The Trung Sisters are two legendary heroines of Vietnam who fought to liberate the country from centuries of Chinese rule. Trung Trac and Trung Nhi were their names.

Each year in Phan Rang, a small seaside town in South Central Vietnam, a parade is held in observance of the Trung Sisters. The local high school is called upon to select the two prettiest girls to play the Sisters. It is a high honor to be chosen, and equally high is the speculation on who would play each sister. Of course, everyone knew who would play Trung Trac this particular year. Nhung, was tall and beautiful and outspoken as well as the most popular girl in school. But who would play the youngest sister, Trung Nhi? There were so many young school girls that could fit the role. One thing was for certain. It had to be the prettiest girl in the school.Tuyet was a quiet, modest girl who held her head down when she walked. When asked by her schoolmates if she wanted to play Trung Nhi, she scoffed at the idea. She said “My father would be so angry if I took time out of my chores and schoolwork to be in a parade.”

She was chosen to play Trung Nhi.

Playing Trung Nhi in the annual parade was truly an honor for any young girl, but for Tuyet, it was an honor that came with a few problems. For one, she was a modest high school girl that tried very hard not to bring attention to herself. So, playing one of the Trung sisters in an annual parade celebrating the Trung sisters is definitely the last thing one should do. The other problem was each parade participant was expected to pose for pictures and each was responsible for paying the photographer as well. Since Tuyet was one half of the Trung Sisters, she simply could not opt out of posing for photos, as this would surely anger Nhung, who would be playing Trung Trac. Tuyet’s additional dilemna was she could not ask her father for the money as this would surely anger him, because everything angered him. So Tuyet decided not to tell her family about the parade and Nhung agreed to pay for the photographer, but this would mean Nhung would keep all the photos. Tuyet was willing to live with this. In fact, the less evidence of this day, the better, she thought.

On the day of the parade, Nhung and Tuyet made their entrance as the Trung Sisters, wearing bright colorful dresses and hats and wielding fake swords. Since the parade committee was not able to locate any elephants in time, they had to ride in on horses instead. This boded well for Tuyet, as horses would draw less attention to her than elephants. When the parade came to an end, Tuyet drew a sigh of relief thinking this day was nearly over for her. Then she saw her sister in the crowd jumping and cheering for her. Standing next to her sister was her father. Who was not cheering. She held her head down and walked slowly to her father. And when she finished the longest walk of her life, she heard him say “Look up.” She did. “You were the most beautiful girl in the parade.”

All my life I had never known this story about Tuyet. Not even when I wrote my play RED FLAMBOYANT which focuses on the legend of the Trung Sisters. I’m not sure if it was fate or sheer coincidence that brought the both of us to the Trung Sisters, but I am sure of one thing: Even though I wasn’t there, I know Tuyet was the prettiest girl in the parade because Tuyet is my mom.



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