Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bidong Picture7

This is Merang Beach, this area becomes first refugee camp before Bidong's. It's closed after more boat's peoples landed and for safety manner.

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English -Vietnam Dictionary keep by En. Rosli

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This is an artist worked at Pulau Bidong, do that's yours La thoan ??

Kuala Besut jetty is famous landing place for Vietnamese boat people's. These kinds of fishermens boat' s always helped Vietnamese when they enter Malaysian water.

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First Meet , Mr Sabri and Mr Rosli at Rosli small galerry, Kuala Terengganu 24th November 2008

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Hi the cute girl, please tell me where are you know ??? This picture in 1980s at Bidong's

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Bidong's household tools, top is a glass make from sauce bottle, see sister Maureen story.

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Bidong 25th November 2008 , monsoon season

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bidong Story 9

They fled Southern Vietnam after the Vietnam War in late 1978 when they were pretty much forced to leave because of all the hatred of the Chinese people. My parents, along with their siblings got a boat, a compass, and a map, and just fled as quickly as they could, trying to find a new place where they could not be harmed. They left their house, and most of their valuables, photos, belongings, mementos, wedding photos, and all the like. The most valuable thing............

please click

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bidong Story - 8

The subject of refugees is never very far from the political spotlight. In recent years, various fringe groups and minor political parties have expressed strong anti-refugee attitudes. And - in the past eighteen months or so - these views have even been echoed by some mainstream politicians.

Amidst all the shouting it is easy to overlook the fact that the vast majority of refugee immigrants end up as hard-working New Zealand taxpayers. In fact, many of them do more than that - and go on to play crucial roles in commerce, the arts, and in scientific research.

It is unfortunate that our politicians never shout about these ordinary refugee success stories. But to help counteract their silence on the subject, two of my friends - both of whom arrived in New Zealand as refugees - kindly allowed me to interview them for Public Address. In the first part of this post I talked to Shahzad Ghahreman, the highly-respected Liaison Librarian and Archivist at the Auckland University of Technology. This second interview is with Lan Le-Ngoc, one of the key scientists at Industrial Research Limited in Christchurch.

Lan had just turned fourteen when he arrived in this country - the only other surviving members of his immediate family were left back in Vietnam. He discusses his experiences as a child during the Vietnam War, and his early life under the communist regime.

Lan grew up in New Zealand to become both an engineer and scientist. His research is currently focussed on two important areas: ocean wave energy systems for electricity generation, and assistive devices to help increase the independence of the physically disabled. He has numerous scientific publications to his credit, as well as a number of commercial patents which have added significant value to New Zealand industry. His scientific work was recognized by a Royal Society Medal in 2001.

Lan was delightful to interview. He is witty, entertaining, and one of the nicest blokes you could possibly meet.

* * *

My name is Lan Le-Ngoc. I was born in Saigon (which is now known as Ho Chi Minh City) in 1964. At that time my father was serving in the South Vietnamese army, and my mother was employed by the Reserve Bank of Vietnam. I am the youngest in the family; my sister is nearly two years older than me.

One of my earliest recollections is the shelling of Saigon during the Tet offensive in January 1968. I would have been four years old at the time. It sticks in my memory because the emergency sirens woke me in the middle of the night. I knew that I had to run to the bomb shelter, but in my haste I managed to get myself stuck in the mosquito net that hung over my bed. I was still half-asleep, and began to panic - but my struggles to get free only made me more tangled in the net. I could hear my mother's anxious voice in the bomb shelter asking where I was, and then the whole family started to shout out my name. My mother rushed back into the main part of the house, and I can still recall the enormous sense of relief when she disentangled me, and then carried me out to the safety of the shelter.

Despite events like this, my early childhood seems very ordinary to me. The war was just another aspect of day-to-day life - mostly it was in the background. In a lot of ways we were quite similar to a New Zealand family of the same period. My parents owned a car, and had just purchased a small house. They had a savings account at the bank, and insurance policies - all the usual things. I went to kindergarten, and my sister went to school. Our lives were very conventional.

Everything changed when I was six. My mother died of cancer, and my sister and I were sent to live with our grandparents in another part of Saigon. My father couldn't come with us - army regulations meant that he had to live close to the military base. That was very difficult. We didn't like being separated from our father, but he was very conscientious about visiting. He would cycle across town every evening to spend a few hours with us before we went to bed.

After the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, everything began to look more hopeful. People became quite optimistic about the future. The fighting had stopped, and my father even took us on holiday. We went into central Vietnam, which had previously been far too dangerous to visit. It was the first time I had travelled north of Saigon, so I was very excited.

But then the war started up again. At the beginning of 1975 I was sitting an exam, and suddenly a fighter-bomber flew right over our school. It dropped a bomb which exploded just across the road. We had to evacuate the classroom, and go to a safe area outside the school. As a ten-year-old I didn't really feel frightened - in fact, I was rather pleased to get out of the exam. Shortly afterwards the schools were closed indefinitely, and there were no more exams at all. So I was at home when the government surrendered on April 30th, and the North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon.

My grandparents' house was close to a prison, and the first thing the North Vietnamese did was to unlock all the cells. Some of the inmates were political prisoners, but a lot of them were real criminals. They came pouring out of the prison, and managed to get hold of some automatic weapons. All afternoon there was continuous gunfire on the street where we lived. We were terrified - and locked ourselves in the bomb shelter where we would be safe from the bullets.

My father was in the military compound while all this was happening. Everyone was being evacuated to the US bases in Guam. The army wanted him to leave as well, but he protested, saying: "If I go then who will look after my children?". So he was allowed to remain behind. He put on his civilian clothes, and tried to make his way to my grandparents' house. By this time the military compound was under heavy fire, and several times he was nearly hit by artillery shells. When he got outside there were North Vietnamese soldiers everywhere, and dead bodies of South Vietnamese people lying in the street.

He arrived home that evening, and my sister and I were extremely relieved to discover that he was safe. The whole family were together in the house that night. But after we children had gone to bed some North Vietnamese soldiers came to the front door. They started waving their guns around, and shouting out for my father. Everything became terribly chaotic - people were screaming, and my sister and I hid inside the bedroom with my uncle. But my father was amazingly composed. He calmly greeted the soldiers, and answered their questions in a very self-assured manner.

It turned out that one of my father's subordinates had betrayed him to the North Vietnamese. The subordinate was actually there in the house - giving the soldiers information about my father. They were trying to discover the whereabouts of some of my relatives who had been serving in the armed forces. The subordinate was telling the soldiers about my father, and saying: "He's got a son and daughter - they must be somewhere in the house as well."

At that point my uncle grabbed my sister and me, and took us out into the back garden. His motorcycle was nearby, and he put us both on the pillion and drove to his house. It wasn't a pleasant journey. The streetlights weren't working, and the night was absolutely pitch black. From time to time we could hear gunfire from the surrounding streets. The whole city was under military curfew - we would have been in serious trouble if we'd been caught.

The next day we discovered that the North Vietnamese soldiers had arrested my father. It was a very worrying time - we didn't hear any news for about a week. But then one day my father arrived back at my grandparents' house. It turned out that the North Vietnamese regime didn't really know what to do after the fall of Saigon. So they just took people like my father into custody. He hadn't been treated badly - they'd only asked him a few simple questions and then let him go.

By that time the city had calmed down a bit, and everyone had begun to get used to the new situation. After a few weeks the new regime announced a plan. All the people from the South Vietnamese army and government would have to go through a re-education programme. They would be taught about the communist system, and how to be a good citizen in the new Vietnam.

We were advised that the programme would take one month. A lot of my family members were ordered to go: my father, some my uncles and aunts, and various other relatives. Because my father had already been in North Vietnamese custody we weren't really too concerned about the situation. They'd already let him go once - it seemed logical that they'd let him go again. If they'd had any unpleasant ideas, they would have carried them out the first time they had the opportunity.

So we didn't suspect a thing. I can remember helping my father to pack some clothing and other items into a small bag. He seemed quite unconcerned when he said goodbye to us all. We waved to him as he left the house, and he called out cheerfully: "See you in a month!".

Of course, my father and all of my other relatives just disappeared. We didn't hear anything about them again. A month went by, and then six months, and then a year. Even after three years the only thing we knew was that they were still undergoing re-education.

