Tana-Julie Bichon woke up at home in Paris, when a message popped up on her phone saying ‘We have found your mother.’
The sender was Nguyen Giang, a hospitality student living in Paris, who had learned three days earlier that Tana had been adopted as a baby by a French couple in Vietnam in 1996.
After listening to her story, Giang quickly posted Tana’s information, including her old photos and her Vietnamese mother’s name and address, on a Facebook group.
She wrote on behalf of Tana: “I just want more information about my family so I can go to Vietnam and visit my hometown. If you have information about my mother, my sister, or whether my home address still exists, please let me know.”
Phuong Thao (L) and Tu Linh in 1996 before Thao was adopted. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Tu Linh.
Fifteen minutes later a Vietnamese woman contacted Giang.
Tana, whose birth name is Nguyen Phuong Thao, said: “I cannot believe it. I was worried last night, and happiness came quickly in the morning.”
She immediately called her French adoptive parents, who were also surprised at the good news.
That was on October 29, hours before France entered a fresh four-week national lockdown to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. So Thao sought to get in touch with Giang to ensure the woman contacting her was Thao’s family member.
“I do not need documents to prove they are my family because my Vietnamese twin sister looks exactly like me,” Thao said after seeing childhood photos of her sister, Nguyen Tu Linh, from Giang.
They made their first video call on the afternoon of that day, with Giang acting as interpreter. In Paris, Thao and Giang met at the Saint Lazare station at 5 p.m. In Vietnam, Linh went from Thanh Tri to Ba Dinh in Hanoi to be with her mother for the call.
Thao was anxious, having no idea how it would feel to see her birth family for the first time.
Thao (L) is in tears at seeing her twin sister and mother for the first time. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Tu Linh.
In the first 10 minutes of the call they greeted one another and burst into tears.
“I asked them questions that have always been in my head for 24 years,” Thao said.
Twenty four years ago Nguyen Hoa Dao gave birth to twin daughters. She sold tea in a park near her house in Ba Dinh, took care of her old parents and generally had a difficult life. The two babies had to play with each other on a mat placed on the sidewalk while their mother was busy with her business.
When Bichon, a businessman from Tours, a prefecture in western France, traveled to Vietnam with his wife to find a child to adopt, they were introduced to Dao, who was struggling to raise her six-month-old daughters.
Realizing the rich French couple could give her babies a better life, Dao agreed to let one of them go.
“I cannot live if both of them leave me,” she had said when the Bichons asked to adopt both since they did not want to separate the two. They chose Thao, who smiled when she saw them.
For the first two years the two families often exchanged letters. In the last letter, on December 18, 1998, Dao wrote:
“Dear Mr and Mrs Bichon,
I have not received any letter from you and Thao for a long time. How are you?
I hope that soon you will bring Phuong Thao to Vietnam. I am so sad without her here.”
But soon they lost touch. In their last letter to Dao, the Bichons promised they would give Thao all her letters and let her find her way to Vietnam when she grew up.
Thao got them recently and learned Dao had always yearned to see her.
“So I decided to look for her, even I am worried that she would not want to see me after all those years,” Thao said.
A month ago she shared her story with a lot of friends and thus made Nguyen Giang’s acquaintance. She had always believed that providing detailed information about her family would make it easy to find them even though she was wary of suddenly stepping into their lives.
“That is why it took only 15 minutes to find them,” she said. “I was surprised to know my blood mother was looking for me too.”
Thao and Linh have been texting each other every day though they do not speak the same language.
The Frenchwoman learned that her twin sister is married and has two sons. They also spoke about their father, who had abandoned the family.
For years Linh and her mother had thought Thao would never visit Vietnam, and the only way to find her was by going to France.
“Thao’s adoptive parents are very good; my mother and I are grateful for their kindness,” Linh said.
Now that many of her questions have been answered, Thao plans to visit Vietnam once the pandemic is under control.