The Love Letters
After her father passed away, Flora found a leather bag that contained his correspondence with Hien, the woman he promised to marry after completing his engineering degree in Canada.
It was a gloomy day in November 2013. Worse, Flora's father had just passed away. Flora and her brother undertook the onerous task of sorting through his apartment because Le Dai Do passed away without any identification on him -- nothing in his wallet, nothing in his pockets, nothing easily accessible, and the hospital needed it for their paperwork.
In the leather bag were hundreds of old handwritten letters. All in Vietnamese. Flora could tell from the stamps that they had been written in the 1960s. Her father had kept them all those years.
Until that day, Flora had never heard the name Hien. She had no idea who this mystery woman could be.
It took five years and a team of thirteen Vietnamese to translate the voluminous correspondence Le Dai Do and Hien exchanged between 1965 and 1972. There were over 600 letters, amounting to well over 1,000 pages. Their content tells a story of love, longing and loss.
Do met Hien in May 1965 at Sadec high school. She was 16 years old and he was 19 years old, a senior in college. "She was the most beautiful girl in the school," Do wrote, while he was a gifted student in mathematics. They dated for two years despite Hien's parents disapproving of Do's lower social class. Do left Vietnam on a Colombo scholarship right as the Vietnam War started to touch the south. He promised Hien he would return after completing his engineering degree in Montreal.
Do graduated in 1971. By then, the United States had started withdrawing their troops from Vietnam. The country was slowly but fatally falling into the hands of the Viet Cong. Do knew that if he returned to Vietnam he would be sent to combat. He stayed in Canada by marrying his Canadian girlfriend at the time, Flora's mother.
From 1967 to 1972, Hien kept her promise to wait for Do and not marry another man. When she learned that he would not return, she accepted the marriage to an army officer her parents had arranged. But all through the next years and decades, she never stopped loving Do.
Flora met Hien in Sadec at the end of her motorcycle trip. She had something to give back to the older woman. Something she had found in the letters.