Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lost Tradition: Ngay Gio

My country is not that big, but because of the war,  we often were terrorized by the communists when going from city to city. That was why I did not get to see or know many of my relatives.  I only knew a few of them that lived in the same village.  I think I was closer to my village neighbors than my own uncles, aunts and cousins.  I was able to see my father's side of the family once a year for we had a day called "Ngay Gio".  It's like a family reunion only we got together to remember our ancestors, our love ones who were dead.

Every year, on that particular day, most of my father's family members, near or far, all tried to come to our home because the Le Cemetery was in the same village where we lived.  My father's uncle, Le Van An, who was a Bishop from Long Khanh City, would also come home to the village to celebrate a Mass there at the cemetery.

This was about the only time of the year I saw my relatives who lived far outside my village.  After these few days were over,  we parted ways and promised to see each other again next year.  I was too young to remember  anybody.  Years later when the war became too intense to travel and the village became
more dangerous for relatives to visit, that celebration could no longer being honored; therefore, my chance of knowing any family members was even less than before.

Now, so many of my relatives I will never see. I left them behind in Viet Nam along with my family's property, our possessions, and our beloved cemetery with its cherished tradition.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thai Describes Her American Education

My son was finalizing details on his project and planning on studying for his tests the next day.

I listened to him complain how he will have to stay up late. I told him he needed to go to bed.  This bring back lots of memories for me. 

When I first came to the United States, I did not speak any English.  My way of  communicating was using  my English/Vietnamese and Vietnamese/English dictionary.

My everyday routine  after coming home from school was help with the chores, have dinner with my family and do my homework.

I would have to use the dictionary to translate any reading material I had for my homework.

This could take several hours, until all the words translated and carefully penciled in on top of the word. Then I would go back and try to read the chapters and answer the questions.  Even after all this hard work I still could not understand much of the chapter. It did not make much sense, but I did my homework anyway. 

Months later, when I was able to know English a little better,  I realized that words I tried to translate were not necessarily the same meaning of what was in the chapter or a sentence.  My realization made me frustrated.  I would rather not know that and just do my homework the best  I could understand. 

With this realization I became discouraged, not wanting to study anymore, and yet I had to spend more time into the night trying to do my homework.  I knew that this was the only way for me to succeed and gain education in this country.  If I wanted to live here and have a future here, I HAD to learn the language.

There were times when my mom peeked into my room with worried eyes because it was so late in the night, but she left me alone.  She knew this was the only way for me to better myself.  With this memory in mind, I told my son I loved him and goodnight.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Vietnamese Church Confession

I was raised as a Catholic.  As far as I remember my parents told me that we have been Catholic for many generations.  I grew up going to church every Sunday and every holy obligation day.  I went to Bible school every Sunday, and know to go confession at LEAST once a year. That's what I learned, but once a year was not what my family did.  According to my parents, I had to go once a month and I guess maybe because of my culture or the way I was raised, I still do whatever my parents said. I didn't argue then and I still do it now.

I remember one time I rode my bike to the church on a Saturday afternoon for my monthly confession with the priest.  It took me about twenty minutes to get there, and it was raining hard, too.  By the time I got to the Church, I was very wet.  The confession line in the Chapel was long.  I got in, kneeled at one of the chairs and did my usual prayers.  After that, I stood in line with the rest of the people and waited for my turn.

My heart was pumping so loud I felt that everybody could hear it.  When it was my turn, the priest told me he was going ask me a few questions about the Bible lessons I learned.  I don't remember what the one question was, but I did not know the answer.  The priest then opened the curtain, peeked his head out and yelled at me in front of everybody that he would not do the confession for me, to go home, study and come back next week.  I left the church with a heavy heart, felt humiliated and the thought of the ride home in the rain made me want to cry.

Nowadays,  I try to get my children to go to the reconciliation at least twice a year, and they still complain. I told them my story and tell them that was why my heart pounded so hard every time I faced the priest.  Today, we call it reconciliation. Just the word itself sounds easier than confession.  I don't understand why  the Vietnamese priest had to make it so scary and terrifying then. After all, we were going to make peace with our God and knew that he would always love us, no matter what we did.  The Catholic church today is more understanding and easier. My children shouldn't feel so terrified to go face God at the reconciliation booth.  Actually, I don't think they are scared. They are just lazy.  I hope my experience will help them see how lucky they are that they don't have to go through what I went through.  I look forward to reconciling with God every time. I feel good about it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Death Reflection and a Dream of Peace

The front of my house in Bong Son had a porch with painted rails.  The top of the rail was wide enough for me to sit or lie on.  In the early morning I liked to like lie on it, so I could feel the coolness of the cement base on my back and enjoy the early morning sun.  One morning I was lying there feeling the sun and dreaming who knows what at that age.  I heard my oldest sister's voice calling for me. Her voice was loud and somewhat hysterical.  I did not want anything to disrupt my dreamy morning, so I decided to ignore her calling me.

After a while, I decided to run to the back of the house. There I saw my sister  kneeling on the ground beside the rabbits' cage and our dogs were there, too.  I was terrified at the sight and realized that our rabbits were having babies  and the cage's rails were too big to hold the babies so they were dropping on to the ground, and the dogs were trying to attack the baby rabbits.  I ran to my sister and tried to shoo the dogs away. She was crying, and I felt so bad for not coming to her sooner.   A couple of the baby rabbits died from the attack of our dogs.  I told her I was sorry. We picked up the lifeless bodies of the rabbits and buried them by the lemon tree.

