30 years later...
Thirty years ago, I was introduced into the world in a local Saigon hospital. For the first 2 years of my life, my family lived in a beautiful five story house in Cho lon. After the fall of Saigon, my family, along with thousands of others, fled Saigon as the second wave of "boat people." I was too young to remember the atrocities caused by disease and Malaysian pirates alike, but hearing them retold through my parents, I felt like I was there amidst the Mekong, saliviting for fresh water when the only thing to drink was urine mixed with sugar.
After two weeks in a Malaysian refugee camp, we wound up in US soil on December 16, 1978. Assimilating into a new land, and learning a new language proved difficult, but with the help of inspirational ESL teachers coupled with the support of my family, I was able to pick up the language, eventually graduating from the University of California at Davis. After entering the work force and saving enough money, I knew it would be a dream fulfilled if I were able to go back and find that old house I spent 2 years growing up in.
I knew it would be a tough task since all of the streets had been renamed after the fall of Saigon. Luckily, my friend knew someone whose family lived in Cholon for the better part of 40 years. Not knowing the exact address, only the Cantonese pronunciation (Jee Moon Jeep Gai) of the street as it called in the mid 1970s, we set to find my old house. Walking up and down an area that has gone a massive facelift in the past 5-10 years. Western influences was clearly evident, as huge billboards sporting American products populated the horizons.
Anticipation mounted as we neared the street where my house was located. Not knowing the exact house address, I couldn't pinpoint exactly which house it was. The only thing I remember was that our house was five stories, and on this block, there were five, five story buildings, two of which had been newly renovated. A cordial, elderly gentleman came into the scene and I told him that I had travelled back to find my old house. He told me that the last 3 buildings had not been touched since the 70s, and that they served as governement housing for veterans. Most likely, my house would be one of those three. With camcorder in hand and anticipation high, I filmed in length the facade of each building on that block, hoping that when I got back to San Francisco, my parents would be able to confirm. (which they eventually did) I spent the better part of an hour walking up and down that block. The feeling was a combination of amazement and relief.
I couldn't have imagined a better present for my 30th birthday.
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Published on 1/18/05