In the meantime, Vietnam had become a desperate place. It was like industrialization in reverse. In the early 1970s we'd had lots of cars in Saigon. Then, towards the end of the war, petrol became very expensive and everyone rode around on motor scooters. After the communists took over there were only bicycles left. Factories closed down, and all sorts of essential services fell into disarray. Everything was rationed. Food was very strictly controlled, and people were only allowed to buy a small amount every week.

With so many family members in re-education I honestly don't know how we survived. But somehow my grandmother managed to cope. I was in charge of getting her around the city. She would sit on the back of my bike, and I would pedal her wherever she wanted to go: shopping, visiting the temple, and so on. I became very good at navigating around the different parts of Saigon.

School eventually reopened. It was rather different from before: we learnt all about Ho Chi Minh, and the communist version of history. The fact that my father was in re-education meant that I had no opportunity for any sort of higher learning. Those with relatives in re-education weren't allowed to pass the advanced exams.

I had no prospects outside school either. A father in re-education would have disqualified me from any sort of career. I would only have been permitted to do the most unskilled sort of work, or could perhaps have been a low-ranking soldier in the army. The latter became a very real possibility when Vietnam declared war on Cambodia in 1978. Teenage boys were being conscripted into military service. My fifteen-year-old cousin - only a few years older than me at the time - was sent off to fight the Khmer Rouge. I'd always expected to go into the army, so I didn't mind the idea of being a soldier, but not on the side of the North Vietnamese.

By this time, life in Vietnam had become so bad that lots of people were trying to leave. My uncle was trained as a navigator, and he was approached by a group of Chinese-Vietnamese who wanted to escape. They had purchased an old boat and bribed some local officials to let them sail into the South China Sea. They offered my uncle a deal: in exchange for navigating their boat he would be allowed to bring along his wife and children. They would be able to start a new life elsewhere.

My uncle also managed to negotiate a passage for his youngest sister (my aunt), who was only a few years older than me. I remember that I took my grandmother down to the river to see them off. It was quite an event. The local officials were there with a couple of policemen to make sure that no-one got aboard the boat without paying them a bribe. Some of my other relatives were there as well. One of them took me aside, and told me that I should try to sneak onto the boat.

I thought this was a crazy idea. The local officials were running a very strict boarding process. They would call out each name from their list, and carefully check the person's identification papers. Two policemen would let the person onto the jetty, and would supervise them as they climbed into a water-taxi. The water-taxi would transport about thirty people at a time to the main boat. It would have been quite impossible to sneak aboard without anyone noticing.

I could sense that my relative was serious about trying to get me onto the boat, and so - to avoid an embarrassing situation - I hid myself behind one of the sheds on the waterfront. Later on I heard my aunt's name being called out. So I came out to wave her goodbye, and as I did so, my relative caught sight of me. He grabbed me and asked angrily: "Why are you still here? Get yourself on that boat!".

I became really annoyed with him; he was making an impossible request. So I started marching down the jetty - deliberately trying to be caught by the policemen. I think it crossed my mind that when they arrested me I'd point out my relative and say: "He made me do it!". But by pure chance, when I got there, the policemen just happened to finish with the last person on the list. So they turned around and walked down the jetty. The next thing I knew I had walked behind them all the way to the water-taxi.

The policemen got into the water-taxi to count the number of people aboard. They didn't want any possibility of a stowaway. I stood behind them at the edge of the jetty, and thought to myself: "Do I step down into the water-taxi with them, or do I stay here?" I put my foot out - but I was still undecided. And then I slightly lost my balance, and had to step down into the boat to regain my footing.

That one step completely changed my life. There was enough room behind the policemen for me to sit down. When they finished counting they didn't give me a second look - even though they had to step over me to get out of the boat. I suppose they must have thought they'd already counted me.

The water-taxi went a surprisingly long way down the river before it arrived beside the boat. I looked up and saw my uncle standing on the deck - which was very reassuring. Then I noticed that several policemen were on the deck with him. They were double-checking the list to see that no-one got aboard who hadn't paid the bribe money.

The water-taxi pulled up beside the boat, and - as luck would have it - I was the closest person to a policeman. He reached down to help me aboard. I had no idea what to do. So in sheer desperation I took the baby from the woman beside me, and handed him up to the policeman. Then I started lifting out everyone's bags, and helping all the other passengers to disembark. People were saying "Thank you very much, young man" and making approving comments about my politeness.

Eventually there was a long queue of people on deck, and then I climbed aboard. One of my uncle's friends had been watching me. He grabbed me and smuggled me into the group of people who had already been counted. There was absolutely no planning in my escape from Vietnam - everything happened by complete accident.

Finally the policemen and local officials left the boat, and we set off down the river. The trouble began when we reached the sea. There were over 250 people aboard a 21 metre boat - it was terribly overloaded. As soon as we hit the waves it tipped over onto one side.

My uncle took charge of the situation, and told everyone that we were going back to Saigon. He said that the boat was too dangerous to take to sea, and that we'd all end up drowning. But the refugees started shouting and arguing with him. They'd sold everything - their houses and all their belongings - to pay the bribes so that they could leave. They said they weren't going back.

The situation got quite nasty, and in the end my uncle was forced to continue the voyage. But he managed to get a compromise from the refugee leaders. He persuaded them to bring all the luggage up from the cargo hold and throw it overboard. Then he loaded everyone down under the deck, so as to lower the centre of gravity of the boat.

The refugees were packed in like sardines; there wasn't an inch of space anywhere. The cargo hold had no lighting - everyone was in complete darkness. I could hear people groaning and retching, and even from the deck we could smell their vomit. But my uncle's plan made the boat much more stable, and enabled us to get moving again.

I wasn't a member of any group, so I was probably the luckiest person on the whole boat. No-one ordered me into the hold with the other refugees. Instead I made myself useful helping the crew on deck - carrying things for them, and so on. I didn't feel seasick at all.

Towards the end of the day the crew finished their work. I stood at the railing and looked back at Vietnam. I tried to memorize every detail - thinking that one day I'd return. It was strange because although I'd been there all my life I'd never before seen it from the outside. In my mind, Vietnam meant the city of Saigon. But from the sea it looked just like in the movies. I could see banana plantations, and rows of coconut palms; the jungle looked very green against the water. I stood there just watching my country, as night fell, and it slowly disappeared into the darkness. I was thirteen years old.

That night a storm came and I got very seasick indeed. The boat was listing steeply over onto its side. Every so often a big wave would hit us, and it would flip over onto the other side. It felt like we were going to sink at any moment. The rough weather was with us for several days, and I was seasick the whole time. I became very dehydrated. I remember that at one stage I managed to glue my face to the floor of the wheelhouse with my own vomit. It must have been absolutely terrible for the refugees in the cargo hold.

On the evening of the fourth day we reached Malaysia, and my uncle managed to navigate the boat into the harbour at Kuala Terengganu. The water was calmer inside the harbour, and everyone began to recover from their seasickness. We moored our decrepit boat beside a group of expensive-looking yachts. We could see the glow of the city lights, and the head-lamps of cars driving on the road beside the bay. Civilization again! It was very exciting.

Morning arrived, and the citizens of Kuala Terengganu awoke to find us moored in their harbour. Nobody came out to see us, and we didn't know what we should do. So a couple of people from our boat jumped into the water, and swam to the land. As soon as they arrived they were beaten up by the Malaysian police. Eventually the police dumped them back in our boat, and then towed us out of the harbour into the river.

We were moored on the river until evening. The people in the hold were getting very edgy. I think someone tried to make a hole in the hull so that they could escape. The boat began to get very unstable as everyone moved around. I could hear a lot of voices shouting below deck. Then the police returned with a flotilla of small boats. They started to take people aboard, and everyone rushed to try and get off. Our boat began to tip really far over, and for a couple of seconds I thought it would capsize.

The police took my uncle away for interrogation, and I was loaded onto one of the small boats with some other refugees. We were taken to Paulo Bidong - a deserted island which the Malaysian government had decided to use as a refugee camp. They offloaded us onto the coral reef, and then we all had to wade through a lagoon to reach land.

Once ashore, everyone just stood around looking exhausted and confused. Then some of the refugees who were already on the island came down to the beach, and recognized their relatives in our group. Everyone started talking excitedly in Chinese, and in the midst of all this the police arrived with guns. They made us get into an orderly queue, and then took down our names for their immigration records.