We lived in a place where we saw dead bodies carried up on our street almost every day  because of the crossed gun fires of the previous nights and where because of the war, human lives seemed so unimportant. But that does not means we do not value our lives and the lives of the others.  If the life of a tiny baby rabbits means that much for us to shed tears, then we know we wanted to live, and live with a peaceful happy life.  I wished the war had ended differently, and with a different government even if it meant we would die in the sea or in the jungles as long as we have freedom.  Also many of our soldiers  were jailed and many have died even after the war ended, and we are supposed to have peace in our country.  And let's not forget all the soldiers who have fought and died for the peace and happiness of Vietnam.  I hope one day Viet Nam will have real peace and happiness so all of our tears  had not been shed in vain.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bombing the Bong Son Bridge

The explosion was so loud that it woke up the whole entire city of Bong Son.  I opened my eyes to this loud noise so close by my house. At the same time I saw all of the windows and doors of our house spring wide open.  Things on the shelves in my house were crashing down on the floor.  I heard my mom's terrifying voice called out to us to go in to the more secure room to hide.  I was crouching low
on the floor while there were guns firing outside.  We knew right away that loud noise was a bomb meant to sabotage someone or somthing specific, but we did not know what got hit. 

After what seemed like an eternity, the gun fire wore down, and we all went back to bed. The next morning we found out the bridge that helped us to travel from the village to the city of Bong Son had been sabotaged last night.  It was the saddest sight I have ever seen.  I had always known that our lives were connected to war and we could be killed any time, but seeing the broken bridge, which had taken me and my friends to school, to church, to the market etc. in the city of Bong Son saddened me. It made me realize war was close to home, and we were helpless to do anything to stop it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Vietnam 1970's Wedding: Thai attends her first wedding

My mom told me one night she would take me to a wedding reception with her in the morning.  Being very young, children often do not attend these important events. Only the adults are invited.  Imagine my excitement.

My mom and I left early for the wedding ceremony at church. She reminded me to get ready.  I was excited not because of the food, but because I had not attended any weddings yet.  I wanted to see what happened. 

We went to the groom's house first.  All the ladies dressed in Vietnamese Traditional Dress (Ao Dai). They were all sorts of different colors with flowers imprinted on their dresses.  Some men also dressed in Ao Dai,
and some wore regular slacks and shirts.  My little brother and I were escorted  to the table where all the kids were sitting while my parents went up to the main room of the house. 

There were big signs all over the house starting at the gate that said "Tan Hon," meaning newly weds.  From the gate through the courtyard into the front door were decorations of red fabric ribbons and flowers.  I noticed that even the landscape pots were tidy and pretty. 

I saw the bride in her red wedding dress woven with golden.  She paired it with a white satin pants and a red round hat.  She topped her dress with outer wear made of sheer fabric rimmed with gold.  I thought she was so pretty.  To me her husband was a different story.  He also wore white satin pants and a long silk shiny blue ao dai. On his head also was a round blue hat but he did not look pretty like the bride.  I thought he looked weird.

Then there was music, but by this time, after the ceremony at the home, introductions of the relatives,
and passing around the teas and gifts, I was tired and ready to go home.  I wanted to get out of my pretty
dress, which I was so excited to put on that morning for the occasion.  I saw some children running around the courtyard and playing. I started to join them, but my mom looked at me with a smile and shook her head.  I knew she wanted me to behave.

I do not know how long a time had passed, but I finally got to hold my mom's hand and go home.  What a relief! I remember thinking weddings weren't fun at all.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Mother in Vietnam, Now I'm a Mother to Her in America

Taking care of my mom  every weekend is an honor,  a privilege, and a duty  I am glad I am able to share with my siblings.  This Saturday when I was at my mom's,  to my surprise she was not her usual quiet self.  She patted gently on her bed and told me to come lie down next to her.  I came and put my head on her pillow,  my face to her.  To be this close to her, I was able to see how beautiful her skin is for her age.  I giggled to her, "Mom, you are so pretty. Do you think maybe because you have been eating just vegetables,  fruits and milk?"  She did not answer me, but just touched  my face and smiled.  I saw the glistening tenderness in her eyes.  I did not know what she was thinking, but I thought how ironically our positions had changed.  I was the one she was taking care of,  and now I  am taking care of her.

I remember being very young and sick one time.  I did not know what my temperature reading was, but my fever was high.  My mom asked a nurse in the next village to come see me.  He gave me some pills.  I guess it was kind of like Tylenol nowadays.  We did not have antibiotics to help me feel better the next day.  I was in bed with a high fever for days.  My mom did everything she could to help my body fight the virus.  She made me orange juice she picked from the tree.  She cooked me congee with lots of  peppers in  it.  She put a wet towel on my forehead every so often.  Because of the fever I had many weird scary dreams.  Every time I woke in the night, my mom was always there watching over me and hugged me, so I won't be alone.

Now, sometimes my mom wakes up  in the middle of the night and opens the front door. Because I am sleeping and tired, this makes me frustrated at times.  She was so patient with me. I only hope I can be  patient with her. I understand now that no love on this earth can compare to a mom's love,  and my love for my mom is nothing compared to her love for me.  Thanks Mom.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Flood in Vietnam

Flood is something my village had to endure every year.  If we were lucky, we would have one flood every year. Most years we ended up with two or sometimes three floods.  My village was between a mountain, brook and the Lai Giang River.  The river's end connected into the ocean.  When it rained for days, the water would overflow the river and the brook. On top of that we would have water coming from above the mountain and all of that flowed into our village.

Because of the flood, most of our homes in the village had raised foundations.  Sometimes the flood would just hit the foundation and withdraw, and sometimes it would come into our homes and rise high up, almost to the ceiling.  For my parents and the adults this was a

hard time, but for us children, when the water started to creep into our streets we were overjoyed. As children we were excited to feel the water at our feet on our own street and yards.
The crickets came out from their holes, so we caught and stored them in jars.  My dog and I used a hollow
door and floated around our yard until the water was too high for safety.  After the fun, we were all soaked
and wet. We went upstairs. My mom would feed us steamed rice with salty fish.  This was the best

My beloved people  had to suffer not just from the war, but also had to endure so many other catastrophes in life. And yet we were always there for each other. We shared the same values and love as my mom shared when she provided that small pot of steamed rice with the rest of the villager who were there at our house
on a rainy, stormy day.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Midnight Spy Search

The village where I grew up in Viet Nam during my childhood years was a beautiful place, and the neighbors were always looking out for each other. We were like one big family. There were  other villages around us just like us, but we did not know most of them.  One evening, when I was about five or six years old,  the city official came to our home and told us we needed to evacuate the village because they believed we may have communist spies who came to live within us.  They wanted all of us to move to the city and spend the night in the city hall building so they could identify us.

