Two Vietnamese families have been reunited live on television with a once little girl who vanished from their home nearly half a century ago.
Nguyen Thi Quy was separated from her family 46 years ago but never stopped thinking of them and dreaming of the day when she might see her siblings again.
Quy was born in Laos in 1946 and had four brothers and sisters. Her father died when she was at a young age. Adopted out, she moved to Vietnam with her foster parents in 1963 and lost track of her family in the turmoil of the 1970s, seemingly for good.
She married but her husband and children died during the war and her foster parents passed away in 1972 and 1975.
For 34 years afterwards, Quy lived without family or relatives to lean on.
In 1991, she began working at Hoa Ma Bakery in Ho Chi Minh City's Cao Thang Street, and has been there on and off ever since.
Every time she had saved up enough money, Quy would travel to Khe Sanh and Lao Bao in Quang Tri Province and cross into Laos in search of her long-lost family.
As she sought high and low, Quy was buoyed by the possibility that her younger brothers and sisters could be still alive.
"Whenever I got too down, I would just up and go without knowing exactly where I should look or what I should do. When I ran out of money, I went back to work. I didn't know why, something inside made me go," Quy said early this month on Nhu chua he co cuoc chia ly (as though we never parted), a television show where long-lost relatives are reunited.
Her appearance on the show was the end result of telling her story to Nguyen Thi Tam, an old friend and regular customer at the bakery.
Tam told Quy that if she continued this way, she could not save enough money for her old age. More importantly, Tam helped Quy contact the producers of the TV program.
When the program was broadcast live, Tam was one of the guests of honor. Speaking of Quy standing by her side, Tam told the show's presenters that "her health was getting worse, we loved her and could not bear seeing her trying so desperately to find her family at her ripe old age. We hoped against hope that you could help."
It was then that Quy's youngest sister, Nguyen Thi Huong from Australia, stood up in the audience and stepped onto the stage to tell her story. The reunion ended in tears of joy and the sisters hugging each other in a tight embrace after 46 years apart.
Huong said the family had spent a short time in Vietnam before emigrating to Canada and Australia, but had never given up looking for Quy.
"I miss you mom since I was three years old," said Trieu Le Can, or Nguyen Thi Thuy, (L) when she hugged her mother who has just returned from Canada since Can vanished from her home in Hanoi 46 years ago
The chubby kid who vanished without trace
It's also been 46 years since Trieu Dat Quang's three-year-old daughter went missing from the house where she lived with her parents and three older brothers in Hang Buom Street, Hanoi.
"On that day, December 18th 1963, Le Can was wearing a beautiful dress for the family photographs we wanted to take. We were waiting for her mother to come home from work and suddenly realized Can wasn't around. We couldn't find her anywhere," said Quang, who returned from Canada with his sons to appear on the show.
Mother Nguyen Kim Phuong, who remembered Can as a chubby girl, told the audience that she'd had to stay on a little at the hairdressing salon where worked that day as it was the busy year-end period.
For months after Can went missing, "[we endured] unimaginable sorrow," husband Quang said.
"I remember not being able to swallow a spoonful of rice we were so choked up and crying, both of us."
"I wandered everywhere, without any real purpose, to Bac Giang, Hung Yen, Bac Ninh provinces and beyond. Whenever I came back home, my wife would be weeping and I'd start crying too."
"In my head at that time, I was always picturing my daughter wailing for her parents somewhere. We reported her missing to the police, but it didn't help."
While the family was trying everything to find the little girl, Can was indeed crying her eyes out near Dong Xuan Market, where she was picked by a woman named Tran Thi Oong who sold buffalo-horn combs there.
She took Can home and raised the child as her own but with the name Nguyen Thi Thuy as suggested by her family.
When she appeared on the TV show, Oong related how she had found this child in distress and carried her around in the hope of finding her parents or anyone else who might know her. By then it was late in the evening and Oong could do no more than take the little girl home with her.
For a long time afterwards, her husband Nguyen Van Doanh would travel regularly to Hanoi to see if there was any news or information about a missing girl who matched her description, but to no avail.
Can, or rather Thuy, was formally adopted by Doanh and Oong and has since been living 20 kilometers from the center of Hanoi in Thuy Ung, the only traditional craft village in Vietnam that produces buffalo-horn combs.
Quang and his three sons migrated to Canada years ago but often returned to Vietnam to look for the daughter, he told the studio audience moments before Can appeared from stage right and the whole family with mum there too burst into tears and hugs.
The parents could not say a word as their emotions overwhelmed them while Can managed to blurt out "I've missed you mom, since I was three until now."
REUNION AS MASS ENTERTAINMENT
Since the first show nearly two years ago, "As Though We Never Parted" has helped reunite many families with separated or missing loved ones.
So far the show has succeeded in locating 140 cases, according to its website www.haylentieng.com.
Sponsored by Saigon Mornings Communications and Viettel, the program is broadcast live on the first Saturday of each month on channels VTV1, VTV4 and VTV9. Requests for help can be made by calling (084) (08) 6264 7777 or through www.haylentieng.vn.