By the time the police were finished, all the Chinese-Vietnamese refugees had been found by their relatives. Just my uncle's wife, her children, and my young aunt were left with me on the beach. None of us had any idea what to do. We could see one of the Chinese-Vietnamese families disappearing into the distance, and so we decided to follow after them. We tagged along for several kilometres until they arrived at a rough shelter where their relatives were living.

They went inside - which left us in an awkward position. In the end we just lay down outside the shelter and tried to go to sleep. There was nothing else to do. It was the first time I'd slept under the stars.

We had a miserable night. When I awoke the enormity of the situation suddenly dawned on me, and I became very distressed. I missed my sister and grandmother - I wanted to go back home to them.

Matters became even worse when we discovered that there was nothing to eat. The island had no food reserves for new people, and the supply ship wasn't due for another week. We tried to beg food from the other refugees. In the end we found some dried fish that had been thrown away, and tried to make a meal out of that. It had gone bad, and made us all sick.

On that second day we found a sheet of plastics, and collected a few sticks to build a tent. During the night there was heavy rain, and it turned out that we had constructed our new home in a river bed. The water rose up inside the tent, but we were so starved and exhausted by this stage that none of us could get up. We just lay there and let the water wash over us. I actually slept half-submerged in the river.

The next morning someone took pity on us, and give us a little rice to eat. Those first few days on the island were really hard - probably the worst experience in my time as a refugee. But my uncle arrived back on the next supply ship, and soon had us all sorted out. Eventually he managed to obtain some corrugated steel sheets, and built a two-storey shack. Apart from the cladding, the whole structure was created from tree branches - even our beds were made of branches. Under those circumstances it was like living in a mansion.

I soon fell into a routine on the island. In the morning I would collect water from the wells, gather firewood from the forest, and then queue for our food rations. In the afternoon I was free to do whatever I wanted. I made friends with some other kids my own age, and we used to swim at the beach and explore the coast. Later on my uncle found someone who spoke English - so we also had language lessons to keep us occupied.

But all of this was simply marking time. Everyone had applied to be settled in new countries, and we were all waiting for our cases to be considered. I had a relative who had been to university in New Zealand, and when Saigon had fallen he had been able to go back there. So I put New Zealand down as my first choice - but I also applied for Australia and the USA.

I had to wait about five months to hear from the New Zealand authorities, and in the meantime my other refugee applications were rejected - which was quite worrying. Australia had accepted my uncle's application, so it seemed like our group would be split up. He and his wife and children would be flown to Sydney, and my young aunt and I would be left behind on the island.

It turned out, however, that New Zealand had been working behind the scenes. One morning some officials turned up and interviewed me and my aunt. The next week New Zealand arranged for the Malaysians to send us to a transfer camp in Kuala Lumpur. So we actually ended up leaving the island before my uncle.

In the transfer camp we met up with about a hundred Vietnamese all going to New Zealand. We were flown to Singapore, and then a delegation of New Zealanders met us at the airport. Life completely changed as soon as the New Zealanders took us under their care. We were taken straight to the New Zealand army camp and given a proper meal - which seemed like an absolute banquet in comparison to our refugee camp diets.

This was actually the first time I spoke English in a real situation. A New Zealand soldier came up to me and asked: "How old are you?" He spoke so quickly that all I heard was 'how' and 'you'. So I took a guess and replied: "Fine thank you." He looked a bit surprised at that, but then he figured out that he needed to slow down - and we managed to have a simple conversation in English.

After our meal we were put on a plane to Auckland. The main thing I remember about the flight was the pleasure of being cool after the constant heat and stickiness of Malaysia. When we arrived in Auckland airport I was astonished by the temperature of the terminal, and thought: "Wow, this whole building is air-conditioned - it's even colder than on the plane". Then I went outside, and it was even colder still. For a few seconds I had the crazy notion that New Zealand had air-conditioning outdoors - it was so strange for me to be outside and cool at the same time.

We were taken directly to Mangere hostel, and given our own rooms with beds and pillows and sheets and blankets. It seemed incredibly luxurious in comparison to what we'd experienced over the previous six months. We were at the hostel for about three weeks, I think. In the mornings we had English classes, and in the afternoons we learnt about New Zealand culture. We were even given spending money, and encouraged to go to the shops to buy small items for ourselves.

There was a very nice Maori family staying in a different part of the hostel. I used to practice my English on them, and eventually they became my first New Zealand friends. They introduced me to some typical New Zealand foods as well as the game of table-tennis - which I still play today. Those first few weeks in New Zealand were quite formative in terms of my future habits.

At the end of the English course, my young aunt and I were sent to Christchurch to stay with my relatives. I started school almost immediately. Everything was extremely well organized - people were visiting and donating furniture so that we would have all the necessary items. I even got given a bike, which I rode to school on my first day.

I have some very strong memories of those initial months in Christchurch. The first time I had fish and chips on a Friday night: learning how to tear the top off the newspaper to get the chips out; hugging onto the hot packet to keep myself warm. Or the first time it snowed: sitting in a classroom, and suddenly realizing that snowflakes were drifting down from the sky; watching the students throwing snowballs at lunchtime, and pedalling home through the snowdrifts in the evening. It was just as I had imagined from French stories about winter - it felt like being in a fairytale.

I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed school in New Zealand. My education in Vietnam had been under the French system which involved a great deal of rote learning. I found memorization rather difficult, and wasn't a great student. But I discovered that the New Zealand system emphasized understanding rather than rote learning - an approach that suited me much better.

I was put straight into a third form class, which I found pretty hard until my English improved. But the teachers were really good, and gave me lots of extra help. As soon as I overcame my language difficulties everything got much easier. By fifth form - much to my amazement - I was top of the school in maths, science, and technical drawing.

After sixth form I decided to leave school and go to work. My family in Vietnam had managed to contact my father in a North Vietnam prison, and so I wanted to earn money to send to him and my sister. I was also keen to move out on my own - and allow my relatives some time to themselves.

But the teachers at school were very unwilling to let me leave, and when I explained my reasons they said: "We'll try to find you money somewhere - we really think it's important for you to finish school and go to university". So they arranged for me to have a meeting with the principal, and he managed to find me scholarships at the Rotary Club and Riccarton Trust.

The scholarships provided enough money for my needs during seventh form, and I was able to supplement the income with a part-time job. I was also offered the chance to board with one of my friend's families, which resolved my only other obstacle to staying on at school.

I was really determined to make the most of my opportunities during that seventh form year. I worked hard at school during the day, and studied every night. In the weekends I'd get up very early and cycle to Meadow Mushrooms in Prebbleton. I'd put in a full day's work at the mushroom factory - and then hit the books again when I got home. It was a hard year, but very enjoyable because I had such a clear goal to work towards.

At the end of the year I passed my exams, and also managed to win a university scholarship. With my bursary and living allowance I would be getting almost as much as a real job. I felt incredibly privileged - being paid to study seemed almost too good to be true.

The only drawback to the scholarship was that I was expected to go directly into second year at university. I had decided to do mechanical engineering, which is a really tough course at the best of times. Skipping first year meant that I had a lot of catching up to do. But I studied really hard, and at the end of the year I was awarded another scholarship for being the top student in mechanical engineering - much to my surprise.

A consolation for the stressful workload was my home life. In my first year at university I boarded with a retired couple, and I lived like royalty. Real kiwi food: lots of meat and vegetables followed by a nice pudding every night. And then a big roast dinner on Sunday with wine and all the trimmings. It was pretty wonderful.

During summer I did my practical work experience as an engineer. The next year I moved into a big flat in Ilam with some of my university friends. We had a very multi-cultural household, and I ended up living with Nigerians, Samoans, Tongans, Fijians, Malaysians, Sri Lankans, Solomon Islanders, and Cook Islanders as well as lots of New Zealanders.

I met so many nice people at that flat over the years - they really made me part of their family, and used to include me in all their social activities. I was actually a paid-up member of the Samoan club, the Fijian club, and the Tongan club all at the same time. In retrospect it must have looked quite funny when we were out together. A group of big strong Pacific islanders, and this skinny Vietnamese guy.

