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Han Hing Quang. A long road traveled

A Long Road Traveled

Han Hing Quang

 


Translated from Vietnamese by Ai Hoa Han

 


© Ai Hoa Han 2020. All rights reserved.
Table of Contents


Chapter 1. My parents and grandparents

Chapter 2. Father returns to Dap Da to start a new life

Chapter 3. Return to the homeland

Chapter 4. Refugees. Family reunion

Chapter 5. My schooling

Chapter 6. I work for Uncle Bang Mai

Chapter 7. I work for a farmers’ union

Chapter 8. Misfortune strikes

Chapter 9. I work at An Ky, Thien Sanh, and Quang A

Chapter 10. Chinese nationalist activities

Chapter 11. Chinese Mother returns to the homeland

Chapter 12. An investment venture with Mr. Second Quynh

Chapter 13. I work for Mr. Dan Loi

Chapter 14. Before and after marriage

Chapter 15. I join the revolution

Chapter 16. A struggle for power

Chapter 17. The democratic movement among the Overseas Chinese

Chapter 18. I open a Chinese medicine store

Chapter 19. The war against the French continues
Chapter 20. After the Geneva Accord

Chapter 21. We regroup to the North

Chapter 22. Training for land reform

Chapter 23. I work with a group of Chinese specialists

Chapter 24. At the General Import-Export Company. Land reform and its
aftermath. Visit to Hainan. Search for housing

Chapter 25. Further work in the field of foreign trade

Chapter 26. At Vinacor Hong Kong and after my return

Chapter 27. At the Chamber of Commerce. The Sino-Soviet split

Chapter 28. In China and North Korea with a government delegation

Chapter 29. Beginning of the Vietnam-China split

Chapter 30. At the General Transit Company

Chapter 31. Advanced training in foreign trade

Chapter 32. Return to the South

Chapter 33. At the South Midlands Import-Export Company

Chapter 34. At the Nghia Binh Import-Export Company

Chapter 35. The anti-China and anti-Chinese policy of the Vietnamese party and
government

Chapter 36. I retire and prepare to leave the country

Chapter 37. At sea

Chapter 38. In Hong Kong refugee camps
Chapter 39. We resettle in England

Chapter 40. I take Cuong to the homeland to marry

Chapter 41. I visit the United States

Chapter 42. I visit Vietnam

Chapter 43. Again to Vietnam

Chapter 44. My mother passes away

Chapter 45. End of my road
Chapter 1. My parents and grandparents

Our ancestors came from Shan Mei Hamlet, Lin Wei Village, Fu Qing Township,
Wen Chang County,[1] Hainan Island, China.
Our great-grandfather was named Han Xu Zhun. He had three brothers. The
oldest was called Han Hanh Zhun, the second was called Han Trung Zhun, and the
third was called Han Dao Zhun. He was the youngest and the poorest in the
family.
Our grandfather’s name was Han Ji Feng. He was born and raised in a poor
family, and did not even own a small patch of land. He had to sell his labor to
other people, farming their land or doing other casual work for relatives and
neighbors in order to feed his family.
His wife, our grandmother, was named Luu Thi. She came from a family in
the neighboring Thang Long Hamlet.
Together they had four sons.
The oldest son was named Yun Yuan, but was commonly known by his
nickname, Ton Lim. He was our father.
The second son’s name was Wei Yuan. He stayed in the homeland, working
on his land.
The third son died at birth.
The fourth son was named Yi Yuan. He emigrated to Vietnam.
With a big family, our grandfather’s life was very hard. He died of
exhaustion before reaching the age of forty, leaving a young wife and three boys.
The oldest of them was our father, who was aged thirteen at the time of
Grandfather’s death.
After Grandfather died, his sons had to fend for themselves. Being small,
they were only capable of light casual labor like leading cows to pasture and
cutting grass for relatives and neighbors. In this way they managed to feed the
family day by day. They led a miserable life.
When they were a little older, they decided to rent a small garden, where
they grew mustard. They worked hard and grew more than they needed for
themselves, selling the surplus at the market. Life was better than before.
When our father was twenty years old, he married his first wife, whose
name was Ye Ai Fu. She came from a wealthy, respected family and was well
educated, a lady of leisure.
Her feet had been bound since birth, so they were very tiny. She could not
do any kind of farm labor, but she was very skilled with her hands. She earned a
living by making clothes for relatives.
After being married for a while, our father thought that with a big family to
feed life was still not much better. In hope of a better life, he requested his
mother to visit his great-uncle (father’s uncle) and ask him whether he could take
any of the three brothers with him to work for him in Vietnam. His great-uncle
was Mr. Thu. He was a wealthy man and owned a store at Canh Hang Market in
Binh Dinh Province in Vietnam. He happened to be looking for workers at the time
when our grandmother showed up, and was very pleased to do as she suggested.
He offered to take our father and Fourth Uncle to Vietnam. (Fourth Uncle was our
youngest uncle. He was called Fourth and not Third Uncle because there were
originally four of them, even though one died at birth.)
Before the two of them left for Vietnam, Grandmother divided up the
family possessions. The only possession the family had after Grandfather died was
the small ancestral brick-roof house. The house consisted of two areas of equal
size, each of which contained two bedrooms and a kitchen. She would live with
our father in one half of the house, and her other two sons were given the other
half.
According to Grandmother, while Grandfather was still alive he had
borrowed nine silver yuan[2] from a cousin named Mr. Four Feng. A relative of this
cousin confiscated the bedroom of Fourth Uncle on his behalf, in lieu of the debt.
However, Mr. Four Feng was a rich man – he bought and sold goods at Bong Son
Market, also in Binh Dinh Province – and due to a superstitious dread of living
with poor people no one in his family wanted to move into the room. So in order
to maintain their claim they used the room as a storage space for books and old
junk.
Many years went by and our family still could not manage to save enough
money to repay the debt and get Fourth Uncle’s bedroom back. Finally, in 1958,
after the liberation of Hainan and the completion of land reform, Grandmother
got hold of nine yuan to give Mr. Four Feng’s relative and got the bedroom back. [3]
As Fourth Uncle was now in Vietnam, she gave it to Second Uncle and his family.
Our older relatives regarded Mr. Thu as a close kinsman and family
benefactor. For that reason our father and Fourth Uncle had to work for him
without pay. They received only food and two sets of new clothes and a few old
clothes every year.
After a while, Fourth Uncle felt that he was too young to do such hard
work, so he told Mr. Thu that he wanted to go to Saigon. There he found a job in a
cafe. Father continued to work for his great-uncle.
Mr. Thu was well known in Canh Hang Market as a trader in herbal
medicines and local produce. He also owned a lot of land back in Hainan, which
he rented out in exchange for part of the crop, yielding high profits. As a wealthy
man, he was a great connoisseur of wines, tea, opium, and prostitutes. He also
loved to gamble. It was his unfortunate fate to contract leprosy. He was afraid
that if he stayed in Vietnam the French colonial police would arrest him and place
him in a leper colony, so he returned to Hainan to hide himself away and seek
treatment. But it was the policy of the clan elders not to allow lepers to live in the
village, so his distressed family built a small straw house for him at the beach (our
village was near the seashore).
Alas, all his close relatives were very scared of leprosy and none of them
wanted to go near him. One day his first wife had an idea. She went over to see
our grandmother and talked sweetly to her. “Mr. Thu is our benefactor. He has
taken care of our family. He took two of your children to work for him in Vietnam.
He gave them food to eat and clothes to wear, so they did not go cold or hungry.
Now that he is sick you should repay him for his kindness. You should send your
daughter-in-law to the beach house to look after him.”
Grandmother was honest, truthful, and goodhearted. What is more, our
Chinese mother came from a wealthy family. She was well educated, well
behaved, and compassionate. When she heard Mr. Thu’s story, she understood
his sad circumstances and felt very sorry for him. She volunteered to go to the
beach house to care for Mr. Thu, but when she was almost ready to go Mr. Thu’s
disease grew worse. Nothing could be done to help him and soon he passed
away. Our Chinese mother was lucky to escape that dangerous disease.
Mr. Thu had a wife in Vietnam by the name of Diep Thi Thu, commonly
called Mrs. Thu. When Mr. Thu returned to the homeland to seek treatment, he
left his business in the care of Mrs. Thu and his son by his Chinese wife, whose
name was Jie Yuan but who was commonly called Uncle Bang Mai. As time went
by, Mrs. Thu and Uncle Bang Mai found that they could not live with one another.
He left her and started his own business. Father and his cousin Han Bao Yuan
stayed to help Mrs. Thu. Uncle Bang Mai soon lost his enthusiasm for his business
and – placing it in the care of his wife – returned to the homeland and went into
politics. He was elected vice chairman of the Fu Qing Town Council. He occupied
this office until Hainan was invaded by the Japanese.[4] Then he ran away.
Mrs. Thu was a wealthy woman. She was not only a wholesale trader in
local produce but also a large landowner. She let out land to tenants and
collected rent from them, so she had plenty of money.
Father was honest and goodhearted. He was very hardworking, careful, and
conscientious, so Mrs. Thu trusted and loved him. She introduced him to her
niece Tran Thi Quang (our mother) and arranged for them to marry. She lived in
Dap Da Township, An Nhon County, Binh Dinh Province. She was born and raised
in a cultured family from which she received a good classical education. She was
independent, honest, and likeable – a wonderful wife and mother.
Our maternal grandfather was Tran Ngai, commonly called Teacher Ham.
He was descended from the Minh Huong and Chiuchow groups of Chinese people.
[5]
The French colonial government collected an annual poll tax of one franc [6] per
person on Vietnamese, three francs per person on Chinese of Minh Huong or
Chiuchow origin, and ten francs per person on other Chinese. Many poor Chinese
could not afford to pay ten francs but did not want to apply for naturalization as
Vietnamese because then the local authorities would call them up for military or
labor service and people would humiliate and ridicule them. So instead they
applied for reclassification as Minh Huong or Chiuchow in order to pay less poll
tax while continuing to be treated as Chinese and therefore exempt from military
and labor service.
Teacher Ham had a good knowledge of Chinese literature and his writing
was beautiful. He took the court examination several times but he was not
destined to pass, so he taught for a living. He had no son, only two daughters: one
of them is our mother, the other is our Aunt Du. He was well known and highly
respected both by Chinese and by Vietnamese. He often helped people.
Whenever anyone had any paper in Chinese they brought it to him for help in
reading it. Later he left teaching and went into business. He also made fireworks,
engaged in arts and crafts, grew tobacco, raised chickens, and so on. So his life
was a prosperous one.
Tran Ngai loved his grandchildren. Every morning we paid him a visit and he
always gave us money to go out for breakfast. We only stopped visiting him when
the war against the French broke out.
He often took me along with him when he went on a business trip or to visit
relatives or friends. He introduced me to the people we met. In that way I learned
a lot about different ways of behaving. When the weather was good he also took
me fishing. That was wonderful! In short, he lived a very full life.
Our maternal grandmother also loved us dearly. After we had spent
grandfather’s money on breakfast we would return to see grandmother. She
would then take us out to eat again, always treating us to meat and cake. She was
a Buddhist. On the first and fifteenth day of each month, as well as on holidays in
accordance with the lunar calendar, she used to take us to the Buddhist temple to
watch the monks chanting and praying to the Buddha, after which we visited
relatives and enjoyed a very tasty vegetarian meal.
One year after my mother married, on January 26, 1926, she gave birth to
me at Phuong Danh Hamlet, Dap Da Township, An Nhon County, Bình Dinh
Province. I was named A Quang.
My father worked for Mrs. Thu. She trusted him and often gave him money
to go to various places to buy produce wholesale and bring it back for sale. He
was honest and careful and hardly ever made a mistake. On one occasion,
however, Mrs. Thu gave him 40 francs for a trip to Kim Son in An Lao Province to
buy a supply of dry betel.[8] When Father reached Bong Son, friends noticed that
he was carrying a lot of money and that it was Mrs. Thu’s money. They talked him
into going gambling. He got very excited and forgot everything in the heavens
above and on the earth below. So he gambled with them and lost the whole 40
francs. That felt to him like the end of the world. Father knew that he was in
serious trouble. There was no money left to buy anything for Mrs. Thu. She would
kill him. He was so frightened that he hid away and dared not go home. Mrs. Thu
waited a long time for his return. She guessed that something must be wrong. She
sent people to find him, but he refused to go home. Mrs. Thu did not know what
else to do. She forced Mother to come and work for her without wages to pay off
the debt. Mother had no way out. She had to take me with her to work in Mrs.
Thu’s house. I was still less than a year old and was just learning to crawl.
Mrs. Thu told Mother that she would not let us go home until Father gave
her back all her money – and that despite being Mother’s aunt and my parents’
matchmaker! Now, for the sake of 40 francs, she refused to recognize the
relationship between her and her niece. She made Mother work like a slave for
the family. She had to do all kinds of hard labor – to carry goods in and out of the
store, to dry, husk, and cook the rice, to chop the wood, to wash the laundry, and
to take care of the pigs and chickens. All day long she worked hard. Then in the
evening she had to give Mrs. Thu a massage until it was dark, wait until she was
deeply asleep, and tiptoe out. Every morning and night she had to boil a pan of
water several times for her aunt’s bath. She also had to comb her aunt’s hair. She
had to do this very carefully, because if by accident a single strand of hair fell out
Mrs. Thu would yell at her and beat her and sometimes even deprive her of her
meal.
What a way to treat relatives of a respected classical scholar! We had a
house but no land. In her childhood Mother had learnt only how to go to market
and to cook. She never did any other kind of work. Now, in order to pay off her
husband’s debt, she had to work day and night like a slave, never daring to utter a
word of complaint. She could hardly bear it, but she did not know what else to do.
She had to hold her mouth shut, swallow her bitterness, and keep her tears to
herself.
One day, so Mother told me, she was so busy at her work that she had no
time to look after me. She left me on the floor. I crawled around and up a slope
but lost my balance and rolled back down. Uncle Bao Yuan, who saw it happen,
picked me up and put me in the bowl above the rice-husk grinding machine. But I
crawled out of the bowl and fell right onto the top edge of the machine,
lacerating my right eyelid. There was a lot of bleeding, but fortunately the eye
itself was not damaged. Mother was very frightened and upset. She wept quietly
but did not utter a word of complaint. I still have a scar on my right eyelid. That is
the keepsake that Mrs. Thu gave me to remember her by. And I shall indeed
remember her until the day I die.
Almost a year went by. Father remained at Bong Son working for
somebody. When he heard about our plight and the accident he was sick at heart.
He felt guilty for gambling away Mrs. Thu’s money and causing such hardship for
his wife and son. He resolved to put an end to the situation. He would return and
confess his mistake to Mrs. Thu. He went to visit friends in various places, told
them his story, and beseeched them to help him out. Some of them sympathized
and lent him money. He finally returned and went to Mrs. Thu’s house to give her
the money, beg her forgiveness, and plead with her to be so kind as to allow his
wife and son to go home.
Mrs. Thu happened to spot him as he approached the house. She yelled at
him, called him names, and beat him. She told him that he could not take his wife
and son home until he had paid her the 40 francs plus 20 francs interest. My
parents begged her repeatedly but she was adamant. There was nothing they
could do. Father had to go back to his friends and relatives and borrow the extra
money. Again he went to Mrs. Thu. She took the money and ordered Father and
Mother to get out of her house and never come back. They never did.

