Siem Reap, May 13 2017, I met Tran Luong, an independence artist from Hanoi, Vietnam during our lab 1 as part of the Living Arts Fellow Program. As we sat down on a table within the compound of Wat Damnak talking about ourselves and the fellow program, he walked in. The way he smiled and waved at us strongly reminded me of a memory about a Vietnamese soldier I met during the 80s. The smile was so pure and it was like an open curtain which allowed me to see the picture of the soldier I had not met again since 1989, the year he left Pursat province, Cambodia. I guess he would be just a few years older than Tran.
For people who were born in early 80s and earlier would remember the Vietnamese presence in Cambodia. There were everywhere, working and living around our villages. In my villages, there were three soldiers. They lived close to the railway in a very small hut which made by straw. We had heard many stories that some soldiers are mean but the three we knew were so good with us. However, we only knew one of them best.
We used to call him ‘Chu’ which means ‘uncle’ in Vietnamese. Whenever, we were exploring the railway, we would see him wave at us from his hut. Sometimes, he told us to stop by and play near his hut while he was busying with commuting rice local farmers had just harvested.
A few day before he left, he took my friend and I to a photo shop near Phsar Thmey in Pursat Town. He was in his white, short-sleeve shirt and gray pants. We were on his bike from our houses to the shop which was around one kilometer. When we arrived at the shop, we went inside. The camera man told him to sit on a chair and had me standing near his right feet. He held my waist if I remember well. The background was either blue or write. There was a black and white photo.
I don’t remember whether he told me or not why he wanted to have our photos token nor told me about his leaving plan. Now, I only remember a few occasions: the day we had the photo token, the day he was on an ox cart and was so happy to see us playing next to his hut, and a delicious dinner which we later realised that it was a dog meat curry. I remember he used to help the villagers to harvest their rice and helped them to transport the rice by ox carts.
His picture is always with me: his smile, his sincerity, the way he greeted people with bowing his head a little lower and having his right hand a little above his head.
He didn’t come to see us on the day he left. However, as part of our school program, we were told to see the Vietnamese soldiers off. We were told to stand both sides of the National Road Number 5, holding flags of both nations and waving at the soldiers who looked happy to see their family back in Vietnam. There were hundreds of trucks and around 30 soldiers each truck. I was young. I didn’t understand Politics. I just did as I told and I remember buying a bag of sweet potato and handed it to an unknown soldier who was standing among other cheerful soldiers in the back of a truck. We both share a smile and then they had gone.
I don’t have his name. I don’t have any of his contact. I only have the photo, the black and white photo having him holding me next to him. Besides the photo, his memory is always with me. I don’t understand why. Four years a go, I wrote about him at another blog post “The Invitation” describing the ‘dog meat curry’ dinner.
I have always wished to meet him again and tell him that I have always the memory with me. I have always wondered if he is still alive and has this memory just like me having it now. I have always wondered if one day we would meet again.
It is like the title of this blog post because it is one of my unsolved attachment. Will I be able to solve it? How?