'Gift from heaven': Frenchwoman finds Vietnamese birth family instantly

By Huong Ly   July 23, 2022 | 04:29 pm PT
When she returned to Vietnam after 25 years of separation from her biological family, Emma Kiener was incredulous she could find her sister in just a day.

Standing in front of a French restaurant in downtown HCMC, Emma Kiener, 25, looks quite nervous. The Frenchwoman is waiting for her biological sister, Tran Thi Thanh Loan, 35, to come to have dinner with her adoptive parents.

It was the third time Emma Kiener and Loan would be meeting since they first met on July 13, But the first time Loan would be meeting Anna and Daniel, a Dutch–French couple who adopted Emma 25 years ago in Vietnam and took her to France. They do not want to reveal their surname/s.

"This will be the moment of my life," Emma Kiener says.

The meeting begins with warm hugs that Anna, 64, and Daniel, 72, give Loan. The language barrier prevents them from expressing their feelings at this emotional moment, but the tears in their eyes say it all.

From left: Anna, Loan, Loan’s son-Hung, Kiener, and Daniel at a French restaurant in downtown HCMC on July 19, 2022. Photo by VnExpress International/Huong Ly

(From L) Anna, Loan, Loan’s son-Hung, Emma Kiener, and Daniel at a French restaurant in downtown HCMC on July 19, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Huong Ly

Anna keeps taking photos of Loan and Emma Kiener side by side holding each other’s hands.

"It is a miracle, isn’t it? It is so incredible!" she says.

A week earlier Emma Kiener found Loan after a quarter century of being separated. It happened a day after she created online posts on Facebook, asking for help to find her biological family in Vietnam.

Anna asks Loan in English: "How did you know about Emma’s post?"

Loan replies in Vietnamese: "At that time I was surfing the Internet and accidentally saw her post on the Nguoi Thu Duc Facebook page. I read the post five or six times to make sure it was real. I did not even imagine in my dreams I would find my half-sister one day."

On July 11, three days after coming to Vietnam for the first time, Emma Kiener sought help on social media to find her birth mother, Truong Thi Thanh, and biological sister, whose name she did not know.

Truong Thi Thanh Hanh, her Vietnamese name, was born on October 5, 1996, and left by her mother at Tu Du Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital in HCMC.

She was sent to Tam Binh Orphanage in HCMC on October 22, and adopted by Anna and Daniel a few months later.

Emma Kiener wrote her story on several online forums and it quickly went viral with thousands of reactions and hundreds of shares within a day.

To her great surprise, on July 12 she received messages from Loan.

Loan in fact bombarded Emma Kiener with messages on Zalo and Messenger, commented on her posts, and sent her phone messages.

Emma Kiener says: "I was like ‘What? How? How can it come so soon? How is this possible?’. I felt overwhelmed and could not sleep that night."

Loan, after reading the post, called her boyfriend and cried. "I said to him ‘I think I have found my sister’."

Everything Emma Kiener wrote, including the address of her biological mother’s old house and the age of her sister was a match.

Loan says: "Her Vietnamese name is Truong Thi Thanh Hanh, and my mother’s name is Truong Thi Thanh. My mother told me I have a half-sister about that age. It made me believe 80 percent she was the one."

The next day the two women decided to meet. The elder sister showed Emma Kiener photos of their mother and burst into tears. She soon realized they had many similarities.

Loan says Emma Kiener resembles her and their mother. "Her nose looks exactly like our mother’s and her hands look like mine."

However, they were still doubtful and so got a DNA test done the next day. A few days later they got the results, which confirmed they were half-sisters born to the same mother.

Emma Kiener says before the dinner that she had not been really sleeping or eating for a week. "I feel now very weak. I feel very emotional. But I have not cried since the beginning of this process. I think my way of expressing is by not eating."

For Loan, it still feels surreal. "I’m happy, but I still can’t believe it is true."

Anna says "Loan could have missed that post, but she read it. It is a gift from heaven."

When questions were answered

At the dinner Loan is unable hold back her tears every time she talks about her mother, and says Thanh had had a miserable life.

Before she died of liver, heart and thyroid diseases at the age of 58 in 2015, she was making ends meet by selling lottery tickets on the street in HCMC.

After Loan’s father passed away, Thanh decided to move in with Emma Kiener’s birth father but then he left. As a single mother she could not afford to raise another daughter and so left her newborn child at the hospital in 1996.

"It was an act of love because she thought about her daughter’s future," Anna tells Loan to console her.

Emma Kiener has never felt angry at Thanh or blamed her for the abandonment.

"I knew if she did such a thing, it would have had a reason. If she did not want me or desire me, she would not have given me her name. I know she loved me."

For her, the truth is not the happiest one but now she has answers for what she calls "an identity crisis" that had haunted her over the years.

Asked about her life in France, Emma Kiener says every day she gets asked, "Where are you from?" She replies she is French but was born in Vietnam, but people are never satisfied with the answer.

Anna and Daniel have never concealed the fact that Emma was not their biological child. They told her about how she was adopted, but the story of her Vietnamese roots remained unknown.

Emma Kiener says: "The fact of not knowing where you are from is difficult on a daily basis. When you grow up for 25 years with a big piece of your story missing, it will always be a kind of hole in your life."

Filling that hole was her motivation to come back to Vietnam with her adoptive parents.

Anna says: "Finding the truth is also important to us, so we decide to go with her. But it is more important for her to know her roots because it is her history."

Before finding Anna, Loan always used to worry about her sister and fear for her fate. But now she is relieved and happy for both her mother and sister.

Loan (R) and Kiener at their first meeting on July 13, 2022. Photo courtesy of Tran Thi Thanh Loan

Loan (R) and Emma Kiener at their first meeting on July 13, 2022. Photo courtesy of Tran Thi Thanh Loan

"Because not only she is not angry with her birth mother and came back to Vietnam to look for her, but has also got a good life thanks to Anna and Daniel."

She plans to take her sister the next day to a temple in HCMC where Thanh’s remains are preserved.

In August, Emma Kiener and her friend will travel to the north and then leave for Canada in September to work.

"But I will come back to visit you," she promises Loan in English.

"For me, the sense of belonging and connection to somewhere begins with the language. Now I have a real reason to learn Vietnamese."

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