Vietnamese mother torn between two sons 20 years after being sold to China

By Vuong Linh   April 23, 2018 | 04:00 am PT
Vietnamese mother torn between two sons 20 years after being sold to China
Vu Thi Chuc sits next to her first husband, Bui Van Hai, in their house outside Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/MT
'I’m happy that I’m home now but I still want to return to China for my son there.'

Vu Thi Chuc lives in a small house outside Hanoi with her husband, son and daughter in law.

When the younger couple aren't at home, the house is filled with silence. Chuc and her husband, Bui Van Hai, both in their 50s, hardly talk to each other, even though they have been reunited for more than a year after 21 years apart.

The woman was rescued as a trafficking victim and brought back to Vietnam, but her returning has never felt complete as she spent a lot of time missing a son in China.

Tearing apart

Chuc was born into a poor family in 1962. Her marriage with Hai was arranged by their families in Phuc Tho District. He is three years younger than her. They earned their living from a small farm, raising a son and living a normal life typical of a low-income family in the 90s. Until everything turned upside down, all thanks to a neighbor.

“I’m deeply resentful of that woman,” Chuc said, with an angry look on her face.

In 1997, the neighbor asked Chuc to go to town with her as she had found her a job because she “was touched by how poor Chuc’s family was.” She was taken to a restaurant and told that she would be washing dishes there.

"When I saw noisy people there, I felt something was wrong and I wanted to leave with my neighbor. But the owner pulled me back,” she said.

The next day, after having a bowl of noodles soup given by the owner, she fell asleep. When she woke up, Chuc was in a strange place along with several other women. “We had to stand in line and then a group of men showed up, and checked us out from top to toe. Some shook their heads and went away and some wanted to take me with them. When I resisted, they slapped me in the face and beat me,” Chuc said.

She was beaten so hard that when another man showed up and decided to buy her, she just followed him, all the way to China. In Guangdong, she was married to a farmer who was more than 40 and lived in the same house as his parents and siblings. Scared and homesick, Chuc spent all day crying.

After three months, things fell into place. Chuc wiped her tears away, got out of the house and started working on a farm, but she was still treated like a prisoner. The Chinese family tied her hands to her husband’s most of the time. “I was only let go for a few minutes each day to use the bathroom.”

After two years in China, she gave birth to a baby girl, but she suffered menorrhagia. Her Chinese husband did not allow her to go to the hospital because "the family had no money for that." She managed to recover after a few months, but the baby died. Not long after that, she had a son.

She was never allowed to keep any money. Her Chinese husband only gave her a small sum once in a while to buy food. Chuc said she struggled day by day, until things got worse. The Chinese husband married another woman and started to beat Chuc frequently. “He took me into a room, locked the door and hit me as if I were his enemy.”

Their neighbors reported the assaults to the police, and the husband was jailed for several months. After he was released, he lived with the new wife, leaving Chuc and their son on their own.

The two sons

“He was a good kid and he loved me a lot," Chuc said about her 19-year-old son in China, crying. "When he was old enough to leave home for work, he told his dad: ‘If you lay a finger on my mother, I will tell the police.'"

Chuc said she did not have a chance to say goodbye to that son when Chinese police came and "rescued" her in 2016. “They came at night and I did not even have time to tell my son," Chuc said. "I wanted to take a few photos of him and some papers with his address and phone number but my husband had burned them all."

Chuc said that on the bus to return home, she felt empty as if she was traveling to a new land. She felt even more shattered when hearing the sad story that her Vietnamese son, Bui Duong, has to tell.

Duong was seven when the tragedy struck. "She gave me candies and told me to be good because she was going to visit grandma for a while. But she did not come back,” Duong said.

Since his mother disappeared, Duong lived a tough life with his father Hai, who turned into a lost soul and did nothing but wander around the village after his mother died in 2011.

Duong dropped out after finishing secondary school. He traveled across the country to work, hoping to find his mother somewhere. He crossed the border in 2013 and hired interpreters to look for his mother. He spent more than 10 days in China until he went out of money. The moment her mother was brought back to Vietnam, Duong said he was consumed by mixed emotions of excitement, love and anger.

“I was stunned to see her but our connection had faded after all those years,” he said. There was no hugs at the reunion. It took a few months for Chuc to switch from speaking Chinese to her mother tongue.

With his mother back, Duong decided to return home. His father also snapped out of his stupor and started doing up the downgraded house and helping his wife with the housework. Chuc is working as a farmer again. Duong and his wife are vendors at a nearby market, and they come home every day for lunch and dinner.

“I want to take good care of my mother. But she doesn't want to stay with us, she wants to go back to China with her other boy,” Duong said.

The family has not made specific arrangements yet, but Duong expressed support for his mother's wishes.

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