Duong Ngoc “Maxine” Dung

Across the Pacific: From Ghettoes to a New Life

Profilers: Frank Zuo, Lauren Goggins, Promit Biswas, Travis Mitchell

Profile Video

The Escape

Promit
So I guess we can just start with your early life in Vietnam. Do you remember much of all much at all about the war?

Dung Ngoc Duong
Yeah.

Promit
I know you left early on, but whatever you remember yeah.

Dung Ngoc Duong
Okay, so you want me to start telling?

Promit
Yeah.

Dung Ngoc Duong
Okay. Should I start with my dad’s generation?

Promit
Um, if that’s, yeah, that’s perfect. That works. Yeah.

Dung Ngoc Duong
I can just cut his story short, and tell you more story from him.

Promit
You can talk a little bit about your dad’s experience and generation if you want and then also

Dung Ngoc Duong
short.

So I,

so my dad, my grandfather, my paternal grandfather worked for the French. And so they assassinated him in one of his speech. So, uh, So then my dad lost his father when he was young, maybe seven or eight. And his mom we marry, and in the Vietnamese culture, if you marry your husband, come before you, even your own kids. So my dad’s so angry at his mom for remarried. So she, he told her one day, you love your husband more than me. So

that’s when my grandma paternal grandmother said, Okay, I can’t raise him anymore. So she basically give him to her brother to raise.

Promit
Yeah.

Dung Ngoc Duong
And then her brother, my dad’s uncle has a wife and they don’t have any children. So he, the uncle love my dad, like his own son. But then he in those days, they believe in like tough love, right? So if my dad rank, less than third place in class, he’s going to go work by his uncle. So his, his aunt, his uncle’s wife is very jealous of their relationship. So like, when the uncle went away on a business trip, she would wrote to her husband and lie and say, Oh, your nephew, run away, in, like ditch school, go play soccer. And so when, when the uncle come home, he would work my dad really hard. And so, and my dad was like,

I didn’t do anything wrong, but no one believed him until the report could come out. And that time the report cards throw my dad was like, first place in class. And he said, Oh, so I guess he now realize there’s a jealousy going on between his wife and my dad, his nephew. So now he’s shuffled my dad to his aunt and his aunt have nine kids. Wow. So his aunt basically doesn’t need another mouth to feed. So he’s and basically treat him like a servant. Like, make him cook clean, take care of his cousin, if his cousin fell and got a bump on the head, he got whipped. So at the age of 16, my dad finally left his aunt. And he went and stay with this guy who feels sorry for my dad and like, give my dad a part time job. And he stayed with this guy for two years. And then when he’s 18, when he my dad turned 18, he joined the army and the army become like his family. And this is when he left, my paternal grandmother live in the north. So when he left and go stay with the uncle and and is in the south, so he fought for the South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. And how he met my mom is

and then in 1975 that’s when the war is over but because my dad fought for the south he was

and so that’s where we spend our life i mean do you want to ask more any more questions up until now?

Promit
No no that was perfect i was just wondering you said you spent like the majority of your life in one city was that, was that saigon or?

Dung Ngoc Duong
no no no it’s a little town

maybe about 100 mile east of saigon like from saigon i can send you the info later but basically from saigon you go east toward the ocean and you run into my hometown and you know my dad after the vietnam war 1975 the north you know the north is communist and the south is

not so when the north took over everyone basically who in the government work for the south they took them away and put in a place that called re education camp it’s not really re education camp is actually another nice name for prison

Promit
Yeah yeah

Dung Ngoc Duong
so but my dad rank is low enough that they did not make to keep him they kept him for only one month and then they let him go and there’s a rumor later on that they only do that to entice people to turn themselves in the for the people who work for the south vietnam they did they didn’t release our sympathy so after that first wave of people turned themselves in everyone’s oh they don’t let us turn ourselves in yeah and actually those people after that they took them away and a lot of them were in prison for like 20 years or more

