VIETNAM — He is from Hanoi. A child of the Vietnam War, in which his father fought for the North Vietnamese Army. Yes, the Viet Cong, although that degrading terminology was used only by the enemy. His father was shot by an American soldier. He’d like to meet that American soldier.
To say thanks.
“When my father was injured, they sent him home to Hanoi,” says Trieu Son. “Because he came home, I was born.”
Today, Son is a cruise director. Since 2011, he has worked for AmaWaterways, professionally and politely accompanying river cruisers up and down the Mekong River on the AmaDara, to and from Siem Reap, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. If his ability to do his job and his engaging personality are the criteria, it’s a job Son will have as long as he wants it.
The owners of the cruise line, principally Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst, met him for the first time last month. What followed was an ongoing and entertaining dialogue between “Son” and his “Dad” and “Mom.” By the end of the cruise, all parents who qualified were ready to adopt him as their Son.
During his tenure as a cruise director, he met an American soldier. The man, who’d been a pilot during the war and whose name was Jim, wanted to meet a North Vietnamese soldier. Although Son didn’t initially think of his father.
“Then my Dad phoned, just to talk to his son,” he recalls. “He fought four and a half years. In North Vietnam, it would bring shame on a family not to enlist.”
The two old soldiers met in a tea room at a Hanoi hotel. Accompanied by his wife Connie and daughter Amanda, Jim paced the floor in the minutes leading up to meeting Son’s father, Quoc Tuan. When they met, it was emotional. There were tears.
“I’m so sorry,” he said to his North Vietnamese equal, “for every shot I fired. I was only 17. All I was supposed to do was press the button.”
Quoc Tuan was sympathetic.
“It was war time,” he told Jim. “No one wanted to be there. It must have been hard…you guys all had to come to a strange country.”
They parted as friends. So did their children. Amanda returns to Vietnam every couple of years.
“Two fathers fought,” says Son. “Now their two kids have fun together.”
The youngest of three children, all born after the Vietnam War, Son now has an unlikely occupation. His older brother urged him to learn English and, when he was young, Son listened to English on an overseas BBC station “for years” without learning a word of English. One morning he heard a broadcaster say “trigger” and he was so intrigued by the word that he was motivated to learn more.
That wasn’t easy.
“Most of us suffered from malnutrition,” Son recalls, with a smile. “We had no meat…no toys…and for the first eight years no electricity. We studied by oil lamp.”
By age 16, he was able to study English at school. Now in his 30s, he speaks it fluently, learning it so well that he can be funny in a way that only works with knowledge of the nuances.
“Language is about understanding,” he says.
His most amazing characteristic to strangers — whether they are passengers or his new “Dad” and “Mom” — is an uncanny ability to know and remember every passenger’s name by heart within minutes of meeting them. He says it is a gift.
One that was the result of an American shooting a North Vietnamese soldier.
In the news…
• Survey shows Cuba early bookings fewer than 3% of Americans
• MSC Lirica to home-port in Shanghai for year-round cruises
• fathom ship to focus on Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba
Today at portsandbows.com: Cruise views and news you can use
November 21, 2015
Fort Lauderdale (return): Nassau, Princess Cays
Cost per day: $74