I finished my mechanical engineering degree with first class honours, which meant I could go straight on to a Ph.D. But doing more study was the last thing on my mind. I'd just heard that my father had been released after more than a decade in a prison camp, and I was desperate to bring him and my sister to New Zealand. There were a lot of obstacles to this plan. I knew that I'd need a decent income to afford the immigration costs.

But again, fate conspired to keep me at university. I was awarded a doctoral scholarship, which meant that I would be paid a generous stipend to study for a Ph.D. And when I mentioned that I had no intention of accepting the scholarship, I got a long lecture from my professor about missing the opportunity of a lifetime. So in the end - slightly against my will - I found myself enrolled in the Ph.D. programme. Again, like so many other events in my life, as a consequence of accidental circumstances.

It turned out that I wasn't so busy during my Ph.D., and so I decided to offer some of my time to coach school-children who were having difficulties with maths and science. I ended up with four kids to tutor every Saturday morning. It was quite hard work, but it ended up being very worthwhile because one of my students had an older sister who was really nice. Exceptionally nice, actually. And one day I plucked up enough courage to ask her out on a date. Six months later we were engaged.

That put the pressure on me to finish my Ph.D. as quickly as possible - I didn't want to get married while I was still a student. And, of course, I wanted to have my father and sister at the wedding. This was a problem because my application to bring them to New Zealand had been turned down by the immigration service.

That was a very difficult and upsetting situation. I tried every possible avenue to get my case reconsidered: I applied for a special hearing on compassionate grounds, my friends wrote letters supporting my submission, I even got the local member of parliament to talk to the immigration service on my behalf. But nothing worked - it was really devastating.

And then one day - completely out of the blue - I read in the newspaper that the immigration service had changed its rules. And under the new criteria I was eligible to re-apply. And when I resubmitted my application everything went smoothly, and my father and sister were accepted into the country.

The year 1990 was a real annus mirabilis for me. At the beginning of the year I handed in my Ph.D. Then my father and sister came to New Zealand, and we were finally re-united as a family. Then I got my job as a scientist at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), which enabled me to buy a nice house for us all to live in. And then, at the very end of the year - on Boxing Day - I got married.

Since then we've had two children. Our family has a very conventional life-style: typical New Zealand food, and the same sort of day-to-day activities as everyone else. My son and daughter are both very passionate New Zealanders - in fact, my son wears red and black rubber-bands on his braces to support the Canterbury Super-14 team. My daughter is a keen netball player, and studies art, dance, and music in her spare time. I occasionally think it would be nice if they were more in touch with their Vietnamese heritage, but as long as they're happy I don't really mind.

Over the years I've had a lot of pressure to leave New Zealand from my extended family in Australia and the USA. I know that I could earn much more money in these countries - but I'm not a person who is particularly motivated by that sort of thing. It's more important for me to make a contribution to New Zealand, which I hope that I do through my science work. My passion is to help solve the problems that face all of humanity, and to improve everyone's quality of life.

The only trouble - and this is very hard for me to say - is that these days I'm not entirely sure if New Zealand wants me. I feel that I'm appreciated in my profession and within the science community, but on the streets I get a very different reception. People who don't know me will often treat me quite rudely. In fact, sometimes they are actually insulting.

This behaviour is a comparatively new phenomenon - just in the last five years or so. I never saw it when I was a teenager, and I certainly didn't live in a posh area or attend any sort of exclusive school. I had summer jobs picking fruit in the orchards down in Clyde, and worked with all sorts of New Zealanders; and I don't recall any incidents of racism at all. But recently it seems to be everywhere. I've had people shouting abuse at me from cars. Even children - that's the worst.

Only a few weeks ago I dropped my daughter off at school, and as I went back to my car there were some kids standing at the front gate. Just primary school children - only nine or ten years old. And one of them shouted at me: "You f**king Asian. Go home!"

That incident really depressed me - because you can judge a society by its children. Where would a child have learnt those attitudes? Just nine or ten years old, and already he thought that Asians shouldn't be in this country. The message is actually out there in society for him. It was a terribly worrying thing to happen at my daughter's school, and it's a real concern of mine that these new racist attitudes might affect her as well.

I suspect that part of the responsibility for such attitudes can be laid at the feet of certain politicians. The rhetoric of people like Winston Peters and Don Brash has actually promoted anti-immigrant sentiment. It was probably always there to a certain extent, but when senior politicians start spouting this sort of nonsense then it isn't merely airing the views of a racist minority - it actually starts to incite racism.

Easily-led people take such political rhetoric as legitimization of their own bigoted views. They think it gives them carte blanche to treat immigrants rudely in shops, or to shout insults from their cars. Of course, I'm not suggesting that this is the intention of Peters or Brash. They're just doing it to get votes. I'm sure that after the election they forget all about it. But they don't realize the long-term impact that it's having on people like me and my family - who can be easily identified as having ancestry from somewhere other than Europe.

The ridiculous thing about being told to "go home" is that I've lived in New Zealand twice as long as I lived in Vietnam - I've been here for nearly half my childhood and all my adult life.

I am home.

source :,

Monday, November 10, 2008

Peninsular Malaysia vs Bidong

Bidong Story - 7


In the early 90’s, I was given the opportunity to join a trip to Pulau Bidong in Terengganu. I was a Canoeing Couch for ‘Persatuan Rekreasi Negeri Terengganu’ at that time. All the Canoe Coaches for ‘Persatuan Rekreasi Negeri Terengganu’ were invited to join the trip that was organized by the Terengganu Tourist Centre, to visit this island that was once occupied by the Vietnamese refugees.

Pulau Bidong sound scary for me as I had heard a lot of sad stories happened there. This island was being used as a Vietnamese Refugee Camp. It has recorded a lot of death cases that caused by diseases, mentally disorders, and suicide. All these incidents happened because of their savage experiences during Comunist Regimn such as their families being killed and witnessed by them etc. They also said that many of them died before they reached this island because of big waves and drowned.

Even though we were scared to hear those stories, but the curiosity to explore this island give us the spirit to join the trip. In addition, my friend always supported and motivated me not to let go this golden opportunity. This would be a life time opportunity because this island is banned for public.

We gathered at Marang Jetty in the early morning. After having our breakfast together, we got into the tourist boat owned by Negeri Terengganu Tourist Centre. The experiences while on the boat were very interesting. Some of the participants were having ‘sea sick’ and dizziness. But Alhamdulillah, I managed to face it with calm. I’ve already used to be out at sea.

The wind blew heavily during our journey. The big wave hit our boat several times, but the captain manage to control the boat with his expertise. Not long after that, we could see the island far in front of us. As we were getting nearer to the beach, we saw several old building on the island. One of the buildings that we saw was the Red Cross building which faced the sea. It was surrounded by the hostels that had been used for the refugees.
A troupe army consisting of officers and soldiers welcomed us as we reached the island. This army helped to guard the island after it being ‘cleaned’. It was a big success for me to reach this island and it gave me an interesting experiences. Even though it was a little bit scary but I was also excited to see the whole beautiful beaches. All these scenaries are ‘eye catching’. But the abundant buildings looked scary. Were they hunted?…

My friends were also having the same feelings as me. Mr. Wan Adnan, the chairman of Recreational Associate that we called ‘abah’ smiled at us. “There aren’t ghosts at that time,” he said.

Then we gathered at the beach to have a briefing from an army officer (a captain). He explained to us that the island is ‘cleaned’. All the Vietnamese refugees were send to the other countries that involved in ‘The Help For War Victims’. Many of them are scared to go back to their own country even though the Comunist Regimn are no longer controlled their country. But according to the captain, this island is now under army control as to avoid any attack from smugglers and pirates.

After the briefing, we went to visit the Red Cross building that was being used to help the sick and injured people. The building that face the sea are still in good condition. But it was quite quiet here and sound creepy. There were beds and cupboards left in this building together with old untidy desks.

Besides the Red Cross building, there was another abandoned building that was being used by the refugees. The building was big and long like ‘Rumah Panjang’ at Sarawak. There were only several windows. It made our voices and stamps of the feet echoed and sound more scary. Then we saw a big well inside the building. According to the captain, the well was used by the refugees for their purposed.

