I’ve known Ong Duoc for nearly two years now, since I started working on my Urban Farmers in Hanoi project, which deals with farming families and rapid over-development in the capital. I knew some aspects of his life, but before yesterday, when I got to sit down with him and a writer, I had no idea of the extents of it. He’s an extremely fascinating individual. And I only caught brief glimpses of the conversation.
He fought at Khe Sanh during the American War and was left behind, thought dead with the rest of his battalion. He lived for six months in the wild, drinking water from streams and hunting his own food until he found his way out of the wilds. He came to Hanoi. His family was worshiping him at an altar–a common practice to honor the dead in Vietnam. But even thereafter, he couldn’t officially prove who he was, as he had no papers and no identification. So he remained deceased. He lived on the streets of the capital for 18 years. In 1990 he built a houseboat with his wife and first son on the small farming island beneath Long Bien Bridge, where he has lived since.
The pictures above capture what is probably an insignificant amount of his character. I’d like to hear a palm reader’s interpretation of his life, past, present and future. I know the upturned palms portrait is quite an overdone one, but sometimes a cliche or two can be important to a story. We’ll see if it lasts.