Pham Thi Bau with her mother at their house in Quang Nam Province. Photos: Tien Hung/VnExpress
Pham Thi Bau no longer remembered the way to her house. It had been a long time.
She decided to travel to the town market hoping someone would recognize her. And many did. Though it was 22 years since she had been trafficked to China.
In April 1994, then 30 years old, she left her home in Quang Nam Province for Hue to sell flowers. She never returned.
On her way back home her bus broke down and left passengers at a street cafe while it was being repaired.
“It was around 3 p.m. I was sitting and having a drink with other passengers. Suddenly a woman came and tapped my shoulder,” online newspaper VnExpress quoted her as saying.
“I don't know what really happened but it felt like I was hypnotized. I followed that woman to catch a bus to the north. I fell asleep during the journey, and when I woke up, I was told we were in Guangxi, China.”
Bau, then married with two sons in Quang Nam, said there were around 10 other Vietnamese women with her, and they were all told to wait for Chinese men to come and buy them as wives.
“Many groups of men came over to check us out. They would choose and pay money to a woman. We were like goods.”
All were very scared at the idea of being bought, but also of running away since they had no money and could not speak the local language.
‘I am lucky’
Bau was bought after ten days for 2,000 yuan, or more than US$300.
Her new husband, Yang Jianfeng, took her on a motorbike and traveled half a day to his home in a remote area in Guangxi.
He and his two siblings lived together after losing their parents as children. He was poor and did not have a regular job. No Chinese woman wanted to be his wife and so he decided to save money to buy one from Vietnam.
Bau said he had so little choice that he accepted her though she was 11 years older.
The family cooked a meal to mark her arrival.
Pham Thi Bau with her Chinese husband Yang Jianfeng. He came along worrying she would not return to China.
She could only communicate with her husband using gesticulations, and took half a year to understand and speak Chinese.
The couple made a living with Yang driving a taxi motorbike and Bau working in the fields.
She gave birth to two sons several years later. She has acquired Chinese citizenship.
Despite the poverty, life has been much better than she feared and nothing untoward has ever happened.
“I’ve heard about Chinese men beating their Vietnamese wives. But my husband never beats or scolds me.
“I am lucky. I have a husband who loves me.”
She said many Vietnamese women run away after being abused by the men who bought them.
She wanted to do the same at the beginning. But with a loving husband and, later, two sons, she decided to temporarily forget she had a family in Vietnam.
“I felt terribly homesick all the time, but we were too poor for the trip.”
She came home this month after saving enough money, and plans to stay for a few weeks. Her husband has come along with her fearing she would not return.
Her mother, 86, who usually lies in bed sick, has been sitting up greeting visitors and spending time with her long-lost daughter.
She is happy that her instinct about Bau being alive has proved correct.
“I spent more than two months traveling to various provinces looking for her,” Le Thi Ngu said.
“Everyone told me she was dead and suggested I set up an altar. But I did not believe them. I’ve been waiting for my daughter to return every day. And now she has.”
But not everyone is still around to welcome her home: her husband left soon after she disappeared, and her sons were adopted by a Canadian couple a few years later since Ngu was too poor to raise them.
“I don't know if they would remember me. They were too young back then,” Bau said, her eyes filling up.