Father, son, back after 40 years in jungle, prepare for Tet

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Ho Van Thanh and his son, Ho Van Lang, make sticky rice cakes for the Lunar New Year festival. Last August their family brought them back home after 40 years in the jungle in Quang Ngai Province. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Ho Van Lang rolls layers of leaves and closes them at one end for his father to put in sticky rice and other stuffing before boiling it to make banh tet, a traditional New Year food.

Lang is celebrating Tet for the first time in his life since he had been just one when his father fled with him into the jungle after their house was bombed during the Vietnam War, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported.

The two were brought back home in the central province of Quang Ngai last August thanks to Lang’s brother Ho Van Tri, who had been told their story by his mother before she died.

Tri taught them the steps as they made the cakes with neighbors’ help at the house gifted to them in the mountainous Tay Tra District.

They also learned to slice the cakes using a string after they are cooked.

“I like Tet very much,” Lang says in the language of his Cor ethnic group. He has not learned much Vietnamese.

His father Ho Van Thanh, 83, has not spoken to anyone else except Lang yet, but has resumed most normal activities.

The adjustment was difficult in the beginning, and both father and son wanted to return to their tree house in the jungle.

When Thanh fell sick and was under treatment Lang tried to leave several times.

Now the 43-year-old says he does not want to live in the jungle any more: “I like my village here.”

He drags visitors to see his new house and a buffalo gifted by reporters of Quang Ngai Radio and Television, whose documentary on him won a gold medal at the national television festival.

Lang spends his days taking care of the animal, working in the field, and helping Tri around the house.

He and his father used to grow cassava, corn, sugarcane, and tobacco in a one-hectare (2.47 acre) field in the jungle.

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Tri says Tet feels better this year since his father and brother are home.

“I just hope I will always get to celebrate Tet with my father and brother.”

Tri had been trying to bring them back from the forest for 30 years after finding out about them.

He said his father, then a soldier, went crazy and left the army after his house was bombed in 1972, killing his grandmother and two older brothers.

Their parents carried the one-year-old Lang and him, then three months old, to another village.

Later Thanh beat his wife and she had to be hospitalized. Locals sent Tri over to stay with her, while Thanh left with Lang.

Thanh returned once asking about his wife and Tri, but, afraid he would beat her again, people told him they were dead.

Tri went into the forest many times and asked them to return, but they refused.

Local officials said they could only bring the two out of the jungle last August because the father was too weak to run, and Lang loved his father so much he accepted to come along.

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