they they they actually didn’t release them early like my dad so my dad was lucky because he turned himself in with the first wave of people but the family was forced to go into this ghetto and so you said eventually that was this was just the ghetto that you eventually escaped from to go to malaysia or yeah so this ghetto life in this ghetto is very hard like in the summer the color okay so first one we go there right they give each family a lot of land and they say okay try to build your house on this land and then live on there but we were surprised because no one was using the land how come well after we live that we realize why so the first thing we have to do when we got there is there was grass or weed taller than a human person we have to cut the grass down to start building something right but even after you’ve cut the grass down the root is so rootbound it’s hard to you have to cut and dig all that up yeah and then the earth are full of little pebbles so we have to use a shift and we shift the dirt and we tie the pebble into a mound yeah in order to be able to do anything with the with the dirt that’s the first thing we did and then they have a group quote unquote they call volunteer that they draft these are all young men and they were supposed to help us build the house but because you know socialist country you you don’t get paid you get portion of food for payment so they don’t they don’t they don’t have to work hard why why would they they were drafted you know but it really is like they have no choice no option to say no yeah so they build this little flimsy house that one swoop of wind and it turned out upside down it’s like a hut zero so my dad at first he really want to make peace with the new government so he brings all his savings out and he actually hired

These young man to go out in the forest and cut down like big tree house and we take dirt mount and we pack it really tight and it become our foundation for the house higher up. And it was a good thing because during the summer is so dry, right but in the winter, we didn’t realize it was a valley is there’s a name called I don’t know how to translate in English. But there’s a name call, like new land development, something like that. But it’s actually in a valley where no one wants to live because in the winter, all the rain will turn into water and river and it will come down into the valley and flooded the valley. So it’s a good thing my dad built that foundation so our house is higher up on the ground. So our house in the whole ghetto is the only house did not get flooded.

Because when the water flooded, it brings like leeches and ticks and stuff.

Like infections and everything. Right. So but our houses my dad right off the dollhouse nice and sturdy and strong and weak. He used his saving to buy like good farm equipment that made out of tank like metal that they took from a tank. Wow. And it was it was really two people here for a life there. And it but it’s still really really hard even though we were people prepare. Like they what they did is after we go out house, they say if your children, they told my mom and dad if your children want their portion of food, then they that you guys, my mom and dad have to work in the field. Otherwise, your children won’t get the food. So my mom and dad is out of the few all day long. So I’m the oldest so I love to take care of my four youngest brother. Yeah, and you know,

in the

not too bad but in the winter. So you have to envision rain and then go through the roof and it gets the stove wet right so my stove to cook my meal for the brothers and my parents to eat made out three brick and the water the rain leak from the roof down onto the three brick says when the wood is wet. The wood is what the stove is what how do you get the fire going to cook? You know? And I have to do that I have to try to find pieces of rubber to help kind of burn start a fire try to use Kindle but it’s there aren’t that much around they all wet anyway to get the fire going. Because once the fire going that it dry out the wood and the fire can keep blowing but to get it start is horrible. Yeah, yeah. And then food we really have enough to eat we have to use rice is is our main staple, right? We have to mix in with dry yam, too. We cut it and we dry it. We buy we buy from people too. And then we mix it in with the rice. And that’s that’s what we eat. And live there is so hard like, for example, there’s no water, right that the whole ghetto there’s a well, one well and so far away. So my dad is smart, he learned how to dig a well, so he would dig one backyard. And but it was so deep that when I throw the bucket down, I remember by this time I’m about 75 so I’m about

nine years old. So I put the well in the bucket and then I wait for it to before that might have to dig so deep to get to the water tablet, right? And he put up by the time I mean I put up by the time I pull it up. It’s so heavy and my hand is so raw from the rope. I feel like it’s gonna drag me down to the well. Wow, my dad made this contraption, you know, on one side as a rock and on the other side there’s a rope with a bucket so I just gently lift the rock on the other side and lower the bucket. And then I can pull gently this side for the rock to pour down and lift the bucket up. Wow. One of my dad Yeah, yeah. So. So my house become the only house in the ghettos that has its own wealth.

