Thiên Duyên… Last Day in Hanoi

On my last day in Hanoi, the Watson magic found me.

I went to the Old Quarter with the plan of getting some last minute souvenirs and mailing a package home. First I walked over to a lunch place I had seen earlier in the week. I sat on an empty table but the owner motioned me to move to a table in front of the single fan in the place. There was an older woman dressed elegantly in black and white sitting there already and soon enough we began talking. I told her I was doing research on Vietnamese women–specifically single moms–and that in a couple of days I would be heading over to Canada to continue my research.

Turns out Luan has been living in Canada for the past 40 years. She left Vietnam in 1975 to escape Communism and entered Canada as a refugee. She initially left on a boat with her husband and her two children along with 5000 others. It took them 7 days just to arrive at the Philippines with no food or water. “My life would make a great book” she told me.

I asked her if she would let me record what she was telling me and not only did she say yes, but she invited me back to her hotel so I could do a proper interview.

We talked for over four hours. She described at length her relationship to her birth mother, Vietnam, and her foster mother, Canada. She described what it was like to leave her husband and become a single mom as a newly arrived refugee. She put on her traditional áo dài and explained to me old Vietnamese tales. Then she told me about the teaching she does, from 4o traditional dances from around the world to modeling. She even gave me a lesson. As it’s obvious below, I  need more lessons to reach her level.

She also interviewed me for a change! It’s happened only a few times during m trip that the women I interview pull out their own recorder or camera on me. I always love doing it since it give me a chance to reflect on my projects in ways I sometimes don’t by nature of living it and having no one to talk to about it.

Meeting Luyen, was Thiên Duyên. She explained Thien means God, and Duyem, time to meet–fate. It’s usually used to describe how lovers get together; a love from above, arranged by God.

“If it wasn’t our time to meet, you would’ve stayed at your table, me at mine, and we never talk.” I agree with Luyen, it was meant to be.


Around 7pm, she took me to the night market–I can’t believe I almost left Hanoi without visiting it. Hundreds of stands are set up in the middle of the Old quarter selling the clothes and souvenirs found during the day for half the price. It sucked to see things I had “haggled” for at a third of the price but my anger was distracted by all other things I could now buy, including a áo dài of my own. This wasn’t a traditional áo dàibut a modern take on it every fashionable woman and girl was wearing around Hanoi.

Luyen is just as indecisive as me when it comes to shopping, so we ended up staying past 11pm in the market, way past what I should have done since I still had to pack for my flight the next day. I had to skip the dinner we had planned to share and took a cab home. After giving Luyen a big hug, of course.


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