In the afternoon, we had our lunch prepared by the army. They were very friendly. They told their experience regarding with their works as guards. Each group would guard the island for several months. Then the other group would take turn to replaced. They said that life was so boring here…

After having our lunch, we were given the opportunity to swim in the sea. We went canoeing and snorkeling alternately as there were not enough equipment for us. During snorkeling, I saw beautiful corals although it was near the beach. I guessed they were more beautiful than the other places I went. It would be a waste as public cannot share the beauty.

After snorkeling, ‘Abang Usop’ and I went canoeing together. We canoed along the beach to see the scenaries of the island. The army officer told us not to go to the other side of the island it faced South China Sea. The waves were stronger and dangerous. We accepted his advise.

During canoeing along the beach, the wave sounded creepy and scary as though someone was whispering. We didn’t know why. Maybe it was just our feelings. Then we turned back to our campsite at the beach. We told to the captain about our scary feelings. He said, there were a lots of bad things happened here. The sudden death, the drowning refugees, the suicide etc. Because of these incidents made this place a little bit scary and weird even in daytime. Actually, we didn’t believe all these things but the feelings were just there.

To calm down our feelings, we decided to take walk along the beach. At one side of the beach, the refugees had built a monument to tell everyone, that they had lived there. Even though it was not beautiful but it was meaningful to them. We felt sad to see it.

Late that evening, we took our bath at the well inside the abundant building. There wasn’t proper water supply in this island. And again, we were being disturbed by the sounds of the water splashing during our bath. It produced scary and creepy sounds. We continued our bathing even though we were so scared. After finishing our bath, we went back to our camp immediately to perform our prayer.

At that night, we enjoyed seeing the scenery of the sea and the sky. Allah’s creations were so lovely. The stars were twinkling and we could see fisherman doing their catch. Abah said, they use nets to catch fish and ‘mencandat sotong’. This was squids seasons.

Then, I saw a boat getting nearer to the beach. Our friends had just came back from ‘mencandat sotong’. That’s why I didn’t see them earlier. Quietly they went out to the sea to catch squids. We prepared for barbeque and grilled the squids. The taste were marvelous. We enjoyed our dinner at the beach. Around midnight, we went back to our camp to rest.

I was awoke from my deep sleep. I could feel the wind blew hard on my body. Our tents were blown away by the wind. I had a glanced at my watch, it was 2.00 a.m. We could not pitch the tents because of the storm. We were not allow to go into the buildings as they were no electricity supply. The night was dark and before that the captain advised us not to take shelter there to avoid any danger. Finally we had to spend our night on the sandy beach. We sat closely to each others as the night was cold. But our eyes could not close anymore.

I woke up at 5.00 a.m. The cold wind swept my body and I was shivering. Abah was gathering sticks to make fire. I knew he didn’t sleep either. I offered him my hands. We sat around the camp fire and talked about the storm that night. For me, it was a meaningful experience that I’ve never had. It didn’t mean that I never went camping before, but the experience of the stormy night was a different one. Moreover it happened on the mysterious island, Pulau Bidong. I would never forget it. It always in my mind.

That morning, the captain came to see us. We told him what happened the night before. He told us that it was a common situation for them. Sometimes the strong wind blew together with heavy rain. It happened because the island was far from the main land. The wind blew from all directions.

The chairmain of Negeri Terengganu Tourist Centre told us that the state government had planned to develop the island for tourism purposes, but until now the authority still work out on it. One of the reasons that they visited the island was to measure the safety of the island when they open to public.

We had our breakfast as we continued our conversation. Without ‘roti canai’ , ‘nasi lemak’ , ‘nasi dagang’, we still enjoyed bread with jam and hot coffee. Having breakfast on the sandy beaches on the beautiful island made us really enjoyed the moment. Deep in my heart I believed that Pulau Bidong is more enchanting that Pulau Kapas, Pulau Redang, Pulau Perhentian or Gem Islands. Unluckily the old and abandoned building spoiled the scenery of the islands. If it had been developed earlier and never been a place for the Vietnamese refugees surely it will attract local tourist and foreigners.

Until now, Pulau Bidong is still under the army observation. The plans to develop the island by the state government and the Tourism Associate of Negeri Terengganu are still uncertained.

I will never forget my experienced exploring the island with my friends. I really enjoyed my two days and night stay on the island. This meaningful experience made me felt very luckily and proud to be a Malaysian. I will always appreciate every moment of my life.
Distributed by Pn Zaiton Abdullah, schoolteacher from Terengganu,Malaysia.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bidong Story - 6

Why they fled: The fall of Saigon
Broadcast Date: May 1, 2000

Just before dawn on April 30, 1975, a helicopter rises into the sky over Saigon. It is carrying the last-remaining American marines out of Vietnam. Fourteen years of war between American-backed South Vietnam and communist North Vietnam are over.
But the exodus of people from Vietnam has only begun. Vietnamese refugee Francis Win was only a boy when his family fled, but he talks to CBC Television about the arrival of the Communists and the difficult years that followed.

The air evacuation from Saigon was supposed to be one of the largest transports of refugees ever undertaken. The Pentagon had been told to plan for the movement of 175,000 South Vietnamese who were in danger of being executed by the Communists for their service to the South Vietnam government or the United States. In reality, only a small fraction of that number were evacuated.

The scenes were wrenching — people trying and failing to force their way into the U.S. Embassy, men being punched down as they tried to board American helicopters, Vietnamese babies being passed over fences to open hands and an unknown future.
Those South Vietnamese allies left behind faced years of hard labour, imprisonment and death. The same was true for American allies in Laos, where an estimated ten per cent of the Hmong tribespeople were killed by Communist forces.

Those who could, fled — by air, land or sea. In the spring of 1975, 130,000 refugees escaped Vietnam. Tiny boats full of South Vietnamese soldiers and their families set off down the Mekong River in the hopes of surviving the 600 mile journey to the Malaysian coast. They were the first wave of Vietnamese boat people. But they were not the last

source :

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bidong Story - 5

Pirates continue to rape and murder Vietnamese refugees

By Michael Dorgan Mercury News Staff Writer

SURAT THANI, Thailand - Cam-Nhung's face showed no emotion as she described for the first time how 20 Thai's pirates raped her for 20 hours in the Gulf of Thailand.

Only her eyes revealed the pain and rage that clung to her as tightly as her tiny daughter, who had looked on in uncomprehending terror a week earlier as her mother paid what is often the price of passage for women who flee Vietnam.

More than a decade after refugees began flowing like blood into the vast gulf and the South China Sea, 20,000 Vietnamese a year continue to squeeze into small boats to sail for freedom in Foreign lands. And despite claims of success for a five-year-old anti-piracy program, hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of those refugees will fall prey this year to the fishermen-turned-pirates who have robbed, raped and murdered thousands since 1975.

The United Nations, which oversees a $15-million anti-piracy program funded by the United States and 10 other countries, says increased patrols at sea and police investigations on land have increased the number of pirate arrests and drastically reduced the number of attacks. That claim is repeated by many UyõS. officials, one of whom asserted that the anti-piracy effort "is working beautifully."

But others who work closely with refugees say the official tally of attacks reflects just a fraction of the carnage. Furthermore, they claim that the anti-piracy effort has been subverted by uncaring and corrupt officials who squander funds on unused equipment and in some cases, send innocent men to jail.

Those responsible for combating piracy -- Thai, UyõN. and UyõS. officials -- almost uniformly downplay the extent of the problem and resist independent efforts to gauge the effectiveness of the anti-piracy program.

Nobody likes to admit that piracy is still going on, "said Ted Schweitzer, a former field worker in Thailand for the United Nations. "They'd rather hide their heads in the sand."

The officials who would speak almost always did so on the condition that their names not be used. But dozens of interviews with officials, private refugee workers, Thai fishermen and Vietnamese refugees across central and southern Thailand as well as in the United States revealed horror of a breadth and depth that stuns the imagination.

Robberies The simplest attacks are robberies in which rogue fishermen strip refugees of wrist watches, boat motors and sometimes the shirts off their backs. Some refugees are robbed two, three, or even a dozen times by different pirate crews.

Those victims are the lucky ones. Others are beaten and raped, sometimes by entire crews, often as their families look on. Women are pulled from the arms of their children and passed as sex slaves from fishing boat to fishing boat, then tossed overboard like trash. Men are kicked into the sea or brutally beaten.

