Saigon Diary: The great escape in 1975 brought to you…

I guess you could call yourself quite lucky if your visit to the historical museum of Vietnam gets accompanied by an American who was born in Vietnam and escaped during the latest war, the American War or, described from the Western World, the Vietnam War.

Having only a few days left in my so much beloved city Saigon, in the very special country of Vietnam, I was wondering what to do with my spare time. Even though it hurts me to go back to the last week in Saigon now, thinking about the noise on the streets, in the kitchens, people’s voices and laughter…back then, I actually didn’t know what to do with myself. I had to face that in a place where I had lived for about 10 months, I actually didn’t have a special, favorite thing to do. Not one, rather plenty. But these places were to be lived, they always included food and drinks, and being surrounded by the people you love. This, in the end, emphasized my decision to leave, I knew that I had made the right one. I took all I could from this country, it gave me as much as possible and it was time to leave. But, it hurt, and it still does. I miss everything, which on the bright side shows me that I still carry my heart on the right spot, and that after all these journey, all my luck, I still know how to appreciate.

I decided to visit the Museum of History. Shame enough that I haven’t done so in the 10 prior months. Arriving at the spot made it clear already that it is absolutely worth the trip. Embedded in the Botanical Gardens of Ho Chi Minh City (right by the Zoo at the very end of Le Duan Street), a beautiful piece of French and Asian influenced architecture rises in front of you. The entrance fee is, as always, absolutely forgettable and so did I. The inside is wonderful, high walls, storied with Vietnam’s story, actual pieces of Vietnam’s existence, jewelry, people’s belongings, ancient tools, pictures of all the different ethnic minorities that evolved and still exist in Vietnam, showing how different everyone looks, their clothing and their geographical mapping.

It was beautiful. It was a beautiful way to say goodbye to a country that bled so much and gave you so much.

Right before we wanted to turn our backs to Vietnam’s history and presence, somebody said “Hi”.

It was a Vietnamese looking man in his fifties, presumably, who turned out to be a bit older and to be one of the very few persons that feel like telling you about their departure when Vietnam was being ripped in pieces.

It was the first time I’ve ever heard a story like that and I had no idea it could have been like this.

I believe this man was about 9 years old when he left with his mother, father and brother. I might be mistaken about the age. They had to make their way to the States by boat. Please follow the graphic below to picture the immense journey they had to make. Living in Vung Tau (today a  90 min ferry ride from Saigon), they had to take a boat to get to Phu Quoc Island first. This took them a bit more than a week. Over there they had to wait for a boat to the Philippines to endure a month long second boat trip. From the Philippines, they were taken to Guam, a tiny Island hidden in the Pacific. Another month to get there and two or three (he can’t tell) months staying on Guam in what he describes like a refugee camp on, but he called it concentration camp. He might have had his reason, I didn’t dig deeper.

escape 1975 (1)

Finally, a boat had space for his family and dropped them in California after where they had to wait for a home to be found which was, I might be wrong, found in Oklahoma. He now is a wealthy and happy man, who comes to Vietnam every summer to live his heritage. His brother studied in the states and became a cardiologist.

guam to LA

Further readings / comparisons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._cities_with_large_Vietnamese-American_populations

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