My mom told us to pack an overnight bag, and we crossed over the bridge into Bong Son.  The building was  crowded;  therefore, people that lived next to the building offered their homes to some families to relieve the overcrowding.  We stayed at our great uncle's house, which was across from city hall.  That night we had to sleep on the floor with other people.  I remember I was lying next to my mom. She had a blanket to keep me warm.  In the middle of the night, a group of soldiers came in and woke us up by pointing their flashlights in our faces.  I was very terrified and started to cry.  My mom told me it was okay, not to cry and not to make a scene.  These men came in and looked  at everybody's faces to make sure that there were no unfamiliar faces. They asked the adults a few questions and left.

I did not have a good night of sleep after that.  The floor was uncomfortable, and there were too many people in the house.  Most of all, I was terrified of the soldier's with flashlights.  I did not know who or what those official men were looking for, and why my dad was not there to vouch for his family.  I asked my mom about it the next morning on our way back to the village.  She explained that the soldiers had to make sure that we did not have enemy strangers sneak into our neighborhood to hurt us. Even though dad worked in the city, we had to go through the event just like everybody else, no exceptions.

Monday, July 5, 2010

July 4th, Freedom in America, but Still no Freedom for Vietnam

We are celebrating Fourth of July.  Independence and freedom are something that every human being wishes to have but not everyone gets them.  Many people have to sacrifice everything.  And I am thinking of my
people...of how many decades have gone by and how many lives have died for "Independence and Freedom"?

Yet, my people, my country is still not able to call what we are having in Viet Nam freedom.
Happy 4th of July!
Thai Le

I found this information about the Vietnamese Government. Interesting, diplomatic way of expressing how ineffective socialism has been implemented by the Viet Cong:

Red tape and regulations
As in most countries, bureaucracy is a problem in Vietnam. ‘Law’ is a comparatively new concept (until the 1990’s, Vietnam had no further education law institutions). Much legislation takes the form or regulations and circulars that are passed down to local level for implementation. Interpretations often differ from area to area, and much paperwork is generated in attempts to standardize procedures.

Much administration involves more than one ministry. As communication is almost entirely vertical, there is little co-ordination between different ministries and Departments leading to long delays and frustration. Recently, the government has tried to speed things up by laying down time limits for particular activities, but bureaucrats everywhere are skilled in the art of finding exceptions to such rules and generating more forms to be completed.

Amanda Griffith

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tear Gas and Agent Orange

Have you ever experienced inhaling tear gas?  I have many times during my childhood in Thac Da village.  I did not know how or why it happened or who was it coming from.

The picture to the left is of  Vietnamese Agent Orange victims.  The North Vietnamese display this in Ho Chi Minh City to criticize the U.S. for its use in the Vietnam War. 

The villagers were just going about their daily business, and then we would first sense this strong smell in the wind blowing by our neighborhood.  My mom would rush us all to the well. She would wet cloths and pass it along to all of us.  We then rushed to brook  where there were water and lots of wind to help us deal with our breathing better.

This was the most horrifying smell of all.  As we breathed, it would follow in to our nostrils, down our throats, our eyes would tear and we felt like we were going to die of gagging .  I do not know how to describe this feeling except  I know it was horrible and do not ever wish this upon anybody.

Today,  sometimes my sisters and I  visit with each other.  As we grow older, we seem to forget
things, but we often tease one another that we are not old, we are just having side effects from "tear gas and Agent Orange."

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Father's Day Tribute to Thai's Dad

My village was not a safe place at night for my dad to come home to and spend the night.  He always had to just come home for dinner and go back into the city to stay overnight.  I did not spend much time with my dad as I had with my mom, and I am sure most Vietnamese children did not see their dads much at that time. All the men from South Vietnam went to the war zone to protect our country.  I was probably luckier than children that had dads in the army.  Their dads had to go into the battle fields for months at a time.

I treasured my time with my dad when he had time for me.  He tried to find time out from his office during the day to come home and be with us as much as he could.  Those times he would take Ban, my little brother and I fishing at the river or just to sit under a shady tree to talk to us.  Ban and I went swimming with dad at the Lai Giang River.  In the middle of the river there was a sandy island.  My dad would put me on his back and carry Ban in front and swim through the deepest area to get to the island.  The water there was clear.  We played and swam in the shallow area while dad swim around us in a deeper area.  We liked to play on that island, especially with our dad there.  We made him lie down on the sand and we would cover his body with sand.  He told us that the sand felt cool and relaxing as he lay there, seeing the sky and the clouds while his children were there with him.  He felt safe and happy.

We went home in  the afternoon and had dinner, and it was time to see Dad off again.  He looked at us, smiled and said, "Be good!"  I thought my dad had the prettiest smile of all.

Dad was always busy with his duties, the higher his position, the less time he had with us; therefore, when came to the United States after the war,  he devoted all his times with the family. It did not matter if he was tired, sick or not feeling well.  His face would light up with that pretty smile of his and welcome us.  He would talk to any of us about anything we want to talked about. To me, he was so intelligent and knew so much.  He could communicate to the grandchildren from three years
old to his children in their forties and fifties.  If we needed him, he would be there.  My father spent the last years of his life for us, sharing his life experiences. He taught us to love, care, respect and be kind to each other and everybody else.  That's how he lived his life, and that is what he wanted us to be.

My dad passed away six years ago.  His last words to us were to take care of mom and love one another
for love is what gets us through anything in life.

My dad always said that he want to outlive the communism.  He wanted to go home to Viet Nam once the communist were no longer in existence in his motherland.  Unfortunately, they are still there, and my dad never had a chance to go home.  But rest assured, Dad, we are with the rest of the people longing to do away with the communism in Viet Nam, and that day will come some day soon.   I will go home to see a free Viet Nam, and  I believe the future Vietnamese generation will rebuild our country with freedom.

