[i] Can you tell me where you were born?

[r] In Vietnam, on the West Coast. In Haiphong.

[i] In what year were you born?

[r] How long have I lived in France? In Vietnam? I was born in 1944.

[i] How many brothers and sisters do you have?

[r] There were 12 of us. Six boys, six girls.

[i] What position were you in?

[r] I am the ninth of all children. The fourth of the girls.

[i] And your parents, were they Chinese?

[r] Yes, my parents are Chinese who went to Vietnam. They came from China.

[i] They’re the ones who came? Or your ancestors?

[r] Yes, it’s a long time ago.

[i] From long ago?

[r] Life there was difficult. They went to Vietnam to earn a living.

[i] Where did they come from?

[r] These are Hokkien. From China. Hokkien.

[i] And there, you lived until what age?

[r] I lived there until I was about 9-10 years old. Then we left, because…. Ho Chi Minh…. The communists have arrived. So we left.

[i] And your parents, what did they do for a living?

[r] My father was… a food wholesaler. For the army… the French army. His business was doing well.

[i] You all fled together…

[r] Yes, my father ordered a boat and the whole family took the boat to Đà Nẵng There, we stayed a few years, before going to Saigon, in the Cholon district. Cholon.

[i] How long were you there?

[r] In Vietnam, about 15-16 years old, then we went to Phnom Penh.

[i] And there, you went to school?

[r] In Vietnam, I went to school. I studied there from elementary school to high school. Until the second grade. The second one. Then I quit school. That’s the way it was.

[i] Do you study in Chinese?

[r] Yes, in Chinese.

[i] The Chinese school?

[r] Yes, Chinese. Then, for a year, I studied French with the nuns. I studied there for a year. When I came home, I didn’t want to talk. My mother was scared, she wouldn’t let me study anymore. She was afraid I would become a nun. That I leave the house. So I didn’t study anymore. I didn’t continue. I had studied in Vietnamese and French.

[i] Can you also speak Vietnamese?

[r] Yes, yes, yes. Being born there, I speak it.

[i] Before, there was a large Chinese community there?

[r] Yes. Chinese immigrants were quite numerous.

[i] And your parents, did you help them work?

[r] No. No, I never helped them. When I first came here, I worked. In France, in Paris, I worked. I did… I worked in French stores, I labelled prices on items. In a jewelry store for a while.

[i] From Vietnam, what year did you leave to go to Phnom Penh?

[r] In Vietnam, from 9… to about 15 years old, then we went to Phnom Penh. My father was doing business in Phnom Penh. He opened a business. In Vietnam, he had partnered with a friend. Then, this friend left with the profits…. In Phnom Penh, he opened his own business. In Phnom Penh, until I was 19… When I was 19, I got married. And… I wasn’t doing anything anymore… There, it was the men who worked and fed the family. The women did not work.

[i] And at the time in Phnom Penh, how was life?

[r] Huh?

[i] In Phnom Penh, how was life?

[r] It was good there.

[i] Was it good?

[laughs] All right[laughs] I lived like a princess, it had to be good! Yes, there, it was good, because my father there made a good living, he fed the family, we didn’t need to work. And… we had money, to get out, we had a driver, to take us away. But my father was an educated man, he didn’t like girls going out. We stayed home, locked up at home. We couldn’t go out on the street. That’s the way it was!

[i] And there, you got married in Phnom Penh? Was it in Phnom Penh?

[r] That’s it! In Phnom Penh, I had studied English for a few years. Three or four years. Then I got married. Marriage is the parents’ decision. We are not the ones who choose. I got married when I was 19.

[i] Your husband was also Hokkien?

[r] He was also a Hokkien. My father loved her. I wasn’t the one who loved her. [Laughs] It was an arranged marriage. It was the parents who chose, not us who chose.

[i] And in Phnom Penh, how long did you live there before you went to France? How did it go?

[r] In Phnom Penh, I lived there until 1983. No, 1974. At the end of the year, I fled to Vietnam.

[i] Where in Vietnam?

[r] In Cholon. I lived there with my big sister. Then, in 1983, I fled to Paris.

[i] And you left with your whole family? From Phnom Penh to Vietnam?

[r] From Phnom Penh to Vietnam, we left with a smuggler. Just like that. After making papers, we left with a smuggler to go live in Vietnam. In Vietnam, we lived there temporarily. We didn’t have any real papers. Then, from there, we fled to Paris. We were not refugees. We made papers to come. Then, here, I asked for asylum, they didn’t grant it to me. I have the title of economic immigrant. Immigrated for economic reasons. A person who came for work, not a refugee. I did not obtain the refugee status.

[i] With your brothers and sisters, you went together to Vietnam?

No, alone, after getting married, I took my four daughters there. Because my husband, in 1970 he left first, he left us mother and daughters there.

[i] Where did he go?

[r] He went alone to Thailand. In Phnom Penh, to escape military service… At night, during the curfew, there were rounds, he was afraid… His mother told him to leave, so he left. I was alone with my four daughters.

[i] Where were your daughters born?

[r] In Phnom Penh. After my marriage, the four of them were born in Phnom Penh.

[i] Did you bring all four of them to Vietnam?

[r] Yes, I brought them alone. I had one in my arms, and I dragged the other three. [Laughs]

[i] How old were they?

[r] The tallest, was about 10 years old. The others followed. The smallest one was a few months old, I was wearing it.

