Jonathan Arjen Ijff, a 48-year-old Vietnamese-Ducth man, has returned to Vietnam nine times over the past 16 years with the same purpose of looking for his biological mother.
He believes that Vinh Long Province in southern Vietnam is where he was brought into the world.
He has traveled across many southern Vietnamese provinces to seek his mother.
'I’m Hung. I’m a Vietnamese.'
Ijff, of Dutch nationality, can say a few Vietnamese words but always starts his story by introducing himself, “I’m a Vietnamese. Vinh Long is where I was born.”
Ijff is an artist and a graphic designer. He has a Vietnamese name: Nguyen Khanh Hung.
Speaking short sentences in Vietnamese with imperfect pronunciation is a way that the Vietnamese-Dutch man has prepared himself to reunite with his bio-parents if a miracle happens.
Pointing at a site on Pham Hung Street in Vinh Long City, the capital of the namesake province, along the Co Chien River, Ijff said it used to be the location of the Good Shepherd convent, where his mother carried him in her arms for the last time.
He recalled that he was born in January 1975 in Vinh Long. After several days, his mother left him at the Good Shepherd convent.
He was later taken to Ho Chi Minh City, where he was taken care of by Carolina van Roijen, the wife of then-Dutch Chargé d'Affaires in Vietnam Jan Herman van Roijen, at the Dutch Embassy on now Hai Ba Trung Street.
In mid-April 1975, he and 26 other children were adopted and Carolina van Roijen took them on a flight to the Netherlands.
Ijff was adopted by a farmer family in Beemster Polder, a rural land in the north of the Netherlands.
“It took a long time before I began to care about my origin. And it took me many years to decide to visit my homeland. I set foot in Hanoi for the first time in 2007 but my initial plan was to familiarize myself with this country," he said.
“Arriving in Hanoi and feeling the land under my feet, I felt relieved. That was love. Vietnam embraced me.
“In Beemster, I was with my younger sister as the only adoptees in the community. In Vietnam, I discovered everyone looks the same as me. Since then, I have visited Vietnam many times and every time I return, I always have a feeling that I am one step closer to my origin."
|Jonathan Arjen Ijff (R) on a flight to the Netherlands 48 years ago. Photo: Supplied|
'Please help me find my mother!'
About 10 years ago, Ijff’s adoptive mother passed away. She had earlier given him some photos of him when he was three months old and a piece of paper saying that his Vietnamese name is Nguyen Khanh Hung and his place of birth is Vinh Long.
In 2017, he returned to Vietnam again to find his biological mother.
During the journey to look for his mother, he has felt that Vietnam is warm and friendly thanks to his Vietnamese friends. He has also gradually found the manner of a child of this land himself.
After nine visits to Vietnam, Ijff has not found any clue about his bio-parents but he said he is not hopeless.
To prepare for the reunion, Ijff studied the Vietnamese language diligently during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I hope when I meet my mother, I can say hello to her and that I’m her child,” he said.
Coming back to Vietnam this time, he wrote, “Please help me find my mother in Vinh Long,” in both English and Vietnamese and printed it on 100 leaflets.
He has wandered numerous streets in Vinh Long over the past week to search for information about his mother. He showed everyone the bilingual leaflets, praying for a miracle.
“I always believed that my mother was loath to do what she did, but she wanted the best for me. If my mother is still alive, she may be about 70 [years old] now. I probably have siblings," Ijff said.
“I have sought my mother for many years and I earnestly hope to meet her so that I can hug her and tell her that I love her and I am living well.”
He added that he would travel to Ho Chi Minh City next week and then return to the Netherlands, noting that this lunar year is the Year of the Cat and he was also born in a Year of the Cat, so he hopes luck will come and a miracle will happen this year.
In 2019, a friend who Ijff met in Vinh Long invited him to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday, or Tet, with his family. That Tet was special as it was his first after 48 years living in Europe.
“Residents busily prepared for the Lunar New Year. Streets were full of flowers and banners. That was the first time I'd learned about lucky money and gone to the pagoda on the first days of a new lunar year," Ijff said.
“Tet made me more proud that I was born in this place.”
|Jonathan Arjten Ijff at the age of two or three. Photo: Supplied|
Reunifying two halves of a person
Besides looking for his biological parents, he has another mission — looking for the Vietnamese version of himself.
“I always try to unify the two halves of myself, which is extremely difficult. I will probably never become a Vietnamese person but I want to try,” he confided.
He has reached out to the Vinh Long Archive Center to search for documents about himself.
However, among the 26 children adopted in 1975, only dossiers on three people remain.
“Although I don’t have any clues yet, I believe that my mother is here. If I can find her, I will return to live in the land where I was born,” Ijff added.
No one knows how long Ijff’s journey to look for his origin will last and none can make sure that his crusade will be fruitful or not, but he said he finds his mother in every corner and will continue the job while he is still able to.
In September last year, Ijff joined a contest to design a logo for the celebration of 50 years of Vietnam-The Netherlands diplomatic ties (1973-2023) held by the Dutch Embassy and Consulate General. His design, featuring both Vietnam’s lotus and the Netherlands’ tulip, won the contest.
Ijff said the orange color in the logo symbolizes the Netherlands, red represents Vietnam, and pink is the same color of the two kinds of flowers.
“At the beginning, I did not expect a prize at the contest but I later considered it not merely a contest," the Vietnamese-Dutch man said.
“I joined it to connect with Vietnam and to requite the past. Lotus and tulip flowers are the embodiments of myself — a Vietnamese Dutch.”