Thank you Dad,  for being  my dad.  You are greatly missed! Happy Father's Day.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

School Discipline in Bong Son

Before I started Elementary school, I attended a smaller school site in the neighborhood.  I guess now we would call it preschool.  I remember my classroom were tiny. We probably had twelve children sitting around two rectangle tables.  I do not remember much about my teacher except that he was old and strict.  I was afraid of him and did not like school at all at the time. 

We were taught that teachers are just like your parents.  You will respect and obey unconditionally.  We would be punished harshly if we did not obey.  At this school we learned first not about academics except for reading and writing, but more importantly we learned how to have good characters.  I always
have to cite that "First we learn to respect, values, to be a good human being, and second is academic."  I asked my parents why and what was this means?  and they would tell me that no matter how smart I am or whoever I became later in life, if I did not have the first rule, I still would be nobody.  This did not mean much then, but it all makes sense now, and I am trying to teach my children the same ideas.

I do not remember what my friends and I  did wrong at the time, but I remember we were being punished by making us lie on top of my teacher's desk.  The one that initiated the wrong act, the most naughty one, was made to lie on the bottom, and the rest would be on top of each other respectively.  My teacher then would paddle us according to the level of our actions.

After the paddle, we were to kneel on a piece  of a jack fruit skin. It was spiny like a porcupine.  The rest of the students got to go home for lunch.  I guess that day my mom did not see me come home as usual, so she walked to the school.  I saw her from afar and started to cry, thinking she was coming to my rescue.  When she saw that I was kneeling with two children being punished, she stopped, looked at me sadly, and  turned herself around to go home without saying anything.  I was so disappointed and tried  hard to hold my tears.  I knew my mom was disappointed in me, and she was sad because I did not get to eat lunch.  We had a good talk that night, and I understood that I needed to be on my best behavior, for my parents had entrusted me to the teacher. My parents would not interfere with the teaching.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Viet Nam Funeral, 1970, Bong Son

My childhood years were inside a war zone.  There were things that were scary, but to me as a child the  thing that terrified me the most was the sight of a funeral procession through my village.  I used to roam around the neighborhood and play with my friends daily.  No matter how far away from home, if I heard the sound of a funeral procession, I would run home as fast as I could without thinking about anything else.

Since my village was the lower part of the larger neighborhood, from up the hill there were many other different villages and people had to go through ours to get to the mountain and sea.  I  believe at the base of the mountain is where people buried their love ones.

First, I would notice the loud, sharp high pitched music note  of a certain kind of flute, the sound of drum, and a mixture of other kind instruments I did not know. They created a high pitched music that pierced through ears and heart. To me it was not entertaining but terrifying.  After hearing the music, children would all look up, frozen, and wait until the sight of the group of people appeared from the top of the hill. Then we would all just run home.

I would hide in my house, peeking out the window and see the funeral attendees walking slowly through on the road.  First came people who played the music, then a person throwing fake paper money in the air.  The coffin was tied with ropes at each end, had a strong stick loop through the ropes, and was carried by four people.  After the coffin came the  family members and friends.  The family members wore a white outfit on top of their normal clothes.  It was kind of similar to our "ao dai" but was not fancy.  Its length was down to the knees, split on both sides.  It was sewn together at the neck and shoulders to hold the sleeves to the body of the dress.  There was no hem. Everything about the dress was ragged and torn. The thread of the fabric hung loosely. Each funeral attendee wore a white bandeau on the his head tied at the back with a white tie and with no hems.

When the funeral went by, the adults in the village who saw it would stand quietly to show respect. As for me, I was terrified.  Something about the sight of the coffin, the strange outfits they wore, the sad sound of their crying and most terrifying of all the music, all worked to make me petrified.

I do not know if this is the traditional funeral procession of Viet Nam,  but this is kind of the tradition of the village where I grew up.  And I do not know if the religion has anything to do with the way of the funeral that I saw when I was a child because I did not attend any funerals when I was in Viet Nam.

When I attend funerals here, it is different.  We wear black, a line of cars go through the city roads escorted by the police, and people cry quietly.  It seems calmer, not as scary and not that sort of music that pierces; however, it represents the same thing.  We are sending our loved ones back to the earth with love and respect in our own different ways.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Thank You, Vietnam Vets and Other Vets

In remembering and honoring all those men and women who have served this country in the past and present, thank you.

I would like to take this opportunity to appreciate those who have gone to my country, Viet Nam...who had suffered and sacrifice their lives for my people.  I also want to remember all the Vietnamese soldiers who had served and died for Viet Nam.

To me, we are not just honoring and remembering the soldiers alone, I think their families, wives and children also deserve to be honored too, for they have suffered for the same cause.

THANK YOU a million times, still not number is ever enough.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Agent Orange Strikes Our Village

We saw strange white powder sprinkle down from a helicopter one afternoon.  It scattered over our village like a thin sheet of smoke.  We wondered what it was.  My mom said it was weird and different; therefore, it would not be a good thing for our village.  The villagers were kind of worried for a while, but then we went back to our normal lives and forgot about it, for it did not seem to do any harm to anybody or anything in the village at the time.

We were wrong. The powder seemed  not to harm us, but some months later we began to see the deadly effect of it.  Our fruit trees, all our plants were dying.  Eventually the greenery of our village was no longer  green, most of our tree died and had to be chopped down.  (We had mango and coconut orchards) My family's coconut groves one by one started to lose fruit and the tops of the trees  turned brown.  The villagers were sad because some families  relied on the harvest as their way to take care of their families. The adults in the village wondered about the water in the river and especially our well. (Many villagers used our well water.)

We found out later that the white powder was called Agent Orange.  The American officials wanted to kill all the greens so that the communists would not have places to hide in the shrubs to easily launch their attacks without being seen.  I guess that was the only way.

Today, I have met many American soldiers who served in Viet Nam War, and they shared with me the effect on their health because of this agent orange powder.  I am sorry for the suffering that they have to deal with for the rest of their lives because of Viet Nam War.  I appreciate them for trying to protect us.  But I also wonder if those officials who ordered this particular mission knew that this powder would harm so many people and if they were aware of it did they ever think about us, the people, the soldiers that lived on that land?  Does the benefit outshine the harmful effect?