[i] And in Vietnam, these last few years, what were you doing?

[r] Nothing, because I… my… what did Big Sister open? She sold seafood… shrimp… seafood… seafood… seafood… for export. To Taiwan, Hong Kong…. She did that. We lived for free. [Laughs] She housed us and fed us for free. The whole family. Just like that.

[i] And when did you… come to Paris?

[r] I arrived in Paris in 1983. At the end of the year.

[i] How could you come? Back then… we flew in. We took the plane…. We came, then we didn’t come back. Like today’s migrants, who don’t come back.

[i] Did you have any family in France… who brought you here?

[r] No, no…

[i] No?

[r] No. I had extended family, but she didn’t bring me here.

[i] In 1983, where did you first arrive?

[r] I first arrived… in Paris? I first arrived in Paris. I was first housed with a family member in 92. Then she said….. Here, the elderly need calm. Kids, she doesn’t like it. So she asked us to look for accommodation for us. So I looked for a place to live, and moved out.

[i] And where did you live? Where did you move to? I moved… at first, to Belleville. Near the Hong Kong Center. Because… at that time, I didn’t have a pay slip. A friend helped me rent an apartment. But the lease wasn’t in my name. We could stay, but not in our own name. Living in an apartment. That’s the way it was. After a while, on the rent receipt, my name was on it. I used it to…. make papers and enroll my children in school. We lived there for several years. À… Belleville, over there. Then we moved to Vitry. To Vitry, to live there. We lived in Vitry the longest. Until…. Until I sold take-out food. When I worked in the restaurant, I also lived in Vitry. In the evening, I would come home at 1:00 a. m. alone. In the evening, I would come home at 1:00.

[i] What were you doing in Paris?

When I had just arrived, friends helped me find a job in a French factory. I used to label prices on products. Gold plated. Jewellery. I was labelling the prices. Then I opened a restaurant myself. First of all, takeaway food. After the takeaway meals, I opened a restaurant.

[i] Where? Where?

[r] The takeaway food was Vitry’s. In front of the town hall. Inside a French shopping centre. Then, because of the papers…. My uncle said he wanted to report me, that I had no papers, etc…. So I sold it. At the time, takeaway food was working pretty well. Once I sold it, I moved to the provinces, to family homes, to open a restaurant.

[i] What were the specialties?

[r] I was doing… The takeaway meals were Asian, Vietnamese food. Some Phở, a lot of dishes. The restaurant was Thai food, Chinese food. To Etampes. In Étampes, over there.

[i] And you liked it?

[r] Yes.

[i] Yes, I like being in the kitchen.

[r] When you want to eat, you like to cook. [Laughs]

[i] Do you like to cook what dishes?

[r] I especially like to cook Vietnamese food. Probably because I lived in Vietnam. I like Vietnamese food. Vietnamese cuisine is not too greasy. Chinese food is fatter. But Chinese food without oil is not good. That’s the way it is. When I was working there, it worked pretty well. In Étampes, there were French customers, quite old, 70-80 years old. When I told them I was quitting, they hugged me, we cried, I was very moved. There are French people who have treated me very well. They were attached to me. When I came back to Paris, I thought a lot about them. [Laughs]

[i] And you… have how many children?

[r] Five. Four girls, one boy.

[i] And where was your son born?

[r] He was born in Vietnam. In 197… In 1980, he was born in Vietnam. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

[i] It doesn’t matter.

[r] Sorry.

[i] It doesn’t matter.

[i] And living in Paris, do you like it?

[r] Yes.

[i] Do you like living in Paris?

[r] Yes. When I was a kid in school, I learned things about Paris. I always hoped one day to come to Paris. It’s a beautiful city. It was a dream. We were still hoping one day to come and visit Paris. Then I came to Paris, and I like it. But… sometimes I get bored and think about my homeland. Human beings have feelings. Isn’t that right? Wherever you go, you think of your homeland. [Laughs]

[i] And in Paris, what is your favorite place? What place?

[r] In Paris? In Paris… A few years after I arrived, I didn’t go anywhere. I was taking care of the children, I was working, I wasn’t going anywhere. I have visited few places in Paris. Then I made take-out dishes. After when I worked… in the restaurant business, I was able to travel abroad. I went to Nice, Monaco… I haven’t really traveled. Spain, Italy, things like that…

[i] And among the places where you lived in Paris, which ones did you like?

[r] Paris… It’s hard to say. Yes, because at first we lived in Belleville. At the time, Belleville was good, it wasn’t really… We lived in Belleville for a few years, 2-3 years, because my husband shared a business with his partner, in Belleville, near Oberkampf. In the 18th[11th?]. I had helped, a month or two. Later, the partner knew I was alone, he led the company into bankruptcy. He took all the money, the company’s money, that my husband shared with him. Then I looked for work. That’s the way it was. And my daughters here could go to school for free, thanks to the state, so it wasn’t that hard. As long as we have food. [Laughs]

[i] And your children, what do they do for a living?

[r] My children? My eldest daughter, when she arrived, she was already grown up. At school, the other children were small. She was tall, she didn’t have the heart to learn. But she was a good student. The teachers loved him very much. But she didn’t have the heart to learn. So soon enough, she started working. As a cashier. And then, the other children are accountants, receptionists, receptionists in hotels… The youngest of the girls, works in the Hauky company as an accountant.

[i] Where do they live?