Notes to Chapter 1
[1] A township is an administrative unit below the county level that encompasses
a town together with the surrounding rural area. Wen Chang County occupies the
northeastern corner of Hainan Island.

[2] In 1889 China introduced a silver coin as the basis of a new currency -- the
Chinese Yuan. It was equal in value to the Spanish "piece of eight" that had
circulated in Southeast Asia since the seventeenth century due to the Spanish
colonial presence in the Philippines.

[3] It was against custom to charge interest on money lent to relatives.

[4] The Japanese started bombing Hainan in mid-1938 and landed troops in
February 1939.

[5] The Minh Huong were descendants of Chinese loyal to the Ming Dynasty who
fled to Vietnam when the Ming were overthrown by the Qing (Manchus) in 1644.
The Chiuchow were Chinese originally from Chiuchow Prefecture of imperial
China (now eastern Guangdong Province). Of the various Chinese communities in
Vietnam, these had been longest settled in the country and were best integrated
into Vietnamese society. Many no longer even spoke Chinese. Vietnamese
perceived them as less foreign than other Overseas Chinese. The two groups lived
near one another and often intermarried, so many people were connected with
both groups. For these reasons the two groups were often considered together.

[6] The main unit of currency in French Indochina was officially called the piaster,
but it was tied to the French franc and colloquially referred to as the franc.

[7] Dry betel (not to be confused with the betel nut) is the leaf of a vine
belonging to the Piperaceae family, which also includes pepper and kava. The leaf
is glossy, light or dark green, and heart-shaped. It is used in South and Southeast
Asia as a stimulant. Dry betel can be processed into a paste (wet betel) that is
easier to chew.

Chapter 2. Father returns to Dap Da to start a new life

After paying off the debt to Mrs. Thu and being thrown out of her house, Father
took Mother and me back with him to Dap Da, where he rented a small straw
house next to Dap Da Bridge. My parents settled in and had three more children,
all of them girls – my three younger sisters. Thanh was born in 1928, Tanh in
1930, and Hanh in 1936.
Dap Da is not a large county, but it had 30 – 40 Chinese merchant families.
They came from different parts of China – Chiuchow people, Fukien people, Hakka
people, Hainan people, and so on. Most of them manufactured or traded in light
industrial products. Some traded in general merchandise and in local produce like
textiles and herbal medicines. There were truck dealerships and workshops for
weaving and dyeing fabrics and towels, for making sugar, cookies and candies,
packets of tobacco, soap, and incense, for packing teas and salted duck eggs, and
even for printing money for the afterlife.
Some local Vietnamese also traded in local produce and general
merchandise. Some engaged in such crafts as weaving and dyeing fabrics,
extracting silk from silkworm cocoons, working with copper or gold,
blacksmithing, making lacquers, tailoring, and woodworking. But their businesses
operated on a smaller scale than those of the Chinese. At that time Dap Da had a
highly developed economy. After Qui Nhon City, it was the second most
important economic center in Binh Dinh Province. Under French rule Dap Da was
to become the largest economic center in the province.
Father had learnt his lesson well and mended his ways. He often went on
trips to make money for his family. Father was very honest, helpful, and flexible in
his business dealings. He was someone people could trust. So many merchants,
both Chinese and Vietnamese, liked him and did business with him.
The period from March to June by the lunar calendar is the season for
harvesting soybeans and pressing them to make soybean oil. Three Chinese
wholesale merchants in Dap Da – their names were An Thiet Ky, Thai Phong, and
Hang Hanh – entrusted Father with money and set the prices for his purchases of
soybean oil and soybean condensate. Each season Father bought about 500 tons
of soybean oil and thousands of tons of soybean condensate. His business went
well and our family’s life improved. He knew people from near and far.
Our house was next to the bridge – a very convenient place to catch the
bus. Chinese relatives and compatriots living in various villages on the way to Qui
Nhon or Bong Son often stopped at our house to stretch their legs before catching
the bus. Whenever relatives or friends came to visit, Father welcomed them with
open arms and treated them to a fancy meal.
Because Father was generous and courteous relatives often praised him by
calling him “Mr. Bang Lim” (the real Bang Lim was a very famous man who lived in
Qui Nhon and was the head of a Hainanese clan). The nickname Bang Lim came to
replace his real name (Tuan Nguyen).

