By Arjen IJff
Last September, I participated in a logo design contest, organised by the Embassy of the Netherlands in Hanoi and the Consulate-General in Ho Chi Minh City, on the occasion of 50 years of diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and Vietnam 1973–2023.
I spend only two days before the deadline to create my submitting. Begin October I received the news that I was selected as the winner. I was completely overwhelmed. Because for me it isn’t just a logo. It reflects my dual identity.
In January 1975, 48 years ago, I was born in the Mekong Delta, in the Vĩnh Long province. As a new born baby, only a few days old, I have been abandoned without any note at the Good Shepherd Convent & Orphanage at the To Thi Huynh Street in the city of Vĩnh Long. This orphanage were run by Roman Catholic nuns.
After a few days I was brought to the residence of the Dutch Embassy in Saigon (capital of South Vietnam) through Father Aarts, a Dutch priest and missionary of the Roman Catholic organization of Don Bosco who worked in Vietnam and was a friend of the Dutch Embassy. “He drove a van and brought some of us to the Friends of the Children of Vietnam. This was a large orphanage in Go Vap District also run by nuns. From there, the orphans were distributed to several adoption agencies and embassies.” He helped finding children and did so through his good contacts with orphanages. Especially the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Vĩnh Long.
Orphans with mixed background were ‘in demand’. For one, because babies with lighter skin were favored, but also because these children would have a hard time growing up in Vietnam. You could be considered a cast off or be banned from your family because of the tight and hierarchic family culture. My skin was lighter and the blue ‘birth mark’ above my buttocks – a so-called Mongolian spot that is visible in almost all Asian babies at birth – was absent.
So the first months of my life I have been cared in the residence of the Dutch Embassy in Saigon by Mrs. Carolina van Roijen, she was the wife of the Dutch Chargé d’Affaires Jan Herman van Roijen.
In April 1975, just two weeks before the end of the war, Mrs Van Roijen transferred me with 26 other orphans to the Netherlands. We were adopted by lovely parents and built up a good life.
I grew up on the countryside of Beemster Polder, a green and low lying land area below sealevel, which has similarities with the Mekong Delta. “That’s why the tulip and Lotus flower, which I used in the logo, not only connects both countries, but also my both backgrounds, respectively Beemster and Mekong Delta. I always feel like a child of both countries.”
And now, after almost 50 years, I created a visual identity for the Netherlands Embassy in Vietnam. It has meant to be. The circle is almost complete. In this slipstream of 50 years relationship between the Netherlands and Vietnam and besides the Year of the Cat – my Vietnamese zodiac sign – it feels like the ultimate chance to find my biological relatives.
Unfortunately the orphanage in Vĩnh Long is demolished after the war. A large square has replaced it. Only a tamarind tree, between the square and the Mekong River, reminds me to the orphanage, my ‘place of birth’. This tamarind tree has now a symbolic meaning for me, “it is – so far – the only witness left of my early existence”.
To be continued. Chúc mừng năm mới!