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`TO DIG THINGS UP AGAIN - THERE WILL BE TEARS'

Her father is dead. Her former home is gone. Her beloved big brother is no longer the handsome, idealistic youth she last saw 41 years ago, but an aging man with a painful past.

Vietnamese-American actress Kieu Chinh took a break from her brief, emotional rediscovery of Hanoi to talk about the humanitarian project that brought her back - construction of a rural elementary school.But the stresses of her family reunion showed in her pallor and her slow shredding of three breakfast rolls as she talked.

"I can't sleep at night," said Chinh, best known to American audiences for her role in "The Joy Luck Club." She played the Chinese mother who left her twin baby daughters under a tree in hopes they would be found and cared for.

"I wake up at 2 o'clock, `Yes, tomorrow I have to ask him,' go back to sleep and wake up at 3 o'clock, `No, I cannot ask.' "

Her nocturnal debate is over how much she should try to find out about what happened to her family after she fled Hanoi to South Vietnam in 1954, when the country was partitioned with a Communist government in the North and a U.S.-backed non-Communist government in the South.

Her brother Lan decided to stay in the North. He woke her up one night to say he was joining the Communists, then bicycled off into the darkness. Her father stayed to search for him and sent her south with family friends. Her mother was already dead, killed in an allied bombing raid against the Japanese occupying forces in 1945.

"For so many years I kept asking, `Where did he (Lan) go that night? Where did he sleep?"' Chinh said. And she has questions about her father's fate. She knows only that he was jailed in Hanoi for seven years and died impoverished in 1978.

"I am a little hesitant to dig everything up again," said the actress, now 56. "Now we are happy to see each other. To dig things up again - there will be tears. Every time we meet we talk about now, we talk about our children."

The reunion began Wednesday night, when Chinh flew in from her home in Studio City, Calif. She and her brother visited their father's grave the next day.

But since then, she has been preoccupied with media interviews, seeing old family friends and looking for familiar sites.

"We haven't had time to talk," she said. "I tell myself, `Do not force it, let it come natural.' I think he feels the same way, or he would have started it."

After she left Hanoi, Chinh settled in Saigon, married, had three children and became a well-known actress. She had played leading roles in 22 movies around Southeast Asia when the Communist capture of Saigon in 1975 sent her fleeing to the United States.

There she began building her acting career all over again, starting with a bit part as a shop girl that gave her one line: "Yes, sir!" She now has 45 credits in American television shows and movies, and has been a consultant for movies with Vietnam themes.

The project that brought her back to Vietnam for the first time since 1975 is the construction of a school in Quang Tri, a province in former South Vietnam that was heavily bombed during the war.

The 12-room school was built with $75,000 from the Vietnamese Memorial Association, which Chinh helped found in 1993 with several U.S. veterans of the war. The purpose was to honor the Vietnamese war dead by contributing to the country's future.

She and other members of the association - including former Associated Press correspondent and Middle East hostage Terry Anderson - traveled to the school Monday for its opening.

"I hope that this is not the only school," Chinh said. "There are many more poor villages and many thousands of children."