Chapter 3. Return to the homeland

For a long time Father had not seen Chinese Mother and Grandmother because
he was so busy working and had not saved enough money to go back home and
visit them. Now he had the time and money, so he decided to visit them. He took
me with him so that Chinese Mother could take care of me and have me educated
in the Chinese family tradition. I would get to know the way of life of the
homeland and its literature, culture, and customs. Otherwise I might lose my
roots.
Wen Chang County was our home area. It had little fertile land but a very
dense population. Most of the soil was poor and rocky. To make matters worse,
the climate was very severe, with frequent typhoons, floods, and droughts. The
local economy was very backward. Most of the peasants lived in great poverty
and misery despite working hard the whole year round. They were often hungry
and did not have enough warm clothes. For breakfast they had only a few boiled
sweet potatoes or maniocs. For lunch and dinner they had rice soup, consisting of
20 – 30% rice mixed with 70 – 80% sweet potatoes and flavored with fish sauce
and with mustard that they grew in their gardens. On most days that was all they
ate. Occasionally they had a bowl of rice with meat or fish. Only at the New Year
and on other major holidays could they eat their fill.
Local residents, and peasants in particular, had lived this hard life for
thousands of years, generation after generation with no change for the better.
Many people were unable to survive and had to bid farewell to their parents,
wives, and children and leave their homes and native places in order to start a
new life in a foreign land. I heard it said that about half a million people had left
Wen Chang County. (Wen Chang County did have one point in its favor. It was a
famous center of literature and culture. It was often called “Literature and Culture
County.”)
Father himself had lived that hard life. He had a deep understanding of the
situation in his homeland. Moreover, I was my mother’s one and only son and she
did not want me to separate from her. However, for the sake of my future
character she gave her consent and allowed Father to take me for character
training in the homeland.
And so in August 1934, when I was eight years old, Father took me to Da
Nang, where we boarded a ship for the Hainan seaport of Bac Hai. However, we
disembarked at Hai Kou, the capital city of Hainan. After our arrival Father and my
Chinese mother named me A Son. After a stay of two months Father said goodbye
to my grandmother, my Chinese mother, and me and returned to Vietnam. The
next year my Chinese mother gave birth to my youngest sister, Quynh Anh.
At the beginning of 1935 I started school. I attended Thanh Dat School in
the nearby town. The headmaster was named Han Trac Du. He gave me the name
Han Hung Quang.
I finished primary school in two years. Then financial difficulties forced the
school to close. The children from wealthy families transferred to Dong Duc
School in the next town. We poor children could not afford the fees, so we were
unable to continue our schooling. I stayed home and helped Chinese mother by
fetching yarn for her to knit fishing nets. I also chopped wood for her. When I had
any free time I went fishing and to pick up fish so that we would have extra food
to eat.
“Picking up fish” really meant begging the fishermen for fish. Every day
when the sun rose I accompanied an older cousin named Anh Quang and some
young men from the town to the dock in order to wait for the fishing boat to
return from the open sea. As soon as the boat docked we jumped into the water
and tried our hardest to clamber on board, even though the water came up to our
necks and the deck was very high. The family who owned the vessel took pity on
us: however small their catch, they always gave us something. When the weather
was good and the catch large, they filled our basket full of fish (about 4 – 5
kilograms); when the weather was bad and they had caught only a few fish, they
still let us have some. We never had to go home with an empty basket. Maybe
they had a superstitious fear that if we returned empty-handed then on their next
trip so would they.
Once, when everyone was busy with the harvest, Chinese mother asked me
to look after a relative’s cow. This was the first and only time in my life that I ever
took care of a cow. When the cow had eaten her fill I led her home and tethered
her to a tree trunk in front of the house of Grandfather’s cousin Mr. Dai Fong.
Knowing nothing about cows, I left our cow next to his. I was surprised to see that
instead of making friends the two cows began to fight head on. Mr. Dai Fong’s
cow, frightened and hurt, made a lot of noise, broke the rope, and ran away.
Alerted by the noise, a very angry Mr. Dai Fong took a walking stick and
went off looking for me. He stepped into the house, immediately saw Chinese
mother, and yelled insults at her. Why, he asked, had she let her son tether the
cow next to his cow, with the result that she butted her and made her break the
rope and run away?
Poor Chinese Mother was scared to death. She wept and pleaded with him
to allow her to go and find his cow, but he would not listen. He kept on yelling
and insulting her and struck our family altar table with his walking stick until it
was disfigured (the altar table was where we placed food and burned incense to
worship our ancestors). Chinese Mother dare not say a word – she just wept. I
was hiding in the house and saw all this happen. I did not show my face for
several days. Never again did I dare look after a cow, whoever might ask me to.
When I returned to visit the homeland in 1988, Fifth Uncle (Tri Nguyen)
came over to see Mr. Dai Fong’s son. He pointed at the disfigured altar table and
in an excited and comical voice told the story to the people gathered there.
With no school to attend for the time being, we stayed at home and played.
Some parents in the village were concerned that many children from poor
families were not going to school, so they organized and raised funds to open a
night school. The students were taught by the three brothers of Uncle Han At
Nguyen – Mr. Dai Fong’s sons. They mainly learned how to write Chinese
characters and how to use the abacus.
Due to lack of funds the school was open for only one year. So in 1937 all
the schools in the village closed. In 1938 the education department in Wen Chang
County organized a mobile school and sent teachers to Six Generations School in
the temple of the Han clan to teach without pay as a duty to the clan. Students
did not have to pay fees. In accordance with customary attitudes, people who had
money looked down on Six Generations School and refused to send their children
there. Only children from poor families went there. Only three children from our
hamlet attended Six Generations School – me, my older cousin Anh Quang, and a
neighbor named Kham Quang who was Mr. Tai Nguyen’s nephew. All three of us
were from Vietnam.
The headmaster was named Mr. Fu Fung Dinh. He taught selected
condensed courses from the secondary school curriculum. The school was far
away from home. Every day we had to bring a packed lunch to eat. Our lunch was
a bowl of rice soup or sweet potato soup with salted fish and kimchi.[1]
One day Anh Quang set off for school carrying two bowls of rice soup in
bamboo baskets hanging on each side from a shoulder pole. Halfway there he
tripped and fell and the soup spilled and mixed with the mud. We were very upset
about it but did not know what to do. That day we had no lunch: we had to learn
on an empty stomach. I got so hungry that I fainted. When I got home I did not
tell Chinese Mother what had happened, but when she saw the sad look on my
face she thought I had skipped school and yelled at me. I still did not dare say
anything. As Chinese Mother thought that skipping school was a bad thing she
was very angry and threatened to hit me. When I heard her say that I was afraid
of getting hit, so I told her the truth. As she listened her heart ached and she
cried. She felt sorry for me because after fasting all day I had come home only to
be yelled at for nothing. She regretted her quick temper.
Chinese Mother loved me very much. I was her favorite. She never raised
her voice at me again.
I liked to study and worked very hard, so my results were excellent. At the
end of the school year I passed the examination for entry to secondary school, but
the school was about to be moved to a different place. The headmaster had
noticed my talents and hard work and had a great liking for me, so he asked me to
go with him to the new place to continue my education. Unfortunately, Chinese
Mother did not let me go, because she could not bear the thought of me going so
far away. Another problem was that I was not her own child. If while I was away
my parents should ask to have me back she would not know what to say. So I lost
my only chance to go to the Chinese school.
It was the custom of the Han clan to honor any boy belonging to the clan
who has demonstrated special talents or exceptional intelligence. He is allowed to
wear a long gown and take part in an annual ceremony to worship the ancestors
at the ancestral temple. I too was granted this honor.
After the ceremony I was allowed to eat at the same table with the
respected elders. I was also given a kilogram of pork to take home. It was a great
honor for my family and especially for me. At that time life in the Chinese
countryside in general and in Hainan in particular was very hard. People rarely
had meat to eat, so getting a kilogram of pork was a splendid thing.
Our extended family in the homeland included my father’s mother and the
family of Second Uncle Vi Nguyen. Father’s mother was a very truthful, quiet, and
contented person. She never worried about family affairs. She was old and weak
and relied on money that Father sent home for her.
Second Uncle was also a very decent man. He had no schooling, but he did
have green fingers. He grew mustard and sweet potatoes. His family consisted of
five people – he and his wife, a son, and two daughters. They all depended on
him. He knew nothing but hard work. He worked every day from dawn to dusk.
He was blind to everything around him. His wife insulted, bullied, and yelled at
him all day long, but he never said anything in response.
His wife was well known for her foul temper. Every day she had to find
something to argue about. She bullied not only her husband but also Father’s
mother, Second Uncle, and even my stepmother and myself. She often called me
“Annamese[2] boy,” meaning that I was not pure Chinese. It hurt but we had to
ignore her.
Every morning, when people had just woken up and had not yet even
washed their faces, she was already arguing with her neighbors. She woke up the
whole hamlet: even the chickens were scared of her and flew away with wings
outstretched. She would not even leave the ghosts in peace. She must have got
bored if a day passed without a good argument. If she had no one to yell at, then
she was unable to eat or sleep.
Chinese Mother often told me: “Our family is poor, Father had to go
overseas to work, so people look down on us and bully us. Be good, listen to your
parents, and learn well. Then people will respect you and you won’t be bullied
any more.”
I always remembered everything she said. I promised myself to follow her
advice so that relatives and neighbors would be proud of me and my parents’
hopes would be realized.
I lived in the homeland for five years. I was only Chinese Mother’s stepson,
but she loved me very much. She treated me as her own son and taught me how
to be a good person. Apart from the single incident that I have described, she
never hit or insulted me. She took special care with my food and clothing. In the
old days the peasants in Hainan had to eat their rice mixed with sweet potatoes in
a soup. Our family was in the same boat. For most of the time I was there Chinese
Mother used to put a woven bamboo divider in the pan when she was cooking
the soup, to keep the rice on one side and the sweet potatoes on the other. She
ate the sweet potatoes herself and let me have the rice. She did everything for
me and sacrificed everything for me. What she did for me was as high as the
heavens and as wide as the ocean. I appreciated her for all the things that she did
for me; they remained in my memory for the rest of my life.

Notes

[1] Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made of fermented vegetables, usually
Chinese cabbage with various seasonings.
[2] "Annam" is the word traditionally used in China to refer to Vietnam. Its literal
meaning is "Pacified South."

Chapter 4. Refugees. Family reunion

In 1939, when I was thirteen years old, the Japanese army invaded Hainan.
Japanese airplanes dropped bombs everywhere, killing and injuring innocent
civilians. Everyone was frightened. People who had relatives in other countries –
whether old or young, male or female – fled abroad. My parents sent money to
Uncle Bang Mai and asked him to take the three of us – my stepmother, my
stepsister Neo, and myself – to Vietnam. But Chinese Mother could not bear to
leave Father’s weak and aged mother on her own, so she refused to go. She
wanted to stay and look after her. She told me to go with Uncle Bang Mai without
her. This prospect made me very anxious, for I loved her very much and did not
want to separate from her. I asked her to go with me, but if she insisted on
staying then I too would stay.
When Chinese Mother heard me say that, she agreed to go with me. She
arranged for Second Uncle to take care of Father’s mother, then with
heartbreaking farewells we departed from Hainan.
Uncle Bang Mai’s business was organizing the journeys of people who
wanted to go abroad. They had to pay him a lot of money. At first, knowing that
our family was large and poor, he did not want to take us. But Chinese Mother
kept on begging him until he reluctantly agreed. On this particular trip he took
about a hundred people. The three of us went together with our older cousin Lim
Quang, who lived in the same village.
The whole party of refugees embarked in a sailing vessel. We set sail from a
point near our village on the East Sea and after two days arrived at the customs
post at Guang Zhou Wan,[1] where we all disembarked. Uncle Bang Mai
immediately escorted his own family, our cousin Lim Quang, and the wealthy
passengers to the local hotel. Our family and the other poor passengers were left
at what was called a hostel but was in fact a very dirty empty house. The owner of
the house gave each family a rush mat to place on the floor and use for eating and
sleeping. White rice and water were delivered twice a day. Soon new refugees
arrived from the Hainan countryside. They were very hungry, so when they saw
the rice they forgot their manners and ran and fought to grab as much of it as
they could. Those with quick feet and strong hands ended up with it all. The rest
of us – the old and weak, people with small children – just stood and watched the
mayhem. But among the fighters there were also some good people who shared a
little food with us, so our stomachs were not left completely empty.
We had to wait for a steamship to take us on to Haiphong. Every day at
dawn Uncle Bang Mai would set off for the French concession to gamble and
enjoy himself. At dusk he returned but ignored us.
A steamship bound for Haiphong arrived a few days later. Uncle Bang Mai
sent someone to tell us to get our luggage ready for the voyage to Haiphong. As
soon as the ship docked at Haiphong, people from various hotels rushed on board
carrying stickers, which they stuck on passengers’ luggage. The stickers showed
the names of hotels – for example, Thien Nhien or Hai Luc Thong. Not being
experienced travelers, we did not understand what the stickers were for.
Everyone lined up to disembark. We were the last ones to get off. When we
passed through customs the customs officer confiscated several dried sea
cucumbers that Chinese Mother had with her. She was very upset because the
sea cucumbers were highly valuable natural remedies that had been passed down
to her by her family. She said that they were used to treat many diseases [2] and
was sorry not to have left them at home. She had thought they would be safer if
she took them with her.
After completing the paperwork, Uncle Bang Mai took everyone else to the
Thien Nhien Hotel. We were left behind because we were the last ones in line and
because with her bound feet it was difficult for Chinese Mother to walk. I had to
carry Neo as well as the luggage. We had to walk slowly and rest often. We knew
no Vietnamese – I had forgotten the Vietnamese I knew as a young child – and we
had no money on us. By mid-afternoon we had lost our way. It was very hot and
we were tired, hungry, and miserable. Then suddenly I remembered the “Thien
Nhien” sticker on our luggage. When people passed by I pointed at the sticker and
they gestured to show us the way. The hotel was in fact very near and we soon
found it.
We took a little rest outside the hotel. Then suddenly a young man
appeared out of nowhere, ran up to me, and pulled my silver bracelet off my
ankle (it had been placed there as a lucky charm by my mother on the day I was
born). I was shaking with fear. Chinese Mother shouted loudly. Uncle Bang Mai,
who happened to be in the hotel at the time, heard the noise and came out to see
what the matter was. He saw us but was not interested in hearing our story. He
just yelled at us. Chinese Mother sobbed and lamented being a refugee and
having to endure such suffering and humiliation. I did not know what to say. I
tried to reassure her: “Never mind. We are already here, we can’t do anything, let
uncle say whatever he likes.”
After two days at Haiphong, Uncle Bang Mai arranged for us to take a train
to Dap Da. It was a slow train: the journey lasted over 48 hours. It was only a few
days since we had left the homeland as refugees, but we had already undergone
many hardships. Despite that we were lucky. I had not seen my parents, sisters,
and relatives for several years. But now we were together and happy. When
Mother saw me tears filled her eyes and she began laughing and crying at the
same time. Having no common language, we could communicate only by making
happy noises.
Chinese Mother was very good and made herself independent of Father
after we arrived in Vietnam. Besides household chores, she raised chickens, spun
yarn, and sewed clothes. When autumn came she bought peanut oil and helped
Father by doing the heavy job of collecting the peanut oil left over in empty drums
and draining it into new drums. Every year she filled four or five drums in this
way. Father allowed her to sell this oil and keep the proceeds for herself. Chinese
Mother loved all my sisters and they loved her and Neo. She was a very honest
and cheerful person, so our life together was happy, harmonious, and free of
jealousy.
Mother’s father also loved Chinese Mother very much and treated her like
his own daughter. In later years, after Chinese Mother and Neo had returned to
the homeland, Mother and Grandfather often reminded me to take good care of
them.

Notes

[1] Guang Zhou Wan was a small enclave on the southern coast of China that had
been leased to France by imperial China. The French colonial authorities
administered it as an entry point for people entering French Indochina.

[2] Sea cucumbers are actually marine animals (echinoderms). They are
harvested from the South China Sea and consumed as a delicacy, usually in
gelatinous soups or stews, and as a remedy for many ailments, including
rheumatoid arthritis, rashes and inflammations, gum disease, joint pain, and
macular degeneration (which damages the retina, impairing vision). It may also be
effective against cancer.