[r] They’re all married. They all started their families. They live in different places. Isn’t that right?

[i] They live in Paris?

[r] Yes in Paris. In 91, 94, 93. They live on their own. The boy, he lives with me, because he’s divorced. He lives with me.

[i] What language do you speak to them in?

[r] At home, I spoke to them Cantonese. When I was a little girl, at home, we also spoke Cantonese. With the parents, I spoke hokkien. With… the staff of the house, who was Vietnamese, we spoke Vietnamese. That’s the way it was. That’s how I grew up. [Laughs]

[i] And how many grandchildren do you have?

[r] Seven grandchildren. Four boys, three girls.

[i] How old are they? The oldest is 19 years old. The tallest girl in the world. The tallest boy this year is 21 years old. The smallest is 4 years old. A boy.

[i] Can they speak Chinese?

[r] They… The greatest of them speaks Cantonese. The boy…. My son’s child…. My son married a French woman, so his child speaks French. The others speak Cantonese. My daughters’ children speak Cantonese at home. At school, they speak French, at home, with their parents, they all speak Cantonese.

[i] And they… asked you… Your story, did you tell them? How did you live before, and when did you get here?

[r] We… You don’t have to tell them. Because I brought all of them here. Isn’t that right? All alone, I brought them all five of them. There is no need to tell them, they saw with their own eyes how their mother took care of the family alone. When I arrived, I was about 40 years old. 35-40 years old. At the time, in Paris there were also… When you have too many children, you can also have your children adopted by French people, whether they are raising your children or not… There are children that French people adopt. Some people told me to leave my children for adoption, it was hard. I told them it wasn’t possible, later on, we wouldn’t have any more connections. They would no longer have any ties to me. I said no. I said no. We must all stay together. That’s how they grew up.

[i] When you came to France, did you find that the French welcomed you well?

[r] At the time, the French were polite. I liked them. They were kind and polite. When I had just arrived, I didn’t speak French. Even in my spare time, I didn’t have time to learn, because I had five children. The state asked me to learn, but I didn’t have time. It’s a waste of time. That’s why I don’t speak French well. I didn’t speak French, I didn’t know anything, when I asked for directions, they would take me to the post office for example. They were taking me there. That I appreciated. They treated me well. The French have this kind of behavior. They’re nice people. Warm and welcoming. They have a good heart. At the time. I’m talking about before, now it’s not the same. [Laughs] Now it’s changed. Isn’t that right? Because there are many people coming to France. It’s not the same, it’s the same.

[i] And in France, your friends are all… Where did they come from?

[r] My friends… from Vietnam, Phnom Penh, Hong Kong, everywhere. They come from all over. I like to make friends.

i] Together….

[r] Sometimes I go to the temple to volunteer. When things happen at the temple…. As soon as there are things to do, I give my help. I’ve been doing it for several years. I like that too. Whenever there’s a need, I’ll help. When people are happy, I’m happy too. So I’m going to help. For several years now. Since I’ve been in Paris, I’ve been involved. At the time, I didn’t have time. Now, when I have time, I’ll help. When I have free time, I go. Now that I’m retired. Whenever I want, I go.

[i] And in the 13th, do you often go there?

[r] The 13th? I don’t go there often. Because the 13th is… I think people… it’s better if they’re at home than outside. Because when you’re home alone, there’s no fuss. Isn’t that right? If we’re still out there, and we talk too much, if we talk too much, it makes a fuss. I don’t like it. I like it when life is quiet. Being quiet at home is my favorite.

[i] And what do you like to do at home?

[r] What I like to do? I like… writing. In Chinese. I like it. I like it. Since I was a little girl, I’ve enjoyed it. At the time, when I was learning Vietnamese, I was also writing it. I haven’t written it in a long time, I forgot. I like it. I like it. I like to be quiet and do this kind of activity. Today, in the evening, I still write.

[i] What are you writing?

[r] I write… What I’ve been through so far. How I fled to Paris. In this and that way. How I fled to Paris, how I lived, how I did… I wrote it as a souvenir. Some people have told me to publish a book, but I don’t want to. I think that if I publish a book, later on, my children would feel sick to their hearts when they read it. That their mother lived here and there… I write myself, I read it myself, that’s enough. As a souvenir. I don’t write…. I don’t publish it.

[i] Are you… already back… Back there?

[r] Where? Where?

[i] You went to China or…

[r] Yes, yes, yes. Once, in 19…. 197… 1980 and so on, I went, went, went… went… to Teochew. I went there with a friend from Hong Kong. I have a friend who lives in Hong Kong. We both went there, all the way to Teochew. At night, I dreamt that my father said, “You’re a Hokkien, why don’t you go? Why don’t you go see the land of the Hokkien. You have come from so far, you must know your native land, see how it is.” So, a few days later, I bought tickets to see my father’s birthplace. Tong An[in Hokkien]. Tong An. I went there. Life there, however, is quite miserable. When they told me to eat, I didn’t dare.

[i] Why?

[r] Because his hands… There was… black… and he cooked… I couldn’t eat.

[i] Wasn’t it clean?

[r] It wasn’t clean. I didn’t dare to eat. I thought people’s lives were miserable. I gave them some money. Then I went back to Teochew. I went back to visit Teochew again. This time, I didn’t go to Xiamen. I went to Tong An. To visit my father’s land. My father had said when he was there, he hoped, that his children would go and see his native land. So I listened to him, and I went to see.

