A Vietnamese national who walked from China to Pakistan, crossing two militarized, disputed borders and thousands of wilderness miles said he survived by begging for food and water and eating forest fruits.
Vu Gia Po said he was attempting to flee back to Vietnam after a Hmong neighbor lured him into illegally crossing into China to work as a gardener. Po said he and the others who followed the yet-identified man, were beaten and never paid for their work.
After a month of being beaten and not paid, he and nine other men split into two groups and ran.
After five days, Po, the 37-year-old Hmong ethnic man, got separated from a group of six and began to wander alone.
“I walked toward the setting sun in an attempt to get home. I asked for food at houses along the way and foraged for fruit in the forest.”
“There were a lot of times that I became terribly thirsty,” he said in H’mong. "There were times I spent two days looking for water."
“I never got sick. I went for more than a year before being arrested by the police,” he said.
In April, 2012, Po and several of his villagers in Vietnam's northern mountainous of Ha Giang were conned into working illegally in China.
Last October, the illiterate man was found wandering on foot without any identification in the town of Athmuqam near the border with India.
No one could communicate with him because he spoke no Vietnamese.
Eventually, they determined his after someone in Athmuqam showed him flags and currencies from countries in the region, according to Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper.
He was repatriated on May 11 thanks to a coordinated effort between the Vietnamese Embassy in Pakistan and authorities there.
On May 12, Po returned home to Khau Vai Commune in Meo Vac District, Ha Giang Province.
His daughter, 15-year-old Vu Thi Ho, woke up early to prepare mèn mén (steamed corn powder) a popular food of H’mong community. She described it as their staple.
“We all wanted to find him after he got lost but we didn't know where to go,” she said.
Upon seeing her father, Ho ran into his arms and cried. Po's two youngest children, Vu Mi Cha and Vu Mi Vu, looked at him from a distance before bursting into tears.
Po, a father of five, was also moved while hugging and scrubbing the head of his children.
His wife, Ly Thi Lia, who had met him at the Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport the day before, couldn't control her tears.
She had sent Vietnamese Embassy officials VND17 million (US$850) for her husband's ticket home.
Lia sold their most precious property, two cows, in a failed attempt to find Po two years ago.
People in their mountainous commune can barely make ends meet by growing corn and many people have been lured into work in China.
Local people said Po was not the first to go missing after traveling abroad to seek work -- he's just the first one to ever come back.
On May 12, many villagers gathered at Po’s house to meet the man who had made it back from such an incredible journey.
Po told neighbors that he had been unable to find his way home and kept thinking about his family the whole time.
“I will never work in China even if someone offers me a hundred million or a billion dong,” he said.
“I'll spend the rest of my life at home, working in the fields and raising cows to earn money to rear my family and pay my debts because my house has nothing now.”
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