In August, a one-woman show that takes audiences on a six-week motorcycle journey of self-discovery through Vietnam, is taking to the stage at the Calgary Fringe Festival.
Sadec 1965: A Love Story, is about her Flora Le’s discovery of her father’s homeland and culture, one that was never shared with her.
In 2013, Le was living her ideal life—the life she had worked towards for the better part of 10 years.
In the span of six months though, Le became burnt out from her dream career, dealing with the grief of her 5-year relationship coming to an end, and finding out that her father was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
“Even though on the outside, I had all the traditional metrics of success, my life felt really empty,” she said.
In an attempt to mend the estranged relationship between Le and her father, Le visited her father while he was in the hospital, hoping for a connection but she was quickly disappointed by her father’s continued coldness towards her.
Covering 3,500 kilometres, carrying precious cargo, Le set off on a quest from the Chinese border in the North to Sadec, her father’s hometown, hoping to find answers about her origins and make sense of why her father never spoke of his past.
“Because I had such a hard time connecting with my father, I thought, indirectly, ‘maybe I could connect with his country,’” said Le.
Taking to the road
After picking up a Vietnam travel guide, Le read that the best way to travel around Vietnam was by motorcycle.
And that’s exactly what she did.
Le bought a secondhand motorcycle with no knowledge of how to ride, but despite that, she said that she had bigger things in mind.
“I’m searching for answers to the questions of who my father was, why he never really raised me, why he wasn’t ever around and I was moved by these bigger questions so things like motorcycle mechanics or driving felt so small,” said Le.
The stage production, which Le has worked on since 2014, came together after she found the missing key to making the story work: her father’s high school sweetheart Hein
Le’s father had he promised to marry Hein after graduating from university in Canada. She discovered the story after she across their love letters, after her father passed away.
Le’s father graduated in 1971, in the heat of the Vietnam unrest and he was encouraged to stay in Canada. Soon after, Le’s father married his French-Canadian girlfriend, Le’s mother, and never returned to Vietnam.
“This woman [Hein] will have waited for him for a total of six years and he left her behind,” said Le.
A language and culture not shared
The letters were written in Vietnamese, a language she did not speak because her father never integrated his culture into their lives.
It took 13 correspondents to translate the letters which were only from Heins’s perspective. Le said that the letters were like the equivalent of 12 novels with millions of words.
Le said that she spent so much time reading the letters, seeing the love, consistency, and loyalty Hein had for her father, only for him to eventually abandon her to pursue opportunities in Canada.
“When I met her, I knew what she had gone through and I felt there was the abandonment, to a certain extent, is something that I had also experienced,” said Le.
When the two finally met in Vietnam, Le handed Hein a black-and-white picture of herself that she had carried along with her through her entire journey.
The picture was dated August 1967, a few days before Le’s father left for Canada.
Le said that initially she couldn’t tell what Hein was thinking when she handed her the photograph because of the language barrier, but eventually, she broke down in tears and the two held each other.
“We understood each other in that moment. We didn’t need words,” said Le.
Her reasoning for giving Hein the photograph was to offer her some closure. The same closure she was seeking.
The show, Sadec 1965: A Love Story, is on stage from August 4 to 9, at the Lantern Community Church.
Tickets are available online or at the door for $12.