Okay. But after we lived there for three years, my dad decided that there’s no future for the children because none of us were able to go to school, barely have enough to eat. And like I said, live their life is well, condition there is really hard to live. Yeah, you know. And then on top of it my baby brother who’s about two or three. He has

diarrhea for like six months turned into this scary baby like the head is big yeah like one of those ethiopian child and the skin the the hand and leg skin and bone and then huge head and huge tummy we didn’t know this but later kind of goes but he has a table you know little inside the tummy so whatever he eat you can go all his nutrient you know and so that’s when my mom and dad decided they’re gonna escape from vietnam before they escaped from vietnam they have to escape from the ghetto first

so one of the other thing they have to get ready is in vietnam if you want to escape during that time the best way is to escape on a fishing boat okay and you have to pay by ounces of gold to the owner of the boat let’s say the owner of the boat say i’m gonna charge you five ounces of gold per person that’s seven and a half people into my family so that’s 35 ounces of gold my parents so poor they spend all their savings on the farm equipment and all the stuff there’s no way they have it they don’t even have a couple of ounces of gold you know for the family to escape yeah we are lucky because my mom cousin

he owns a fishing boat himself and the government after the vietnam war they’re gonna take off everyone property and make it into quote unquote state property so even though they say it’s state property is actually you know go into the pocket of the high officers yeah so my uncle i call him uncle did not want all his life saving go into state property inside that’s when he decided to escape from vietnam he got to take his family escape on his fishing boat and he feels sorry for us the most because we trapped in this ghetto yeah and so he decided he told my dad if my dad helped him to find a passenger to go on on this escape trip to pay my family go for free okay wow because he’s family right yeah now why is it hard to find passenger is because let’s say my dad approached a person who might want to escape from from who has money to pay to escape from vietnam and want willing to take a chance yeah but so if they say yes they’re gonna escape then of course they will keep our secret to because if the government find out we try to escape we will be prosecuted as traitors you know so but if let’s say they don’t want to go with us let’s say they said no i don’t want to take a chance or no i don’t have money well what stop them from going to the authority and tell on us yeah so they so it’s really a scary job yeah but my my dad is willing to take a risk and the best place to do it is in Saigon because it’s a big big you know it’s our capital for the south so when you go there you can easily disappear so but the first thing we need to do is escape from the ghetto so my parents use my baby brother as an excuse because he’s so sick right yeah my my parents said we need to go to saigon to find a doctor for him so please give us the paperwork so we can go now right after the war because they afraid people might rebel all that stuff so they very strict with traveling if you go from one town to another you need a paper to say yes you are allowed to go to the city for whatever reason it kinda like a passport but it’s domestic for within the country within the country right well my dad

leave that paper but so then after they get approved they’re ready to go and they told me about actually they tried to escape from vietnam and they told me to keep it a secret yeah remember i was nine yeah keeping a secret mean i go to my best friend and tell my best friend the secret and tell her do not tell anybody yeah so naturally she went to her parents and told her parents you know of course my enemies name is not maxine right but let’s say that i’m going by maxine now but she was so told her parents maxine family is going escape from vietnam please keep it a secret so her parents go to other

Friend of them, say Maxine families escape from you now, please keep to the secret. Before I do, the whole ghetto basically, kind of

So they say, and then we, they, they have to pretend that they were upset or angry at the neighbor for taking their stuff. They said, this is our stuff. We’re going to come back. So the three don’t know what to do. Yeah. So they they just say, Okay, fine. You say you’re not escaping, but you cannot leave now. So my. So now my parents so upset. So if they, how can they actually get from Vietnam if they cannot even escape from the ghetto? Yeah. So my mom would bring my baby brother to a courthouse. You call the courthouse but is really a room and it has a table and it has a panel of five people. And he put she put my baby brother on the table. I said, look at myself. Yeah, look at how sick he is. If you don’t let me go to Saigon to find a doctor, then if something happened to him, You all going to be responsible for that. So they freaked out when they saw how sick my brother

