Tuesday, December 26, 2006


I've been scanning old faded photos of my parents' wedding and having them reprinted all nice and glossy for the family room. I'm surprised how many they still have considering they brought them on a Chinese Junk from Vietnam. Speaking of which, I came across pics of my family when we were at the Songkhla Refugee Boat Camp in Southern Thailand in 1980.

Since I was in a coma during that week we were on the boat, fleeing for our lives, I have no recollection of any memories until I came to America. The story that was told to me was that my dad decided for us to leave Vietnam after he had visited his cousins in Hanoi in 1979. My parents loved Vietnam and never intended to leave after the War but after seeing how worse the conditions were in Hanoi than Saigon (and it didn't look like it was going to get any better), my parents made preparations for the family to escape soon after.

We fled in the middle of the night, dressed as peasants (with newly coiffed boy's cut) pretending to head off to the central farmlands. My parents left everything behind, material possessions didn't mean anything, just the opportunity for their two young daughters to have a future. We were on a boat for a week with no food; my mom gave me her water ration while she drank her own urine! (whoa, yeah it was heavy). Pirates raided our boat and took anything of value but luckily, no one was murdered or raped like so many before us.

We landed in Thailand and the government officials didn't want to take us in (this was during the high tide of the boat people flight from Vietnam to SE Asian countries and they couldn't accommodate everyone) but an American journalist interjected on our behalf with some international human rights law so thus, we ended at the Songkhla Camp for 6 months as we waited for my Grandfather to sponsor us to America. Of course, there were a lot of religious proselytizing in these camps and my parents converted to Catholicism from Buddhism during this time.

Here is a shot of our sizable group who survived the escape. I'm the little survivor in the middle right with the hot red shorts.

Here I am with my uncle, aunt and older sister with a scowl on her face. Obviously, these were not the best of times for us. I had a biafra belly and an excessive tan; I don't recall sunscreen as one of the amenities available at this camp.

I noticed that there were a lot of photo ops in front of the boat. I guess we're just proud and feel very lucky that it didn't sink on us.

There are loads of books out there on the Boat People but I highly recommend Sr. Chan Khong's "Learning True Love: How I Learned to Practice Social Change in Vietnam" which is when I first really learned about the Vietnamese Diaspora. Oh yeah, the author and I are both tigers.

* means "fresh off the boat"