Once housed at a UN refugee camp in Thailand before settling in the USA, this writer has come full circle and now calls this country home.
It’s amazing when I think back at the journey that I’ve travelled through in life. Over the past year I’ve thought about my past a lot–and how my life seems to be retracing the steps from where I started. I started my life out in Vietnam, later being processed in Thailand for political asylum, and then settled in the United States. After I graduated from university, I moved back to Vietnam for two and a half years, and then out of the blue I moved to Thailand. Is it just me or am I retracing the steps that I’ve taken already?
The fact that I ended up living in Thailand has not only surprised me but also other people. Thailand, after all, has been a part my life journey since the beginning.
From as early as I can remember, what I knew about Thailand have been stories about relatives and family friends who were boat people — those who have fled Vietnam’s communist regime by boat to seek asylum in neighbouring countries. The stories I heard about the victims were vicious and what seemed like a nightmare. Stories after stories of people being robbed, raped, tortured and killed at sea by Thai pirates
Growing up I’ve always heard stories about my aunt Thuy, who fled by boat before I was born. She was beautiful, with long silky hair, an attribute that had decided her fate. Pleas from family members for her to cut her hair and ‘uglify’ herself prior to boarding the boat were unsuccessful. We heard later that Thai pirates off the coast of Songkhla ambushed their boat and took her captive, and we never heard from her again. Growing up I always wondered to myself, what happened to her? Is there a chance that she is still alive, maybe living in Songkhla somewhere? This is something that has never given my family closure, and I doubt it ever will.
Later in 1990 my family was granted asylum to the United States because my grandfather was a general in the South Vietnamese army, who spent a few years in the ‘re-education camps’. Before we headed to the United States, we had to stay at a refugee camp run by the United Nations in Thailand.
As a child I didn’t know what to expect or think of Thailand, but I knew my family had a resentment against Thailand for obvious reasons.
We arrived at the United Nations refugee camp in Thailand, and I was too young to know where exactly we were. It might have been in Chonburi, as I’ve heard there was a refugee camp in that province. I remember life at the camps through a child’s eyes — it was crowded with a lot of other refugee families. I made friends with other children, and I remember lining up to get our rationing of food. Each day we would get rice and some sort of meat portion. One thing I remember most was receiving rice with two chicken drumsticks; at that time it felt like the most delicious meal I’ve ever had.
Luckily though, through my child eyes I did not witness the experiences that were later retold. The stories of refugees being bullied, maltreated and raped by Thai guards. I wonder, had I been old enough to fully experience and witness that, would it have changed my perception of Thailand? Would that have prevented me from living here, and loving it so much today?
The answer would be NO. You have to learn to separate the good and the bad that comes with everything. In every country, there are good and bad people. How can I hold a grudge against another country such as Thailand, when the reason we were escaping was due to war and oppression from our own people and country?
28/11/2011 - 11:25