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Vietnamese girl recounts solo north-to-south trip to find mother

Saturday, February 16, 2019, 12:56 GMT+7
Vietnamese girl recounts solo north-to-south trip to find mother
Dung and her mother wrapped sticky rice cakes together during Tet holiday.

A Vietnamese girl from the north-central province of Thanh Hoa traveled across the country to find and care for her mother.

Now, in her late twenties, Luu Thi Dung is an active quality control and inspectorate specialist at Vinmec Central Park, a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.

The extraordinary girl has gone all the way from a humble, if not impoverished background to achieve success.

The most touching part of her story?  It includes a cross country trek in search of her mother.

From nightmarish nights of desolation

Luu Thi Phuong, 69, Dung’s mother, was an unfortunate woman.

Phuong and her husband endured ten long years without a child, until she finally got pregnant at the age of 41.

However, two months into the pregnancy, her husband passed away.

Alone, Phuong had no choice but to return to her parents for help and shelter.

Despite her pregnancy, her underprivileged circumstances forced her to work in the paddy fields right up until the moment she gave birth.

Her life was made harder when her parents both passed away when Dung was only three years old. 

From then on, when Phuong went farming, she would take Dung with her, placing her baby on a raincoat nearby as she worked the fields.

“Once, [Dung] threw so large a tantrum that I was unable to continue working,” the mother recalled. “When I embraced my baby and realized we were all alone by ourselves, I started crying with her.”

Another time, Phuong nearly lost her child in the midst of preparing the soil for the coming crop season.

“It was such a cold winter day, but I was so focused on my work. After not hearing [Dung] cry for a while, I began to worry, and rushed back to my baby.” Phuong said.

“I approached just moments before she would have got frostbite. Frightened, I immediately dropped what I was doing and took her to a fire.”

When Dung was old enough to walk, Phuong would lock her in their cottage while she worked in the fields.  

Sometimes, when the hunger became uncontrollable, Dung would sneak out the rear exit, and roam the neighborhood begging for food.

But the little girl never pestered her mom; every time Phuong came back from work, Dung had already hit the hay, literally, next to the fireplace.

There were also times when Dung gave her mother a fright for dear life.

“At four years old, Dung fell into the nearby river. If the neighbors hadn’t been around I would have lost her for good,” Phuong shared.

Due to her penurious situation, Dung quickly learned the know-how to fend for her family.

But no matter how hard she tried, mistakes abounded.

There was a moment Dung stumbled while bringing food to the field for her mother, thus spoiling the meal. Another time, she tripped over, and dropped every ounce of grain she just borrowed from her aunt in the middle of the night.

Phuong admits that she would hit her daughter over such careless mistakes, but soon after, she would hug and provide comfort for the child.

The trip of a lifetime

Even though Phuong and her daughter worked their hardest, they never seemed to have enough food.

Though Dung was successful at school, it seemed the small family had little hope.  That was when Phuong left her child to go look for jobs in the south.  

Taking only enough to travel, Phuong left all of her meager savings, VND350,000 (US$15.06) for Dung.

At first, Dung barely scraped by in the paddy fields and by helping her neighbors at their veggie stalls.

She never touched the money her mother left behind, knowing it was just enough to help her travel to the south to search for her mom.

After Dung reach eighth grade, she realized she would not have enough money to cover the cost of her education and the urge to see her mother again become to much to handle.  As such, she decided to travel to Ho Chi Minh City.

All she knew then was that her mother was working as a house keeper in Linh Trung Ward, Thu Duc, the easternmost district of the southern metropolis.

Receiving assistance from a motorbike taxi driver, after roaming around the district from noon till dusk, Dung finally managed to pinpoint her mother’s location.

Upon contact, both mother and daughter embraced one another, while bittersweet tears streamed down their faces.

It was then that Phuong vowed never to let go of her daughter, and that regardless of what would transpire, she will stick with Dung to the end.

Phuong posed with her employer’s children.
Phuong posed with her employer’s children.

Bright future awaits

As time went on, Dung’s effort paid off in full: she achieved high scores on the university entrance exam, and gained admission into the prestigious Hanoi Law University.

“Back in my hometown of Thanh Hoa, I have seen many people tricked into hard labor in exchange for meager income,” Dung responded on her college choice.

“I thus seek to arm myself with legal knowledge, so that no one will be lured into such traps.”

Before her trip to Hanoi, her mother sold off the harvest, which only amounted to VND1,000,000 (US$43.02).

Afterward, the two rented a room and began doing odd jobs to stabilize the situation.

Dung herself also chipped in her part by becoming a tutor and a part-time house cleaner.

But the occupations were not always smooth sailing. At a time, she had to quit a house cleaning job out of self-pity stemming from physical abuse of her employer.

However, the girl stood firm with her conviction, and things slowly worked out with the help of her teachers and peers.

When Dung graduated and got a well-paid job in Ho Chi Minh City in 2013, a new chapter in her life began to unfold.

“Upon receiving my first salary, I took my mother to eat grilled meat,” Dung said.

“All our lives, we had lived amid hunger and cold. Now is a good time for a change,” she added.

After tirelessly working for three years straight, Dung also managed to send back enough money in order to repair her cottage back home.

Now, the two live together again in Ho Chi Minh City.

Back in her childhood, what Dung feared the most was the notion of losing her mother.

“When I was little, rarely did I see mom during the day. Once I grew up a bit, she had again gone to the south looking for jobs,” Dung said.

Dung would often wake up at the same time with my mother at 4:00 am, only to tail her to the marketplace.

“On one occasion, I lost sight of her, and got lost. Fortunately, someone noticed me throwing a tantrum, and announced the case on the speakers. Whence mother found me, we both came into embrace, crying,” Dung recalled.

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