Vietnam Diaries Part 10: My Heart is Torn

Sunrise from the airplane

This part has been hard for me to write. I’m back in Ireland and my heart feels torn.

I’ve never felt this way about Vietnam. The first time I came back, I was just seven. I don’t remember much, but I remember not finding any connection. It was just a holiday for me and I was just a child.

The second time I was 18. It had been 10 years since we had been back and it was my first time as an adult. I remained pretty disinterested in finding a connection and distracted by the holiday element, there was still: nothing.

This year was different. For a couple of reasons:

  • Firstly, this blog, which gave me a reason to document each experience thoroughly, take photos and write.
  • Secondly, I was sharing this experience with the two people I loved most in the world: my Mom and my partner.
  • Thirdly, I wanted to learn.

Like so many people out there, I have a fear that I won’t get to experience certain things with my Mom before she dies. She’s currently in fantastic health with not a bother on her, but it’s still a fear I live with.

Coupled with the feelings of uncertain identity, I’ve been left in an empty place. Vietnam is a part of both our lives for obvious reasons and since 2010, I’ve realised how important it actually is.

The connection has been created.

Now, I miss the unmistakable smell of incense on Hang Quat; bargaining fearlessly for the best price in the market; eating Michelin-worthy food on the streets; practising Vietnamese with the locals…

I miss seeing the people exercise on Hoan Kiem lake; watching locals clink their beers from kegs; the scooters crowding the pathways and streets; the silence of Bai Tu Long Bay…

I even miss crossing the street – an art that any tourist learns quickly.

When we were in Vietnam, we were immediately catapulted to upper-class citizens. Despite not having a lot in the Western world, it was a bizarre feeling to be “rich”.

I felt like I wanted to give back to the country where I was born – a feeling that I had never had. A wave hit me when we headed to the airport. An overwhelming wave of sadness that’s still with me today.

Truth be told, I’m feeling quite confused and lonesome, something that I’m trying to work through with quiet reflection.

I don’t know what to do. But I’ll be back. Soon.

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Hello! Úna-Minh is a journalist, social media consultant and virtual assistant who loves (you guessed it) TRAVEL. She also feels a bit strange writing in the third person so she'll stop that now. You can find out more about me and my Mammy in the about section of this blog!

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  1. Very moving post, Una. Becoming adult, our awareness grows with us and realize so many things we didn’t understand when we are younger. Life is an unexpected journey. Having a mixed cultural heritage must be difficult sometimes. But is also gift and something that makes you richer and let you understand more things of these complicated world. I am sure that all these thoughts you are experiencing know will bring you new ideas and projects. I look forward to know more about them 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for your comment Manuela. It means a lot to me that you took the time to write. You’re so right, it may sound like a cliche but you do start to appreciate a lot of things as you get older. I guess the big fear is if you realise things too late. At the moment I’m on a down period. I’m trying to get out to meet people as much as possible (like heading to events), but it’s quite draining. Hopefully this will pass.

      Thanks again for your lovely comment 🙂

      1. You are more than welcome. I really meant it. I had my dark days, too. And I know that even the worst things are an opportunity to raise your awareness, and understand new things 🙂 Take care and maybe we’ll meet in some events one of these days 🙂

  2. Hi Una,
    I returned to Vietnam at Easter with my daughter age 9 who I adopted at 3 months. We had been back before when she was 4. This time she felt it, I could see it the first day when we stepped out of the hotel in the old quarter. Vietnam is in her soul. She told me that it’s hard belonging to two countries, when you are in one you want to be in the other too. I told her hard yes but wonderful too, I get to see this amazing country because of you and so too hopefully will your friends, partner maybe even your children and that is a wonderful gift. I have enjoyed so much your blog. I hope my daughter continues to want to return to her homeland and that I get to go too! It’s an amazing gift you have bestowed on your mum and partner to share your heritage and while I can never know what it feels to be torn between two countries, know that you are not alone. Adrianne

    1. Thank you so much Adrianne for reading. Your daughter definitely already sounds like a very mature woman! She’s absolutely right, it’s very hard to separate yourself when it’s part of your soul (and you shouldn’t have to). It’s wonderful to have Vietnam as a second home – something I never thought I would call a home when I was younger.