[i] Did you go alone or with a friend?

[r] I went there with a friend. It’s a Teochew. I am Hokkien. I went to the Hokkien houses to see. She took me to see Teochew. We both went there. It’s been several years. That’s good. That’s good. I went there so that my father would be appeased. He said, “You were born elsewhere, you have to go visit your father’s land, otherwise you won’t know it.” “You are…” What? What? What did he say? He said Tong An. So I went there. I went to check it out. At night there, I told my father. Isn’t that right? I said to my father, “You hoped I would go, that’s it, I went to see. Don’t worry about it.” Doing this…. It’s like it’s a good deed. For my father. [Laughs] It soothes his heart… It soothes his heart, it’s good too.

i] Do you consider yourself Chinese, or Vietnamese or…

[r] Me? I’m a Hokkien. But… My nanny was Vietnamese. And…. It’s hard to say. She raised me, I have a connection with her. Isn’t that right? She didn’t give birth to me, she fed me, there’s still a connection. She fed me her milk, it’s like she’s my mother. Isn’t that right? That’s probably why they say I’m more Vietnamese than Chinese. I don’t know. I don’t know. Human beings have feelings. Isn’t that right? The person who raised you is like your mother. That’s the way it is. Because my mother, when I was a child, my mother liked to do business, she didn’t like raising her children. She loved working. She was always with my father, she worked with my father. She did everything, she placed orders, she… She came from the countryside, but she… She liked to do business. She was not like the others. She did everything. Since the beginning of my father’s business, she has contributed a lot. She was very good, even though she’s not good at school. To count the money, you don’t need a calculator. His brain was calculating everything very quickly. She was very strong! We still admired him a lot. Twelve kids is not… it’s not easy, is it? There is no more difficult thing than a big family. But, it’s okay, when I was a kid, I was pretty happy in this big family. I opened my eyes, I had everything. We didn’t know what to do with the money. That’s right! That’s right! I asked my older brother, “What’s the point of money?” He said, “If you don’t know how to spend it, give it to me, let me spend it”. [Laughs] Before that it was… As soon as we opened our eyes, the house staff would ask us what we wanted to eat. We have never been to buy things ourselves. We had everything. As soon as we opened our eyes. We had everything. But then I went alone, I worked, and I realized that it was difficult to earn a living. Isn’t that right? Before, I didn’t know. I didn’t even know how to use the money. I was asking my brother, “How do we use it?” Because at home, we sold everything. My father… he had a “food” for the military. There was everything! We opened our eyes, everything we wanted to eat, the staff cooked it for us. We didn’t know what it was like to be in need. What it was like to be in need, we didn’t know. Then, after I got married, it was while I was working that I knew. It’s not that easy to make money. That’s how I knew. When I found out, I was already old. [Laughs] When I found out, I was already old. [Laughs]

[i] And in Phnom Penh, you also had a “food”?

[r] We also had a “food”. Across the street from Sisowath High School. We lived there. Across the street was high school. Across the street was high school. At the time…. Sihanouk…. There were often helicopters throwing clothes[for the poo[r]. My father was very scared. He closed all the doors, so we wouldn’t go out and look[at the helicopters]. He was afraid that…. You know Sihanouk, he had many wives, if he chose you, he might want to make you his wife, you couldn’t refuse. He could cause you problems. My father didn’t want me to go out. Over there… I lived there for several years. When I was 19, I got married.

[i] And you studied there?

[r] I studied English.

[i] Did you study English?

[r] Yes. I studied 3-4 years.

[i] At Sisowath High School?

[r] At school. A… Yi Cai. Yi Cai. They taught in English. I studied there for 3-4 years. After studying, I initially wanted to learn Japanese. Japanese… I liked to study. Since I was a child, I have loved studying. Then I studied, I studied… a semester. My father forced me to marry, and I had to stop my studies. I liked to study. Once I got married, I studied Cambodian, Khmer. I’ve studied it. Only one year. And I stopped. Because I took the nationality[Cambodian], I took the Cambodian nationality, I had to learn the language. I have studied. One year. I know a little bit about everything. I’m not very good at it, I know a little here and there. [Laughs]

[i] And your brothers and sisters, before…

[r] Some have been able to escape, others have not. Because my older brother, he… He also opened a “power supply”. The Khmer Rouge, when they entered Cambodia, they wanted to take his things. When my brother didn’t want to, a Khmer Rouge took a gun. With his gun, he had a knife, and he killed my older brother. And my mother, and a few others, made papers to leave, but there was no plane to escape. They died there. They couldn’t feed anymore, they died. And I had…. I asked people to go to refugee camps in Thailand to look for them. I placed ads in the newspapers, so that journalists could look for them, but we didn’t find them. So I knew they were missing. At first, when I looked for them, I had hope. Once I looked for them, I had no hope. I knew they were missing. My mother… had made her papers. But there was no…. of a plane to escape. My big sister too. They had bought their plane tickets, but there were no more planes. So they died in Cambodia.

[i] Could the others have gone elsewhere?

[r] There are some who… One of them went to Hong Kong, died of disease. There are some…. who have gone… Some of them have gone to the United States, or elsewhere…. In Canada… There are some in France, too. There are two in France. But we don’t see each other very often. They have their families. I have my family. Once in a while, when the family comes to visit, I see them. Otherwise, I don’t see them much.

[i] Do you know how to speak several… languages?