So many decades later I still feel sad for my villagers and for the people of Viet Nam.  We had to endure so many horrible thing because of the war and even now, my people are still under the wrath of communism.  When are those communist leaders going to realize they are not doing anything good for the people of Viet Nam?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Unwelcome Visitors

I woke up in the middle of the night by the sound of the footsteps outside of my house.  I sat up on my bed trying to listen harder to find out if there were really some one outside.  The scary feeling ran through me and made me just freeze.  After a few minutes I started to cry. That is when my mom came quietly into the room.  She came over and hugged me tight. She whispered to me to be quiet.  She pointed to my window and said to me, "Do not make any noise." I followed my mom's gaze and looked where there were shadows of many men crouching outside of my window.  I can still see the silouettes of their guns on their shoulders.  I looked at my mom with questions whirling in my brain, but she softly reminded me to be quiet and  told me to lie down and go to sleep. She said she would lie down with me.

I woke up in the morning with the sun shining through my huge picture window.  My mom had gotten up to do her daily chores.  The incident of the night came back to me. I  went to open the window, tiptoed to the window and lookdc outside but I did not see anything.  It felt as if it was a dream.

At the breakfast table I heard my mom was telling my older siblings that these were communists. "The unwelcome visitors are getting too daring and we all must be careful."  We had always known they were lurking somewhere out there behind the trees and further out in our field, but never had they come that close to our house.  Mom said that they were here last night looking for my dad .

The next day when my day was home from his office, I heard she told my dad that those communists who visited my house the other night sent word to the people who lived nearby to tell my parents  they wanted to have a "visit" with my dad. They said, "Too bad he was not home."

This happened so so long ago, when I was about seven years old but until this day, I still wonder how did they know my father was not home.  They must have watched and spied on us very intensely every day....

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Honoring My Mom on Mother's Day

My normal schedule for Saturday night into Sunday is with my mom. Since my dad passed away and my mom's health worsened, my siblings and I decided to take turns to be with my mom since she still wants to live in her own home and not to move in and bother any of us; therefore, we decided to move in with her.

Lately, her mind is not very alert. Sometimes she sees things or talks about things that do not really exist. Last night I was with her as usual. In the middle of the night, she woke up and wanted to wait for someone who was coming to see her. It is really sad to see my mom become so confused.

It is Mother's Day and that is why I wanted to write something about my mom. I had many memories with my mom, sad ones and also good ones. I don't want to honor her with something she has done for me but something we did together when I was very young.

In our house, on the second floor, we had a open space. I guess I could call it a veranda with no cover. We had a couple of day beds so sometimes we could sit and visit or read a book. I liked to lie there with my mom every night and look at the stars in the sky. She would tell me the names and stories of all the stars. I knew they were made up fairy tales, but I was happy and anxious to hear them every night. Because where we lived did not have electricity at the time, that's why the stars were so bright and beautiful. My mom always chose the brightest and said that one was me and there was always a very special story about that star.

It's hard to see my mom so confused now. I woke up this morning getting ready for Sunday church. Before I left the house, I kissed her cheek and said, "Happy Mother's Day, Mom." She smiled at me as if she understood what I was saying. Well, maybe something in her does understand.....I hope.

I have never told her how special those nights were to me when looking at the stars with her. I wish I had. I thought that she would never get old and become this way. I am sorry, Mom. I hope maybe one of the Saturday nights when I am with her, she will be less confused, and I will try to find a way to bring back those memories and thank her.

Tell your mom you love her and thank her when she still able to comprehend and happy to hear your kind words. Don't wait until it's too late.....and maybe it's not too late for me either.

Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, April 30, 2010

The South Vietnamese Say Goodbye to Vietnam

April 24th, 1975...
We were in Sai Gon at my uncle's house. I saw my mom whisper to my dad asking him to leave Viet Nam because she was afraid he would be killed. My dad refused for he did not want to leave us behind. He would rather die with his family, his country, and his people.

April 25th, 1975...
My dad discussed with my uncle and finally with sadness they decided to take the family down to Vung Tau to find way to leave together.

April 26th, 1975...
My parents took us church that evening and prepared our souls for the unexpected.

April 27th, 1975...
We left Sai Gon and headed down to Vung Tau Port.

April 28th, 1975...
We heard the road between Sai Gon and Vung Tau had closed. Nobody could get out.
We stayed at a church courtyard that night. Many people were there too. We all slept under the sky.

April 29th, 1975...
My dad woke us up early and rushed us to gather our things. We packed only the most most important thing and left for the port where the boats were waiting for us. At this time I think the communists were already there. We were being shot at while we ran. That night we were out at the ocean and transferred to a big navy fighting ship.

April 30th, 1975...
The saddest morning of my life... I woke up with so many people sitting around me...for we had seating room only. The rain got heavier, the sea churned stronger. We got news that Sai Gon failed. The communists had gotten into the Capital House. I saw my dad cried quietly. Looking down to the sea, I saw thousands of small, mediun size boats fleeing from Viet Nam. The communists were shooting out to sea trying to kill us. Some of the boats got hit and exploded.

Our ship departed my country. All of us turned our head and looking back to Viet Nam
as if we were trying to get the last glimpse of what was the most beloved and dear to us all.
I started to cry too for I finally realized this event was something very important. It was final. We have lost something very dear. As the ship sailed further and further, my country became smaller and smaller in my eyes. I looked around and saw the hollow, sadness, all different emotions on everybody's faces.

Good bye Viet Nam.

Today, April 30, 2010. Thirty five years later those days are so vivid in my head. On my way to work this morning, I was listening to a Vietnamese radio station, there were conversations and clips of broadcast from those days. I sat at the parking lot crying for my country and all the people had suffered throughout this horrible ordeal. I said a prayer for my country to not have any more sorrows and one day my people will experience real peace and happiness. I love you Viet Nam!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Honoring Soldiers who Fought for Vietnam

April 30 is approaching fast. This is the day Viet Nam war ended. South Viet Nam lost the war to North Viet Nam. My people lost our freedom, we became a communist country. I guess the war ended. Viet Nam will have peace, no more gun fires, no more families separated from their loved ones because of the war. But it was not so. This day marked a new Viet Nam. The North did not bring peace and happiness to my people like they said. Quite contrary, they brought more sorrows, heartache, and more separations between families in many different ways.