So my mom said, Well, I have to take my kids, because my my three my four other kids, they they can’t stay by themselves. So they say okay, so my mom would go to the next town, and it has a bus stop where all the bus coming and going. And there, she would temporary stay in a motel. And then she I would be the messenger back and forth. For between them. She would write me letters. And I would roll it and put it you know, the shirt on the bottom that has like, like a sleeve sort of

thing. I would roll the letter and stuck it in there. And then my mom would tell me, I would get on the bus to go back to the ghetto to see my dad. And since I don’t have any paperwork. He said you pretend you fall asleep. When they come and search. They come on the bus, the government authority. And they would go around say show me your paperwork. Show me your paperwork, and I would pretend to fall asleep and leaning against whoever next to me. Yeah. That they assume I’m with that person. Yeah. Whoever. They didn’t doubt that I’m by myself. Yeah. And the people next to me. They feel bad. They saw Oh, this nine years old girl travel by herself. She was asleep. Let me lean against them. So the authority didn’t know I’m by myself. Yeah, they thought I’m with the with the adult. Yeah. So anyway, that’s how I travel back and forth and be the messenger for my mom and dad. The very, very last trip when I made it back to the ghetto. My dad, my dad told me go to bed early. Okay, why? Okay. And he said, Just don’t ask any question. Just Just go to bed. I go to bed at 2am he woke me up. And he said, let’s go. And I’m like, where we going and he said, Just follow me and be quiet. So I follow him. And that night, we walk out the ghetto. And the scariest part for my dad is when we have to go to like a gate. It has this bar going down and there’s a gate house and there are guards in there with guns they were sleeping like that. It turned out that night the other people try to escape from the ghetto, too. So we so he, so they we have to one by one take turn and kind of sneak under the gate to leave to go by. And when it’s my turn, my dad told me to be really quiet the end of the gate until first and that he follow me. And after we get to that gate, I didn’t know this, but my dad was so relieved. But me my fear has just started because now my dad didn’t want to walk on the main road, right? He made me walk close to the forest. And I was so freaked out. I’m thinking like, you know when you were a kid, yeah, always tell you about the boogeyman.

I was afraid of the boogeyman or Tiger or whatever in the forest so I’m like freaked out but my dad

I say no can’t walk on the street. I mean on the road, because he afraid that the car will come and see some there’s no color but bus or shuttle patrol officer, you know, and all that. So we have to keep to the side of the road and we walked for hours. And there was some people like I said, xscape same time with us. So they walk behind us or some walking front, but they to walk, you know, really close to the forest .

Promit
completely dark, right?

Dung Ngoc Duong
Yeah, it was two, three in the morning. Yeah. So we walk I think until like five or six in the morning. And we finally made it to the town where my mom was. So now we join with my mom and my brothers. We’re gonna afford this bus to go to Saigon. Now my dad had fake paperwork there once we left the ghetto because at the ghetto, you cannot use fake paperwork. Right? Yeah. Once you left the he can use the fake paperwork. And the fake paperwork is really simple. It’s a piece of paper. They use the old traditional typewriter and they type on it. They say okay, this person and the wife and the children get to go to Saigon to get a doctor. The only thing that make it official is their stamps on it. But my dad’s smart he hired before on this before this trip, this escape from the ghetto. He hired a person to carve a fake

wax thing from out wax. Wow. Like a fake stamp that out of wax. And then they stamp it. So it looked very official, so they didn’t suspect that it was fake.

That’s how we go from that town to Saigon. Once once I’m in Saigon is really fun for me. Because now I don’t have to cook. Because we stand motel right? We get to eat out. You know, we move from motel to motel we stay out four day here five day there, you know and then keep moving around. But I didn’t have to cook. I didn’t have to take care of my brothers. Yeah, you know. So my my father is the one who go flying all these passenger for my uncle. And then

Promit
He’s doing this full time while you

Dung Ngoc Duong
Yeah, so I was in Saigon for I don’t know how long maybe a month or two. Okay, and then finally, we ready? My dad has find enough passengers for my uncle that we ready for our big escape. So we’re gonna a big escape gonna be from my hometown. By the way do we have a time?

