Huan Truong

Notes from a developer


Lullaby of the artillery

Not until a month ago did I learn that my dad had horrific experiences during the Vietnam war as a Northern Vietnamese citizen. He was a student when the war was at its height in 1972. All the students in his university had to move from the capital to a province far away to avoid being bombed. When people just finished moving, the new place got bombed. He had to move to another city to do an internship. When he just started the internship, the place he worked at got bombed and he had to move again. One time, he had to emerge from a house, which turned into rubble during the 1972 bombing operation (Also known as the "Operation Linebacker II" in the US).

I spent much of my childhood growing up in the countryside of northern Vietnam. When I grew up, most evidence of the war was erased from the surface of our everyday lives, except for a few things here and there. I only remember two prominent details.

The first thing was my neighbor's land. My next-door neighbor, who is a farmer, used to have an artificial water pond in front of his house they call the "Bomb pond." I think several family members of his died due to a bomb strike that created the pond. The bomb made the underground bomb shelter collapse, burying his family members alive. I remember never hearing him mention that incident. His two kids were born before the war concluded and he named them what roughly translated to "Vic" and "Tory." (People in Vietnam often name their kids in succession to form a statement or a wish like that. "Perse-Verant (in) Fight-Ting, Vic-Tory En-Sures" would not be a bad idea for names for a family with 8 kids. That was not a joke.)

There was a guava tree next to the bomb pond. Its fruits were sweet and its shade was nice. The tree has a Y-shaped branch that I enjoyed climbing and sitting on very much when I was 8 or so. I would often take a book and enjoy the sweet ripe, or crunchy green guavas when coming back from school. I sometimes wonder if the amazing taste of the fruits was due to the natural fertilizer that blessed the land years ago?

The other thing I remember is Trinh Cong Son's music. Trinh was a prolific songwriter during the Vietnam war, often referred to as the Bob Dylan of Vietnam. He wrote hundreds of anti-war songs, which pleased neither side of the war. Many of his songs were banned in North Vietnam and many of them are still banned today. Together with Khanh Ly, a singer, they made a duo performing his anti-war songs from university grounds to university grounds.

It's not hard to see the parallel between Trinh and Dylan. Dylan wrote "Blowing in the Wind" in 1963, in which he asked, "How many times must the cannonballs fly before they're forever banned?" Trinh wrote "Lullaby of the artillery" around that time.

Here is the translation of the banned lyrics that I listened to since I was 3 on the radio cassette player. Strange enough, it was a lullaby, to me, at least.

Night after night fall shells t'wards town
A sweeper stops her broom to hear
As shells do fly, a mother wakes
As shells do fly, a child's soft cry
Bright flares burst open above the mountains

Night after night fall shells t'wards town
A sweeper stops her broom to hear
Each round's dark trip, a child in fright
A shelter hit–O! Horrid sight
Each night keeps flashing the face of our land

O! Tons of bombs fall on the gate
The bombs like rain fall on our fields
A house burns red at the end of the lane
Grenades, claymores the trucks haul down
Such endless stores they bring through town
Our mothers' bones lie everywhere

Night after night fall shells t'wards town
A sweeper stops her broom to hear
Night after night, the future quakes
As shells like empty prayers repeat
A child half-living each night waits listening

Night after night fall shells t'wards town
A sweeper stops her broom to hear
Each night, the rounds, they sing for us
Familiar sounds, like sad refrains
What child will ever see home again.

(Translated by Rich Fuller)

When I came to visit my neighbor years after moving away to the city, the bomb pond has been filled and converted into a big brickyard. Perseverant, Victory ensured, indeed. Both Vic and Tory were married and my neighbor enjoyed having several grandkids running around and riding bikes on the old bomb pond's grounds. For one, I was glad to see the kids grew up not knowing anything about the bomb pond (or the delicious guava tree, for that matter).

Trinh passed away 20 years ago, and Khanh Ly is currently residing in California. She immigrated to the US after the collapse of Saigon.

I am here, at the same time contemplating about my baby's names. I think I will be giving him an American name as he will be born an American. And I think I will give him a Vietnamese name to remind him of his origins. I am sure his granddad won't tell his grandkid the life story until the kid is old enough to take it. If I was any worthy of a benchmark, it will be roughly 35 years from now.

One time I paid a visit to my neighbor, he learned that I was going to study in the US. He told me "The US has much you can learn from, despite them being a capitalistic empire." At that point, I wonder whether my uneducated farmer neighbor was brainwashed by all the propaganda, or it was me.

Life is is nothing short of spectacular.