[r] Me? Yes. A little, a little, a little. [Laughs]

[i] You know how to speak… the hokkien…

[r] The teochew, the hokkien, Vietnamese, Cantonese… The Cantonese. The Cantonese…. About… Six or seven languages.

[i] You’re good at it.

[r] I know a little French, but I’m not good at it. Because I haven’t studied it. I couldn’t learn. Because at the time, my children were small. To go to class…. In the morning, the school opened at 9am. At 8:00 a. m., I took them to school, I was afraid they would go out on the street, that they would have an accident. I didn’t succeed in learning French. I had started school, but my heart was at home. I was afraid they’d have an accident. I couldn’t study. Then I told the professor, who was Vietnamese…. He loved me very much. He told me, “Why aren’t you studying anymore? You learn well.” I said, “I can’t learn, I can’t stop thinking about my children. I was afraid they’d go out on the street, there’d be an accident. So I asked him to…. I didn’t want to take classes anymore. So I didn’t learn anymore. That’s a pity. So my French is…. I know how to speak it a little, but it’s not very good.

[i] And when you hear it… Do you understand it… French?

[r] Yes. I understand it more than I speak it. [Laughs] When I want to talk about it, it doesn’t come out. I was in exile, from my youth to my old age. I fled several places. Since I was 9 years old until now. Look, it’s been 70 years, hasn’t it? We are also… You know… I don’t dare to say it…. One day, I won’t know what’s going on. If I die, I wouldn’t realize it. It doesn’t matter, one day goes by one day after the other. That’s life. You shouldn’t think too much. When you think too much, you hurt yourself.

[i] And when you think… Are you thinking about your life before that?

To say that I don’t think about it would be to lie to you. Human beings think. How can you not think? When you sleep, you think. When you are quiet, when you hear things… It reminds you of family. It has to be. We have no choice. Human beings have feelings. We can’t not think about it. I’m thinking about it. Even if my father didn’t do the right thing, I think about it. Even if my mother didn’t do the right thing, I think about it too. Because they are the ones who gave me life. Isn’t that right? Whatever happens, they’re my parents, I can’t blame them. I’ve already been asked,

“Your father… married you to a person you didn’t love, did you blame him for that?” I said, “To say I didn’t blame him would be a lie.” In my heart, it wasn’t comfortable, but they’re my parents, what can I say? They gave me life. They raised me. I am indebted to them. I owe it to them. The fact that they raised me. It doesn’t matter. It is fate. If our destiny is not good…. [Laughs] You have to accept it. You can’t say….. It’s hard to say. I’m not accusing my parents. I’m angry at my own destiny. Isn’t that right?

[i] Do you… go pray at the temple?

[r] Yes. Until today, I often go to the temple, I do good deeds. Before, I used to go to a temple to eat. Until today, I don’t go there, because I live too far away. Before, I always bought rice for the temple. Before, I used to eat rice there, I remember it, so I bought some more, rice, etc…. Once a month, I buy a few bags of rice for the temple. Then, in Lille, there is a monk. Last year, I bought him ten bags of rice. Ten bags. He wrote me a letter, to thank me. He gave me a gift bearing the effigy of Buddha as a good luck charm for me. He said…. He said…. It’s been several years, I’m happy to think of him. The monk was feeding orphans in Thailand. I offered them ten bags of rice…. Ten bags of rice. He sent me pictures so I could see them. I like to do good deeds. But my personality is rather masculine. [Laughs] Whatever we say… If I commit to do something, I do it. Sooner or later. I have the ability to do that. If I can do it, I will do it. It’s not… I open my mouth, and I say one thing, then I forget… No, I’m not like that. Since I was a little girl, I’ve been like this. When I went to school, what made me happiest was in Vietnam. At the college over there. I liked it. I liked it. Because at school, at school hokkien, I was the representative of the school hokkien for all Saigon. We could represent the school and go abroad. We could represent the school, to do this. It was… it wasn’t, you do what you want, but… We were studying… We studied well, the teacher was happy, he let us represent the school. That’s when we were kids… it’s a childhood memory. I like it. I like it. When I think about it, it wasn’t the case for everyone, I was a representative, I’m happy. You shouldn’t compare yourself to others. I am satisfied. I’m not a very rich person, but I’m satisfied. When you see poor people, compared to poor people, there are many of them. Deep down, we have a happy life. We can’t compare ourselves to the rich. We can’t compare. Those who are rich, we can’t compare ourselves. But if we compare ourselves to the poorest, who can’t eat. We can eat, we’re happy. That’s the way it is.

[i] So your happiest time was in Vietnam when you were a kid?

[r] Yes. When I was in college, that’s where I was happiest. Because at school, the teachers all loved me very much. I could represent the school and go to Đà Nẵng, Đà Lạt. Of the entire promotion, there were less than ten representatives. At school, I was famous. That’s my happiest memory. It wasn’t so easy to be chosen, to have this experience. Of all Saigon, ten were chosen. But… my father didn’t want me to leave. I would like to go to Đà Nẵng. Đà Lạt. He said it was too dangerous for me to go. I cried for several days. Even though I cried for several days, I couldn’t go there. That’s the way it is. I loved that time. It was the moment when I was happiest. The happiest moment, but in the nuns’ house, I wasn’t happy. Even if I wasn’t happy, the sisters treated me well. When I wrote in Vietnamese, they… they posted it at school for us to see. But there were orphaned children there, it made me sad, I didn’t have the heart to have fun. They had no food, no parents. They had no clothes, a big belly, a disease. They had worms… inside. It made me sad to see that. I often bought cookies for them. I saw them… they had no parents… The parents didn’t want it, it was sad. My heart was in…. I wanted to do a good deed. When you do a good deed, it brings good luck when you’re old. Isn’t that right? [Laughs]

[i] Your children here, do they see each other often? Are they close to each other?