Promit
No, I mean, as long as you’re free like I can talk for

Dung Ngoc Duong
Okay, okay. Okay. So the big escape gonna be from my hometown. And but so what we do is us and the passengers who got to escape have to arrive. My hometown is a small hometown Yes, we all arrived on one big bus for stranger we’re going to be alerting already. So we have to go to my hometown by small group different on different bus different time and different days. You know and then I don’t my dad and my uncle have to find I heard later he actually bought a farm so that they can all stay in there to wait for the day to escape for us we went to our aunt and uncle house and we stay there for a while why they get ready for the trip. And then finally the time is almost there to get to get ready to escape my uncle as the owner of the boat he has to prepare other stuff like food water and fuel for the fishing boat for you know when you go with this many people you have to prepare Now keep in mind that socialist country the government control everything yeah, especially few so my uncle can go in and buy enough for a fishing trip. But if he wants to buy a large amount it’s gonna alert the authority. So he had to buy extra but only a little bit each time and he save it like each time he buy he buy like a gallon extra you know like normally say he buy normally five gallon for enough for a fishing trip. I’m just giving you that number to say buy six gallon instead. So you put one gallon extra aside or maybe two gallon extra aside. And eventually he has enough for that escape. So he put in this metal container. And he went and buried in this part of the beach that is desert like no one go there. And he marked it to go he know where he buried the fuel were when a few days before we knew

The before for outbreaker escape he went and dig it up He didn’t realize this but the pressure from the sand. Yes, crack the container. And all the field has leak out, though it was completely empty when he dig it out. So we’re gonna leave in a few day. How is he going to buy in a fuel for this trip.

But he was smart he sent people, people who are going to escape him on the trip his friend family to go buy extra fuel from other people from the government from wherever he can get. And finally, within a few day, he had enough again now for the trip. But this time he’s smart. He put in several plastic container and he seal it really tight and he tie into a row and he tied to his boat and let let it sink to the bottom of the river.

Remember our hometown with a fishing hometown. So you have 1000s of fishing boat, docking on the river. And they have rope everywhere they have row for the anchor row for the net add rope for those rope tied to the dock. So one extra rope. No one pay attention. That’s how he he got the hide the fuel the second time. He’s smart enough now not to bury in the sand anymore, right? Rice and water he got people to buy it to the same idea he by little bit extra, save it, you know, and have people hauled down to the fishing boat at night.

So finally, it’s time to the big escape. So near my hometown, we have a little small island. It’s just like a block wide. It’s not that big on this island there’s a temp temple. And a lot of fishing boat fishing man fishermen would go there every first and 15th of the lunar

month calendar to pray for good fishing harvest.

Promit
Wow.

Dung Ngoc Duong
So the plan is he going to have small boat and they caught small fish. So people don’t, you know, couldn’t figure it out. The small fish gonna pick up people from various location in my hometown. And he all got to put us on that island. And then he’s going to take the big boat, which is the big fish

come out and pick it all up at one swoop and then escaped from Vietnam. So that’s the plan. But he have to pick time where there’s no one on the island. Who go there and worship first and 15 of the lunar calendar. And he also have to watch for the storm and stuff and make sure there’s no storm. So for us, our family. My aunt and uncle lied to their friend and asked if we can stay at this friend and this friend’s house is on the farm. Next to the farm is a bunch of sand dunes. Okay, yeah, like hills of sand. And on the other side is the beach where they plan to pick us up. And my parents I remember the day before we supposed to escape telling me to go me and my brother to go onto the sand hill and practice going up the hill. Have you ever climb a sand dune?

Promit
I can imagine it’s it’s really hard

Dung Ngoc Duong
you go up two step. It slides back down one step. You go up three step is slide down to step. You know it’s a hill of sand. And the sand goes up to your knees. You know, it’s very hard to climb.

Promit
Yeah.

Dung Ngoc Duong
So my I was shocked my mom and dad told us to go plan that because it’s fun for us. Yeah. And and they always yell at us for getting dirty but for the first time they said oh go play in the hill, go play in the sand

What did I did we hear that right? Okay. Um, that’s one thing I want to say. What I didn’t know was three day before that. My mom have a bad miscarriage. And she has you know, hemorrhage. You know what? hemorrhages? Yeah, well, you bleed profoundly like you can die from from too much losing too much blood. So why my brother my father run around try to get ready for the big escape. My mom had hemorrhage. And my poor uncle put there’s no 911 in my country, by the way. So my uncle had to put my mom practically in a car that looked like a wheelbarrow. It has three will. Yeah. And wheel my mom to the hospital and my mom bleed all over him and everywhere.

