How Hanoi's 300-member family sticks together

By Phan Duong   July 1, 2024 | 12:26 am PT
Every summer Nguyen Van Ngai’s family of 311 gathers to celebrate the children's academic achievements and prepare for a family trip.

"Perhaps we are the largest family in Hanoi," the 90-year-old living on Truong Dinh Street in Hoang Mai District says.

He is the third child and eldest son of Nguyen Van Dinh (born 1910) and Nguyen Thi Sam (1914).

Dinh, known affectionately as Ba Dinh, had 10 sons and 5 daughters. As their children grew up and settled down, the number of family members continued to grow.

Besides Dinh’s 30 children and their spouses, there are also 89 grandchildren, 129 great-grandchildren, 67 great-great-grandchildren, and 6 great-great-great-grandchildren. Though 12 members have died of old age, the extended family still has 311 members.

Dinh and his wife with 14 children, with the absence of the eldest daughter. Photo courtesy of the family

Dinh and his wife with their children except for the oldest daughter in 1960. Photo courtesy of the family

In Tuong Mai village (now Truong Dinh Street), Dinh and his wife were renowned for their resourcefulness: They ensured all their children completed high school.

Three graduated from university, six worked in agriculture, mechanical engineering and education, three worked for the railroad, and three fought in the Vietnam War.

Dinh’s fifth child, Nguyen Van Quy (born 1935) fought in some intense skirmishes like the Battle of Khe Sanh in the northwestern Quang Tri Province.

Sixth child Nguyen Van Minh (1941) was a tank soldier and the 11th, Nguyen Van Hong, (1950) fought on Quang Da Front No.44 in the central province of Quang Nam.

Later generations pursued education and worked or still work in education, healthcare and diplomacy. Dinh’s granddaughter Nguyen Hong Chuyen, 42, has only a vague memory of the day her grandfather passed away since she was two then.

But she vividly remembers that all family members gathered for her grandmother's death. "The funeral procession stretched the entire street. We had to rent 24 29-seater coaches to take all relatives, neighbors and friends along with my grandmother’s coffin to the cemetery.

Dinhs 15 children, including 10 sons and daughters in Hanois Hoang Mai District. Photo courtesy of the family

Dinh's 15 children, including 10 sons and 5 daughters in Hanoi's Hoang Mai District in 2005. Photo courtesy of the family

Though most of them live close to each other in Tuong Mai village, their varied occupations mean it is difficult for all of them to gather at a time.

Nonetheless, the family tries to gather for two significant occasions each year: the death anniversaries of Dinh and his wife (in the 11th lunar month) and the longevity celebration at the beginning of spring.

In Vietnamese culture, there is a tradition of holding longevity ceremonies to honor the elderly and demonstrate their children's respect. These celebrations are held when individuals reach the age of 70 and are repeated at the milestones of 80, 90, and 100 years.

"The occasions only involves family members, but nevertheless we have to prepare 22-25 feast tables," Chuyen says.

At the celebration this year the family gave flowers and gifts to six people who had turned aged 70, 80 or 90. They performed music and held quizzes related to family members and traditions.

One of the questions at this year's celebration challenged Dinh’s great-grandchildren to correctly name his 15 children in order with a prize of a stack of dollars for the winner.

"It seemed easy at first, but turned out to be incredibly challenging," Ngoc Nam, a great-grandchild studying in the Foreign Language Specialized High School in Hanoi says.

The extended family usually vacations together, with trips to beaches in the north-central province of Thanh Hoa with 112 members in 2018 and 136 members a year later, and to Ha Long Bay in 2022 with 148 of them.

"On these trips we never fear getting lost because we easily spot the ‘orange tornado’ (they are all in orange family uniform) and the convoy of 45-seater coaches," remarks Nguyen Quang Huy, another great-grandchild, who studies in the Foreign Trade University.

"Wearing our family uniform during these events fills us with pride and happiness since we belong to such a large, laughter-filled family," Hong Trang, a great-grandchild newly enrolled in 10th grade in the HUS High School for Gifted Students, says.

The 2013 longevity celebration with Dinh’s 5 generations of descendants. Photo courtesy of the family

The 2013 longevity celebration with five generations of Dinh’s descendants. Photo courtesy of the family

However, as the seniors age, bad news becomes more frequent. All family members are notified of any illness, hospitalization or death so that they can pay a visit.

In early 2023 the family was hit by the heartbreaking news that Dinh’s 13th child, Nguyen Van Tuan, suffered a stroke.

This marked the beginning of a tough battle as his health deteriorated rapidly, leading to two brain surgeries and a bleak prognosis.

The ensuing months saw a collective effort, with family members taking time off work to take care of him in shifts, with two members rotating every three hours.

Those in medical professions used their expertise to seek out top doctors and the best treatments, and others spent time comforting his wife Dau. After nearly three months Tuan has recovered and returned home though still unable to walk.

Tan, the eldest grandson, says: "Tuan’s older brothers took special care of him. The eldest, 90-year-old Ngai, despite mobility problems, still came to chat and cheer him up. Thanh, the second eldest at 88, and Tang, the fifth eldest at 77, came in the afternoons."

Speaking about how the family traditions have been sustained, Ngai credits his predecessors’ unstinting efforts to maintain unity and the traditions they in turn had been handed down.

He regularly updates the family tree and meticulously records family stories.

In each nuclear and extended family unit, spanning multiple generations, during meal times, stories often begin with phrases like "back in the day, father..." and "in the old days, grandfather..." so that the descendants can learn about and take pride in being members of the extended family of Ba Dinh.

Nowadays everyone from the second generation to the youngest eagerly anticipate visiting the house on Alley No.232, Truong Dinh Street, home to eight out of the 10 sons of Dinh, on two occasions every year.

"On such occasions, everyone gathers in the spacious courtyard, elders reminisce about old times and the dozens of children play around, making a noise louder than that of fireworks, which amplifies our love and pride in our family," Tan says.

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