By Flora Le
Is it possible to find true love when we failed to receive it as a child? How can we heal the scars of a neglectful childhood? Is it possible to rewrite one’s story from that of a victim, to one of a victor?
Those are the questions my storytelling show Sadec 1965 answers.
In 2013, I rode a motorcycle across Vietnam for six weeks, solo, in an attempt to make sense of my difficult relationship with my estranged Vietnamese father. I was on a quest to understand why my father, who left Vietnam with a scholarship to study in Canada in the mid-1960s, never spoke about Vietnam. There was obviously the issue of the war. Returning to fight in it would have meant almost certain death for him. But it went way beyond that too. A difficult and mysterious man, my father maintained a tight seal on his past.
Since the answers I was looking for would never come from him, I decided to go on a road trip across Vietnam, riding a total of 2,100 miles in six weeks, from the Chinese border in the North to the village of Sadec, my father’s hometown in the Mekong Delta. My plan was to reclaim the story of my origins and make sense of the difficult man that my father was.
I have been wanting to tell this story on a stage ever since I completed my motorcycle journey in 2014. But one piece was missing: my father’s old love letters. After he passed away, I found the love correspondence he exchanged with his high school sweetheart, a woman named Hien, whom he left behind in Vietnam during the war. This woman turned out to be an important piece of the mystery. Reading their correspondence promised to provide many answers.
There was one problem: I couldn’t read Vietnamese, since my father never spoke his language with me growing up. It took me five years and a team of thirteen native Vietnamese speakers to translate the voluminous correspondence the couple exchanged between 1965 and 1971. I was able to complete this translation project during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is one poignant excerpt from those love letters I share near the climax of the show:
Letter dated May 15, 1968
My love, today is our anniversary. If it were not for the Viet Cong making chaos in Saigon, I would have received your letter by now. I don’t believe you didn’t write to me. The road to Saigon is difficult to travel so mail delivery is interrupted. The situation hasn’t died down here since the Tet offensive. We hear gunshots and bomb shells day and night, and it’s the same everywhere so there’s nowhere to escape. One can only live for today and accept what will come tomorrow.
I am a lawyer by day, though I feel I have always had the soul of an artist. I discovered storytelling in 2017 while attending a Snap Judgment show in Washington, DC, and felt at home instantly. The combination of writing and public speaking provided exactly the medium I needed for self-expression. In March 2019, I performed to an audience of more than 400 people at Story District’s Tuesday Show in Washington, DC. The performance of my #MeToo story, an emotional and vulnerable experience, received a standing ovation, a rare occurrence at such shows.
Sadec 1965 is my first full-length solo storytelling show. One theme is common to all my artistic work: the transformation of pain into beauty. I use my painful life experiences to create beautiful stories of resilience, forgiveness, personal transcendence, and love.
My show is currently touring fringe festivals in seven cities in the U.S. and Canada (Atlanta, Cincinnati, Denver, DC, and Indianapolis, plus Nanaimo and Kelowna north of the border).
Running Time: 60 minutes
Sadec 1965: A Love Story plays four times from July 15 to 24, 2022, at Home Rule, 3270 M Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets ($15), go online.
COVID Safety: The audience is to remain masked for the show. The mask needs to cover your mouth and nose the whole time. Proof of vaccination and ID are checked before entry.
Flora Le is a storyteller based in Washington, DC. She discovered storytelling in 2017 and has been growing as a storyteller ever since. In March 2019, Flora was selected to perform at Story District’s Tuesday Show, attended by 400 people. She performed her #MeToo story and received a standing ovation, a rare occurrence at such shows. Throughout her work, Flora uses her painful life experiences to create beautiful stories of resilience, forgiveness, personal transcendence, and love. Sadec 1965 is her first solo storytelling show. Find her on Facebook and Instagram (@sadec1965).