It is true, we have no more war on our motherland. But learning what happened to my people after April 30, 1975 I would rather the war continued. At least we lived during the war but our lives were much better than in peace time with the North Viet Nam government.

Our soldiers wanted to continue fighting for our freedom, their heart and souls did not want to surrender. We all wanted peace, but not the kind of peace we have.

If I could turn back time, I wish to live and grow up in my country during war time. I wish I would have a chance to know and be a part of a soldier's life. I would want to be a soldier's girlfriend or wife and live the life of a Vietnamese woman who has a man in their life who was a courageous soldier willing to die for Viet Nam.

I understand that being a soldier's wife during Viet Nam war time you had to sacrifice and suffer, even during and after war time. But I am sorry, I did not have a chance to be THAT Vietnamese woman. I salute them!

by Thai Le

I met a man from Vietnam in Texas two weeks ago. He had just moved here a couple of years ago. He left after the second imprisonment of his father, a South supporter and patriot, who was harassed repeatedly and imprisoned for years at a time for unfair charges of being unpatriotic. It was because he was an activist for the South and was being punished for trying to help the South Vietnamese win the war against the North. They didn't get out in 1975 like Thai Le and her family did, so the man's dad lost several years of his life in prison for fighting for his freedom and his country. Thai le is right. Their promises were worthless. Show me one Communist country with a healthy government and a happy people. That's what I thought.

Amanda Griffith

Sunday, April 18, 2010

High Heeled Sandals

My childhood years, I lived in a far away province, far from the city. My life was very low maintenance. I did not need much. My clothes were simple. I had cotton pants and shirts for daily activity, and a Vietnamese costume (ao dai) for church or special occasions.

My oldest sister had been in French school for a few years; therefore, she knew how to sew dresses. That was why I had many different ruffled dresses to wear to church sometimes. My shoes were mainly rubber flip flops, plastic moccasins or painted wooden shoes, which I did not like very much because those wooden shoes made a loud noise.

One day, my oldest sister went to Qui Nhon, a big and far away city, where my dad was working since he'd been elected. She came back that evening and brought along with her many things from the city. One of which was my very first pair of brown leather high heels sandals. They were the most amazing thing I had ever seen or had even known existed because I was too young to get to go anywhere outside of my village.

That night I went to bed, not able fall asleep because I was so excited and proud of my new shoes. I could not wait until the morning, so I could show them off to my neighborhood friends. I put my shoes on my bed close to my pillows, so I could touch them. In the dark I could feel every stitch of the leather and felt the golden medal clasp that would hold the straps around my ankles. Especially the smell of leather, It was different, not exactly a very good smell for a little girl. It was kind of bad, but I did not care. I loved my new shoes. I loved everything about them.

I woke up even before the sun was up. My first thought was my new high heels sandals. I jumped out of bed, did my morning routines, brushed my hair and wanted to put on my prettiest ruffle dress to go with my new shoes. I chose my pink striped dress with some embroidered white flowers on the collar and my sleeves, then put on my shoes.

Oh, how wonderful they felt! The softness of the leather under my heels. It was nothing like the hard wooden shoes. I tip toed to my mother's room feeling so happy because my new shoes did not make any noises. My mother was not there. I sneaked into her room to take a peek at myself in her mirror. I looked taller, maybe older, and even prettier. I was satisfied with myself and went to the kitchen for breakfast.

My mom was already in the kitchen. She turned and looked at me. Did she look surprised? I thought so, and I also knew why. She was probably wondering what was up with me to dress like that in the morning. Whatever she was thinking, she did not say it. She just asked me if I wanted sweet rice soup for breakfast. I answered yes without looking at her, for I was kind of embarrassed and knew I looked ridiculous for a normal day. I did not care. I was determined to show off my new shoes.

After breakfast, I went to my front porch and stood on my front steps looking out of the gate, across the road to see if any of my friends were out there, so I could run over to their house. Sadly to say, I stood there all morning, but none of my friends showed up. They were probably doing chores with their families somewhere.

My mother call me in for lunch and told me to change into my uniform and get ready for school. She put her hand on my head, smoothed a few hairs away from my sweating face because of the heat and told me how pretty I looked. She also said, "Perhaps you might want to wear your new shoes this Sunday for church so everybody can see how pretty and tall you are. I bet your friends will be full of envy."

Why didn't I think of Sunday? I jumped off of the chair, hugged my mom, and ran out of the kitchen to go change for school, forgetting that I was wearing my new pair of HIGH heels shoes. I twisted and sprained my ankles.

by Thai Le Nguyen

Monday, April 12, 2010

Surviving the Vietnam Gunfire

War (chien tranh) was something familiar and near during my childhood years. I could see, hear and feel it. I saw dead bodies carried up my village street. I heard war by the sound of cross gunfire every night, and I felt it when I saw my mom's hands and body trembling with fear and anger when someone we knew got hurt or was gone. I did not understand most of it but I knew it was not a good thing. Being so young, I did not have fear like an adults has.

We were just innocent children as any children anywhere else. After school, and dinner, before the sun set, we often gathered on our street to play games until we were called to come home.

We were attacked by the Viet Cong often. The attacks usually came suddenly and if early in the evening, the villagers would receive a warning just within minutes from our neighborhood's captain. We were all taught if we heard this announcement, "We are under attack, go to your nearest hideout." Everybody would run home if close. Otherwise, we knew to run to whichever neighbor was the closest. We were a tight knit family. The adult villagers knew to take care of the children and each other if our parents were not there.

