This is a journey interview with my dad. He talks about the struggles he faced in Vietnam when North Vietnam invaded, bits and pieces of the journey coming over here and finding his own place in this new country:
LINK TO AUDIO FILE
D = my dad
E = Ellen
D: At home, the most trouble was…uh…daddy laughs
E: My dad and his family came over from South Vietnam, fleeing the once communist country. He fled the gunshots, hair shaving, and the inequality but also leaving behind all of his memories there. He’s crossed many borders along the way: childhood, schooling, and making the journey over here.
D: I’ve lived in Saigon. When I was little, we didn’t do much but at night. So we just ran around, into walls, and when we light an oil candle, we saw flying bugs. When we saw those, we grabbed the closest rubber band we could find and shot them down.
E: Then you shot them…they’d die…? MURDERER!
D: No when I shot them, they didn’t die. They just lost half their body so they would waddle away.
E: You so bad, man.
D: Not bad. We were just bored. Everyone played like that, when we had time, we would shot them down…like CHOOOOOK.
E: That all changed when North Vietnam invaded. Surprisingly, the South Vietnamese were happy at first. There was no longer going to be an army draft.
D: When we turned 18, they said we didn’t have to become soldiers. Everyone was happy but then one year later they made us go into the army to fight a war with the Cambodians.
E: After that, my dad comes out with a ton of newly created rules that the so-called “good” North Vietnam had given them.
D: Before in Vietnam, everything was okay if the officials said it was. If they didn’t like it you were dead meat. They told us you cant do this you cant do that. Men had to cut their hair. They’d catch you and shave it off. If the police caught you, they’d honk their horn “BLEEP” and stop you. They’d grab you by the hair: “AYAHHH!” and they say “You’re hair is this long?” While you were still AYAHHH-ing. They wouldn’t let go. Then they would call the barber over: “Hey give this boy a hair cut” and snap snap snap. Your hair was all kinds of ugly. After that they’d laugh as you ran off. This is why no one liked North Vietnam. Grandpa for one hated long hair because at that people we were trying to come over to the US. So if we got arrested, that would cause trouble for the whole family trying to flee! Grandpa didn’t let us do anything. Like back in Vietnam, when daddy was troublesome or anyone was bad… they’d catch you and throw you in jail. Just for their fun! Now jail in Vietnam and jail in the US are different. There’s no phone there, no laws there. So when people would look for you, they couldn’t find you because…YOU WERE IN JAIL!
E: My dad laughs as he retells the stories of those put in jail told him. He goes on about how the officials used to arrest people for selling food or items.
D: They came into your house, and take everything…even your house! And then they
Kicked you out to the farm. For YOU to work. The rich didn’t. They also changed the money. They took our money and said our old money didn’t work so they gave us new money. Vietnam barely had stories after that. They didn’t let us do anything! No selling, no hair, no school, no nothing. Before when grandpa would brew and sell things from his teacart, they would penalize him! So it that was it, then my cousin, your uncle, brought us over. We had a big party. Everyone came and wished us well. They said things like: Wow, you’re so lucky you guys get to leave now, who knows when we’ll ever leave.
E: The journey starts off rough. Like jail house rough. My dad, his sisters, his brothers, and his mom, and dad were all sent off to Thailand for a few days to wait to be transported to Thailand. He tells me snippets of what his community dorm looked like and their daily life. Through out his whole stay there, he had to keep just one thing by his side.
D: The first place we had to go was Thailand. We lived in a big dorm with other families. We stacked the suitcases on top of each other. There was a shower room and we changed there. At the lower floors, they sold coffee. When it came to eating, you had to be fast. They gave us one metal spoon per person too. You lose it…well then that’s the end of you and eating. We stood in line like it was a jailhouse.
After that we went to the Philippines, the first couple of weeks, it was so boring. I was so lonely and bored waiting for school to start. Every day we went to school, and then we had to clean something for two hours. So I spent my days cleaning different places. Finally, a month later we all went to school. I was so happy I could go to school. So we had to go to school for 4 hours for four and a half months. That’s where I made a lot of friends! On weekends, everyone went to the river and played. In the dorms, we weren’t allowed to drink alcohol so if you did they would catch you and lock you up for three weeks. The three weeks you were locked up, you were also missing school days. And when you missed school days, you get another four months of schooling. No one wanted to stay in the dorms, so no one drank, except for a few people but they didn’t drink that much because they didn’t want to look drunk. You know what the jails are called there? MONKEY HOUSE. Okay? Stay at the monkey house.
E: My dad goes on telling me about his adventures but this one stuck out to me. It was his first time volunteering and he was told to clean a room. Little did he know what was in those rooms?
D: I went to school in the afternoon and serviced in the morning. I was assigned the hospital to service. I went to clean up, follow the rules, and sign in and out. Then there was this one-day when I was told to clean a room. I went in there and cleaned it up nice and clean. Then when I got out, my friend asked it if I knew what that room was. I said no the boss just told me to clean it. Well they store dead bodies in there! Wahhhh, I was so scared all of the blood left my face.
Once you finish school, they don’t let you come over here right away. You’re put on the waiting list. We were put on and waiting for four whole months! Then when we got on the airplane. We were all so happy. We’ve never been on a plane before. Because Vietnam was communist so they didn’t have any. Every one was so happy. We gave and received phone numbers and addresses so we could find them in the future. That daddy when you uncle came to pick us up, it was 12 o clocks in the morning, Philadelphia was so pretty. We got home and spent the whole night talking, talking until four o clock and then we went to sleep. Everyone cried tears of joy as we caught up on the communist Vietnam and talk about how it changed.
The next day your uncle took us too shop. The first place we went to was McDonalds. WAHH, the big Mac was huge! I couldn’t eat it all. Really, it was enormous.
After we went shopping and… I saw these pants that were eight dollars. Your uncle said it was on sale from 24 dollars. I held it up and down up and down and up and down and then put it back. Your uncle asked it I wanted it but I said no, he’d already done so much for us. But those plants were really nice.
In June, I went blue berry picking as a job. A box was about 2 dollars and thirty cents. You know how many boxes I had to pick to have just enough for that day? It’s not like you guys today, randomly using money for idiotic reasons. Before, when I had to use a dollar, I had to THINK about it.
E: You still think about it!
D: REALLY NOW?!
E:I got into the topic of schooling. My dad didn’t tell me much.
D: Ugh school, I went into there not knowing English. ESL was okay they taught at a slower paste. But the other things like math, reading, and history, those were just not worth it. How did I know this stuff? The teacher told me. I looked at him back. And he says this is how you do this and that and this and wants a reply. What was I to do? He could teach me all he wanted but I still didn’t get it so I looked up at him dumbfounded, my eyes just staring at him and I just said awh awh awh okay. And when I really didn’t know how to do it, I sat in the lunchroom and when I felt like it I just quit. Then three months later I told grandpa that I wouldn’t go back. Grandpa said NO, you’re here in America, you need English. You have to learn. I told him even if I went back I still wouldn’t know what they were talking about so I quit school and found a job. My first job was a computer cable job. They gave me five dollars an hour. Then I worked my way up to twenty dollars until I was layed off. I got layed off because of 9/11. All of the businesses went down so they let people go. I’ve been off and on jobs until I found genji and that’s where I learned to pick up a knife and make art out of it. And now were here and I'm telling you this stuff.
E: Now that Vietnam is back to normal, my dad still hasn’t been back there. Our family talks about it all the time and they say that this summer could be the summer we actually go. But then again, they’ve been saying for the past 26 years.