My mom have no choice but to go because we cannot just because of her stop the whole escape.

Right? We have to plan everything it can and take every one into consideration. We cannot stop that escape just for my mom sake. So, three day after she got miscarried, my mom in the middle of night with my father and us climb that sand dune. And it’s so hard for her to climb because you know, she’s not in her best health, right? So we climb that me, my two other brothers on our own. My father, each side, hold, my two youngest brother, one is one is three and once four and climb that sand dude. But we made it. So we made it to on the other side. And on the other side, this whole stretch of beach, there’s no one live there. By the way, they picked that location for that reason. There was clutter, a pine tree grown around, and they grew so big, the branch would go down on the site, and it cover us like like a like a cave. So if you go inside that cutter of pine tree, people can walk by and not seen us. So we hid in there. Actually, I didn’t know this to eat until later my mom have to give my baby brother cough medicine because you know how cough medicine make you drowsy? So in case my baby brother cry and give us away.

Promit
Wow.

Dung Ngoc Duong
So so we saying that for a few hour. And then it’s time for a small fish to come pick us up. Like so. But my dad and a bunch of other people a few other people who meet there. They went outside the beach. So the plan is he gonna Use a flashlight to blink by a certain time. Fate pointed toward the ocean and blink, flash the flashlight, right? And then the people on the small fishing boat was supposed to flash back to us. Only we thought when we when they saw us respond, then they know there’s no authority, no police around, then they can come in and pick us up. Right? So but so that’s the plan certain time they’re going to come. They’re going to flash at us. We flashback then they come in and pick us up while we wait and wait. And there’s a problem. Because

you have to envision this. There was a bunch of fishing boats out in the ocean, right? Like maybe 15 of them. They each have a lamp on the boat, to so that other boats see them and not bump into them. And they both have they’re all them have the fishing net out to catch the fish. Right. But from the from the land looking out the way make the boat go up and down. And because up and down the lamp look like it’s flashing.

So that’s what we came by the way. Yeah, when we got on the beach to look out. Yeah, we saw 15 flashing lights were flashing up at us. And we like which one is our boat? Yeah. So we didn’t flashback because we don’t know which one is our boat. And because we didn’t flashback. They thought the authority is there. So they afraid

to go in and pick us up. Because we didn’t flashback we didn’t signal that it’s safe. So they left. They left that. And we were so worried we thought they have escaped without us. Yeah. So now we have to go back to my aunt’s friends. And we lie to her. You see, we told her the reason we stay at her house because in the morning we have to wake up really early. And we’re going to catch a bus to go back to the new development land. Where this actually the ghetto. Yeah, so she thought we’re gonna go back there. She didn’t know we escaped. But when she she was so shocked when she saw us walk back into her house. And we lie and we said oh, we missed the bus. So as we said, okay, tomorrow night we’ll go But this time, my grandmother come over and say what happened? So we told them that there’s 15 of the fashion but we didn’t know which one. So my dad come up with a smart plan. He’s told my grandmother that tell the boat come pick us up when they flash us with a flashlight. Take a clear plastic wrap and wrap around the flashlight