Chapter 5. My schooling
As I was still young when we returned to Vietnam, Father wanted me to continue
my education. However, there was no Chinese school in Dap Da. The nearest
Chinese schools were in the provincial capital Qui Nhon and in Canh Hang. The
school in Qui Nhon charged high fees that were beyond our means. Canh Duc
School in Canh Hang was nearer and we had distant relatives there who might be
willing to take care of me.
So Father tried to arrange for me to attend Canh Duc School. He asked
Uncle Bang Mai to let me stay at his house, but although Father asked over and
over again Uncle Bang Mai refused – even though he put up many children from
rich families in his house for money. At that time, however, Uncle Four Hap, Uncle
Bang Mai’s brother and Father’s best friend, was living just opposite Uncle Bang
Mai’s house. He was very wealthy and had no children of his own, so he loved me
very much. When he saw the situation he told Father to let me stay at his house.
In addition to providing board and lodging, he offered to pay the school fees and
take care of all my needs. But Father was worried that outsiders might laugh at
Uncle Bang Mai. The arrangement might hurt the relationship between the two
brothers. Father thought that it would be better for me to stay at home and did
not dare let me stay with Uncle Four Hap. So I was unable to go to school and
stayed home to help with the family business.
When the season came to buy peanut oil and peanut oil cake, I went with
my parents to buy them for delivery to various stores. I collected the money and
kept the accounts. But that kept me busy for only three or four months of the
year. Most of the time I had nothing to do. Such a waste of time! I got bored.
It was at this time that the An clan in Dap Da invited two teachers, Mr. Tran
Nghiep Thu and Mr. Dang Van Ton, to come teach their children. I did not have
the money openly to attend their lessons, but when I had some free time I would
go and listen secretly from outside the classroom. In that way I managed to learn
some more Chinese.
A while later the Chiuchow and Fukien Chinese in Dap Da also organized a
night class for their children at their own homes. They invited two teachers, Mr.
Tran Ngoc Ha and Mr. Ly, to teach Mandarin Chinese. There too I listened secretly
in order to learn more Mandarin and especially to acquire the correct Beijing
pronunciation. But these classes lasted for only one year.
Mother’s father also used to teach Chinese. His house was full of Chinese
books and stories. I went to visit him every day. He often taught me by giving me
a story to read and then asking me to explain the story to him. If I did not
understand something he would explain it very clearly to me. In this way I learned
more Chinese. It was to be a great help to me later on in my Chinese herbal
medicine business.
But I was still spending too much time at home. Father saw that our
neighbors’ children were going to school and only I was staying at home, and this
made him very anxious. He wanted me to go to school as well, but did not know
how to pay for it. Finally Father let me attend a local private school where I
learned Vietnamese (at that time very few Chinese wanted to learn Vietnamese –
most ignored it). The teacher’s name was Mr. Le An. He saw that I was very
intelligent and worked hard. He taught me two classes in a single year. The next
year I transferred to the public school in Dap Da for another year. My knowledge
of Vietnamese was also to be a great help to me later on.

Chapter 6. I work for Uncle Bang Mai

After attending the Vietnamese school for two years, I stayed home and helped
my father with his business as before. When I had nothing to do and felt sad, I
often went out to relax and play with a friend named Nguyen Cuu Khoi. We had
fun fishing by hand and net, catching snakes, shooting or catching birds, and the
like. We always ended up with some tasty morsel to eat. Unfortunately, Father
and Grandfather found out about our expeditions and stopped me going. They
were worried that I might stay in the sun for too long and fall sick. And they
thought it was not good for me to play so much.
After that I got into the habit of paying frequent visits to our neighbor Mr.
Dong Loi. He was a herbalist. I helped him chop up herbs and prepare medicinal
mixtures. And by observing him I learned how to buy and sell herbal medicines.
Every day I spent the morning with him and then went home for lunch. I never
stayed at his house for lunch. So Mr. Dong Loi and his family realized that I did not
come to their house for food. He was very warm and liked me very much. He and I
remained close friends from then on. Later, when I wanted to open my own
herbal medicine business, he helped me with some money and sold me one of his
houses to use as my store.
Uncle Bang Mai lived at Canh Hang. He had a trading company named
Thien Thanh that bought and sold herbal medicines, local produce, and general
merchandise. He had quite a few people working for him, including Mr. Lim
Quang, Mr. Ty, Mr. Anh Quang, and Mr. Hoa Don. They were older and wiser and
had a lot of experience, but they also liked to play and neglected the business.
Then there was Aunt Bang Mai, who was very superstitious and avoided many
tasks out of fear of bad luck. So most of the workers did not get on well with her.
Later they quit their jobs. Only Mr. Lim Quang felt obliged to remain, because
Uncle Bang Mai had brought him to Vietnam during the Japanese invasion of
Hainan. He had no relatives in Vietnam.
So Uncle Bang Mai was short of staff. Many times he came to our house to
ask Father to let me come and work for him. At first Father did not agree, but
Uncle kept on pleading with Father and reminding him of all the favors he had
done for him -- bringing him to Vietnam, arranging his marriage, enabling him to
have a son and heir (me), and so forth. Under this pressure and in view of the fact
that Uncle was a first cousin, Father felt obliged to let me go and work for him.
Uncle Bang Mai entrusted me with all the management of his trading
company. I also helped Aunt Bang Mai buy and sell general merchandise and deal
with household affairs. Twice a day I had to cook food for Uncle (not rice, only
other foods). Aunt gave me additional responsibilities. Every morning when I got
up and every evening, I boiled water and brewed tea, burned incense, and
worshipped the Buddha. It was the same routine twice a day, every day. Perhaps
because I burned incense and worshipped the Buddha every day, I was later to
read The Water Margin.[1] Both these experiences had a strong influence on me.
They helped me cultivate myself, become a better person, have a good quality of
life, win people’s trust by never lying or cheating, avoid evil pursuits, and find
happiness in helping others. That too was a good thing.
For a while Uncle Bang Mai stopped trading in local produce. He went
together with Mr. Lim Quang to Dong Ha in Quang Tri Province and opened a
hotel there, which he handed over to Mr. Lim Quang to manage. The hotel did
accommodate travelers, but it also served as a front for trading in "special
produce" across the border with Laos.[2] For reasons that I never understood this
business venture soon went bankrupt.
Meanwhile I was managing the herbal trade for Uncle Bang Mai. The
business went very well and made a lot of profit. Uncle's life was very comfortable
and prosperous. His four children all went to school. He knew how to enjoy
himself. He drank alcohol, smoked opium, frequented prostitutes, and indulged in
gambling. Whenever he saw any delicious food he bought it and took it home to
eat. He never worried much about money. Every morning he slept until about ten.
For lunch he would eat a whole pig's intestine and wash it down with a whole liter
of strong white rice wine. After lunch he would smoke several pipes of opium and
then sleep until four or five in the afternoon, when he would get up for dinner.
His dinner was always a delicious dish like stir fried fox with chicken, turtle and
chicken soup, eels and chicken in a slow cooking pot, duck or chicken or lamb in a
slow cooking pot, or steamed fish (I would cook all these dishes). Then he would
drink another liter of flavored rice wine and smoke more opium until his urge was
fully satisfied. Then Uncle would take another rest and at about eight in the
evening go to Thanh Minh Temple to play mahjong until two or three in the
morning. When he got back home Uncle would lightly knock just once on the
door. I had to get up immediately and open the door for him. If I happened to be
asleep and did not answer the door quickly enough he would yell at me for a
while. If he had been unlucky and lost his game he would vent all his anger on me.
Uncle would stay at home for 5 -- 10 days, then go to Qui Nhon for 5 -- 10
days to enjoy himself there, and then return. This was his usual routine. He did
not bother with family or business affairs, provided that there was always plenty
of money for him to spend.
Every day, after all my work was done, I would devote time to self-
education. In Uncle's house there was a "Four Corners" dictionary [3] and I used it
to learn Chinese characters for basic phrases. If I did not know a character I would
ask someone to show me. In that way I learned some more characters.
After the business in Dong Ha went bankrupt, Mr. Lim Quang did not return
to Canh Hang but went to Qui Nhon, where he worked for Mr. Bang Teng. Later
he married Miss Diep Lanh, Mr. Bang Teng's oldest daughter.
Family obligations forced me to work for Uncle Bang Mai for about two
years. He did not pay me a salary for all my hard work, but only gave me food and
two sets of new clothes per year.
After the loss of his business in Dong Ha Uncle's life was in ruins. He yelled
and cursed loudly all day long. Every little trifle made him angry and irritable. Aunt
Bang Mai, paralyzed by superstition, dared not do anything. I found the situation
unbearable. I begged Uncle to let me return home to help with my parents'
business.
It was during this time that Uncle Four Nghi Nguyen came down from
Saigon to ask Father for money (since Father's return to Dap Da this uncle had
come to visit him twice a year). On this visit he asked Father to let me go to
Saigon with him and work in his cafe. Father refused. For one thing, he did not
want me to go too far away. For another, he said that work in a cafe had no good
prospects. And in Saigon I would easily become corrupted.

Notes
[1] Water Margin is one of the four classical novels of Chinese literature. The first
complete edition was published in 1589. The story is set in the Song dynasty and
recounts the exploits of 108 outlaws who gather in the marshland at Mount Liang
in Shandong Province (thus the subtitle Outlaws of the Marsh). It is based on the
historical record of a different group of 37 outlaws who were active in the
Huainan area of Anhui Province and surrendered to the Song government in 1121.

[2] The "special produce" was opium and Uncle Bang Mai planned to import it
from the mountainous opium-producing region known as the "Golden Triangle,"
which encompasses border areas of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. The trade in
opium was illicit not because consumption of opium was itself illegal in French
Indochina -- it was not -- but because it evaded the official state monopoly on
opium, salt, and alcohol (Ellen J. Hammer, The Struggle for Indochina 1940 --
1955, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1966, pp. 68-9).

[3] A dictionary of Chinese characters compiled in accordance with the "four
corner method," which was invented in the 1920s by the editor Wang Yunwu. The
shapes found in the four corners of a character, from top left to bottom right, are
coded as numerical digits, and characters with the same four-digit code are
grouped together.

Chapter 7. I work for a farmers' union

Finally I left my uncle and returned home. It was at this time that the Japanese
were starting to invade Vietnam. The situation became more desperate every
day. The French colonial authorities prohibited free trade in peanut oil. They
established farmers' unions everywhere to collect peanut oil and sell it wholesale.
The farmers' union in Binh Dinh Province set up a wholesale agency run by Mr. Au
Binh Son and Mr. Au Thuan Le. So Father and I were no longer allowed to trade
freely in peanut oil and peanut oil cake. Instead we went to work for the agency.
The pay was very good. This was the first time I received a salary, so I was very
happy with the position.
Our job was to go to oil-pressing workshops to observe and supervise
farmers who brought in peanuts, purchased with their own money, to press into
peanut oil. However much oil they pressed, they had to sell it all to the farmers'
union at a fixed price. For that reason the owners of the workshops did not make
a lot of profit. So they hid some peanut oil away in order to sell it later on the
black market and make some additional profit.
Father and I were good and honest people. The owners of the oil-pressing
workshops had been our business partners for many years, so we had great
sympathy for them. We turned a blind eye and pretended not to know what they
were doing, but we had to be very careful and keep the matter secret. If the
authorities found out we could all go to prison. One workshop owner named Mr.
Nghe hid away a barrel of peanut oil (20 kilograms) and was denounced by his
neighbors. He was in prison for three months. Such a pity!
While I was working for the farmers' union, Mr. Au Bich Son took a strong
liking to me. Whenever I visited Qui Nhon he invited me to his house for dinner
with his wife and himself. This was a very special treat for me. He told his son, Mr.
Hai In, that he must help and take good care of me. He told him to take me to buy
new clothes and shoes, so that I would look like a young city gentleman. I had
great respect for him and his wife. On the occasion of the lunar New Year I would
visit their house to congratulate them and their family, and whenever I came to
Qui Nhon I would check up on them and their health.
We worked for the farmers' union for over a year. Then the Japanese
occupied the area and closed down the agency. We were all discharged. It was at
this time that Father stopped working. Mr. Hai Te (Mr. Three Thuoc) and I moved
to Phu Phong to help Mr. Truong Duc Phu, manager of the local peanut
warehouse. This warehouse was at the top of a bare hill about ten kilometers
away from Phu Phong Market. We did not cook for ourselves but hired a friend on
a monthly basis to cook daily meals for us. This place was in the middle of the
midlands wilderness, so food and water were scarce. Our meals consisted only of
rice mixed with dry manioc slices and eaten with steamed or salted fish and a
little salad dipped in fermented fish sauce or boiled bindweed.
Mr. Truong Duc Phu moved for a time to Dao Da. Mr. Hai Te and I stayed
behind until the warehouse was emptied. Then I returned home to help with the
family business as before.

