Chau Pham

Never Forget the Past

Profilers: Justin Lee, Quan Pham, Liam Riley, Daniel Vergara

Life During The War


Quan: Now, how old are you, Dad?

Chau: I was born in 1965, September 28, 1965.

Quan: Ok, I’ll start now, yeah?

Life during the War:

Q: What do you remember about the war?

Chau: The war…what I remember…the things that I remember of the war are the sounds of guns, airplanes, explosives, the smoke. That’s when the war was going on. 

Q: Do you remember specific days?

Chau: One time was 1968, Tet Mau Than (The lunar new year). The second time was 1975 around the 27th of April, 1975.

Q: Do you remember what those sounds were for? Do you know why you heard the guns and explosions?

Chau: Well, because at the same time, the war was between the North and the South. The South was “Vietnam Cong Hoa,” And the North, the army…the North was communist, supported by the Soviet Union. They fought, fought, and took over city by city, that was when guns and explosions came about.

Q: Those times, how old were you?

Chau: In 1975, I was 10 years old. But I still remember. 

Q: How do you think Vietnam, as a country, remembers the war?

Q: Like for example, on TV, or news, or stories – how does Vietnam remember the war?

Chau: Well the people put images on TV. Back then it was only TV and the newspaper. Talking about the ambushes, and the fighting and whatnot. After April 1975, people often talked about the war, at that time the North already were in the South…the North was talking about the fighting, about anything related to the war, but at that point, the information was one-sided, as it only came from the North.

Q: What do you remember your parents saying about the war?

Chau: Well, the war was horrifying. It created many scenes of woundedness and death. Families were separated. There was a lot. When the war broke out, there was no peace, no stability. There were so many things – families had loved ones missing and others who died. Overall, the war was not good.

Q: Within your family, did you witness these things?

Chau: Yeah, during the war, my family was split in two. One half was in Saigon, the other was up in Phu Lam. About 130 km apart, we couldn’t meet each other, no communication. That was in 1975. Only after a long time did we see each other again.

Q: How long were you guys split?

Chau: Uh…about one year

Q: When you met the other half of your family, did you see anything different?

Chau: Well, we had to leave one place to live together again with the rest of the family. Life was just difficult since it was after the war.

Q: Do you often think about the war, and when you do, what do you think about it?

Chau: Well, it’s like what I said before. Now, I don’t think about it often – it’s been 30 or 40 years since. I guess when I think about Vietnam, about the war, I don’t remember much, because it’s been too long. Almost 40 years already.

Q: How do you think your childhood would be different if the war never happened?

Chau: Well, if the war never happened, then my childhood would definitely be more happy and peaceful. I’d have more educational opportunities.

Because during the war, every day for high school, I would have to go 30 km to school, and had to bike 30 km to school. One day.

Quan: Wait why?

Chau: No car, no transportation, just a bicycle. If the war never occurred, I wouldn’t have been where I was. Would’ve been in Saigon where the opportunities were better.

Quan: Actually, Ba, do you think you can talk more about when your family was separated? Life, the first day-how did you feel?

Chau: Well, we weren’t sure if we were going to see each other again – so that hurt, that was sad. It was 130 km. 130 km…that was far. We didn’t know if we would see each other, because we couldn’t at the time. No car, no transportation. The roads were blocked, we couldn’t get on the roads. Everyone was stuck. We didn’t know if or when we would see them again so we were worried. That was everyone at the time.

Q: During the war, was there any sense of normalcy?

Chau: Well, during the war, there was no normalcy, obviously. Everything was unsure, that was for certain. 

Q: During the war, did you know or hear of anyone – or a person – that was impacted heavily…or…or?

Chau: Did I know of anyone that died because of the war? Yeah, I had a friend, a classmate of mine, he died because of a gunshot.

Q: When and how long did you know him?

Chau: From childhood, from 5th grade to…5th grade, 6th grade.  When the guns were fired and the bombs were dropped, he got hit by a stray bullet and died. 

Q: During that time, did you know where you were?

Chau: I was in the province of Ngoc Lam, or Phuong Lam, in Dalat.

Q: What was your friend’s name?

Chau: I don’t remember anymore. It’s been too long. 40 years. I was too young. 10 years old.

Quan: Was he 10 too?

Chau: Yeah, also 10. Same class.

Quan: Was your class big?

Chau: No, my class was small. We were in the rural countryside

The rural people were very poor and struggling. Not a lot of people went to school. 

It wasn’t like the schools in the city.



Life Post-War In Vietnam

Q: Can you describe the economy after the war? How did it impact you?

Chau: The economy, after the war, it was not stable because after the war the government parties were different, yeah in English we say “party.” It changed, it wasn’t normal. 

And well, for work, after the war, I was still little. I made sure to go to school, study near home. As for the livelihood of Vietnamese people after the war, it was chaotic, because the economy after the war wasn’t stable, nothing certain. You can work today, but not know tomorrow. There was no visible stability. Today sure, maybe not tomorrow. 