Girls as young as 10 have been sexually assaulted. Men have been slaughtered for trying to stop the raping of their wives or daughters. On several occasions, entire boat loads of refugees have been dumped into the gulf and left to drown when pirates rammed and shattered their fragile vessels.

Those who survive may wait for years in crowded, Spartan refugee camps while agencies and governments bicker over their fate. And even those who eventually find new homes in friendly lands -- including thousands in San Jose and other Bay Area communities -- still carry crippling emotional scars.

Lynn, a 23-year-old San Jose student, who fled Saigon in 1980, was pulled onto a pirate boat and raped for three hours by 15 men. Months later, after finally achieving her hard-earned dream of reaching America, she tried to commit suicide.

Charting the incidence of violence on the gulf is a daunting task, almost impossible to do with precision.

Last year, there were an average of three documented, attacks per week on refugee boats bound for Thailand and Malaysia, according to statistics compiled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The 141 attacks left 132 people either dead or missing and presumed dead, according to UyõN. officials. In addition, 142 women were raped and 64 were abducted; only 14 of them have been recovered.


However, some refugee's workers say the UyõN. figures are seriously flawed. Because the Thai government has a poor reputation for prosecuting piracy, ------ fewer than 70 pirates have been convicted over the past 10 years -- and because refugees fear that their resettlement in another country may be delayed if they become involved in lengthy court cases, many crimes go unreported, these workers say.

Especially under reported is rape, they say, a crime that often leaves Vietnamese women with deep feelings of shame and that sometimes results in their rejection by Vietnamese men.

"When a Vietnamese woman is raped, her life is ruined, especially if she is young," said Le Thi Que-Huong, a spokeswoman for the San Jose based Vietnamese Women's Association. "Virginity is prized. To lose it is to suffer great humiliation."

Dr. Nguyet Mehlert, a San Jose physician who in 1980 set up a clinic in Thailand to provide counseling and medical care to refugee rape victims, estimates that at that time about 60 percent of all boat women between ages nine and 56 were sexually assaulted while on the gulf.

Father Joe Devlin, a Jesuit priest who spent seven years in Thailand helping Vietnamese refugees before returning to the United States a few months ago, says the same holds true today.

"In fact, I think 60 percent is a very conservative figure," he said.


As with rape, there are also sharp differences of opinion on how many refugees die in storms or at the hands of pirates without leaving a mark on anyone's tally sheet.

Most refugees plot their escapes in great secrecy -- if caught, they can be sentenced to long terms in re-education camps. Once under way, it is easy for entire boatloads of people to vanish in the vastness of the gulf.

Last year's figures would have contained 40 fewer names in the "missing" category and nine fewer in the "abducted" coulumn had not a 14 year-old girl been picked up by a fishing boat after spending a night and a day floating helplessly in the sea.

Nguyen Thi Kim Loan told authorities that five Thai fishing boats simultaneously attacked their group of 49 refugees about two weeks before her rescue in early February. Armed with clubs and knives, the fishermen searched the refugees and took all valuables, then pulled nine women and girls onto various boats, she said. The only refugee aboard the boat that took her. Kim-Loan was raped repeatedly for five days and then passed to another fishing boat, where she was kept five more days and raped several more times. She finally escaped by jumping overboard one afternoon as the crewmembers dozed. Kim-Loan, who now faces an uncertain future behind locked gates at the Phanat Nikhom refugee camp near Bangkok, is apparently the only survivor of the attack. All 48 of her fellow passengers have disappeared. Robin Bickley, a New Zealander who until last month headed the United nation's three-member anti-piracy unit in Bangkok, estimates that no more than 10 percent of the people who flee Vietnam by boat vanish without being recorded in UyõN. statistics.

Even if he is right, the number of unrecorded deaths could be close to60,00 60,000, since nearly 600,000 people have successfully fled Vietnam by boat.

But Nguyen Huu Xuong, director of the non-profit San Diego based Boat People SOS Committee, says that even 60,000 deaths would be a gross underestimate. Xuong says his contacts with refugee organizations throughout the world lead him to believe that as many as 250,000 refugees have died at sea.


Some knowledgeable observers, including Father Devlin, said they think the percentage of refugees murdered after being robbed or raped by pirates has actually increased in response to stepped-up enforcement.

"The Thai pirates are as clever in their field as anyone else is in his field," Devlin said. "Two or three years ago I said the enforcement effort, would only make things worse, and I've seen nothing to prove me wrong."

One statistic tends to back him up: From the end of 1985 to the end of 1986, a period in which there were more arrests for piracy than during all previous years put together, the percentage of women recovered after being abducted off the coast of southern Thailand fell from 54 percent to 24 percent.

"Sure, we've worried a lot about pirates killing off witnesses," said one Western anti-piracy official. "But what are we supposed to do -- nothing?"

Even if piracy could be curbed, refugees would continue to perish by the hundreds, if not thousands. Nature may claim even more victims than pirates.

Many boat people schedule their escapes during the winter monsoon, when strong northeasterly winds help push their puny, under powered craft toward Thailand or Malaysia. But the helpful winds can turn treacherous and churn the sea into raging storms.

Or, becalmed, the refugees may drift aimlessly. Sixteen boat people who landed in Malaysia early in February told authorities that after 20 days at sea without food, they ate the flesh of a dead companion to survive.


But regardless of the horrors that await them, refugees continue to pour out of Vietnam. Interviews with dozens of boat peopel who have recently washed up on the southern shores of Thailand indicate that most are ware of the dangers but willing to risk degradation and even death for a chance at a new life.

Cam-Nhung said she undertook the voyage in the hope of joining her husband, who made his way to the United States in 1986 and now lives in Michigan.

The six men and five women on her boat - which also carried five children - had many peeling reasons to leave Vietnam. Some said they feared being drafted into the army and sent to Cambodia to fight the Khmer rebels who continue to resist the Vietnamese occupation. Others said they had been blacklisted from jobs because of affiliations with the United States during the Vietnam War. Still others said they no longer could tolerate the absence of freedom under their country's Communist government.

The group slipped out of the southern city of Camau in a 30-foot riverboat in the dead of night on January 19. They had no map, no navigational equipment, no specific destination.

"I didn't think where to go," said Thach Thi Phung, a spirited 34-year-old woman who served as captain. "I just wanted to leave Vietnam."

At 10 a.m. the day after their departure, a Thai trawler stopped them by firing two shots over their boat.

After the trawler pulled along side, two of its 24 crew members stood guard with an M-16 and a shotgun as four others boarded the refugee boat and searched for valuables. They found only a watch and a jade bracelet.

The fishermen then ordered all of the women and two small girls onto the trawler. Two of the women cried in fear but were beaten into silence and taken with the others into the cabin of the boat. There, the women were raped repeatedly for the next 20 hours.


Then the pirates returned the women and children to their boat, gave the refugees water, milk and biscuits, and pointed the way to Thailand.

Now, Nhung, Phung and the others sit in a three-walled shed on the grounds of the Surat Thani Chinese Foundation, awaiting transport to the huge refugee camp at Phanat Nikhom. Once there, they will begin the increasingly difficult search for a new country.

Most countries already have as many Vietnamese refugees as they want. And most, including the United States, have gradually reduced the number they will accept. A survey last year found that of 33,000 Vietnamese refugees in UyõN. camps in Southeast Asia, 10,000 had been in a camp for three years or longer.

But for many Vietnamese, even a dim prospect of resettlement is better than staying in Vietnam.

source :http://">">">

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bidong Story 4

by Nguyen Si
I spent ten days on the sea before I arrived at Pulau Bidong, Malaysia, which is located southeast in the Pacific Ocean. All the people on my boat had to stay in the hospital for a week to recover. The trip was a nightmare to me.

It was a dark, drizzly and foggy night in the spring. My father took me to the harbor where the boat was located. On the way to the harbor my father told me, "You will escape tonight."

Then I asked him, "Are you going with me, Dad?"

He said, "No, I have to stay with your mother."

So I asked him, "Whey aren't you and Mom going with me?"

Then he said, "Because we don't have enough money for three of us to pay the sailor."