Chapter 8. Misfortune strikes

I stayed at home to rest for a while. Then I happened to run into Mr. Lam Minh
Chau, who was visiting Dap Da from Hoi An. He asked me to invest with him to
buy rice and transport it to Quang Ngai for sale. We had just reached Tam Quan
when we were stopped and turned back by Japanese soldiers. So we returned to
Bong Son and sold the rice there. We used the proceeds to buy dry manioc slices
and transported them to Quang Ngai, but when we got there we were unable to
sell them. Mr. Chau said that we could sell them in Hoi An. So we went to Hoi An
but were unable to sell them there either. So Mr. Chau had to get his wife,
children, and sisters to grind the manioc slices into flour and sell the flour. It took
two months to dispose of it all. We counted the money and there was still enough
for some fun. We divided the profit between us. I offered my share to Mr. Chau's
relatives because they had contributed a lot of labor and were exhausted. In any
case, it had been only a small investment.
This was the first time we had engaged in long-distance trade and we had
failed. The reason was that we lacked experience. We were just learning the
business and we were too honest. When we returned to Bong Son we should
have bought a few bags of dry manioc slices and placed them on top of the bags
of rice as camouflage. Then we could have got through easily to Quang Ngai and
sold the rice at a good price.[1]
In the first week of August 1944 my younger sister Thanh grew a boil over
her upper lip with a head full of white pus. Not realizing the danger she was in,
she pressed the pus out with her finger and got infected with tetanus. Although
she underwent all sorts of treatments, nothing helped and a few days later, on
August 11, she passed away. She was thirteen years old. Our family was in great
distress. Father mourned all day long.
At that time American and British planes were dropping bombs all over the
place. Roads and bridges were among the targets. But the bombs often missed
their targets, killed innocent civilians, and caused a lot of damage. As our house
was next to a bridge Father was afraid that it would get hit. Another danger came
from Chinese informers who guided Japanese soldiers sent to arrest people. Many
patriotic Hainanese were captured with their assistance. This was what happened
to Mr. Au Bich Son, Mr. Au Thuan Le, Mr. Bang Teng, and Mr. Diep Nang Duc,
among others. They were tortured until they lost consciousness and then revived.
Mr. Au Thuan Le was given electric shocks until he died. Every day Father became
more anxious and frightened. Together with overwork and grief at his daughter's
death, it was more than he could bear. He stopped eating, was unable to sleep,
and eventually fell seriously ill.
In early 1945, when Father's illness had become dangerous, Uncle Four
Nghi Nguyen came from Saigon to ask Father for money. We ourselves were in a
tight financial situation: all our savings had been spent, we had many mouths to
feed, and business was slow. Nevertheless, Father grit his teeth, emptied his
pocket, found 70 francs there, and offered them to Uncle. But Uncle refused to
take the money. He said that it was too little and demanded 100 francs and no
less. When he heard that Father was at a loss. Tears filled his eyes and he
admitted to Uncle that he was bankrupt. Then Uncle took the 70 francs, put them
into his pocket, and swore that from that moment on he would no longer
recognize Father as his older brother. Then he went to wait for the bus to take
him back to Saigon.
He was true to his word. He never came to see Father again. What a
miserable character! Uncle disowned not only Father but even his grandparents
and ancestors. He cared only about money. He cared nothing for his own blood
brother! He was a gambling addict. He worked in a cafe in Saigon and was paid a
good wage, but however much he earned he lost it all gambling. At the beginning
of 1945 he was still unmarried.
Father had been ill for more than a year. We did all we could to get
treatment for him, but nothing helped. On July 7, 1945 (June 10 in the Year of the
Cock according to the lunar calendar) Father passed away at the age of 52. At that
time Mother was only 37 years old.
We were all very sad when Father died. We missed him. He was survived by
Mother, Chinese Mother, and four of us children. Because of Father's long illness
all our savings were gone. The only possessions Father left behind for us were an
umbrella and an old pair of leather shoes. Mother said: "These shoes are those he
bought for and wore at our wedding. After that he wore them only on the first
day of the Chinese New Year. On all other days he wore a pair of wooden shoes,
even when he went on a long walk."
Poor Father! Family hardships and business troubles cut his life short and
he died while still young. Mother and Chinese Mother lost a kind and loving
husband; we children lost a good and gentle father. Our cup of sorrow
overflowed.
After Father's death our family suffered greatly. Our life was hard. We were
a big family but had no money. But fortunately we were all able to bear the hard
life that we shared together. We worked hard: some of us were employed as yarn
spinners, while I wove fabric. We lived hand to mouth, but -- thank God -- we
earned enough to keep body and soul together.
Some time after Father passed away, my younger sister Four Tanh married
and went to live with her husband's family.
During Father's illness our family still had a large number of peanut oil
cakes. Father had told Mother to sell them to the Thin brothers in Mo Duc County
in Quang Ngai Province. Mr. Thin and his brother were old customers of our
family. They used to pick up our merchandise first and pay us back after selling it.
They were very honest and trustworthy. They had done business with our family
for many years. They always paid us down to the last sou.[2]
This time, however, we were out of luck. The Thin brothers picked up the
peanut oil cakes just a few days before Father's death. They transported them to
Quang Ngai, but had not yet sold them when the August Revolution of 1945 broke
out.
The August Revolution was a terrible storm that rocked the heavens and
shook the earth. People all over the country (most of them peasants) and
especially in Quang Ngai Province rose up in noisy crowds and overthrew the
colonial regime.[3] All those connected with the old regime, such as city officials
who had close relations with the French or Japanese authorities, were taken away
by the revolutionaries to have their heads chopped off or be buried alive.
Thousands of people died a horrible death during the first two or three days of
the revolution in Mo Duc and Duc Pho counties of Quang Ngai Province alone. Mr.
Thin's younger brother was one of them. Mr. Thin himself was lucky enough to
escape because he was away from home at the time, but all his and his brother's
possessions, including our peanut oil cakes, were confiscated. So our family was
also affected. In fact, it bankrupted us. But such was the will of Heaven.
Mr. Thin had no money to pay us back. He pleaded with Mother to allow
him more time so that he could find some way to repay us by instalments. He
promised not to let our family down. But times had changed. Mr. Thin was no
longer able to do business. After a long time had passed, Mother went to his
house to ask for the money he owed us. He still had no money for us, but he gave
Mother some sweet potatoes as a gesture of apology. That was the end of the
matter. It was a real pity.

Notes

[1] The Japanese tried to control the movement of rice in order to starve areas
where resistance to their occupation was especially strong. Manioc is of little
nutritional value and its movement was not of concern to them.

[2] Small French coin worth five centimes (a twentieth of a franc).
[3] The August Revolution was facilitated by the power vacuum created in
Vietnam by the surrender of Japanese forces announced on August 15 (though
not formally signed until September 2).

Chapter 9. I work at An Ky, Thien Sanh, and Quang A

For a while I wove fabric for people, but I got bored just doing that every day. So I
left and started working for the An Ky Store, owned by Mr. Six Lim Hoa's uncle, at
Dap Da. This store sold not only herbal medicines but also fabrics, iron pieces, and
general merchandise. I was put in charge of the herbal medicines and also helped
with the iron trade. Handling the iron was very hard work. I had to carry the iron
pieces in and out of the store for customers to choose. The pieces left over had to
be taken back to storage. If they were left outside they would rust and could no
longer be sold. When there was a market day at Binh Dinh I, together with a
number of Vietnamese workers, had to pull and push a large cart full of fabrics to
the market for the storeowner's wife to sell. In the evening we had to bring the
cart back. We did the same when there was a market day at some other place.
Once I was so busy working that I put a bottle belonging to the
storeowner's family on the table. Suddenly a chicken flew in from somewhere and
smashed the bottle. The storeowner's wife got so upset that you would have
thought her heart was broken. She told me that I would have to pay the cost of a
new bottle. I felt angry and amused at the same time. She seemed to me a mean
and petty-minded person. A bottle was not worth much, after all. I ran home and
brought a bottle back to compensate her for the loss. I immediately quit the job,
even though the storeowner pleaded with me to stay on. He was unable to find a
replacement for me, while he himself lacked the necessary knowledge of herbal
medicines. He had to close the store.
Next I went to work for Thien Sanh Store at Binh Dinh Market. This store
sold herbal medicines and fish sauce. Thien Sanh was an investment company.
The shareholders had appointed Dr. Xi and Mr. Ca (Mr. Dan Loi's older brother) to
manage the company jointly. I was the accountant as well as a salesman. Dr. Xi
was a Chinese doctor who had graduated from University Medical School in
Canton. He had a good knowledge of herbal medicine. He was honest and
straightforward but very strange. He often yelled at someone who disagreed with
him. He used to help his uncle at Go Boi. His uncle's wife was a Vietnamese. She
often said nasty things to him, so he hated her and for that reason hated all
Vietnamese.
Thien Sanh's business situation was very good at first, but as a result of the
bad attitude of Dr. Xi, who often got angry with customers, they gradually lost
their customers. When a patient came to see him for herbal medicine, it would
have been enough for him to feel the patient's pulse, choose the remedy, and
write a prescription. But he was too honest and straightforward and worked like a
conscientious professional physician. Many diseases -- malaria, for example --
really could not be cured by herbs but only by Western medicine. So he often
advised patients to go to a Western doctor for an injection or to obtain Western
medicine. Patients misunderstood this. They thought that he was a quack and did
not come again.
As for Mr. Ca, he dd not really care about the business. He was grieving for
his wife and son, who had recently died. All day long he played mahjong in order
to drown his sorrow.
Under these circumstances the store soon had to close down. However, a
new opportunity soon arose.
Patriotic Hainanese relatives at Binh Dinh Market were investing money to
open a hostel named "Quang A." They each bought a hundred-franc bond. I
bought one too. Our relatives again appointed Dr. Xi as manager, Mr. Ca as
treasurer, and me as accountant. Quang A Hostel was not large: it had only five
bedrooms. The front of the hostel was used as a restaurant and to sell Western
wines. The business situation of the hostel was very good at the start, but
unfortunately it was badly managed. Dr. Xi hated Vietnamese people, but for
some reason he was fond of an elderly old-fashioned prostitute and openly
shacked up with her. She was covered with chickenpox scars and scabies. Even
ghosts and goblins avoided her. Later she became his legal wife. They occupied
one of the bedrooms and ate at the hostel without charge. As she was married to
the manager the investors pretended not to know, but some of them copied him
and competed with one another in openly occupying all the other bedrooms.
They too brought in prostitutes to eat and sleep with them without charge for
long periods of time.
So Quang A Hostel turned into Quang A Brothel. And Mr. Ca was still
playing mahjong all day long. Whatever money the hostel made he took and lost
playing mahjong. Quang A soon went bankrupt and closed its doors. No one ever
mentioned it again.
There is another funny story about Quang A. Dr. Xi and his younger brother
Mr. Han Hoai Nguyen were competing for the affections of the elderly prostitute I
mentioned above. They argued fiercely. On one occasion the younger brother
chased Dr. Xi holding a knife. Dr. Xi ran for his life, but got caught in a blind alley
and had to climb up and hide on a rooftop. It was pathetic and made everyone
laugh and cry at the same time. This was a strange and rare event in the life of the
Overseas Chinese community at that time. When I visited the United States in
1992, Dr. Xi's brother-in-law, Mr. Diep Nang Di, asked me whether I remembered
that incident. He thought it was very funny.