Q: Thinking like that, you think it was good?

Chau: It’s definitely bad. It jeopardizes your life and family and everything else.  Having to worry about tomorrow if you have work…you can find food this week, but potentially not food for next week.

Q: At that time, you just went to school? What was it like

Chau: Yes, I was young, only in my early teens, so I could only go to school. 

Quan: When did you graduate?

Chau: Middle School or high school?

Quan: High School.

Chau: High school was 1985. 

What did you do after school?

Chau: After I graduated? I worked in a company. In 1985, that was already 10 years after the war ended. 

Q: 10 years after…did you still see the effects of the war?

Chau: Well, not much, but the economy was still impacted. Still unstable.

Q: What did you see though still 10 years after?

Chau: Work was hard. Hard to find jobs. 

Quan: Hard How?

Chau: Hard in that Vietnam could not “build up” the economy. There is only work if foreign companies bring in jobs and investments. But if they don’t, there are no jobs. 

When you did find work, at what time, what do you think is the percent of people who were employed?

Chau: At the time, after graduation, in the workforce, maybe 20%. As in 100 students graduated, maybe only 20 could find jobs. 

Q: What did you do for work?

Chau: At the time I worked in a company that made sandals and shoes.



Post-Immigration – Thoughts on the Past

Q: Can you talk more about your life after you immigrated?

Chau: It was relaxing, stable, and there was a lot of freedom. Can do and live anywhere you wanted.

Quan: The next question – did you have any expectations?

Chau: Well, I just wanted a better life

And comparing between America and Vietnam, America is better by a lot.

Q: Can you describe the sponsorship process? How long? What did it take?

Chau: At that time there was a program called ODP (Orderly Departure Program) where people can sponsor their family members to immigrate over. As for me, I was sponsored by my siblings under F4 immigration status (where siblings can bring their immediate relatives). It took 12 years. I applied in 1990, and I came in 2004, wait so it was 12-14 years.

Q: When you applied, were there a lot of other people applying?

Chau: I only knew within my family.

Q: How do you feel about sharing these stories with your children?

Chau: Well I share these with you to tell you about life at that time, how it was difficult and troubling. That the war happened, a lot of struggles, that the economy was unstable and produced hard times. 

Life after the war, in the year 1978, in the South, we called it the “Year of Hunger.” 

There was no rice to eat – just potatoes. That year was especially hungry. No rice. I was 13 years old at the time. We were a family of 8 – but we couldn’t eat anything, only cassava and yams.

Q: Did it only last a year?

Chau: Yeah only a year. Because in the countryside, they plant rice once a year. But that year the season was bad, the crop failed and we had no rice.

Quan: And the year after?

Chau: The year after was alright. We had rice again, so it was better. But in 1978, there was no rice to even buy, and we didn’t even have the money to buy it. Because we didn’t have any work. We only ate what we grew personally, so like sweet potatoes, cassava, and millet.

Quan: When you worked in Vietnam, how much did you make each day?

Chau: When I worked? When I worked, one month’s pay, actual monthly pay was not enough to buy a chicken. But there was a money called “supplementary funds” basically just enough to pay for food, no excess cash. After the war, there were no jobs so there was a very low pay scale.


Quan: Last question, when you remember these things again, is there anything that you think you would do differently?

Chau: When I look at things as a whole, things are very good right now. I don’t want to go back. I share these things with you to let you know that my childhood was hard. I went to school and had no shoes, I had to go barefoot.

Quan: I’m out of questions, is there anything you want to add?

Chau: I’ll answer anything you have.

Quan: “Well, I’m out”

Chau: Well, about the war, what I have told are the specifics that I remember. It was hard, terrifying, and difficult. A lot of bad things happened during that time. There were also a lot of children and people affected by Agent Orange too, for example. It was horrific. 

Quan: You saw it firsthand?

Chau: There were a lot of people impacted by that. They looked physically different.

Q: Do you remember anyone affected by Agent Orange?

Chau: Well not really, I was really scared to approach these people, because they looked so scary. So I don’t remember anyone because I didn’t get close. It wasn’t normal, they weren’t normal. It looks as if they had been doused with acid.

Quan: In my class, my professor says this: (wars are taught twice – once in person, the second in memory).

Q: What do you think about that? Do you think that statement is correct?

Chau: Now, our thinking of the war, our memory of the war – we still remember the pains and struggles.

It’s different from first-hand experience. We see it firsthand, we live through it. Yes, I agree with that statement. In memory, we still are forced to remember it. And experience it again.

When I go back or read anything about Vietnam, it brings a slightly bad memory of the war, not a happy time.

Q: When you remember the war, is it painful for you?

Chau: Not really. It’s a part of me now, I just remember it. Now I’m just sharing it with you. I can’t forget it.

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