Vietnamese woman trafficked to China returns after 22 years

By Tien Hung, Lam Le   April 25, 2016 | 05:51 pm GMT+7
Vietnamese woman trafficked to China returns after 22 years
Bau on her first return to Vietnam after 22 years. Photo by Tien Hung

Traveling back from work one day, Bau was hypnotized by a strange woman and trafficked to China where a young man bought her as his wife. Fast forward 22 years, and Bau has returned home for the first time with her husband Yang Jianfeng.

It was mid-April, 1994, and the then 30-year-old Pham Thi Bau was heading home by coach from Hue where she sold fruit when it broke down near the Hai Van Pass.

“At around 3pm, I was having a drink on the roadside with other passengers. Out of nowhere, a woman patted me on the shoulders and I fell into a trance,” Bau recalled.

Bau then followed the strange woman to a coach heading north. She can't remember where they stopped, but when she regained consciousness, they were already in Guangxi, China.

“It was as if I was hypnotized. I didn’t know anything, I followed all her requests. When I was finally awake, a woman told me I was to be sold in China. If I wanted to go home, I had to pay 2,000 yuan. Otherwise, all I could do was to wait for someone to buy me,” said Bau.

At the time, there were 10 other women in a similar situation. With no money and no one to rely on, all of them resorted to waiting for Chinese buyers.

“Many men came to look at us and paid the traffickers for their wife of choice. We were like goods for sale. We were all very afraid but didn’t know what to do as we couldn’t just run away. Nobody spoke Chinese,” said Bau.

Fast forward 22 years and Le Thi Ngu’s small house in Tan An town, Quang Nam province, is full of laughter. Upon hearing the news that her daughter Bau, now 52, has returned after 22 years, neighbors and relatives came flooding in with congratulations.

The 86 year old Ngu, who had been ill for the past 10 days, visibly regained her strength after meeting her long-lost daughter. Five of her nine children have already passed away.

“After Bau went missing, I spent two months looking for her to no avail. The fortune tellers said she was already dead and told me to make her an altar but I didn’t believe them. I knew my daughter was alive. Over the past 22 years, I prayed every day for her return. Thank god for letting me see my daughter again,” said Ngu in a trembling voice with tears running down her cheeks.

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Bau and her mother Ngu. Photo by Tien Hung

Perhaps fate did smile upon Bau as she recalled the first time she met Yang. She had been in captivity for 10 days when a 19-year-old Chinese man came and paid 2,000 yuan to take her home as his wife.

Yang took Bau on a half-day motorbike journey to his home in Dai Luan, Guangxi. Though it’s a town, the area where they lived looked more like a poor remote village. Two days later, the family made dinner to mark the wedding.

Yang’s family was very poor. He and his two brothers grew up alone as they were orphaned at an early age. Poor and without a job, Yang was unpopular among young women in town. He resorted to saving money to buy a wife, even though he knew that Bau was older than him.

“The traffickers told me if I resisted, the husband would beat me. Though I was alone in a foreign country missing my family, I had no other choice but to comply,” Bau said.

“As I didn’t speak the language, initially we communicated through sign language. It took me half a year to start to understand and speak Chinese. After that, life became better,” said Bau. Her initial idea of running away also slowly gave way to staying with her new husband.

Bau counts herself lucky compared to other women trafficked to China. Every day, Yang works as a motorbike taxi driver while Bau works on a farm. From a dispassionate beginning, the two quickly developed feelings for each other. After a few years, their two sons were born and Bau became a Chinese citizen under the name Ly Tu.

“Yang loves me a lot; I’ve never been hit or sworn at like other Vietnamese wives here. He is very nice. I even tease him quite often,” said Bau, smiling and hugging her young husband.

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Bau with Yang, her husband. Photo by Tien Hung

On the other side of the border, after Bau went missing, her Vietnamese husband left their two children never to return. The grandmother, too poor to raise her grandchildren, was forced to give them up for adoption to a Canadian couple.

The two, now grown up, have settled in Canada and occasionally come back to visit their grandmother.

Upon hearing about her first two children, Bau couldn’t hold back the tears.

“For 22 years, all I wanted was to come home to see my mother and children. But as we were too poor and had two children to raise, the plan was postponed year after year. Only now, as we’ve got a house of our own and our children are grown up with jobs, we are able to visit Vietnam,” explained Bau.

“Now that the children are so far away, I don’t know when we can be reunited. I wonder if they still remember their mother as they were still very young when we were separated.”

In a few weeks time Bau will have to go back to China, but she promised to visit when another opportunity arises.

“By the time she returns again, I’ll probably be dead,” said Ngu, choking on her tears.