Hope springs eternal

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Lam Thi Ky (R), 68, who sells lottery tickets in Binh Dinh Province, and Nguyen Hoa, 40, and Nguyen Thi Hy, 38, the two children she had with her South Korean husband Cha Song Pok during the Vietnam War

Lam Thi Ky, 68, of the central province of Binh Dinh had given up all hopes of finding her South Korean husband and the father of her two children until two years ago when a kindly Japanese man suddenly turned up at her home one day and offered to find him.

The Japanese man, photojournalist Yasufumi Murayama who was interviewing Vietnam War victims, was moved by the lottery seller's story and was determined to at least find the grave of the Korean so that she and her two children could pay their respects.

Ky, who lives in poverty, says wistfully she can still remember her husband though it has been 36 years since he left.

"I clearly remember his face.

"But I do not dare dream of meeting him again in my life. I think he has passed away. If he is still alive somewhere, he would be 76."

Ky is insistent that she at least wants to see his grave if he is indeed dead.

During the war, Ky used to be a happy woman when she met Cha Song Pok at Hue's Phu Bai Airport. She was working as a cook there while Cha was an aircraft technician. They loved each other, decided to get married, and had two children. 

When the South was liberated in 1975 he was forced to return to South Korea, leaving Ky and their children behind.

Ky says anyone who did not obey orders to return would have been punished.

Before he left, he promised to find a way to take the family with him to South Korea.   

Soon after reaching Korea, he wrote a letter to Ky and sent it along with US$2,000 for her to take the family to Korea. Unfortunately, the letter arrived but not the money and the family could not afford to travel on their own. Gradually they lost contact with him.

Ky began to lose hope, and one day decided to burn everything related to her husband including his address in South Korea because

of the sensitivities in the post-war period. All she retained were some photos.

She then proceeded to bring up the children, then four and two, on her own amid the curious and prying eyes of neighbors.

She worked hard on the farm and did other jobs in Binh Dinh's Quy Nhon Town.

The children, Nguyen Hoa and Nguyen Thi Hy, are now 40 and 38 years old.

Hoa is married and has two daughters. He and his wife run a small coffee shop. Hy is married and has three children.

"I don't know if he had a second wife," Ky says about her husband.

Hoa, who used to be teased by other kids, says he asked his mother about his father as a child, and she told him and his younger sister the truth and showed them the photos.

"My mother often talks about father, but she has given up hope of finding him."

He and his sister do not have money to go to South Korea to find their father, he says. "Besides, we don't know a word of Korean." 

The Japanese stranger

Hope returned to Ky and her children when Murayama suddenly came to their hut one day in 2009. He was on one of his several trips to central Vietnam to interview Vietnam War victims.

Besides, he has been travelling around Vietnam for 15 years, taking thousands of photos of Agent Orange victims.

The tears that fell down the wrinkled face of the old woman touched his heart, and he promised to help find the man she still seemed to love. In 2010, with a black-and-white photo Ky gave him, he began to go around South Korea where he was organizing a photo exhibition about Vietnam War victims in the capital Seoul. He managed to find Cha's house but unfortunately he was a bit late - neighbors said Cha had moved out five years earlier.

He was back in Korea last month. But in a recent email, Murayama says nothing has turned up yet but he will keep looking.

"If he is dead, I want to find the grave for his wife and children."

He has left his phone number all around South Korea and is hopeful of getting information about Cha.

"A person's life is too short.

And no pain is bigger than that of the heart. I want to do something to help the woman and her

family. It is difficult for people who live in poverty to go to South Korea and look for their husband or father."

He himself does not have much money, only a kind heart that is easily moved by others' misery. 

Ky says she never dreamed she would meet a man like Murayama, especially after hope of ever seeing her husband had faded.

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