Some family's hideouts were in a closed room, but most of us had an underground hole, away from the house, just in case the house was hit and collapsed. We would stay in the ground for half an hour to an hour or sometimes longer. We would know to go into hiding if we heard shooting becoming louder, heavier and more intense. We would peep out of the hole and see the fire brighten the sky. Then we would hear a bomb hit somewhere. As always, my mom and the villagers in the hideout together would initiate the prayers. Sometimes the crossfire lasted so long, I would become tired and fall asleep.

As an adult now, these memories are always in my heart. Maybe that's why I do not ever like to watch a war movie or see a news report about war. My heart saddens when I think of all those soldiers who fought for South Viet Nam to protect our land, lives, and freedom. I also think of those North soldiers who sacrificed for a cause they probably truly believed in. They thought they were doing the right thing, did not know they were manipulated by their power, blood hungry leaders. This is a prayer for those who fought for Viet Nam and in their heart they believe their sacrifice were for my mother land, regardless of what. Thank you.

by Thai Le Nguyen

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Vietnamese Easter

Lent season is very important to our lives as catholics, especially Holy Week. I remember my mom always had fresh flowers and new white candles on the shrine where we had a cross of Jesus and statues of mother Mary and St. Joseph. During the Holy Week, we would get up really early in the morning, before the sun was up, before we did anything for the day. My family gathered in the room and recited our rosary.

As a child, I did not want to get up so early, but for some reason I looked forward to this event. I guess the sight of the candles lighting up the room is what made me want to be there. I felt the closeness of my family, the warmth and love we had for each other when we prayed for our family to stay strong together, for our country and everything else.

Easter Sunday we went to church. I did not have new spring dress and did not know of Easter egg hunting or candies and rabbits, but I felt happy knowing I still had my family, and my loved ones with me on the particular Easter day.

Each night, we would hear the sounds of the Vietnam War, the guns firing across our village not knowing which one of us would be alive in the morning. Yet Easter celebration was a highlight, something to lift us up briefly. Happy Easter!
By Thai Le

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Honoring My Father

This March 28th was the day I will remember for the rest of my life. It is the day I lost my dad six years ago. Since he died, every year my whole family gets together to remember him. We call it Family's Memorial Day. This year is no different, only it is more special because it is the exact date and day. As always, my oldest brother requested a special mass to pray for our dad. All of my siblings, their families, children and grandchildren gathered at our church. This year my because my mom's health has deteriorated tremendously, we did not have mom with us. After church, we all went to dad's gravesite; we said prayers, sang his favorite song, and drank champagne. The champagne was one of my dad's favorite traditions. To toast him, like he is still with us, every New Year, Christmas, Vietnamese New Year, and also every joyous occasion within the family, we share champagne. And as we toast, it reminds us that he shared champagne for each of these occasions and for every one of us. The last day of his life, we were at the house, so we could be close to him, sing songs, recite Hail Mary and Our Father to him. We were trying to hold on to him since there were some grandchildren who schooled far away, and they were trying to make it home in time. At the last minute, the most far away grandson, Shaw arrived. My dad gained conscious. He looked at all of us for the last time and said, "Champagne."My oldest sister dabbed a drop of champagne on his lips. He then smiled and took his last breath.

Today, after the gravesite, we all went to my oldest brother's house to have lunch together, remembering dad, talking about mom and visiting with each other, especially, our two great grandnieces, Kylie and Madeline, the two newest members of our family.

Dad was our inspiration, courage, and a kind of glue to keep us all together. This year, even with dad gone and mom very ill, our tradition and love for each other live on. The love our parents had instilled in all of us will be the glue to keep us all together, no matter where we are or whichever paths our lives take us to. I believe we will always be there for each other, and I also believe that my dad is in heaven, looking at us with love and pride. Thanks Dad.
By Thai Le

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Raising the Vietnamese Flag

The Summer of 1972,the war became very intense. The communists (viet cong) had taken over the city of Bong Son. Many people had to move, including most of my beloved Thac Da villagers. At this time my family had already moved to Qui Nhon city, but because of school exam, my brother Khoa stayed behind until the evacuation. This caused a lot of worry for my parents. Many years later I met Phung, one of my friends from the village. She told me that many people had to escape Bong Son by foot, and it took them many days. When they arrived in Qui Nhon, they were tired,hungry and their feet were all cracked, bleeding and had swelled up.

Bong Son was not occupied by the communists long. After about four months, our brave South Vietnamese soldiers fought a heroic battle and won back Bong Son. The following day, my father went to Bong Son with many soldiers to place our South Vietnamese Flag on top of the Bong Son city hall building. My father took my brother Khoa with him on this trip. I did not know the purpose for Khoa to go along until I was much older. My father wanted Khoa to see, experience and be a part of what our young soldiers were doing. Maybe one day Khoa would be honored to serve our country just like them.

The day my father left for this event, I saw the happiness, the excitement and pride on his face, but on my mother's face I saw sadness and anticipation that my father's jeep would be victim of an ambush on the road. I did not understand much of their emotions at the time. I have my own children and every day see them drive off to school, participate in the world, away from my protecting arms. I now understand what my parents went through, especially my mom and all the moms who had children go to war to protect what we call freedom.

By Thai Le

Monday, March 15, 2010

Conversation with a Vietnam Vet

This weekend I spoke with a Vietnam vet at the Writer's Intensive in Cincinnati. In addition I spoke with an author online last week, also a vet. What struck me was the raw sensitivity they both still possessed to the war and the pain it causes even now in 2010, long after the 1975 abrupt and jagged pull out of American forces as the Northern communists pushed the last leg of their takeover to the China Sea, and southerners scrambled to jump ships to the United States, uncertain or even terrified of their futures.

One man was in therapy for years and has come to terms, he says, with the anguish he suffered over the lack of support soldiers received as they experienced tortuous hardship and devastating attacks. The other remains haunted by the faces of little children, shot and killed or just maimed and left without family to wander lost and bereft. Both men seemed heartened and a little surprised when I told them of Thai Le's attitude toward Vietnam vets.

She and her family were thankful then and still today, that someone came to their aid and tried to preserve their lives as they knew it, in their own country, now renamed and reclaimed. So, it will be hard for Thai Le, I am sure, when she dedicates her book. I know her family comes first, but also in her heart, she wishes never to offend nor take away from the honor, of the soldiers who lost as much as she and her family did in the sickening saga that she knows Ho Chi Minh was responsible for, not the U.S.