After that we kept silent until we got to the harbor because we were afraid the Communists would hear it, and they would catch us. When we got to the harbor, we didn't see the boat, so we had to wait there. There were some people waiting for the boat, too. At 2 AM, still dark as midnight, the boat came. It was a very old, small boat, about five feet wide and forty feet long. It had just an engine, without a roof or chair. When the boat ran ashore, people began to get on it. There were seventeen people on the boat, and everyone had just enough room to sit in the bottom of the boat.

Before my father took me to the boat, he hugged me tight, kissed me on my forehead and said, "Take care, son."

At that time, my eyes were tearful and I couldn't say goodbye to him. When the boat was leaving, I looked back at the harbor. I saw him. He was still waving his hand, and I kept watching him until he disappeared in the dark.

Early in the first morning, the sun was just a little curve above the water in the east. It was the first day in my life that I was on the ocean in all its natural beauty. Oh, it was very pretty that morning with the blue water of the ocean and a breezy wind. I was very excited when I saw it, and everyone was very excited, too. Just a few hours later, all of us suffered from the sunshine, dehydration and seasickness. Then some of us threw up with our pale faces. I also threw up all the food that I had eaten. Then I asked the sailor to have some water to drink.

He gave me a small cup of water, and I asked him for more, but he told me, "We carry only five gallons of fresh water on the boat." I was so scared after I heard it. Then I crept into the bow and lay there.

On the first night, a storm came with huge waves and also the engine didn't work. Then our boat jumped up and down in the waves. Every one of us kept praying to God. We had a hard time dealing with the storm, but we went through it at last. But our compass and map were useless because salt water had gotten into them. On the next morning, everything was normal again. The storms were gone but the sunshine was back. Around us there was just a large body of water, as if we were in another world with no people on it. We just saw a group of dolphins following in front of us, and they jumped up and down in the water.

After two days our food and water ran out because the boat was running off course. People on the boat were so quiet, starving and thirsty, and so was I. Everyone was waiting to die because there was no water or food, and they were desperate. They were desperate because the sailor told them that they would dock in Malaysia in only two days. However, we were four days at sea already, and we didn't see any land.

Luckily, early in the next morning, while I stood in the front of the boat, I saw a few swallows that flew in the sky. Then I knew there were some islands around there. So I looked around. On the horizon, I saw a very small patch of land far away from us. Then I cried aloud, "Land, land."

It made everyone wake up. When we got near this island, we saw many Communists with their guns. They shot in the sky to warn us. Then they captured us and took us to a small house. The chief of these Communists called all of us to his office and searched us to get our money, gold, watches, etc. At that time, he took all of my money from me, but he couldn't find any gold because I had none. After that, they gave us some food, water, gasoline, and a compass. Then they expelled us from their island.

Two days after we left the island, we saw a huge ship, and we stopped near by and asked for help. Everyone was disappointed because that ship was a pirate ship. Then they got down to our boat and searched us again for money, gold, etc. But they didn't fined anything of value because we had given it all at the island. Then they chose two beautiful girls who were about fifteen years old for their ship. They wanted to sink our ship, but a fisherman's boat came to us and the pirates ran away. We used sign language to communicate with the fishermen because we couldn't speak their language.

Finally, we saw land far away from us. Then everyone screamed, "We made it!" Everybody in the boat was happy and cheerful. Then we docked at the shore, and the people who lived around there come out and looked at us. They stared at us as if we were aliens from another planet. A few minutes later, the police of Malaysia come and took us to the hospital.

I was reborn after I arrived at Pulau-Bidong. I will never forget to keep thanks to God, to the people on the island, and also to the fishermen who helped us to find the free country which we were looking for. I will always remember my trip, and I'll never forget this great event for the rest of my life.

source : http//

Bidong Story - 3

A disaster points up the plight of Viet Nam's seaborne escapees

The frail fishing boat, packed with some 250 men, women and children fleeing Viet Nam, arrived off the east coast of Malaysia early last week. When it tried to dock at Pulau Bidong, an island that holds Malaysia's largest camp of Vietnamese refugees, police prevented the landing. The craft headed for the mainland, but villagers waded into the water and pushed the vessel away from the shore. In desperation, the refugees attempted to negotiate turbulent waters into the mouth of the Trengganu River. Catastrophe struck. The boat hit a sand bar and capsized. A few dozen aboard managed to swim ashore. More than 200 lost their lives.

The deaths dramatized the perils facing a growing flood of seaborne refugees trying to escape from Viet Nam. A few weeks ago, one group was attacked seven times by pirates, who took even food and water before the Vietnamese landed in Thailand. Several other boatloads were so desperate for safety that they forcibly boarded an oil-rig tugboat about 170 miles east of Malaysia. Still another 42 Vietnamese scuttled their craft just off the Malaysian shore, swimming the remaining distance so that authorities could not tow them back out to sea.

Despite the hazards of escape and escape, never since the massive exodus following the fall of Saigon in 1975 has the South China Sea been so strewn with refugees seeking safe harbor. "The flow is so great," reports TIME Correspondent Richard Bernstein, "that countries in the area are becoming increasingly reluctant to accept new arrivals, even temporarily. And as the tide of refugees rises, it is straining the ability—and the willingness —of more distant nations to grant them permanent asylum."

Malaysia is the most striking case in point. So far this month, more than 10,000 people have arrived on its shores. Many of the refugees have heard that acceptance in Malaysia is easier than in other nearby countries. But the number of Vietnamese in Malaysian refugee camps—packed, fetid shanty towns, where food and water are scarce—has surged from a mere 5,000 last spring to more than 40,000 today, and the government has grown progressively anxious about new arrivals.

Even as tragedy struck in the Trengganu estuary, another refugee drama, that of the harborless freighter Hai Hong, was coming to a gradual, troubled end. Jammed with 2,500 refugees, the 1,600-ton Hai Hong arrived off Malaysia near Port Kelang on Nov. 9 after two weeks at sea. The government refused to let the ship dock. It would not allow food, water and medicine to be sent to the freighter until last week, when France, Canada and the U.S. agreed to help resettle all aboard. The Malaysian government still will not permit the refugees stranded on the overcrowded, unsanitary vessel to be quartered ashore. Local officials want the Vietnamese to be transferred directly from the ship to an airport for flights to their new homes. The U.S., which has already admitted 150,000 refugees from Indochina, seeks a different solution. To help the Hai Hong homeless, the U.S. Attorney General approved an increase of 2,500 above the annual refugee quota of 25,000 for the year ending next May 1. But the Carter Administration wants to take the refugees at the head of the queue already in Malaysia, and have the Hai Hong escapees take their places in the camps.
The Hai Hong's passengers—mostly ethnic Chinese—represent a new type of refugee. There is some evidence that the ship and its human cargo left Viet Nam with the knowledge of either the Hanoi government or high Vietnamese officials. Refugees have testified that since July a scarcely concealed escape network has been in existence that allows people, especially of Chinese descent, to leave the country for a price—currently about 10 oz. of gold, or roughly $2,000, per person. "It's all organized by the government," says one Vietnamese Chinese who arrived in Thailand this month. "They want the gold, and they feel that we overseas Chinese are no use to them anyway."

Whether pay-and-escape is in fact Hanoi policy remains unconfirmed. But a number of refugees say that those who want to leave Viet Nam can simply register with a middleman and make a down payment in gold or dollars. They are taken to ports where they hand over the rest of the exit price, then are ferried to a ship just outside Vietnamese territorial waters. At least two such vessels have been used. One is the Hai Hong, the other a 900-ton coaster, the Southern Cross, which ran aground in Indonesian waters last Sept. 21 carrying more than 1,200 passengers.

Malaysia claims that people who leave Viet Nam in such fashion are not refugees but illegal immigrants who should be refused asylum. Others disagree. "These people," says one Western refugee official, "have risked their lives escaping what they consider intolerable conditions. The fact that they paid bribes doesn't make them any less refugees than were Jews who escaped Nazi Germany. Many of those people paid bribes too."

In any case, those who leave Viet Nam via what is called "the big payoff' still constitute a minority. While negotiations over the Hai Hong were under way, well over 4,000 new refugees arrived off Malaysia in smaller groups. Most were granted sanctuary, though by late last week police patrol boats were turning back many small craft.

The numbers demonstrate that many Vietnamese, from soldiers and officials of the old regime to simple fisherfolk, remain deeply dissatisfied with their new masters.