      Thank you for making me feel not alone!

  3. Reading your post has made me very emotional. I am currently 18 and ever since I was like 15-16 I’ve had this urge to go back. Not necessarily to find my biological family but to understand and feel the culture. I never had that urge to find my family too be honest. (I’m only curious about medical background) But even though the urge is definitely there I’m too scared to go. I’ve always felt a bit like a stranger in the culture I grew up in. I never felt connected to traditions. I’m scared that if I do go I’ll find the same there. It’s the kind of fear that can keep me awake at night hence I try not to think about it. Of course your post brought it up. Do you have any advice?

    1. Ahhh I understand you so much. At the moment I’m at the same-ish stage, initially I had no major “want” to find my biological family. I more wanted to see if I could embrace a culture I didn’t grow up with. It’s ok to feel scared. I was too this time around. But… I think it’s worth doing if you can because otherwise you’ll never know. I’ve been back to Vietnam 3 times and it took me on my 25th year to discover that I connected.

      It’s horrible to feel so torn that it’s keeping you awake. I know when I’m feeling anxious or down it can take over my entire body.

      Is it possible for you to go back? If you’re feeling very anxious about it, I’d definitely recommend speaking to someone like the I’ve spoken to many organisations over the years to help with my anxiety and depression over identity and they’ve helped me coped (for a while anyway).

      Also, if you’d rather not speak so publicly, I’m available too on email at unaminh@gmail(dot)com

  4. Hi Una – Thanks for the blogs, I’ve loved reading them. Whilst I’m not in your situation and wouldn’t presume to know what you are going through, I do feel in some ways connected to your story. I have two children adopted from Vietnam. We have been lucky enough to travel there six times. In 2014 we brought my wife’s parents with us. My daughter (6 years old at the time) guided her grandparents around Vietnam with a swagger and an excitement that was beautiful to witness. I’ll never forget my daughter telling us she wished Vietnam could be next-door to Ireland! Our most recent trip in 2015 was a lot more difficult for her, (not least because we were adopting her little brother !), and my heart broke many times when I realised she was experiencing for the first time, and often struggling with, issues of identity. It gave me a terrifying glimpse into her future. And yet, it also somehow confirmed what I always felt – that we as a family are blessed and that my daughter, and my son, will be fine! I think you are doing all of us in this community a great service by sharing your story so eloquently. And I also think you are a fine role model for my two children. Thank you for that. Slán, Patrick

    1. Thank you so much for your very kind words Patrick. I’m very humbled and delighted that you have shared your story also. It sounds like your daughter definitely went through some of the motions on your last trip. Identity is such a confusing topic for us adoptees! Especially when it’s tied with a culture that’s so completely different (something I’d definitely like to touch on more in the future).

  5. I agree with Manuela you are at a stage where you are discovering who you are. It takes time for all of us and being mixed culture is complicating I’m sure but something to be very proud of. It doesn’t make you one or the other or neither, but both.
    My niece is adopted from Vietnam and is 15. She shows little interest in anything Vietnamese but I assume some day that will change for her. Her older sister is also adopted here in Ireland and they have great contact which is lovely to see as she has a half Irish sister too whom she is very close to.
    Life is long. Remember we evolve on a daily basis so take your time and enjoy where you’re at. Hopefully you’ve a long, fun road ahead.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Tric, definitely proud of both now. Was once at a stage where I was in complete denial about the Vietnamese side of my life because I was trying ferociously to be accepted here as Irish. A lot of reflection to do. Very much hoping to get back as soon as possible. It’s a long trek over!

      1. I wonder sometimes if my niece is doing the same.
        I hope you find peace where ever that is.

  6. first thought after i finished reading….. You will know what to do, Una, you will. It will not tear you apart. It will make you whole. Ever heard that Mary McGregor song “Torn between two lovers”…….?
    Take it slowly and take care.

    1. Thank you so much for reading. It’s something certainly to reflect on. Will check out that song!

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