Chapter 10. Chinese nationalist activities

On August 15, 1945, while I was still working at Quang A, Japan announced its
unconditional surrender. China had won its eight-year-long war of resistance
against Japan. China was now one of the world's five great powers. This was a
source of great pride and encouragement to all Chinese people, including
Overseas Chinese.
On August 19, 1945 the August Revolution broke out in Vietnam.
After the Japanese surrender, in accordance with an agreement reached
among the Allies,[1] China took over the north of Vietnam down to Da Nang while
Britain occupied the south up to Nha Trang. Each was responsible for disarming
the Japanese troops in its zone.
Between the Chinese and the British zone there was a "free zone" that was
taken over by the Vietminh. It encompassed all provinces of the South Midlands
from the southern suburbs of Da Nang to the northern suburbs of Nha Trang.
With support from the Overseas Chinese and taking advantage of the
opportunity offered by the presence of Chinese troops in northern Vietnam, the
Chinese nationalists of the Kuomintang sent many officers and specialists deep
into Vietnam to spread propaganda and recruit Chinese people into overseas
branches of the Nationalist Party and the Third Nationalist Youth League (or Third
Youth League for short). Joining these organizations was very simple. Any Chinese
resident aged 18 or over who wanted to join the nationalist party or youth league
just completed and handed in a printed form and automatically became a
member.
At that time it was considered fashionable and honorable for a young
Overseas Chinese to join the nationalist party or youth league. So they were all
very proud to follow the trend and fill in membership application forms. Members
included Mr. Ngo Khon Dao, Mr. Ngo Khon Phuc, and lots of other people.
Although they joined the party they did not really understand its political goals.
They just joined for fun and in order to feel important.
I did not join the Nationalist Party because I was still under age. However,
the party's local branch headquarters were at the Quang A Hostel at Binh Dinh
Market. All party documents and personal files were stored there, so I was able to
learn about their activities.
At this time Overseas Chinese Management Organizations (OCMOs) were
set up in areas with a large population of Overseas Chinese as private
administrations of the Chinese communities. The heads of these organizations
were all local wealthy people. The Qui Nhon OCMO claimed the status of the
main OCMO for Binh Dinh Province and took control of all the OCMOs in the
province. The OCMOs used the power of the Nationalist Party to do whatever
they wanted. They even insolently interfered in the affairs of the Vietnamese
government. For instance, the Qui Nhon OCMO openly bought the support of
Overseas Chinese. In some areas any Minh Huong Chinese or Vietnamese who
contributed three francs were given identity cards showing them as real Overseas
Chinese.[2] People called them "local Overseas Chinese."
During this period the South Midlands were suffering from drought. People
lost their harvest and were starving. In this situation Mr. Han Xuong Quang, the
Chinese nationalist consul in Saigon, entrusted Mr. Lim Quang with transporting
rice from Saigon to be distributed to Overseas Chinese families. Each family would
receive 100 kilograms of rice. This was described as aid, but its real purpose was
to buy the recipients' support.
The Nationalist Party also allied itself with the French colonialists and
deceived the Overseas Chinese with lying propaganda. They secretly told overseas
and local Chinese to stay neutral and not cooperate with the Vietnamese or join
the Vietnamese Revolution or the Anti-French Resistance. Each Overseas Chinese
family was given a Kuomintang flag and told to hang it on the rooftop of their
house where it could be seen by the pilots of French planes so that the house
would not be bombed.
Such behavior on the part of the Chinese made the local authorities and
local people very angry. Vietnamese viewed the Chinese as thorns in their flesh.
But they kept these thoughts to themselves and waited to fight back another day.
This, for instance, was the situation in An Thai, a village with a mixed Chinese and
Vietnamese population. Whenever Vietnamese residents heard French planes
flying overhead, they climbed up on their roofs and displayed large Vietnamese
flags so that bombs would be dropped on their houses but also on those of their
Chinese neighbors. The Chinese villagers were scared to death. They were unable
to eat or sleep well. They prayed to the God of Heaven and to the Buddha to
protect them and let them live in peace. It was very funny.
At the start of the August Revolution the Vietminh launched the "Public
Education Movement" to teach illiterate adults to read and write Vietnamese. [3]
An open-air market was held in An Thai every five days. On market days local
young men would erect string cordons along the roads leading to the marketplace
in order to check whether people going to the market were literate. Vietnamese
who were unable to read and write were forced to wear for a few minutes a sign
around their necks saying: "I am illiterate." But illiterate Chinese were made to
enter an empty house. When the young men heard French planes coming, they
enjoyed themselves by locking the doors to the house so that those inside could
not escape. The Chinese people inside the house cried out and screamed in fear.
Some of them peed and shat in their pants. It was pitiable! After the planes had
gone the doors were unlocked and the people were allowed to go. From then on
the Chinese residents never dared openly oppose the Vietnamese.
These hooligans thought that it was great fun. What they did was wrong
because these illiterate local Chinese were in fact mostly poor working people.
The wealthy Chinese looked down on them, so they joined the Vietnamese
Revolution and the Anti-French Resistance and made a big contribution to the
glorious cause.

Notes

[1] At Potsdam in July 1945. See: Proclamation defining terms for Japanese
surrender, issued at Potsdam July 26, Department of State Bulletin, July 29, 1945,
p. 137.

[2] Although of Chinese origin, the Minh Huong were not regarded as "real
Overseas Chinese" because they had been settled in Vietnam for many
generations.

[3] It is estimated that 80% of the population of Vietnam were illiterate in 1944.

Chapter 11. Chinese Mother returns to the homeland

After father and my younger sister Thanh died Chinese Mother suffered greatly.
She often cried and was very sad and mournful all day long. She also missed
father's mother.
In 1945 the anti-Japanese forces finally won the war. Japan surrendered and
peace came. For various reasons the majority of Chinese wives and their children
returned to the homeland -- Hainan. Chinese Mother wanted to go with them. But
with father now dead there was no money, so she made no definite decision.
On July 10, 1946 (June 9 by the lunar calendar) the family commemorated
the anniversary of father's death. Friends came to pay their respects and asked
Chinese Mother to return to the homeland. She was very emotional. She cried
again and lamented her fate. When I saw her in that state I was very anxious. I
understood her feelings and wanted her to return home, but there was no money so
I had to accept the situation.
Then I secretly went to the house of Uncle Four U (Mr. Chau Duc Tu) and
on a wing and a prayer asked him and his wife to lend me 100 dong. Uncle and
Auntie were generous people and loved me very much. When they heard that I
wanted to borrow money in order to enable Chinese Mother to return to the
homeland, they agreed immediately. I was surprised and very happy. I was grateful
to them for being so willing to help me. I often remembered them.
So I borrowed the 100 dong and went back home. I asked Chinese Mother:
"Do you still want to return to the homeland?" She replied: "Yes, but there is no
money." I told her that I could borrow it. She did not believe me. She thought I was
just pretending in order to comfort her. Then I took out the 100 dong for her to see.
I said: "Uncle Four U lent me this money."
She was overjoyed. She had the money! She and her daughter were now able
to return to the homeland. She made a definite decision to do so. When mother and
mother's father heard the news they were very anxious. They cried and did not
want to separate.
That very afternoon Chinese Mother, younger sister Neo, and I took a bus to
Da Nang. We stayed with Auntie Teng while waiting for a sailing boat to Hainan.
We waited a whole week but no boat arrived. Our relatives told us that we must
wait a while longer. I was worried that I might have to wait a long time, which
would be inconvenient. So I bid farewell to Chinese Mother and younger sister
Neo and returned home, leaving them to wait for a boat by themselves. They had to
wait quite a while. At last they set sail, but their boat got caught in a storm soon
after leaving the harbor. It floated on the sea for two weeks until all the severe
weather had passed. Finally it arrived at its destination. Thanks to the blessing of
Heaven and Earth, everyone on board was safe and sound.
When Chinese Mother and sister Neo reached Hainan, they learned that
father's mother and Second Uncle were already long dead. All the belongings that
they had left behind when they fled as refugees were gone. Chinese Mother was
heartbroken. There was nothing left with which to start a new life. To make a
living the two of them had to go down to the sea and collect coral to sell,
immersing their bodies in seawater all day long. It was very hard work. That was
their life -- there was nothing better for them to do. They started to regret that they
had returned to the homeland. They continued to survive in that way until Chinese
Mother died in 1963. After that sister Neo got married and went to live and work
with her husband.
After Chinese Mother and sister Neo returned to Hainan I often found some
way to help them. Once I asked a friend named Mr. Three Ta (Mr. Three Hoi's son)
to take some money I gave him to Chinese Mother, but on the way he ran into
problems and was unable to give her the money. I felt really sorry. When I visited
China in 1989 I met Mr. Three Ta and he tried to explain to me what had
happened. For the sake of friendship I told him not to worry about it. Again I tried
to send money to Chinese Mother through Mr. Hoang Duc Chau. He was also
unable to get the money to her. He said that the customs officer had taken it all.
That was the end of the matter.

Chapter 12. An investment venture with Mr. Second Quynh

After the return of Chinese Mother and Neo to the homeland, I and Mr. Au Quynh
Hoa (Second Quynh), brother of my son-in-law Hoa, invested money in buying
one ton of dried squid and took it to Haiphong to sell. At that time Haiphong was a
free port. When we got there we found the Thai Phong Import-Export Company.
The owner was from Ha Nam Province. When he saw that we had a lot of dried
squid, he was very happy and gave us a friendly reception. He arranged for us to
eat and sleep at his company and bought all our squid. So we had a safe place to
stay. We toured all the sights around the city. At the end of our visit we bought ten
drums of lamp oil (each drum containing 200 liters) to take home with us. We were
very lucky because when our bus was just a short distance away from Haiphong
fighting broke out in the city between Vietnamese and French soldiers.[1] We were
fortunate to be just one step ahead. We narrowly escaped getting caught in the
middle of the battle.
When we got home the lamp oil sold out almost immediately. The price was
very good and we made a profit, but we were still dissatisfied. If only we had used
the proceeds from selling the squid to buy general merchandise instead, it would
have been lighter and safer to transport and just as easy to sell. It would also have
fetched a higher price and made more profit.
We could not make any further trips to Haiphong because the roads there
were closed. We sold rice and dry corn for a while and then ended our
collaboration.
After this I worked again with Mr. Second Quynh and Mr. Seven Xit. We
pooled our money and bought a machine to make candles. For a while we made a
good profit, but then we had to stop due to a shortage of raw materials.
I returned home and began working for myself. I traveled around Binh Dinh
Province and Phu Yen Province buying cotton fabric wholesale and brought it
home to sell. This too did not continue for long.

Note

[1] This was the first large-scale clash between French and Vietnamese forces,
marking the start of the French-Vietnamese war. On November 26, 1946, the
French bombarded, attacked, and captured Haiphong, killing 6,000 civilians. For
an account of how the fighting began see Hammer, The Struggle for Indochina
1940 -- 1955, pp. 182-84.