would you call grove of pine tree waiting? When the time come? My dad and even me went out on the beach and we stand looked out. And I’ll guys when our guys show up, we knew right with Him. Because among 15 or so, yellow light, there’s only one red light. Then we say, That’s okay. flashing. So he come. Now he can’t go onto the beach, right? Because otherwise the boat won’t get caught. Yeah, so he stopped like from the beach. And then he had this thing that looked like a basket, think of it like a basket, but it’s big, big enough for two or three people to get in. And then they can pedal, right. But this time, they’re not using the paddle, they using a rope, one person who hold the rope on the boat, the other person in the basket would hold on to the rope, and then let it go, the way we bring that huge basket onto the beach, we all come in. And then he pushed us under the way and he pulled the rope. And it would drag the boat out. But it’s hard because that’s mean when he goes into the beach, it’s easy because the wave just push the basket in. Going out, you have to go against the wave. And there’s people in the basket, especially us, because it turns out my dad afraid that half of us gonna cut behind. So he told the guy said, half of your family come in first, and then I’ll come back for the other half. My dad say no, we all got to get in. Not gonna go. So the guys get all in. He got in. And then he had to push the basket in the way and he owes us for what? The boat. Yeah, and you know, the basket is so heavy, so full of us. I swear the water, or come over the basket into the basket and sink us. But it didn’t. But it was close. Like, here’s the rim of the basket. And the water is like here, like this much from overflow. And we got on the small boat. And a small boat took us out to the island. And it turned out a small boat to pick up a bunch of other people to everyone who’s supposed to escape now on the island, right? So the next next day, they were supposed to come again, there was delay, because there was a storm. Okay, so we have to stay an extra night. And during the day, we have to scatter among the rock and bush try to hi in case people go up there and decide, or it’s not first and 15th of the month but you got to stop by and pray. You’re afraid that might happen. So we’ll do it the day we high among the rocks, and bush. But night, we were able to go into the temple and hide in there. But we don’t have food because we didn’t plan to stay an extra day. But my uncle was smart. He makes a giant pot of fish and a giant pot of rice. And then water this plenty of water on the island because they have urns that catch water, you know rainwater? So that’s our freshwater that’s our drinking water. I know not sanitized, but whatever. We escaping, so. So we spent an extra night there. And finally, the big boat come and pick us all up for the bigger scale. And I remember now remember how my uncle’s boat is a fishing boat. And he has this compartment to put fish in there. And he was he tried to clean it before we came before this escape. But remember, these are for fish for years and years and years. So the smell of fish so into the wood and so when we got on we can’t stay on top right because if the authority saw a bunch of people on top, they’re gonna know we escaped. They’re gonna stop it and arrest us. So we all have to go down to the compartment and split it up and all hide under fish compartment. Now I’m not I don’t have seasick. I don’t have motion sickness. Right. But the person next to me had they might have motion sickness, or maybe the smell of fish is too much? They were thrown up next to me. And the smell of vomit.

Oh,

well, we can’t do anything.

We can hiding we escaped me so we cannot complain. We cannot. And I can tell that the adult in my compartment have very nice like my mom. Yeah, they would pray some pray to Jesus some pray to Buddha. You know, everyone is praying. Everyone was really nervous and it didn’t help. As we escaped from Vietnam every so often someone walked by on on top of the boat. My dad would yell up, “Have we reached international water yet?” They would yell out “not yet.” So we kept going for hours hours. And then finally my dad said “Have we reached yet?” they say “yep, we reach international water” and chill when we are happy. Because if the Already catch us. Yeah. Within the Vietnam water. Yeah, they can arrest us. Once we reach international water. They have no jurisdiction. That’s mean our escape is now for sure. But But as to be caution, they still won’t let us go on top. So we stay on the bottom until morning. And finally, finally they say okay, this morning you I can’t come come out now. So we came up and my eyes got really big for the first time because I’ve never been on a boat out in the middle of the ocean nowhere you know where there’s no land. And when I come out all the way are surrounding us like appear like two storey high from the boat. Yeah, I was so scared. I thought for sure the water gonna go in and sink the boat. Yeah. But then the next minute. The boats appear and the waves down here. So I didn’t realize normally ocean for the water to go like this all the time. So when it goes down, it looks scary. Because the water is afraid on a sink boat. But yeah, but then we go up high, and then the water is down there somewhere like oh, you know after why like, Okay.

Promit
Not used to it, yeah.

