Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Stephen Hawking has adopted daughter in Vietnam

It is a little known fact that world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking has an adopted daughter in Vietnam. She is Nguyen Thi Thu Nhan. Stephen Hawking and his wife secretly came to Vietnam to see her in 1997.

British scientist Hawking ill in hospital

VietNamNet learns about Nhan’s story.

Through Ms. Nguyen Thi Hoa, Nhan’s adopted mother at the Hanoi SOS village, I paid a visit to Nhan’s small house in an alley in Xuan Dinh commune, Tu Liem district, Hanoi. I was welcomed by a young woman who was holding a baby boy. It turned out that the little girl adopted by the British scientist and his wife in 1990 is now married. She is living happily with her husband and two children, a five-year-old daughter and a five-month-old son.

Our talk was quite open. Memories of the past rushed.

Nhan, 29, was the second child in a family of four children. She lost her parents in a boat accident in 1989. The SOS Hanoi Village welcomed Nhan and two other kids in her family. Her elder brother entered Birla Village, next to her SOS village.

According to the International SOS Organization’s rules, SOS organizations in member countries send files and photos of disadvantaged kids living in their villages to the headquarters in Vienna, Austria. The files are sent at random to people who wish to sponsor disadvantaged children. Nhan became Stephen Hawking’s adopted daughter in this way.

Nhan said that like other orphans in her village, she luckily had an adoptive father. Hers was the famous quadriplegic scientist, Dr. Stephen Hawking of Oxford University. Nhan often wrote and sent her pictures to her adoptive father, to tell him about her life.

The little girl’s stories seemed to touch the scientist’s heart and moved him and his wife, Elaine Mason, to come to Vietnam to visit their adopted daughter in the winter of 1997.

“Everybody said I was lucky to be adopted by such a famous scientist. But I felt just normal at the beginning, because all kids in the village had adopted parents. However, when I met Dr. Hawking and saw him sitting in the wheelchair, but full of optimism, I really loved and respected him!”

Nhan and the ao dai, the gift from her adopted father.

“The day when he visited my village, he showed the kids how he controlled the wheelchair. He only pushed buttons to move the wheelchair forward, backward, or turn around. We were very surprised and cheered him!”

Though he couldn’t move, father Stephen always cared about Nhan. During his time in Vietnam, he often had meals cooked by Nhan and her adoptive mother and talked with her through his special supportive devices. The father and daughter also went out on Hanoi streets. He always smiled though he suffered a lot of pain. His deformed hands often held Nhan’s hands.

Stephen liked Vietnamese ao dai so he presented Nhan with an ao dai made by a famous ao dai shop in Hanoi, Ngan An. Before leaving Vietnam, he gave Nhan an English dictionary to encourage her to study.

Though the British scientist only stayed in Vietnam for three days, Nhan felt that he was very close to her. She couldn’t stop crying when she bid him farewell at the airport.

“My father is like ordinary fathers!” she said.

In 2000, Stephen Hawking asked the International SOS to allow Nhan to see him in the UK. Though this is forbidden by the organization’s regulations, the case of Hawking was special that an exception was granted.

In July 2000, Nhan went to Britain to visit her adopted father. She really felt the father-daughter relationship for one month.

“The weather in Britain seemed very cold. This was my first overseas trip so I was so confused. Luckily, everybody at the airport knew that I was the adopted daughter of Stephen Hawking so I was helped a lot.”

Mother Elaine welcomed Nhat at the airport and brought her home, where her father was waiting for her in his wheelchair. He was absent from work that day to welcome his adopted daughter. Nhan was very moved by his act.

The days besides her adopted father were unforgettable in Nhan’s life. The father was very sensitive and he always tried to make his adopted daughter feel at home.

“When I lived with his family, I never saw him as a famous but strange scientist. He made me feel like an ordinary father, like other fathers in the world. Every morning, I saw him in the kitchen, kissed him on his forehead as a good morning and the whole family gathered at the dining table. Mother Elaine prepared food for all. Father talked to me and he didn’t forget to tell my mother to take me out. And then he went to work.”

Knowing that Nhan loved candies, whenever he came home, he always brought back a pack of candies for his Vietnamese daughter.

He often spent around one hour playing games or doing English tests with his adopted daughter. He often checked Nhan’s notebooks (she attended an English course at Oxford). He always reminded Nhan to go to bed at 9pm. He said sleeping early is good for health.

Stephen Hawking often came home late, sometimes not until after Nhan went to bed. In such a case, when Nhan woke up in the morning the next day, she would hear the sound from his wheelchair, waiting for her at the foot of the stairs. He would not go to work if he didn’t see his daughter first.

From the right: Prof. Stephen Hawking, his wife, Nhan and his mother in the UK.

During the weekends, the family went out, went rowing or shopping. Whenever mother Elaine bought clothes for Nhan, she had to try on the new clothes to show her father. He smiled when she wore good ones and shook his head at others.

When Nhan was about to return to Vietnam, Hawking directly bought clothes for her. Everything he chose for Nhan was all blue.

In the UK, Nhan met close friends of Hawking and all of them loved the little Vietnamese girl.

Nhan was also very close to Hawking’s mother, Mrs. Isobel Hawking. Nhan said she loved free days when the whole family gathered in the family garden. She watched mother Elaine drawing, brother Peter (Elaine’s son) playing billiards and talked to her father. Sometimes she made nem (Vietnamese spring rolls).

Nhan’s most unforgettable and touching memory was a talk between her and her father, when Stephen Hawking told her than though he had her as his adopted child by chance, he was very happy about this chance.

Nearly ten years have passed and Nhan is now a mother but she always respects memories of her adopted father. Since she has had her own family, her contact with Hawking has been interrupted because the contact must go through SOS village and because Stephen Hawking and Elaine Mason divorced in 2006. Previously, Elaine Mason kept in contact with Nhan on behalf of Hawking.

However, Nhan has kept collecting articles about her father. She was very worried when she knew that her father was in hospital.

Nhan said she could not go to the UK to visit her father but she would surely call and send letters and photos of her family to him, to show him his grandchildren.

“I hope he quickly recovers!”

In the heart of this woman, Stephen Hawking is always a kind-hearted, uncomplicated and affectionate father, whom she will never forget!

Mai Anh

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