[r] The four sisters do not associate with other people. They say that people, we greet them, we say a few words to them, that’s enough. They prefer to stay between sisters. They can confide in each other. They can confide in each other. When necessary, it is the sisters who help each other, they do not ask for help from others. My four daughters, they’re going on vacation together. The four of us together, not with other people. That’s right, it’s very weird. And the last one, surely, when he was a kid, he didn’t have his father with him, his personality is like… he’s lonely. Lonely. He doesn’t talk much, even at home, he doesn’t talk much.

[i] Which one?

[r] My son, the last one. Because as a child, his father wasn’t there, I raised him alone. He doesn’t talk much.

[i] He lives with you?

[r] He married a French woman, and when he divorced, he came back to live with me. Before he married, he also lived with me. When he got married, he bought an apartment in Toulouse. Then he got divorced, he came back to live with me. He bought a house in Limeil. Créteil, Limeil. We live there. It’s pretty quiet there, I like it. It’s quite far, but it’s quiet.

[i] Do you like living there?

[r] Huh?

[i] Do you like living there?

[r] Yes, I like it.

[i] Because it’s quiet. There is a 100 square meter garden. When I get bored, I garden, days go by fast, don’t they? You don’t have to call your friends, it’s tiring. It’s tiring! [Laughs] It’s better not to look for friends, it’s too much trouble. Isn’t that right? There are always stories. When you don’t say anything, they say you’re haughty. When you say things, if you say something wrong, you’re accused of saying anything wrong. When you say something, sometimes we don’t like what you say, it always makes a fuss. It’s better to stay home. For me, it’s the best thing. I don’t like it. When there are meetings, I have no choice. When there are no meetings, I don’t see my friends. Once in a while, I see them. I have many Vietnamese friends. Because I used to do business with them. Friends…. Vietnamese friends, I have more than Chinese friends. [Laughs] I like them. I know…. I know their personalities.

[i] Did you know them in France? Or do you know them from before?

[r] I know them from here. In France. Not before…. No Cholon or anything else. In Cholon, I didn’t go out. I was always at home, babysitting my children. I didn’t know anyone. When I left, I left alone. When I came here, I worked, I met them through work. They like me, I like them too. We became friends. Until today. Since 1985… until today. It’s been a long time. Sometimes, when I ask them, they help me. They are friends I like to socialize with, but not in a very close way. I don’t dare. If we’re too close, it makes a fuss. It’s tiring. The best thing is when it’s a little bit, that’s enough. Friends take care of us, and so do we. But if we get too close, and something happens, if one of us says something wrong, it makes a fuss. I don’t like it. The best thing is to date like this. Just like that.

[i] And how do you get to Paris from home?

[r] By subway.

[i] By subway?

[r] I take the bus to the subway. I take line 8 to Paris. Before, I used to go… I used to go to Charenton. And then I took the streetcar to get to the 13th floor. To go to the 13th, it’s closer than coming to Belleville. Going to Belleville takes over an hour. It takes less than an hour there. To do my shopping, I go there. During the week, my daughter drives me there once or twice.

[i] Are you going to do your shopping there?

[r] Yes, my daughter is taking me there. I’m not going alone. It’s too heavy, she doesn’t want her mother to carry her things. I’m old… I’m so lucky. [Laughs] I don’t need to carry too much weight. [Laughs] She thinks it’s hard for me, she thinks, I’m old, she doesn’t want her mother to do too much. That way, it’s good too. In Paris. In Paris, my eldest daughter, she treats me well, I’m lucky. If she didn’t treat me well, I wouldn’t have a choice. Isn’t that right? It’s hard to say. It is fate. It is our own destiny. It’s all right… When I was a little girl, I was also lucky. After my marriage, I was out of luck. It was difficult. In the in-laws, it was difficult. The things I couldn’t do, I would look at how my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were doing, and I would help them. I was looking at how to do it. Then I left…. He[her husband] first left, he didn’t make any papers for his wife and children to leave too. As a result, the ties broke. It was over. In a couple, how can you do that? Isn’t that right? Going off by yourself, and letting wife and kids die there? If I hadn’t made any papers, and I wanted to leave, surely, with my four daughters, we would have died there. When he arrived here, he came from Thailand. In 1991, he landed. My eldest daughter brought him to my house. I took her suitcase, I threw it out, I told her, “Excuse me, I don’t want to live with you. If you come and live here, I’ll leave. I’m going to live with friends, I’m going to rent an apartment to friends.” I said, “This apartment is mine to rent, if you don’t want to leave, I’ll leave.” I said that. I said that. So he lives with my eldest daughter. Until now.

[i] Since 1991?

[r] Yes. Until now, he lives with my eldest daughter.

