Jen’s Return to Vietnam

Jen visits her orphanage, Sancta Maria

About Me

I was born in Vietnam due to the War.  I was abandoned at the orphanage and later at the age of three, I was adopted to an English & Australian family. My folks are fabulous! They’ve had it tough.  I was a nightmare, as they never understood my crazy and unusual behaviour until they read Der Colour of Difference.  My parents tried to involve me with my Vietnamese culture but I wouldn’t have a bar of it!  I could eat at Asian restaurants, but didn’t want to know about Vietnam’s history or my own. I felt like a freak around other Asians.

I grew up in Kyabram til I was 13.  It was a small Victorian town where I was the only Asian person around.  Kids were so cruel due to my looks and it didn’t help that I have a cleft palate.  I remember when I was in Primary School I was that lonely I would stand around at the tuckshop, pretending to wait for my friends to come out of the lunch queue to share their lunch with me.  How sadly pathetic.  But I can smile now.  Also the school thought I was mentally disabled and wanted to put me in a Special School.  My folks fought extremely hard to improve my language, social and educational skills.  In the end, I repeated several grades and had a lot of tutoring. (I still can’t spell though. :O))

My family consists of Dad who is English, mum who is an Aussie and a younger blond brother and sister, both who are naturally from mum and dad.  I grew up loving to eat Yorkshire Puddings.  I wasn’t close to my brother and sister growing up.  I think this because they were closer in age and had more in common.  They were one year apart and a four-year gap with me.  Also my sister resented me.  I got a lot of my folks’ attention (unwanted though) because I was so confused about my identity, and she thought my life was glamorous and ‘special’.  Now, she still doesn’t understand my life but we have a fantastic connection.  My brother and I are comfortable with each other.

My family moved to Gympie, Queensland when I was 13.  Now Gympie is a hellhole!  It is a back water, stagnant and socially backwards place.  Probably not the best place for a person like me to be.  I was the only Asian around until my late high school years.  My best friend was a Filipino girl who was sporty and outrageous.  I was skinny and shy.  Everyone thought we were sisters!  In the end we said we were.  I got out of there as soon as I finished High School and moved to Townsville to study.

I loved my first year at Townsville.  I lived at the Uni campus and I could smoothly fit into the Aussie groups and the overseas groups.  It was amazing! I could use both my Asian side and Aussie side to connect and help people.  Also, it was the first time in my lectures where I could hear about ‘displacement’ and migrants moving to Australia.  That year I gained confidence, self discovery and I could really blend in!

I moved to Brisbane after my community welfare degree and now I am married and a mum of 2 wonderful boys.  It is fantastic to see parts of my personality in my children.  I can empathise with who they are and how they feel.  I work part time as a support worker to assist women with disabilities.  My husband has been my rock.  He has supported me so much and understands a lot of what I feel.  He is also adopted.  Both his birth parents and adoptive parents are Australian. I love Brisbane because I can blend in and yet stand out :O).  I am a very happy person.  I love my family and I am proud of who I am.

I‘ve read somewhere that ‘when you look in the mirror, you see a Vietnamese stranger looking back at you, not the white Aussie person inside.’ That is me!!

I’m only interested in going back to Vietnam to understand more about my culture.  I don’t need to visit the orphanage or to find my birth parents.

Just recently I learnt from my parents that my birth father is most likely ‘white’.  I felt so cheated and disappointed.  My life has been a struggle, spectacle and racially focussed for only being half Vietnamese.  It’s not worth it.  (I hope I haven’t offended anyone.)  I am cool with it now.  It’s nothing I can change and it doesn’t change the person inside.

My Return trip to Vietnam and Reunion at Sancta Maria Orphanage

My husband organised this trip for me. Following the led up to the reunion I deliberately chose not to think about the trip, as I knew I would get too stressed, worried, nervous and chicken out. I only went because of the reunion and I knew that other people would be in the same situation as me. I knew I would be alright as my husband has been to Vietnam before and he knows some of the language.  I felt confident that I could handle it and I only wanted to stay as little as possible. My adoptive folks have pushed me to go back but it was only now that I have been ready. I have been to Asian before and I was mentally prepared for what Vietnam would be like. My folks warned me that the people might be weird around me but I knew this was my best opportunity to go.

Day 1

I was extremely nervous at the Singapore airport when I boarded the plane to Vietnam.  I have never been in the presents of so many Vietnamese people. As I arrived at the Ho Chi Minh Airport I was more eager to meet my husband and I was tired from the flight than worry about anything else.  I was apprehensive but I thought I would be more of a mess and upset than I really was. I have no memory of Vietnam and I felt uncomfortable being there.

I met my husband outside of the airport in a sea of hundreds of Vietnamese people. We were supposed to meet other people there but they never showed up. After I had a fit, we sorted the mix up and met up with the other groups of people relating to the reunion. I loved the taxi and bus ride and I got to see a lot of the city, people and landscape. As a group we were whisked away to Thanh Loc outside of the city to a boys orphanage. Everyone spoke English and most of us were Australian so I felt good. We spent the afternoon there and I enjoyed the atmosphere and the landscape. Next thing I knew I was at the orphanage. I thought the orphanage would be located outside the city in a small hut in a paddock, but instead it was in the middle of Ho Chi Minh City and it was a tall 3 or 4 storey building. Had a tour and was so in awe of it. I constantly felt like a tourist learning new things. I still had no memories of the place. We were invited to stay for dinner but I was too fagged and wanted to shop. I regret now not staying for dinner. Interacting with the locals was extremely awkward, uncomfortable, confronting, confusing and hard!!! I hated the fact that I was such an odd ball! Made me feel like I was a freak. They didn’t like or understand why I looked and acted like a westerner, didn’t speak the language, had a Australian husband & he spoke Vietnamese. I spent the rest of the night shopping and looking around.

Day 2

The reunion was awesome!! The focus was getting to know other people. There were 17 adoptees and most of us were Australian. A few there for the first time like me. It was extremely emotional, but I didn’t cry. I loved hearing the stories from the parents of adoptees and the staff and people from the orphanage. Everyone had a chance to tell their story and we spent the entire time bonding and sharing experiences. Afterwards most people met up for dinner and drinks. That was fantastic!  We talked for a few hours and then my husband and I left to go exploring and shopping. I really wish I had of stayed longer!!

Day 3

We spent what was left of our time in Vietnam shopping. We only had 3 hours before we had to be at the airport. I was exhausted and eager to be away from the locals. I love the surroundings, culture, landscape and the people’s dignity and aura. The traffic was amazing!  Had to been seen to be believed. Wow!  It was organised chaos! I felt relieved when the plane took off.


Glad I went. I took heaps of photos and I would love to go back. I wish I had more time over there but I am happy with the overall experience. Apart from the reunion, I really enjoyed the taxi  & bus rides as I could get a complete feel and picture of the place without getting hassled or feeling uncomfortable.

Jen Fitzpatrick

Reunion photos Feb 2005

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