After thirty years, they found my grandfather.

During the Vietnam war, tens, hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians became M.I.A.

My grandfather was one of them. For thirty years, my family has tried to track him down.
Last they heard, he was in Cambodia, but after thirty years,
they came to conclude he had passed away.

Recently people have been using the help of psychics to find their missing relatives in Vietnam.
My uncle Doanh decided he would try it out.
Now of course, my family believed this was all hooey and discouraged it,
but uncle Doanh insisted.

He flew to Vietnam this summer to a small village in the North.
There, lived an old psychic who wanted to take care of his village.
In order to see him, you had to stay with a household in the village.
They’d take care of you, feed you, house you.
In return, you’d give them, I think, 30,000 dongs (which is about less than three USD) a day.
The psychic felt that if you wanted to find your dead relatives,
you shouldn’t be staying at posh, fancy hotels.

In order to see the psychic,
each morning you’d go to his house with a piece of paper with your name and simply the phrase,
“I am looking for someone.”
That afternoon, he’d pick a slip of paper and help that person find their missing relative.
It usually takes about two weeks before your name was called.

The evening my uncle arrived, he had a really bad fever and became really ill.
The next morning, he turned in his slip of paper. That afternoon, his name was called.

When he went to see the psychic, the psychic told him,
“You are looking for your father.
Your family believes this is nonsense, but if you want to find your father,
you have to follow me to the very end.
If you bail out on me halfway, I won’t do this for you.
You have to follow me to the very end.”

My uncle agreed. The psychic began scribbling a map of mountains and oceans and told my uncle,
“Your father didn’t die in Cambodia. He’s in the South of Vietnam. Take this map,
go to the South of Vietnam and look around until you find a place that resembles this map.”

So then my uncle went on this wild goosechase with this scribbled map the psychic had given him.
Each time he came to a place that resembled the map, he’d call the psychic,
“Am I here?”
“No, keep going.”

For almost a month straight he did this.
Finally, he arrived at a little fishing village.
He called the psychic, who then told him,
“You’re there. Now ask around the village for the names of these three men.”
My uncle went around asking, but no one seemed to know who these men were.
He finally went to the main office in the village.
The workers there informed him that two of the men were deceased,
and gave him the address to where he could find the third man.

When he arrived at the man’s house, the man said to my uncle,
“How do you know my name? No one calls me by that name.”
(In Vietnam, people are often called by their nicknames throughout their lives, not by their real names.)
My uncle explained to the man his situation and why he was there.
The man told my uncle,
“In 1981, my two friends (the other two names the psychic had given my uncle), and I
found three bodies washed ashore. We buried them on top of the hill by the village.”

My uncle then traveled to the base of this hill and called the psychic,
“Am I here?”
“Yes. There are three bodies, one of them is your father.”
“From here I see five tombstones.”
“Two of them have already been dug out. Go to the top of the hill.”

When my uncle reached the top of the hill,
there were two large holes where two of the bodies had been.

He called back the psychic,
“How do I know which one of these three graves is my father?”
“Ask your father to help you find him. When you place your hand in the dirt,
you’ll find something that’ll tell you it’s your father.”

My uncle then asked out loud,
“Dad, please help me find you.”
He dug his hand into the dirt, and pulled out a bone.
He said he felt this overwhelming pressure in his chest and immediately knew it was his father.

The way people were buried, their body was placed on a wooden plank
and covered with a white sheet before dirt was placed over them.
After over thirty years, there was no flesh left, only a few bones and teeth.
But my uncle was absolutely convinced that he had found my grandfather.

There’s a bunch of theories to this whole situation.
For example, that the psychic was a fraud, just trying to make money out of wealthy foreigners,
but if that were the case,
wouldn’t he have insisted on more money for staying in the village households?

And then my mom told me about this other theory,
that there are a lot of lonely spirits in Vietnam, who want someone to properly bury them,
to love them, to pray for them, and might have gone to the psychic pretending to my grandfather.

My family, being the skeptics that they are, insisted on a DNA test.

The results:
I was told you need certain parts of the body in order to get 100% accuracy on DNA tests.
Because they were only able to use the bones and teeth my uncle found,
they were able to verify that it’s 87% my grandfather,
which to me, basically means, yes, it’s my grandfather.

The best part about this whole story? My uncle documented his trip on a little camcorder.

The map that started the journey.


I think this would make an awesome documentary.
A man’s relentless journey to find his father,
the interviews, images of Vietnam landscapes, oceans, mountains…

Sadly, this isn’t the sort of story investors are interested in tossing their money into.
It’s usually about returned profit for them.
Don’t suppose you guys know anyone with 15k lying around collecting dust
and wanna be listed as Executive Producer on this project?

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