Mother spends 30 years looking for lost son

By Hai Hien   May 20, 2023 | 04:39 pm PT
Huyen Nga’s son Hoang Long ran through his kindergarten’s open doors and into the street 29 years ago. He has not been seen since.

Last month, Pham Thi Huyen Nga, 62, received the results of her DNA test, in which she examined the biological relationship between herself and a 35-year-old man called Hung in Binh Duong.

Nga had been hoping and praying that Hung was her long-lost son. But the results came back negative, which meant there was no biological relationship between the two. The elderly woman almost collapsed, as she felt like she’d lost her son once again.

Nearly 30 years of searching for her son has taken its toll on Nga’s health.

She’s afraid that one day she’ll no longer be sane enough to continue looking for her son, who she believes would be "as handsome and fair-skinned as he was when he was a child.

Nga and her son (L), Nguyen Minh Hoang Long, when he was four years old. Photo courtesy of Nga

Nga and her son (L), Nguyen Minh Hoang Long, when he was four years old. Photo courtesy of Nga

Nga still remembers that it was the afternoon of November 5, 1994. Long was in the care of a private kindergarten in downtown Hanoi. He was about to have a shower before Nga and her husband came to pick him up.

When it was Long’s turn in the shower, the water pressure ran out and the kindergarten owner had to open the door to get water from outside.

Six-year-old Long ran out the door and disappeared.

Nga was running her candy stall at Dong Xuan Market when she got a phone call telling her to come home immediately. When she was informed that her son had gone missing, she collapsed.

Nga visited every house in the kindergarten’s neighborhood asking about her son. She asked dozens of her relatives and friends to help her search for Long at bus stations. She sent search parties along the banks of the Red River, trying to see if there was any information about children drowning. However, a week, and then a month, passed without any information about Long.

Nga sold her stall at Dong Xuan Market to a relative so she could dedicate all her time to scouring Hanoi for her son with her husband. They hung Long’s picture everywhere, and they asked the media to help them spread their story. Leads came in. Every time Nga and her husband heard about a child who shared similarities with Long, they went to see the child in person.

The elderly couple had since been to every province in Vietnam on their search, only to return disappointed.

Nga was holding Long when he was four years old. Photo courtesy of Nga

Nga holding Long when he was four years old. Photo courtesy of Nga

Waiting in vain

Nga bought new clothes and toys every year "in case Long comes back."

She estimated how tall Long would be and bought clothes of all sizes for him, in case he grew bigger or thinner. She even performed an old ritual in which she heated her son’s old clothes in a pan in the backyard, as some believe this can help bring the missing home. But the boy never reappeared.

"It felt like my heart had been stabbed but I couldn’t die. The stabs were there and my heart ached every second, every minute, making it an endless pain," she said.

Nga said she’s become disassociated with life over the years.

She often hears her son calling out her name in the middle of the night. She had waking dreams of being lost in an endless sea of people, searching for her son. But even in these fevers, the mother couldn’t find her son no matter how hard she tried. Even when these illusions have led to her finding her son, Long didn’t recognize her and disappeared again.

Seeing Nga’s despair, people encouraged her to have another child. They said looking for a missing child is similar to searching for a needle in the sea. But Nga believed that if she gave up searching for her son, she "would not have any motivation and courage to live anymore."

Nga’s husband was affected after Long went missing as well. He turned to alcohol to escape from reality. The couple fought more often. Three years after the disappearance of their son, they divorced.

All of a sudden Nga was an unemployed and divorced woman with a lost son.

Sometimes she felt depressed to the point she wanted to take her own life. She even went as far as to approach the banks of the Red River and thought about tossing herself in the water to drown. But just then she heard some children calling for their mother.

"My instinct told me not to end my life and continue my journey of searching," she recalled.

When Nga felt like her life was hitting rock bottom, a friend of hers suggested that she could relocate to the Czech Republic to start a new life, make money and continue searching for her son. She thought the plan made sense. In 1997, she left Vietnam for Czech.

After her relocation to the Czech Republic, Nga went through various occupations, from a market vendor to a waitress. She always applied for overtime to make more money and not to think about her missing son.

She sent part of the money she made back to her parents and spent the other part traveling to Vietnam twice a year to search for her son. Every time she got a lead about Long, she hit the road.

Nga looks at Long’s birth certificate and photos of Long when he was a baby. Photo taken on October 9, 2022, by VnExpress/Hoai Phuong

Nga looks at Long’s birth certificate and photos of Long when he was a baby. Photo taken on October 9, 2022, by VnExpress/Hoai Phuong

Since 2009, Nga’s younger sister Pham Thi Hoai Phuong has been posting the story of the long-lost mother-and-son on social media. Phuong has also helped Nga to connect with programs that assist in reconnecting missing relatives, hoping to find Long one day.

Over a month ago, Nga went back to Vietnam after receiving news of a man named Hung, a resident of Binh Duong, who reportedly shared many similarities with Long. Many members in Nga’s family said Hung had a "similar appearance to Long." Meanwhile, Hung said he remembered he was called "Long" before going missing from his family in Hanoi and being adopted by a couple when he was seven years old.

Nga observed Hung when he smiled. His mouth shape was different from that of Long, to which Nga justified that "everyone’s features grow different after going through puberty." Hung recalled that he was energetic when he was small, and liked to run out of his house through his family’s open doors.

"Long was like that too. He liked to run to the streets through our house’s open doors," Nga recalled.

Though the test results afterwards made Nga feel like "dying again," she still hasn’t given up yet. Sometimes Nga comforts herself by simply praying that Long is still living healthily. If that’s the case, she prays, then she doesn’t even need a reunion.

"As long as he is happy," she said, "I’m satisfied with observing him from a distance."

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