Chapter 13. I work for Mr. Dan Loi

In 1947 I worked for the herbal medicine store belonging to Mr. Dan Loi (Four Ba
Quang) at Binh Dinh market. At first I worked only inside the store, cutting and
mixing herbs to make herbal medicines and selling them. Then Mr. Four Ba Quang
entrusted me with the job of going places to buy herbs and bringing them back.
Although there were frequent French air raids at this time, I was not afraid of
danger and continued traveling to Quang Ngai, Thu Xa, Chu O, Tam Ky, Tra Mi,
Da Nang, Vinh, Nam Dinh, and other places. As there was a war going on,
merchandise was in short supply. If you could get hold of goods, you could sell
them at high prices and make a lot of profit. So I made a lot of profit for Mr. Dan
Loi.
Once Mr. Dan Loi and I went to Da Nang to buy herbs. Our goods truck had
just left Dien Ban when we heard that the French army had recaptured Da Nang. It
was lucky that we had left early, otherwise we might have been stuck there, not
knowing when we would be able to get out.
Mr. Dan Loi ran a family business, so his wife managed the household on a
very tight budget. At the beginning the workers’ breakfast consisted of white rice
soup with a piece of fish the width of three fingers. Later they received only white
rice soup with salt. For a while they had leftover rice fried with fish sauce. Then, as
salt was cheaper than fish sauce, Mrs. Dan Loi decided that from then on the
workers would get only fried leftover rice with salt. Mr. Dan Loi's business was
expanding but the workers' conditions were deteriorating. Although his wife
treated the workers badly, he himself treated me well. He always let me sample
some of the delicious dishes that his wife served him.
In order to build up his business and make more profit, Mr. Four Ba Quang
offered the workers commissions to encourage them to work harder. At the start of
the year he openly announced to the workers: “If you all work hard, at the end of
the tax year I'll give you 10% commission, depending on how well each of you
works.”
We were all glad to hear that. The workers worked harder and I too did my
best. I traveled widely to search for and buy supplies. I often wished that I could
make more profit for Mr. Dan Loi and hoped that the workers would benefit from
it.
The business was running very smoothly when suddenly, in the middle of
the year, Mr. Diep Nang Tai -- a private tutor who had been teaching in Tam
Quang Province -- arrived and applied for a job with Mr. Dan Loi. As he was old
and educated, Mr. Four arranged for him to work as an accountant. Then another
man, Mr. Han Hy Nguyen, turned up and also asked for a job. He used to live in
the same village as Mr. Four Ba Quang and had come from China by boat. Both
these men were very smooth and persuasive talkers. The workers called them
flatterers. They flattered Mr. Dan Loi's wife and she liked that very much.
The end of the year finally came. Mr. Four Ba Quang prepared to distribute
the 10% commission to the workers. Mrs. Four immediately objected to this. She
thought that 10% commission was too generous. She regretted that her husband
had offered the commission at all. She announced that each worker would receive
only a small bonus -- the same amount for everyone. So the workers fell out with
Mrs. Four and one after the other they quit the job. As she knew that some of the
workers were aware of her flirtation with the two flatterers she just accepted their
resignation. Mr. Dan Loi was very embarrassed. On one side were his workers and
his friends. Together with them he had started the business from scratch. They had
shared hardships and watched the business grow. On the other side was his wife.
He did not know what to do. No matter what, he had to listen to his wife’s opinion.
However, he treated me with special consideration. Not only did he give me an
extra bonus but he told me: “You have been a great help to me. I shall never forget
what you have done for me and I shall never let you down. If later on you leave to
start your own business, you can be sure of my help and support.”
When I heard him say that, I greatly appreciated his good heart. To me Mr.
Four Ba Quang was an understanding, respectful, and just person whose word I
could trust. Later, when I did start my own business, he gave me a lot of help. He
often paid me special attention. I felt very grateful and shall never forget him.

Chapter 14. Before and after marriage
After leaving employment with Mr. Dan Loi I came home and temporarily stopped
looking for a new job. Instead I went into partnership with a Vietnamese friend
named Mr. Nguyen Cuu Khoi. Mr. Khoi was well educated in Vietnamese and had
beautiful handwriting, but he had no money. So I paid the startup costs and he
contributed his labor and we opened a workshop in my home. At first I bought
cotton yarn and we made wick for sale to candle makers. Then we bought a large
engraved stone block, stamps, and other printing equipment. We printed calendars
for sale and educational pictures to sell to schools. Our business did well. The
revenue was enough to support our two families. Then I opened a Chinese
medicine store and offered Mr. Khoi all the tools, materials, and technical books so
that he could continue the printing business on his own. In 1975, after the
liberation of South Vietnam, I returned home from Hanoi and paid a visit to his
family. He told me that he had always appreciated and remembered me as the one
whose help enabled him to become rich.
In 1947 Mr. Dong Loi's family were preparing to return to the homeland. He
transferred ownership of his Chinese medicine store to Uncle Four U and Uncle
Four U asked me to manage it. However, I already had a store of my own. I was
still young and active and did not want to stay in one place forever, so I declined
the offer. Uncle had to give the store to Mr. Au Quynh Trang, a cousin second
removed of Mr. Au Bich Son. Mr. Trang was a playboy. He knew nothing about
either business or Chinese medicine. Mr. Trang hired his cousin Mr. Six Khon to
help him. Mr. Six Khon was old, weak, and an opium addict, and he too knew
nothing about Chinese medicine. So the owner played with girls while the manager
smoked opium all day long. They competed with one another to fritter away other
people's investments. Whatever they earned from sales they spent. Within less than
a year the store was bankrupt. Poor Uncle Four U ended up losing everything.
In 1948, at the age of 22, I married Ho Kim Anh, who was 21. She lived at
Dap Da in An Nhon County of Binh Dinh Province. Kim Anh was born and raised
in the family of a poor scholar. Her parents were very benevolent and honest. Her
father was named Ho Toai. He was a Chiuchow Chinese. During the French
occupation he passed the imperial court examinations. He taught private lessons at
home (people called him Teacher Tu Second). His wife and he had a lot of
children. Kim Anh was their ninth child. So their life was hard. He was to die
young.
Although Kim Anh's father was a teacher, she herself had not received a
classical education. However, her family had taught her to behave well. When she
was young she was sent to live with the family of her elder brother and his wife to
learn etiquette and earn some money. When she was a bit older she returned home
to live with her old mother. She wove cloth for people and then opened a small
home store in order to support her mother and herself.
Like parents, like daughter. Kim Anh was very good and honest. I tried to be
like her. We loved one another very much. We shared hardships. We never argued.
Kim Anh treated my family very well. She respected my old mother and loved all
my sisters. She supported and helped me in many ways.
After marrying we built a straw house for ourselves in Dap Da. Kim Anh
opened a home store to buy and sell small items. I traveled to various places to sell
Chinese herbal medicines, collect orders from small stores in villages and small
towns, and deliver goods to people's homes. I knew many customers from my time
working for Mr. Dan Loi -- they all came and bought Chinese medicines from me.
I did business over a broad area. I visited such places as Thiet Tru, An Thai, An
Vinh, Phu Phong, Kien My, Dong Pho, Cay Bong, Cho Huyen, Canh Hang, Dai
An, Quan Duong, Phu Cat, Cho Gom, Nha Da, and An Luong. Business was good
and gradually I accumulated savings from the profits.
At that time Mr. Truong Duc Phu had a Chinese medicine store at Phu Ly.
He was old and did not want to work any longer. He wanted to sell his store to me,
but I thought Phu Ly was a small county with a small population. It would be
difficult to expand the business, so I bought only his stock -- all the tools and
Chinese medicines.
Soon thereafter I also bought all the tools and medicines from the Quang Loi
Chinese Medicine Store at Phu Cat Market. I completed all the preparations and
awaited the right moment to open a Chinese medicine store to earn a living for my
family.

Chapter 15. I join the revolution

After Japanese forces defeated the French army in Vietnam,[1] they set up military
posts everywhere. At Dap Da a military training ground appeared in the old
marketplace in front of the house of our mother's father. When we heard that Japan
had lost the war and surrendered unconditionally, Uncle Two Du (Mr. Tran Trong)
asked me to go with him to disarm Japanese soldiers. I was scared to death. Disarm
Japanese soldiers?! Why, I might as well stick my head into a lion's mouth. The
Japanese had real guns with real bullets and real bayonets. They had swords that
could slice up a human being as easily as a banana. I dared not even look them in
the eye, let alone disarm them. "Dear uncle," I told him, "this is too dangerous a
job. I hope you understand." When he heard me talk like that he too lost his
resolve.
Some time after the end of the war against Japan civil war broke out in
China between the Nationalists and the Communists. Affected by the situation
inside and outside the country, some local young Chinese -- for instance, Han Ai
Sieu, Han Lan Dinh, Han Ngac Dinh, Han Anh Dinh, and Ngo Khon Phuc --
started to get involved in politics. While they were teaching at Phu My they
happened to run into Mr. Hoa Hung, who had just been to Saigon and bought a
radio. Based on what they heard over the radio, they started a magazine called New
Sprout in which they printed the daily news and essays in favor of democracy.
However, the Chinese community at that time was under the influence of the
Chinese Nationalists. Not many people liked the idea of democracy and some were
even frightened of it. So this magazine was not popular among the Overseas
Chinese and after a few issues it ceased publication. The editors then went their
separate ways and looked for different jobs.
I did not yet understand what politics is about and did not join this group.
Later I began to listen to Vietminh activists and other people with progressive
ideas about Vietnam, the Chinese Revolution, and communism. I started to like
politics. I was still engaged in business to earn a living, but at the same time I
joined in some local activities. I took part in propaganda campaigns to persuade
local Chinese to support the Vietnamese Revolution and the Anti-French
resistance.
In 1948 Mr. Kinh Quang asked me to manage his Dan Huong Chinese
Medicine Store at Phu Cat and help look after his family so that he could
concentrate on managing his other business at Nha Trang.
I was his wife's cousin, so I told him: “I am glad to help you and I don't need
any salary, but please buy me a bicycle so that I can go home to see my family.”
He agreed.
Besides his immediate family, Mr. Kinh Quang had nephews from various
places living with him for schooling -- more than ten people altogether. I had to
manage the business, take care of his family, teach his nephews, and still find time
for my revolutionary activities.
During my time in Phu Cat I worked with Mr. Han Lan Dinh and the teacher
Miss Tran Nguyet Dung to set up an organization in Binh Dinh Province called the
Overseas Chinese Club for Democracy and Progress. We elected Miss Dung as
secretary. I was deputy secretary. Then we split up into groups that went to
different places in the province to conduct propaganda among overseas Chinese.
Drawing no distinction between clans of different regional origin (Hainan, Trieu
Chau, Phuc Kien, Quang Phu, etc.), we urged them all to abandon their old
customs, unite, do their best, love and help one another, support and contribute to
the revolution, and join the Vietnamese resistance to the French occupiers.
Mr. Han Lan Dinh and I were assigned the additional task of approaching
the leaders of the Overseas Chinese Management Organization (OCMO) in Qui
Nhon and politely demanding that they invite representatives of their local
branches to come and discuss matters of concern to Overseas Chinese in the
province. We were determined not to allow the conservative OCMO in Qui Nhon
to monopolize such matters. We also requested them to convene a delegate
conference of Overseas Chinese in order officially to establish a general assembly
of Overseas Chinese in Binh Dinh Province, elect its leaders, and so on. At the
beginning our authority was still weak and we had a lot of difficulty. We did not
get a good result but we continued to struggle against the conservative leaders.
While I was living at Phu Cat Mr. Han Lan Dinh invited me to join the
Vietminh espionage network for Zone V. I did not want to do it. I was never
interested in espionage. I considered spying an immoral occupation. An espionage
officer has to carry a gun whenever he goes out and about. Although I may have
felt proud of myself, I would have caused misunderstanding and quickly lost the
sympathy of the overseas Chinese. It also seemed to me that a spy is like a slave
who has to accept and carry out orders without question and use his power and
position to bully people. I would no longer be welcome and might even be
despised.

Note

[1] On March 9, 1945, Japan launched a sudden attack against French positions in
Vietnam and replaced France as the colonial power.

