My father, Liem Vo Quang, was born in 1953 in South Vietnam. He was your typical Vietnamese teenager. He enjoyed climbing trees and plucking fruit for his friends. He beat up the neighborhood kids when they made fun of his mother.
But he also grew up witnessing several wars. He saw the Vietnamese rise up against their French colonial lords. His childhood home was a mere 100 yards from the American Embassy in Saigon, one of the main sites that the Viet Cong attacked in the 1968 Tet Offensive. He saw violence, prostitution and heroin addiction take hold of the city, and he saw his friends go to war and die. With his country in turmoil, he knew he had to leave.
So he decided to pursue a degree in engineering far from his conflict-riddled hometown. In 1972, he decided to move to Hanover, Germany. He was ready to start a new life abroad.
What he didn’t factor in was that he’d fall for a girl in Saigon.
He had seen her around a friend’s place. Whenever he rode his moped to his place, he’d pass her house. He would see her through her front gate, sitting in her living room, deeply engrossed in her studies.
This was the image he had in mind when he decided to write her. He had been in Germany only for a few weeks when he wrote his first letter to her.
She was surprised to receive it but had a vague idea who he was and decided to write back. And thus began a nine-year-long letter exchange.
To my father, these letters were a way to cope with the difficulties he had adjusting to a new country and to stay connected to a life in Saigon he’d known so well. To my mother, these letters were a way to escape from a war-torn country, with stories of foreign foods and strange cultures. This video explores the ups and downs of these narratives.