I travelled here two days ago to meet my parents and one of my sisters in Bangkok, where they all once lived before I came along. My father had relocated the family here, closer to where he was stationed in Ho Chi Minh, while he worked for the Air Force during the Vietnam War.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. My sister, Virginia, was born here in Thailand and now, fifty years later, her and my parents have decided to return. To try to find their old house. All we know is the address. Not even the name of the street, which may no longer exist. For that matter, the house could be gone, too.
So much has changed, my mother says, since they moved here in ’68. It felt like a small town to her then. At least compared to the bustling city we flew into yesterday. Some of the beautiful Asian architecture remains but much of it falls within the shadows of Western high rises. Today, much of Bangkok’s skyline could blend in with any modern city.
So this morning, when we set out to find the house, all we knew was that it was near the Asia Hotel and the Christian University, somewhere along the Klong River.
Half a century ago. Almost a lifetime.
It seems like a lost cause. Yet here we are, the little hope we have dwindling with each wrong turn or dead end. Most people are friendly though. No one tries to tell us, in any language, to leave this neighborhood even though it’s clearly not a public thru way. Instead, groups of Thai people—huddled around makeshift outdoor kitchens—smile and nod at us. This has amazed me since I arrived in Southeast Asia. Yesterday we toured the Golden Buddha and one of the famous floating markets. In a jet-lagged, sleep deprived trance I was even more absentminded than usual. At one point a local man on a crowded street let me know that my backpack was unzipped and my wallet was showing. Another time a local woman followed me three full blocks from an ATM just to return the debit card I’d forgotten there.
Suddenly, Mom senses a familiar street. Her maternal compass possibly honing in on that important place where she cared for her first three children and gave birth to her fourth. In a strange land. Not far from a war zone. But there’s no stronger force than a mother’s love or the memory of her nesting ground—more precise than any GPS.
In this moment there’s been a shift so we don’t even ask where she’s going. My Dad, my sister, and I just follow her, as always—our moral and spiritual leader—right down an even more narrow alley. Hoping this might actually be it. We’re all fatigued by the heat of the Tropics. This is probably the last back alley we can search today. And tomorrow we head south for Phuket.
But, halfway down the alley she turns around and, instead of shaking her head for the tenth time, she is smiling. “I think this is it.”
We all move a little faster now. Energized by this new possibility. And there, at the end of the alley, is the old gate. And, just in case there was any doubt, my family’s old address.
We celebrate—the four of us all smiles. After posing for pictures, we listen to my mom tell stories of what the street used to be like. The neighbors. The food and customs. The exotic spiders and snakes—even in downtown Bangkok—that her older children would bring in to the house for her.
It’s a wonder they survived, this bold family of mine, who would later move to Vietnam to live with my dad, not far from the front lines. And to fight, in their own way, for what they believed in. As my father always had up to that point. As he would continue to later in his life. And even now, in his eighties.
Anyway, I’m lucky they survived. And so this one is for them.