[i] I can’t accept it. Sweetheart, it’s like he stabbed him. Isn’t that right? It hurts a lot. It’s like my heart is bleeding. How can you live with someone who’s hurt you so much? That’s not possible. That’s not possible. My eldest daughter used to say to me, “Mom, you’re old now, it doesn’t matter”. I said, “That’s not possible.” I said, “You’re not me, you don’t know how much I’m suffering. I’m in pain. You didn’t have a father who loved you. I’m in pain, my wound is deep. I said, “A single woman who has brought 5 children is not a single child”. I said, at the time, I was a rich man’s daughter, I had no pay slip, nothing, I couldn’t rent an apartment. I was asked to be a cleaning lady. He was a 16th century Vietnamese man, he had a lot of money. He offered me the opportunity to work for him. To rent an apartment. He had money, he told me I could stay above him. A room for me. With my children. I told him I’d agree to work. But… He told me I didn’t look like a cleaning lady. But he agreed to hire me. He said, “Do it. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of your papers.” After that, I said…. He told me something, it’s that… my children up there, they weren’t allowed to go down there to have fun. They were not allowed to come down to see me. They had no right. So I didn’t do it. I said, in this case, I don’t do it. Why shouldn’t my children be allowed to see me? Isn’t that right? Working like that is difficult too. Because he had guests over every night. Working like this is tiring too. He was having guests over, it was only at 1 or 2 hours that I could sleep. I said, in that case, I don’t do it. He said if I worked for him, he’d take care of my papers. My papers, no one was helping me to make them. And I didn’t speak French. I didn’t know the legal rules either. How to do this? It was difficult. Later, I called a lawyer, he was a Cambodian. He told me he would help me make them. But he lived in the South. He told me to go down south to live there until my papers were obtained. How can I abandon my children to go there? How can you tell me to go there to your village, to live until I get my papers before I go back to Paris? That’s not possible. I don’t know what’s on your mind. So I didn’t go there. That’s true. He said, “If you agree, I’ll go down south, and get you some papers. After a few years, I’ll let you come back to Paris.” I said, “My children, I won’t know where they are anymore.” I said, “In that case, I’m not going.” He was a Cambodian lawyer. A Cambodian. It’s probably because he’s a Cambodian who came to study to be a lawyer. But what he was proposing was weird, wasn’t it? Why did you bring me to live in your village? Isn’t that right? It’s hard to say. At the time, when I came here, I was about thirty, forty years old. He offered me that, I said, I don’t do it. Later, it was an acquaintance who helped me get my papers. On my residence permit, he said I was a little older. He said, “I declare you a little older, you’ll retire sooner.” [Laughs] So I took his advice, because I didn’t know. So he helped me. It’s been several years.

[i] When you came to France, did you live in a home?

[r] No.

[i] Have you lived in an apartment?

[r] Yes. First at…..

[i] How did you find it?

[r] I first lived with my little brother. Then I lived with my little sister. To Maisons-Alfort.

[i] Where? Where?

[r] Maisons-Alfort. Créteil.

[i] Maisons-Alfort?

[r] I lived there for a few years.

[i] They came before you?

Her husband[of her siste[r] came here, opened her restaurant, he came first. He came first. At the time, I told him to come. In Hong Kong, 1997 was approaching. He was in Hong Kong. I said… it was better for him to come to Paris. Since we were kids, we’ve always run away from the communists. Until today…. After 1997 in Hong Kong, it was… It’s sad too, we’ve been running for a long time, running away from there… We’ve been running for a long time…. In 1980 and later, he came first. When I arrived, I first lived with him. Then he lived near an elderly person’s house. She didn’t like children. At night, they cried, they screamed, she wasn’t happy. So, I have…. My brother told me to find a place to live, to move out, I had no choice. There were starting to be stories. So I looked for a new place to live. I didn’t have a pay slip, so I was helped, in exchange for a little money, to rent an apartment in Vitry. Over there. I borrowed my friend’s pay slip, which was quite high, at 8,000 francs. I was able to rent an apartment with three bedrooms and two living rooms. To Vitry. In Vitry, I lived there for a long time. Long enough. Several years. From the 1980s onwards. Since 1983. Until I moved to Choisy-le-Roi. Then I moved to Créteil. I moved to Choisy-le-Roi because I have a disease. I faint, I often faint. And…. When I was sick, my daughter told me, “Mom, you live too far away, we can’t take care of you. It takes more than an hour to come, if something happens, we’ll be too late.” So I sold and moved near them. That’s the way it is. As I’m old, I can be taken care of. That’s the way it is. I like it. I like it. It’s quiet there, I like it. I like the calm. I don’t like it when it’s loud. When I was also a little girl, at home, I was calm, I didn’t like to talk. Later, I had no choice, I was making takeaway meals. I had to talk to the customers. So I talked. In the restaurant, I talked to the customers, I had to talk. No choice. Isn’t that right? That’s the way it is. Life has passed, for a few decades.

[i] And now, how long have you been retired?

[r] I’ve been retired since I was in my fifties. It’s been about ten years. About ten years. Because in your 50s, it was automatic. They told me not to look for work anymore. I was told, “You won the lottery.” [Laughs] In your fifties, they retire you. They gave me retirement, until today.

[i] And your last job was take-out?

[r] No, the last job was the restaurant. Then I worked in the jewellery business, with Vietnamese people. Before retirement. I received a letter for retirement and stopped working. That’s the way it was. When I was working, I received pay slips, it was average. My retirement is not high. In Étampes, four people worked in my restaurant. There was a social worker who came to my house to help me fill out some paperwork. She said, “It’s sad, I think it’s sad. You’re all alone, with five children, you’re going to work at Étampes. Go quickly and learn to drive, buy a car.” That Frenchwoman was good. She felt sorry for me. She helped me fill out the paperwork. She was fine. There are French people who are… good people, who have heart. That’s good. That’s good. They have affection for me. They felt sorry for a woman like me.

