My mother, the refugee
I’ve just begun reading “Ru” by Kim Thuy, a Vietnamese-Canadian writer detailing her beginnings in Québec after she escaped Vietnam with her family as a 10-year-old refugee.
Naturally, this prompted me to ask my mum about her own experience as a boat person. I often feel so far removed from the horrors that she and her twin sister (and thousands of others) endured to make it to Australia. But with my invitation, she invoked some painful and long-buried memories, explaining with great detail and animation, drawing me back into her past.
She spent three miserable days and nights at sea with little food and water, crammed into a rickety sardine can of people. When they first left the shores of Vietnam, they were stopped dead in their tracks by Communist ships spraying bullets on them as they attempted to flee. Only when the women and children held up their valuables and money as remittance were they allowed to proceed.
Later on they were stopped by Thai pirates who ransacked their entire boat. My mother said that they were the lucky ones—their boat’s escape was early on in the refugee diaspora and at that stage the pirates had yet to cotton on to the possibilities of rape and capture.
Although the people on my mother’s boat were eventually left unharmed, any remaining items of worth were taken and they were left for dead at sea. With no navigational equipment, my mother said they were done for. But as pure chance would have it, she says she stumbled across a compass lying underneath a hat, which set them back on their way.
The second pirate ship they encountered was one they first mistook for help. In frantic desperation, they called out to it. But realising the grave mistake—that the ship was in fact another set of pirates—my mother’s boat was forced to shut off and extinguish any sources of light, coils, and bulbs to cloak their position on the open sea. Everyone had to remain completely still and silent. Tragically, one young child was crying so much that his parents had to cup their hands over the child’s mouth to muffle the cries, which eventually suffocated him.
After the danger had passed, and as if in a miracle—like my mother finding the compass—the child actually regained consciousness. But they were far from the end of their plight. When they approached the shores of Malaysia, a hole had opened up and the boat had begun to fill with water. My mum says the men worked tirelessly to channel the water out of what was, literally, a sinking ship.
They did make it to shore, and for the next six months my mother and aunt lived in a refugee camp. Others were not so lucky. My uncle, who fled Vietnam a year later, drowned at the hands of pirates. My cousin’s family had aunties and uncles who lost their lives when the boats finally made it to the shore, only to crash at the very end.
As she ended the account of her escape from Vietnam, my mum—whose voice up to this point had not wavered—lamented how pointless it was that her brother had to die a year later doing the same trip; he was a good man. I gave her a kiss on the cheek and headed back to my room.
I fought hard not to burst into tears. Just how many times on her journey did my mother think she was going to die?
And how the hell have I been so fortunate?
Hah sorry didn't mean to come across that way. I've definitely seen graves here in Vietnam that hold both buried and cremated people. Admittedly I have no clue which belongs to what. I know my Vietnamese uncle is Buddhist and his family bury their family. I think one of the hardest things to distinguish in Vietnam is religion because there does seem to be so many yet many of them appear to be very similiar so you could easily get mistaken for it being one. What's your father's side like?
Haha there was no criticism of how you came across. I just intended to clarify a statement about my culture(s) which seemed amiss to me. Personally, it’s easy to distinguish religion in Vietnam, but less simple to discern where the norms and mores are cultural or societal rather than religious. This is perhaps just a product of how closely (or not so closely) my immediate family adheres to Buddhism—which is why more often than not I say that my family is traditionally/culturally Buddhist.
I’ve explained how devoted my father’s mother is, but my mother’s mother was very devout as well, but in a far less dogmatic fashion. She prayed a lot but didn’t perform the rites and rituals that my other grandmother takes very seriously.
Between religions it’s quite clear cut however. I’ve grown up around Catholic cousins my whole life, and the difference in atmosphere is stark. Same goes for the “cultish” religions I’m so often warned about.
Umm, excuse me, do paragraphs not exist when you respond to questions submitted to you on Tumblr? What is the point of anything? Why do I even bother setting a format for my text? I’ll just go ahead and change everything to Times New Roman now and be done with it.
hey! firstly sorry for mistakes, i don`t know English very well.) i just wanted to know where are you from; because i found the quote by Lev Tolstoy when i looking through your profile =). Have you ever seriously read this guy, or you haven`t this experience? i`m from Russia, i have a lot of his books in my bookcase. i can sent a one for you) just for fun =)))
Your English is great! Sorry I’ve taken so long to reply; I often forget when I am busy. I’m not familiar with Lev Tolstoy, but I thought it was such a beautiful quote. Was searching for something that would put into words how I was feeling when my friend’s sister passed away last year. Greetings from Australia, hope Russia is treating you well!
There's several sects of Buddhism within Vietnamese culture. So it may differ. But for te most part they follow Chinese tradition of burial. Do you know which form of Buddhism your family are part of?
I don’t doubt there are multiple Buddhist sects in Vietnamese society. But your original assertion didn’t seem to distinguish between any of these, rather it seemed to paint all of Vietnamese Buddhism with the same brush. I only make this a point because it’s simply not my experience; from a traditionally Buddhist family, I’ve definitely had family members cremated.
Coincidentally, my mother and I were discussing cremation recently and she made the point that not only Buddhists, but also Vietnamese Catholics perform it as part of their rites as well.
Not certain what branch of Buddhism my family hangs off (other than that Mahayana is most prevalent in Vietnam) but I would say is that we’re culturally Buddhist on my mother’s side, entwined with a healthy dose of ancestor worship.
My father’s mother is quite devout and is active in her temple, but I have never been certain of which “sect” she’s a member, apart from her engaging with the main Buddhist community in Richmond.
For all some people’s talk on anti-bulling and anti-trolling on social media, I find it repugnant that one’s perceived status or media presence confers some sort of holier-than-thou right to be a dick to others.
I haven’t forgotten the time Clem Bastow called me a “cunt” on Twitter over a remarkably flippant comment, not even directed at her.
Here is the woman who wrote and pondered on the very serious issue of “trolling” Charlotte Dawson—a woman who sadly took her own life over the cyber bulling that in great part exacerbated her mental illnesses.
Talk (or tweeting) is cheap. The recourse to malicious and hurtful communication goes both ways. I’ve witnessed instances of friends being bullied off Twitter due to tirades and intimidations by “notable” tweeters (including their supporters).
So can you be a troll when you’ve got more than 10,000 followers? I think so. You can certainly still act like one.
I just finished washing up six or seven cups that I cleared off my desk and was like “fuck yeah, cleaninggg” then came back, glanced over at my bookshelf and noticed another lot just sitting there looking down and laughing at me. Goddammit.
how is your face?
Oh Sonya, I miss the days when you were here and we would go out and we would dream about what the world had planned for us. How are you?
I don’t know if this happens to anyone else. But after I wake up and have scanned through all my news sites, I find myself—without thinking—constantly refreshing and reopening tabs in expectation of new updates.
I stop myself when I realise that traditional news outlets are slower and despite claims of immediacy, are struggling to keep up.
Thank god for the live, constant stream of content from Twitter or else my desire to stay on top of the 24-hour news cycle would never be satiated.
Et dès qu’on se parle et qu’on se voit, tout va bien.
Stasera ho mangiato coreano con il mio amico italiano. Abbiamo parlato di vite immaginate all’estero e come farei a vivere in Italia.
Mi ha detto che Milano è orribile ma ch’è la città giusta per un straniero come me. Personalmente mi ha piaciuto molto quando ero lì tanto tempo fa.
Anche se lui parla un inglese perfetto, i frammenti della sua lingua maternale mi spingono a imparare di più. Forse un giorno in Italia?