The other day, my mom shared with me a story about a woman she had just met at the hospital where she was visiting a friend. This woman had recently had surgery, and was roommates with my mom's friend, both of whom are Vietnamese Boat People. I don't know where this woman is now, but her story made an indelible mark on my mother, and on me as well.
With her husband in Vietnam and her eldest son already in America, she fled Vietnam in the late 1980s with her young daughter. In the middle of the ocean, her boat encountered pirates who not only took all their gold and other possessions, but because they were worried that if the boat later ran into big ships and told them about the piracy, but also tied each person to a big plastic barrel and then tossed them overboard. Afterward the pirates destroyed the ship. All the refugees ended up floating in the wide open sea, with no food and no water, but fortunately it was around April or May at that time and the water was calm. However, it also meant that the refugees just ended drifting aimlessly. Also, because of her wide-legged pants, little crabs and shrimps found their way up the woman's pant legs. Slowly, people began dying from the starvation and thirst, and still it seemed as if no one was around for miles and miles. She remembered her daughter telling her, "Mom, I'm can’t hang on anymore; I think I’m going to die.” When it got quiet, the woman knew that her daughter had died. Soon, she herself was just waiting for death.
Ultimately, this woman was the only survivor, and she was stranded for seven whole days. A ship finally came and pulled her onboard, though everyone assumed that she was dead. To their surprise, she was still breathing, but incredibly malnourished and unable to walk after having her limbs bound to the barrel for a week. She was brought to a small town in Thailand to receive medical attention, and when she was better, she was transferred to Songkhla Refugee Camp.
Her husband back in Vietnam was eagerly awaiting news from her, but when none came, called his son, who asked his doctor friends who were volunteering in Thailand to search through as many refugee camps as possible for his mother. Finally, they reconnected.
Now this woman, who is in her mid-80s, lives with her son and husband in the San Jose area, one of the cities in the United States with the highest Vietnamese population.
I wish I had gotten to meet this woman and interview her, but hopefully by sharing her story here, even with the anonymity and general details, it will help add to the growing collection of information about Vietnamese Boat People.