I want to relate one particular recent drama that is unfolding.
Chi's mother is the eldest of twelve children, but the eldest two (Chi's mum and her sister) were fathered by a different man to the other ten. So, there exists some land in Cu Chi which Chi has explained to me is exclusively family land and can't be sold, and is ancestral land handed down from Chi's great-grandparents, the parents of Chi's grandmothers first husband. Originally the land was very big so Chi tells me, but her great-grandmother, as is the custom, sold large portions of it to divvy up the cash between relatives. Now all that remains is a small 6 meter wide plot, big enough for a cosy house and a garden.
We decided that this lunar year we would try and acquire that land to build a house for Chi's mum to use and eventually live, possibly with her sister who is from the same father too and retires this year (she currently lives in a small apartment on Dien Bien Phu and has two sons, one of whom put their housing certificate in the bank to take out a 500 million dong loan to open a coffee shop which subsequently failed leaving his mother with a massive debt and no way to sell the house...)
Still with me?
So, there were only two people we needed to chase up to get the all clear for the land and start some paperwork. One of those is Chi's great uncle, in other words, the brother of her grandfather, Chi's mum's uncle. He is still alive and well and amazingly living in District 7, although Chi and her mother haven't seem him for years. He was once a wealthy man with more than five houses across Saigon, but had to sell all of them after losing his money in an investment in Cambodia that went wrong. He purposely distanced himself from the family as he got fed up with the useless ways - one of the most useless being Chi's father, a man who year after year gambled away the family motorbike - prompting Chi to ask her mother as she picked her up from school on a bicycle 'Where's our motorbike'. 'Oh your father lost it (again)'. Chi's great uncle gave him a job in his restaurant as a waiter where he worked for some time and encouraged him to get on the straight and narrow and live up to his responsibilities - ultimately it didn't work, and you can read that story here.
The great uncle, whom we called this weekend, was very happy with the idea of us using the land. He seems a kind man who tried to do the right thing. Chi's mum was nervous (much to Chi's annoyance) because back in the day he gave her 2 tael of gold to fix up her house in Binh Thanh (almost the same as the value of the house at the time) because he was sending his mother to live there for a while. Chi's great-grandmother lived in the house until she died, Chi was in Grade 8. Safe to say, he didn't ask for his gold back.
So one down. The next person is the one who holds the paperwork, the great uncle's daughter-in-law. The great uncle's son is already dead, and wasn't a particularly nice piece of work. He bullied half his family, including Chi's mum (whose name is Ho coincidently) to sell land to him on the cheap (including portions of the land in question today) and succeeded, eventually building some kind of factory there. He died suddenly, and the ancestral land remains in his name. His wife now lives in another part of Cu Chi. Her number is not in the little black book and so Chi called other relatives who know of her, and a rumour reached us that she intended to sell it. Sell the ancestral land! That is not cool! Great uncle was distinctly not impressed.
In response over the weekend I've watched in awestruck deference as Ho has invoked hitherto undiscovered powers, mobilising long lost relatives in the Cu Chi area who, like an army of sleeping zombies reawakened from their slumber by a call to arms, have risen and joined the cause. Turns out that one relative, one that is so distant that when asked the specifics I just got a wave of the arms and "He's got the same surname" as a reply, is HEAD of the people's committee in the SAME district as our seemingly stricken land. As we speak, relatives in Cu Chi are preparing a form to submit to the PC there in order to block any sale of this land. We are then arranging a diplomatic convey consisting of great-uncle and Ms Ho to visit the lady who holds the papers, where great-uncle will attempt to gently persuade the certificates to be handed over to the rightful owners. This is preferred to the idea of Ho's sister, Chi's aunt, who wanted to find the lady and confront her. I see handbags flying...not a good idea.
Somehow we knew it wasn't going to be easy...