Anh Bằng’s “Sentiments of Those Who Left” (Nõi Lòng Người Đi) paints a beautiful, melancholic portrait of the memories of those who left home when their country of Vietnam split in two. My cover of it is a tribute to them, on a day of reflection for overseas Vietnamese.
April 30th is a complicated day for Vietnamese people across the world. Marking the day South Vietnam’s capital Saigon fell in 1975, it is simultaneously a day of victory for Vietnam’s current government and a day of memorialization for Vietnamese refugees in the diaspora.
This year, I’ve thought often about the slightly longer historical view, going back another two decades to 1954, when Vietnam officially split in half and a stream of northerners — including my family on both parents’ sides — migrated southward. Because of this history, my family has always had a doubled refugee experience, so I wanted to honor that personal story with this song by Anh Bằng, which describes the experience of migrating south and leaving one’s heart behind.
His lyrics begin, “I left Hanoi when I turned eighteen, when I had first learned romance.” As he proceeds to share his memories of that life, it becomes harder to tell whether he is describing his love for the sixteen year old girl he mentions or for the city itself. The girl and Hanoi are metaphors for one another — you fall in love with somebody by experiencing that love in a particular time and place, and you similarly fall in love with a place by experiencing it with a beloved person.
The last verse takes place in Saigon (the first two verses begin, “I left Hanoi […]” while this begins “Today Saigon […]”), where everyone is celebrating the sights and sounds of the beautiful city, and while he acknowledges that, he holds on to his melancholy and his memories.
Twenty years later, another group of Vietnamese immigrants would find themselves experiencing the same memories of departure and loss. The parallels of those two experiences, and the fact that people like my parents and grandparents experienced both, are why I decided to share this song with you all.
Much love to you all in this weekend of bittersweet reminiscences.
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Tôi xa Hà Nội năm lên mười tám khi vừa biết yêu
Bao nhiêu mộng đẹp yêu đương thành khói tan theo mây chiều
Hà Nội ơi! Nào biết ra sao bây giờ
Ai đứng trông ai ven hồ khua nước trong như ngày xưa
Tôi xa Hà Nội năm em mười sáu xuân tròn đắm say
Đôi tay ngọc ngà dương gian, tình ái em đong thật đầy
Bạn lòng ơi! Ngày ấy tôi mang cây đàn quen sống ca vui bên nàng
Nay khóc tơ duyên lìa tan
Giờ đây biết ngày nào gặp nhau
Biết tìm về nơi đâu ân ái trao nàng mấy câu
Thăng Long ơi! Năm tháng vẫn trôi giữa giòng đời ngậm đắng nuốt cay nhiều rồi
Hồ Gươm xưa vẫn chưa phai mờ
Hôm nay Sài Gòn bao nhiêu tà áo khoe màu phố vui
Nhưng riêng một người tâm tư sầu vắng đi trong bùi ngùi
Sài Gòn ơi! Mộng với tay cao hơn trời
Tôi hái hoa tiên cho đời để ước mơ nên đẹp đôi