Dung Ngoc Duong
Yeah, and then my dad is good to like to save water. They only pass out not too much water for everyone who know how long I’m gonna be. My dad took water from the ocean dumping on us to keep us cool, because we then have a layer of salt on us, but it’s okay. And we were out there for day. And I remember I heard adult we’re fighting one of those. Say, let’s go to Hong Kong. Someone said no. Let’s go south go to Malaysia. Yeah. And then of course, my uncle is owner of boat. He made the final decision. We went to Malaysia. So our trip is about three or four days. But when we reach Malaysia at the first refugee camp, we got to the Vietnamese refugee, we’re running on the boat where they when they saw us and we want to go in? Yeah. Well, we didn’t realize that. They don’t want us in. We saw some officer dress in the uniform. And they were holding to flag and they go like this.

Promit
Wow.

Dung Ngoc Duong
And we like is that in or out? Yeah, we couldn’t tell. So we thought maybe in, you know, so we try to go in? And then my mom put me on top, you know on the boat. So there’s a compartment like a room right? Where are the my uncle family stay in the pilot? Yeah. So on top of the roof of that room. My mom put me out there. And my other brothers and my other kids in the boat thinking that if we show the refugee officer, the officer on land that their kids here, they will let us in. But the next thing we know they were shooting at us and I can hear the sides of the boat. We freaked out and my mom like I got down so we like okay. This mean No. No. This means out. Okay, we got it. So we finally keep going. Okay, next refugee camp. This time, they welcome, they open. So people running on the way waving at us with the Burmese refugees that only they escaped. And they weighed down to we get close to the beach as much as possible. And then they come out and help carry us and put us on the beach. And welcome us to the camp. Yeah. Then life at the camp began.

Life At The Refugee Camp

Dung Ngoc Duong
it’s not much but you know, the first thing I want to say is that the two two problem when we first arrived at camp. Yeah, we have to deal with all the refugee is they lice and tapeworm. Well take one more whatever the worm in the tummy. So we have to they had to give us this gross medicine to take to get rid of tapeworm. And then they put they give us something get rid of lice. And then Luckily for us, whoever acts you know get to accept to the US or Canada or any other country that taken the enemy’s refugee. So then they left clothes behind like they bring like they buy new clothes. They take good clothes with them so they left behind old coat and that’s what we’re get to wear. And then we have to build our own place on the camp. Okay, so my dad would make this small hut out of this plastic bag that they get from rice. And the only thing we have on it is a wooden bed that fit seven of us lay down we there’s this one guy who doesn’t get along with my uncle so he came and stay with us so there’s eight of us sleep on this giant wooden bed and it’s in the middle of the house and that’s the only part when it rains that’s the only part that it didn’t get wet everywhere else is wet but we have to get from when are we happy yeah my dad would try to make do when the at the camp they give us in surprise i’m not studying macro in a camp okay okay okay and egg and rice we got four item and then once a month they give us fish so my dad gets really creative he would you know we eat the fish but he takes the head and the gut and he makes you put salt in and put in this container and make this sauce and he sell it to other people awesome you make a little money and then they make this pastry and i walk around the camp try to sell it but you know i have no shoes so walking on the sand on the hot summer day my feet was really hurt and there’s no grass no grass grown on the hot sand beach so we were there for you know six months and then my dad finally got an interview from the us government you you get to apply to whatever country you want to come to they would send the government would go around each refugee camp and interview and the us government would come and my dad applied to the us only and the people who interview him asked him why did you just apply to us and not Canada not England and not friends of the country and my dad say because us offer the most freedom and he that’s the right answer and also he used to fight for the south Vietnam and he had five kids so we get accepted into the us but they first have to find a sponsor who are willing to sponsor us first so they go back to us and it turns out it’s the uscc the United States catholic charity are the one who sponsor us to San Diego so six months men on the camp we finally get accepted us they finally found a sponsor we have to sign a paper that we have to pay for our airplane ticket and then we get to go to Kuala Lumpur which is the capital of malaysia and we stay there temporizing on a check my parents health you know like to take x-ray on his chest to some vaccines things like that and only then once everything of that done then we get to board the airplane and flew to LA that’s where and then our sponsor from San Diego a went to LA to get us they help us find houses and you know like temporary apartment to stay apply for grant and my mom and dad have to go to school to learn a trade go to school to learn ESL we get to enroll in school and our life in the US start.

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