run naked in the rain, I won’t say which one. Lol.

  2. Hi Nye,

    You should go visit your old house when we go to Laos. Just to have some sort of closure feelings.

    I think your uncle’s selective memories is a way to keep him safe. If you don’t remember certain things, then those things can’t come back and haunt you.

  3. If we have time, I might do that, when we left Laos, I had nightmares for almost 5 years, might be longer because when I came to the US, I still had the same nightmares, I still can remember every details of that nightmares now, and it’s odd.

  4. Hi Nye,

    We will make time. I know what you mean about nightmares. I still have nightmares about my old house in Vientiane. Since I came back, I don’t dream about my Grandmother’s house anymore nor of the two houses of my Great-Uncle. I think it’s because I was there and saw how things are and processed everything already.

    We both need to process things. The rest is bonus. 🙂

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