As a child, I remember the negative view toward the war and the way it made people shun the problems soldiers had and their needs for medical and therapeutic attention that were often ignored as an inconvenience to America which wanted to forget the war, the war they turned their backs on. She may share the dedication of the book between her family and soldiers who fought for her right and her family's right to live free in their own free country. Does all of America know that the South Vietnamese felt this way? This is one of the premises of Child of South Vietnam, a memoir about Thai Le Nguyen.

By Amanda Griffith

Comments about the first chapter of Thai Le's memoir posted on Writer's Digest Community:

March 7
I've been reading your work and am very impressed. I have some emotional ties to that time period as well as Vietnam itself. It makes me very happy to see that some people were able to escape from the harsh confines of those times and are hopefully happier now. I would be deeply saddened to find out that our efforts over there were meaningless. So many of my friends died over there, and I was witness to the brutality of the Vietcong to women and children. Especially the children. I cry out yet in the middle of the night, reliving those days, crying for their sweet souls. Congratulations and keep up the good work. Tell a story that has to be told.

March 8
I am so happy to hear that all was not in vain, that we were fighting a righteous war. Every day I live with the nightmares that only war can bring. and it always comes back to the children. ALWAYS. And to think that one of MY SPECIAL CHILDREN is here and happy brings me so much joy. I know she's not a child any longer, but to me, she will always remain a child. Thank you both so very much.

Posted by Amanda Griffith

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Lost Friendships

I would be sorry if I didn't write about these two sisters. Their names are Nhan and Nhin (These two names together mean yielding, giving in, being passive). They were my good friends from Sunday school. They did not live in my village. I did not have years of childhood experience with them or grow up with them. I only knew them from attending first communication classes. It was only a few short months but I always have them in my heart. We shared lots of memories from picking wild flowers from the church courtyard, picking up pebbles and also split toasted peanuts between us from a small store in the hamlet close by the church. One Sunday, after class, I followed them home. I am not sure, but I think they lived in a place that was designated especially just for the Vietnamese soldiers' families. Their house were very small but there was warmth and love. I got to meet their mother. She was very nice and kind. She let us go to the back and play with water in a big tub. Of course, we did not know of bathing suits and of course, we were all wet later. Afterward, she fed us dinner early, so that I could go home. We ate steamed rice, tiny fish grilled with crushed red chili and lettuce dipped with fish sauce. It was simple but I enjoyed it very much. I never did get to meet their dad because he was far away at some battle field guarding and protecting our motherland. I did not know any until years later how lucky I was compared to them. I did not have my father home for dinner or at night, but at least I got to see him most days. They probably did not get to see their dad but once or twice a year. Thinking of this makes me want to cry for them. They were so proud of their dad just like I am proud of my dad and all the men who fought for the country.

In 1972 the Communists (Viet Cong) came in and took over Bong Son. This made everybody evacuate the city. At that time, my family had already moved to another city named Qui Nhon to escape the Communists. My dad worked as a new elected official in Qui Nhon. When the evacuation happened, I thought of Nhan and Nhin even though I had not seen them for years. I rode my bicycle to Qui Nhon's main church location where I heard most of the people were to migrate to. I wanted to see my friends and their mom and maybe their dad, too, but because I was very young and there were too many people, I was not able to find them. I rode home on my bicycle with tears in my eyes.

By Thai Le Nguyen

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Thai Le's Memoir

This is the story of Thai Le Nguyen, who grew up in Bong Son during the late 60's and early 70's near the LZ English American Army Base. Her story, powerful and poignant, depicts a loving family struggling to provide a normal childhood for six children amidst Communist guerrilla attacks and the rugged, lethal quality of the land itself. From snakes to gory death, the children survived by a blessed good fortune and a mother and father's determined love. Her tale is told through a unique and never before shared perspective, the view of the South Vietnamese, as seen through her own eyes. They fought against Communism alongside the Americans and lost as much and more than Americans, for they were forced to flee their homes, some of them forever. What Thai Le misses most about her life in Vietnam was the community spirit. The village was her extended family. It was a wonderful time of her life, but how ironic that it took place near an American army base, near the violence and destruction of war. Each week, Thai Le will post interesting bittersweet bits of her life.

By Amanda Griffith

The Yellow Haired Lady

I saw an American girl when I was seven, when the American Army lived near my home. She was very pretty. She was either the girlfriend, wife, or relative of one of the soldiers. She had long blonde hair to her waist and a fancy blue dress; it was an amazing sight. Six or seven of us wanted to run up to her and touch her hair. To see her walking around in that dress with that hair: can you imagine! It was strange, so strange to see her in our village. She was visiting there, I think. She wasn't inside the army base. In the village, an old lady had a room in the back of her house and a soldier rented the room for his friend, the yellow haired lady. I said to my parents, "The next time you adopt a child, could you adopt a yellow haired baby? Back then, my parents could give many children homes, like children whose parents couldn't support them or anyone visiting to stay for awhile. My parents opened their hearts and homes to many. They had food in the garden, and there were no computers or televisions to worry about buying. Nothing was expensive. So, one day, my mother and father did travel by motorcycle to Bong Son City to see if there was a blond child to adopt. There were none at the time. They came home and said, "Sorry. There weren't any."

By Thai Le Nguyen

Thai Le's Memoir

This is the perfect story to introduce Thai Le's parents to the world. They would do anything they could for anyone. They were simple, unselfish people who assisted neighbors in storms by providing a place in their second story home (the only one in the village) for ten or so neighbors to escape a flood. They provided a place for needy or friendless teenagers to stay, complete with home cooked meals fresh from the garden in the Le's backyard. In the Spring, the third chapter of Thai Le's memoir, Child of South Vietnam, is scheduled to be published in Kartika Review, an Asian literary magazine for Asian art, poetry, and prose. Stay tuned for more stories from Thai Le's youth and more information about the publication of the book.

By Amanda Griffith