Among the most common complaints are lack of political freedom, food shortages, and the extreme hardships in the "new economic zones," patches of jungle where city dwellers have been forcibly resettled. "Practically everybody talks about escape," says a former Saigon civil servant now in Thailand. "It's just a matter of being willing to take the chance."

It is not only the Vietnamese who show dissatisfaction. Even as the Vietnamese refugees increase, more and more Laotians and Cambodians seek to escape overland. For some time, an average of 3,000 people a month arrived in Thailand; in October, the figure doubled.

Alarmed by the new tide of refugees, U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance last month called on the U.N. General Assembly to convene a conference on the entire question, a meeting now scheduled for Geneva in December. Even before that, the U.S. Congress will hold hearings on the refugees' plight and the possibility of higher U.S. quotas.

source :,9171,912259-1,00.html

Bidong Story - 2

Tan Thai’s life could be a novel or a movie. A Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, Tan was a middle school teacher in Vietnam twenty-five years ago when Saigon fell to the communists.
The life Tan enjoyed while growing up in Vietnam changed drastically after that. His father, a businessman, lost everything. His younger brother, Loc, was drafted by the communists to carry ammunition. Tan could not see past a bleak future.
He says the strength and love of his mother motivated him and his older sister, Mai, to escape Vietnam. “Don’t cry,” she said, as they left. They were captured on their first attempt but were successful on their next attempt.“Successful” meant they arrived in a crowded boat at Pulau Bidong, asmall island off the east coast of Malaysia, after three days and nights at sea. Their journey included being robbed on three separate occasions by Thai sea pirates. The pirates threatened their lives and terrorized them. “Only by God’s grace did they let us go,” says Tan. The small wooden fishing boat was overcrowded with about 50 people of all ages. “People vomited
all around me, the odor was horrific,” says Tan. “My sister and I had some water but no food.” Their arrival in Pulau Bidong was also traumatic, but a happy surprise
awaited them. As Tan and Mai sat on the dock, their brother Loc appeared. They had not heard from Loc in a very long time, but he also had escaped. Loc told them he had gone every day to the only dock on the island in hope of seeing family members.
There were 6,000 refugees in Pulau Bidong when they arrived.They built their own houses from abandoned materials like plastic sugar bags and wood from trees harvested
from the island’s hills. Beds were constructed out of tree bark, later “upgraded” with wooden planks. “Our stay at Pulau Bidong lasted about six months,” Tan says. “Some refugees had to wait for five or six years if they didn’t have relatives or friends in any sponsoring countries. We were fortunate. My sister’s
husband had escaped in 1975 and lived in Dallas, so it took us only half a year of waiting in Bidong.” However, because of Loc’s health problem, Tan and Mai ended up
waiting another three months in a transit camp. As for Loc, it took him another six months to reach the U.S. Initially, they all lived together in Texas. About a year and a half after arriving in Dallas, Tan moved to
Arkansas where an aunt and uncle offered him a place to stay while attending the University of Arkansas. Tan’s degrees in electrical engineering brought him to Sandia
Labs in 1987 by way of AT&T. Today at Sandia, Tan does research and development for
computer security applications. He was promoted to Distinguished Member of Technical Staff in 2001. Tan and his wife Lan, a Vietnamese interpreter at the University of New Mexico, have three children, Hannah, Nathan, and Stephen. Tan also serves as a
biovocational pastor at a Vietnamese church. His nights and most of the weekend are filled with church work and family activities. His brother Loc works for
Boeing and sister Mai works for an electronics firm. They both live in Texas. Their mother died before her paperwork to enter the U.S. was completed. Tan became
a U.S. citizen in 1986 in Arkansas. Although he is glad that his children did not have to experience his quest for freedom, he hopes that they value what they have
in the U.S. “To me, mine is a typical American story,” says Tan.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bidong Story - 1

This morning some one told me that Malaysia isn’t an Island.

Then I did a Google search on Pula Bidong which turns up Binh Danh’s project. I didn’t even spell it correctly but Google was smart to suggest the correct spelling. I’m excited. It triggered some memories. I remember lying on the island during Christmas time. The PA system broadcast Christmas music. We got better treats from the Uni-chief organization. I can remember eating chicken in a can. Yeah, there were parts of chicken complete with bones stuffed into a can. I remember missing family, other normal Christmas where I got to play with my neighbor’s train track toys.

I remember the same god damn PA system announcing the names of people who would be selected to go and I would be jealous because my name wasn’t called. I can’t recall the elation of the moment when they called my name though. I drop everything whenever the PA spoke, and I listen attentively to every word echoing through the hills.

I learned to swim on the island. My mouth takes in liquid salt, the sea water. The pajama pants I swim in is thread bare.

The refugee’s boats beached and then the weather would eat it away until only a small hull is left where color fishes swim among feces. Once the Boat is beached, the inhabitants would tear away at the planks and salvage every bit of wood for fire or shelter.

To pass the time, the men usually gather around the bunks and deal out hands of cards. They wager in Crackers or biscuits, each shape with it’s own unique currency. In dire times, the residents of Pulau Bidong consult the oracles that are on the faces of the playing cards. They were sure there were ghosts to communicate with. They ask when they would leave the island. They ask the spirits to carry messages back to love ones at home in Vietnam.

The Wells-I remember waiting in long lines to fetch water from the wells. The people who came before me dug the wells for fresh water. The sandy soil is sometimes red like the color of cinder or lava. The refugees would build a square or round wall often three or four feet high. We used whatever vessels we could find to carry the water. Some of the water containers were made from empty biscuit tins.

The Falls - Sometimes we would fetch water from the water falls, but those were too far up the hill. People would wash their laundries and their bodies. The dirty run offs travel to the lower falls. If you want to bathe, you would have to find the highest fall in order to avoid the dirty run offs. As a boy, I witnessed the strange rituals of a public bath. Beautiful women nonchalantly bath themselves in clothes. It was a strange sight. The cloths were second skins, wrinkled and shedding. When the threads are submerged in water, they become transparent to reveal the skin beneath. From the mixture of textile and skin a pattern emerged, a new creature emerging.

The Bakery - Early in the morning, my sister and I would go to the bakery. The man load our cardboard boxes with warm loaves of bread, covers the top with a cloth to keep the heat. The steam rises in the glow of the sand ovens. Men stoke the fire, others knead the dough. We take them to the street and squat down to sell the bread on Vendor row. Sometimes we would have left overs. So my sister and I would open up a can of sardine, put it over a low flame. She slices the bread in half and I stuff the fish to make a delicious sandwich.

The Swimmers would gather at the rocks to journey out on a make shift raft to the merchant boats beyond. They would float back tins of biscuits, green apples wrapped in tissues, Coca Cola bottles. My Uncle bought a few of these merchandise and made my sister and me to sell it on the streets.

The Diarist-Every time I walk past his bunk, he would be writing some thing in a book or a letter. I wonder where he got the paper and pen? I suppose that image has stuck with me ever since and my affinity to write in journals or diaries. I had no scholarly obligations. What I experience I try to keep it all in my head. I didn’t have the luxury of pen and paper. The Diarist must have the fore sight to bring some along. If I did have a journal would I remember the details more clearly? Because each day it seems to have faded away.

The Bed-Sometimes, we wake up with tree saps in our hairs. During sleep, the barks of trees secret their chemical juice, sticks to our clothes, pajamas, and skin. The men, usually, went into the forest with machetes to fall limbs and carry them to the place of sleep. They fasten the knotty limbs together into a platform, build posts and sink them into soft sandy grounds to support the bed.

The Skiff - In the evening, the metal skiffs mark the horizon. The twilight shimmering and reflected in the waves, marks the end of the day. The patrol boat crosses back and forth in the horizon.

The Cafe - At night, the scent of ground coffee beans brewing in the oceanic breeze. Lovers stroll hand in hand, their feet touching waves, sand creep between the toes. I will forever have an image of lovers sitting down, facing the ocean, an arm around a shoulder. The lanterns hanging from rafters, light the shop.

Bean Sprout - We cultivate mung beans into bean sprouts. We sow the mung beans into sandy soils, put up railings to protect the bed. Then cover the seeds to preserve the moisture. Slowly the beans sprout forth, like magic, like fables.

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