[i] So you learned to drive?

[r] Yes.

[i] Did you learn?

[r] Yes, I learned, I got the license.

[i] Did you get the license?

[r] When I had just got the license, when I got the license, my children had cars. Then I said I wanted to buy a car, my daughter didn’t want to. At that time, I was making takeaway meals. She said, “Mom, we already have a couple of cars, that’s too much. “There’s no need to buy, the farthest you go is the 13th to do your shopping.” “When you get out, you take the bus, why do you want to buy an extra car?” So I didn’t drive until today. I have a license, but I don’t drive. Today, I still have my license. But I don’t drive. I haven’t used it in a long time. I’m afraid, I don’t dare drive anymore. That’s a pity. At the time, I shouldn’t have listened to my daughter. Today, I could have gone anywhere I wanted. [Laughs] No choice. She was looking out for me, that’s okay.

i] And today, in retirement, you hope to do things, travel… ?

[r] Now, in retirement…. I hope… to do good deeds. Otherwise, if I have time, travel abroad. Otherwise, going for a walk in Paris is also good. I don’t want to think too much anymore. I’m almost done with my journey. Thinking too much is useless. Isn’t that right?

Today, with both my hands, I don’t want to do anything anymore. Love, I don’t want to love anymore. I don’t know how to spend money anymore. So, rather go for a walk. That’s the way it is, I don’t think so much. Because today, we don’t know what can happen tomorrow. There are people who go to bed and can’t get up anymore. Isn’t that right? You shouldn’t think too much. That’s the way I am. I live from day to day. [Laughs]

[i] Sometimes, in Paris, you go to tourist places?

[r] Not really.

[i] And before that, did you go there?

[r] Before, yes. I went a little bit. In gardens, castles… But today, I don’t want to go anymore. I like staying home, going to parks. Thinking about things, doing things, I don’t like it. I don’t like it. I’m old, my heart is not the same anymore. Not like before. Before, as soon as I went somewhere, I would leave my things somewhere, I would leave for the day without any problem. Now it is no longer possible. It’s not like before, I had the strength. Some time ago, when I returned from Vietnam, my feet hurt very much. I couldn’t walk anymore. Then I didn’t see a doctor, I saw a Vietnamese healer, a healer who treated me. I saw a healer who was good. He’s been in Paris for a long time. Now I don’t want to think anymore. I can walk, I can run, I’m going for a walk, I can eat, so I eat. No need to think. Thinking too much is useless. If I die, I wouldn’t know. Isn’t that right? I don’t know. I don’t know.

[i] And your grandchildren, do you see them often?

[r] Yes.

[i] Are you close to them?

[r] Yes. The girl, yes, but the boy, he went abroad[with his mothe[r], he comes back once every three months. The lawyer allowed him to come back once every three months. It hurts her that her parents are divorced. I like it very much. When he comes in at night, I take care of him. One of my granddaughters, I accompany her to her Chinese class once a week. On Saturdays. At his class there. His Chinese class. The girl’s pretty good. She is learning a lot. She can dance. She knows how to play the piano, she knows everything. English, too. She knows a lot of things. She’s a good student. She’s good at it. There are still two of them that are big. Grown-ups, there is a girl, at the town hall she learns the piano, she is famous. City Hall photographed her. I have grandchildren who are… smart. They’re good at school. One of the boys, he works. He has a French girlfriend. He’s tall. But he loves Japan. They both like Japan, they want to go to Japan. They don’t want to live in Paris. Right now, there is insecurity. There are many migrants. Isn’t that right? There are robberies. They don’t like it there. My daughters married a Hong Kong man, a Macanese man. They often say they don’t want to live here, they want to go and live there. I do not agree with that. I say, in Hong Kong, there are too many people. There are many buildings. When there is no problem, it’s fine, when there are problems, it’s tiring. If people are running, it can create crowd movements. Even if there is no insecurity, I don’t like it. But they say they don’t like Paris today. Because it’s changed, it’s not like before. Before, we felt safe. Now it’s getting worse and worse. They say they prefer life in Asia, but they say so, but they do not go there, because they do not dare to abandon their sisters, abandon their mother…. The years go by, until today. They haven’t left yet. They talk but do not. There is one[son-in-law], who has an apartment in Macau, the other whose mother is in Hong Kong. But, they talk… until today, they haven’t left. They say they want to go there when they get old. They can eat whatever they want there. It’s convenient there. At that moment, I don’t know where I’ll be. I don’t care, I don’t want to think too much. Isn’t that right? Later on, it’ll be their business, not mine. I couldn’t see him anymore. I couldn’t handle it anymore. Isn’t that right? I don’t want to worry about it anymore. It is fate. It is fate. If my life is long, I will see it, otherwise I will not see it. Isn’t that right? They have their… They have their own lives. Different from mine. It’s hard to say.

[i] I have asked you many things. Anything else you want to add?

[r] No. I have nothing more to say. If you ask me, I’ll answer you. If there are no questions, that’s the best thing. [Laughs]

[i] Thank you to you.

[r] If you need anything, ask me.