Chapter 16. A struggle for power

After a while, in order to set up a single Overseas Chinese Management
Organization (OCMO) in Binh Dinh Province, the Qui Nhon OCMO, also known
as “the General Organization,” convened what they called a province-wide
Overseas Chinese Delegate Conference. However, the delegates invited were
mainly conservative notables from Qui Nhon. No one from outside Qui Nhon was
invited except for Mr. Han Lan Dinh and myself, who were called “delegates of
the young democrats.”
The conservatives at the conference openly appointed some Qui Nhon
Overseas Chinese as heads of the General Assembly. When the new list of leaders’
names was read out, most of the delegates applauded to show their approval. Then
Mr. Han Lan Dinh and I stood up and asked to express our opinion. We said:
“What you have done is wrong. You have violated democratic principles. First,
when you convene a provincial conference of Overseas Chinese delegates you
must also invite delegates from outside Qui Nhon. The Qui Nhon delegates
represent only the Overseas Chinese in Qui Nhon. They do not represent the whole
province. Another point. The leaders of the General Assembly must be elected by
the delegates at the conference and not just appointed by you. So you have violated
the principles of democracy. Now we are putting forward a resolution to organize
another conference. We ask the Qui Nhon OCMO to take responsibility for
choosing the place, date, and time of the conference, for preparing the conference,
and also for sending out notices to every county in the province so that they can all
choose their delegates.”
Our intervention surprised them. They did not believe that country people
would dare oppose them. For them this was a rebellion, because for a long time all
matters concerning Overseas Chinese in the province had been decided by the Qui
Nhon OCMO and no one had dared protest. Now they were very angry at us, but
they did not openly oppose our resolution. They realized that our view was logical
and reasonable, so they accepted it.
The new conference took place in An Thai. This time all the counties sent
delegates, some of whom called themselves “democrats.” But before the
conference began the Qui Nhon conservatives met with the An Thai conservatives
to hatch a plot to sabotage the conference.
If their people were elected as leaders of the General Assembly, they
decided, then everything would proceed peacefully. Otherwise they would invent a
pretext for a quarrel, beat up the county delegates, and show them who was boss.
They also arranged for the children and relatives of the An Thai conservatives to
gather outside the conference hall and demonstrate.
We were aware of their plot, so we informed the local authorities and asked
them to protect us and ensure that the conference would go smoothly. They were
willing to help. They sent the county chairman, county cadres, and militiamen to
hang around outside the conference hall, secretly monitor the situation, and prevent
any trouble.
When the conference organizers announced the result, the conservative
delegates knew that their people had not been elected. They were very angry and
upset. They confronted our delegates and yelled loudly at them, swinging their
arms and legs in the air as they readied themselves for action. Meanwhile their
children and relatives outside the hall noisily rallied in their support, creating a lot
of confusion. Some of them broke into the hall. The county chairman, county
cadres, and militiamen then stomped inside and calmed down the conservative
delegates and their relatives. Seeing that the local authorities were involved, they
dare not raise their hands against us.
The county chairman told the delegates: “You all came here for the
conference, but you have not maintained order. You have tried to sabotage the
revolution, stir up trouble, and cause problems. We request you to write a report of
the incident for us to send to higher authorities.”
Then he ordered the militiamen to blockade the hall and not allow anyone in
or out. When the report was written he read it out and asked whether anyone
wanted to add anything. No one did.
For a long time this county chairman had hated the local Chinese
conservatives. But whatever they did he kept his feelings to himself. Now he had
the opportunity to pay them back and felt much better.
At first the conservative delegates thought that this was only an ordinary
power struggle, so they did not take it very seriously. They could not believe that
the county chairman was charging them with a criminal offense and sending the
case to the provincial authorities with a view to their prosecution. Now they all
realized how important this incident was and were frightened to death. But they
were clever and had long experience. They immediately gathered to consult with
one another. Then they approached the country chairman and offered their
apologies. The conference organizer, whose name was Mr. Huynh Khac Thanh,
and we county delegates urged that they not be prosecuted, but the county
chairman was adamant: he insisted that he was going to demand their prosecution.
We had only intended to scare the conservatives. We did not want the incident to
be treated so seriously. The county chairman listened to us and finally gave in. But
he said that he was still going to report the incident. He told them: “From now on
please pay attention to the rules. You can't just do whatever you want.”
“Yes, yes,” they replied. “Right, right.”
They had learned their lesson. Never again did they openly oppose us.

Chapter 17. The democratic movement among the Overseas Chinese

At about the end of 1948 or beginning of 1949 French troops came ashore at Tuy
Hoa and Tam Quan. French paratroops also landed and occupied Phu My, Phu Ly,
and Cho Gom for four or five days before withdrawing. I heard that Mr. Truong
Duc Phu, his brother's wife, and her mother had all been killed by the French
paratroopers in Phu Ly. I went there immediately in order to assess the situation. I
discovered that Mr. Han Lan Dinh and Miss Tran Nguyet Dung were stuck in Phy
Ly and could not get home. When I reached Mr. Truong Duc Phu's house, I found
the three bodies in the underground shelter. It was a horrifying sight. It was clear
from the wounds that they had been riddled with machinegun bullets at close
quarters. Mr. Truong’s body lay in a pool of blood. In one of his hands he was
holding a Kuomintang flag.[1]
The French paratroops had landed in Phu Ly on a day when the market was
open. Besides Mr. Truong Duc Phu and his family, they killed several hundred
innocent Vietnamese civilians. Corpses were lying everywhere. The stench stank
to high heaven. I helped some local officials bury Mr. Truong, his sister-in-law,
and her mother.
When the French army withdrew from Tuy Hoa and Tam Quan, it was
found that none of the Overseas Chinese there had been killed but most of their
possessions had been stolen or burned.
After these events our Club for Democracy and Progress spread propaganda
among the Overseas Chinese. We appealed to them not to listen to the lies of the
French colonialists, to abandon their tradition of political neutrality, to give active
support to the Vietnamese Revolution, and to join the Anti-French Resistance.
Only in that way could they protect their lives and property. Our propaganda had a
tremendous effect. Many Chinese young people gradually distanced themselves
from the conservatives, gave the Vietnamese Revolution their sincere support, and
joined the Anti-French Resistance.
On May 1, 1950, at Dap Da, I became a member of the Communist Party of
Indochina (later renamed the Communist Party of Vietnam). I felt very honored
and proud. Soon after that several friends of mine, including Mr. Chau Vinh (Mr.
Three Quynh), Mr. Au Quynh Phien (Mr. Ten Tap), and Mr. Au Quynh Hoa (Mr.
Two Quynh), also became members.
In the middle of 1949 it was decided to establish a "unity center" to persuade
Overseas Chinese in the South Midlands to give active support to the revolution
and join the Anti-French Resistance. The unity center was under the supervision of
the party committee of Zone V and under the direct guidance of Mr. Nguyen
Thieu, one of the founding members of the Communist Party of Indochina and
head of the Chinese mobilization campaign of the Zone V Party Committee.
Meanwhile the democratic and progressive groups in the South Midlands
held their first conference. All the groups sent delegates. The delegates from Binh
Dinh Province were Mr. Han Lan Dinh, Miss Tran Nguyet Dung, and myself. The
delegates from Phu Yen Province were Mr. Tran Gia Loc, Mr. Trinh Cuong, Miss
Thai To Tien, and Mr. Banh Trach (a younger brother of the well-known and
experienced revolutionary veteran Mr. Banh Bai). The delegates from Quang Ngai
Province were Mr. Thai Nhu Chieu, Mr. Tran Cam Tieu, Mr. Lam Vinh Quang,
and Teacher Soa. The delegates from Quang Nam Province were Mr. Tran Quang
Dinh, Mr. Au Duong Thinh Hoai, Miss Au Duong Cam, and Miss Ngo Ngoc Lien.
The conference declared the founding of the United Democratic Progressive
Party of Overseas Chinese in the South Midlands of Vietnam and elected its first
executive committee, consisting of Mr. Tran Quang Dinh (first secretary), Mr. Thai
Nhu Chieu, Mr. Tran Cam Tieu, Mr. Han Lan Dinh, Mr. Tran Gia Loc, Mr. Trinh
Cuong, Mr. Au Duong Thinh Hoai, Miss Au Duong Cam, and Miss Thai To Tien.
The conference made the following decisions:
1) When delegates returned home they should start to organize branches of
the party in their respective provinces.
2) They should recruit new members and expand party activities.
3) They should prepare to celebrate Independence Day of the People's
Republic of China on October 1, 1949.
When we -- the delegates from Binh Dinh Province -- returned home, we
allocated tasks as follows:
-- Mr. Han Lan Dinh and Miss Tran Nguyet Dung were to organize branches
of the Democratic Progressive Party in the villages of Phu My, Bong Son, and Tam
Quan.
-- I was to organize party branches in the villages of Phu Cat, Dap Da, Binh
Dinh, An Thai, Canh Hang, and Go Boi.
-- I was elected first secretary, with direct responsibility for all the party
branches in An Nhon County (Dap Da, Binh Dinh, An Thai, and Canh Hang).
-- Mr. Han Lan Dinh and I were to take turns as organizer of the party
branch in Qui Nhon.
The Overseas Chinese in the far south established an organization of their
own -- the United Liberation Association (United Liberation for short). In Zone IV
and throughout North Vietnam the Overseas Chinese set up the United Overseas
Chinese Association (United Chinese for short).
Underground revolutionary organizations were also active in occupied cities
like Saigon, Nha Trang, and Da Nang.
Thus in a short time there had arisen throughout Vietnam, including the
occupied cities, democratic organizations of Overseas Chinese with different
names but the same basic goal. The various classes of Overseas Chinese had united
in support of the revolution and joined the Vietnamese resistance against the
French.
Among the underground activists in Nha Trang were Mr. Ngo Nhat So and
his younger brother. The brother was betrayed and killed by the French. Mr. Lam
Van Tung, an underground activist in Da Nang, was also betrayed. He was
captured and imprisoned by the French. In 1955 he was released as part of an
exchange of prisoners of war and returned home.
Mr. Diep Bao Xuong, Mr. Diep Nang Trang, and Mr. Ton Nhon Hung were
good friends. When they returned to the free zone they pooled their money, bought
some Chinese medicine, and opened a store in Bong Son under the name Lien
Sanh Hang. They used the profits to finance their political activity. They founded a
periodical called Dai Chung Newspaper to make revolutionary propaganda and
rally people in support of the revolution and the Anti-French Resistance.
On the night of September 30, 1949, all members of our Democratic
Progressive Party were instructed to glue a handbill reading October 1, 1949.
China declares independence on the door of every Overseas Chinese. Mr. Diep
Nang Trang and I undertook to glue handbills in Dap Da and Canh Hang. In Canh
Hang, after we had covered every house, we climbed the wall of Canh Duc School
in the Thanh Minh Pagoda, went through the dormitories, and stuck a handbill on
the chest of each sleeping student. We were young and inexperienced: we did it
just for fun, to scare them. But when we got home and thought about it we realized
that what we had done was stupid and dangerous. If any students had woken up
they might have thought we were robbers and beaten us to death. We were
dreadfully frightened!
Our work in the Democratic Progressive Party had a great influence on the
Overseas Chinese community in the South Midlands, both in the free zone and in
the occupied zone. Everywhere you went you could see groups of Overseas
Chinese gathering to discuss politics and hear them say things like: “The
communists are the best!” The attitudes of the Overseas Chinese were changing
rapidly. Previously the intelligent and educated Chinese had looked down their
noses at the Vietnamese and at the young Chinese in small towns. Now they
showed their admiration and active support for the revolution. Many young
Overseas Chinese -- such people as Mr. and Mrs. Diep Phong, Mr. Diep Bao
Xuong, Mr. Diep Nang Trang, Mr. Diep Bao Xuan, Mr. Diep Chau, Mr. Diep
Mong Long, Mr. Diep Nang Duc, Mr. Diep Nang Dong, Mr. Thai Khai Du, Mr.
Ton Nhon Hung, Mr. Tran Ngoc Ha, Mr. Truong Luong Huu, and Mr. Truong Duy
Nhat -- left the occupied zone for the free zone in order to join the Resistance.
Even those Overseas Chinese who were still against us in their hearts no longer
dared oppose us publicly.
Mr. Diep Mong Long was elected secretary of the Democratic Progressive
Party in the South Midlands and chief editor of The Public Newspaper. About a
year later, on his way to carry out a mission, he had the bad luck to get caught in a
French air raid and was killed. He had made a great contribution to our whole
movement and his death was a great loss.
After the Democratic Progressive Party had been established for a while we
started to organize an Overseas Chinese Youth Militia and send them south to Ninh
Thuan, Binh Thuan, Khanh Hoa, and other provinces to conduct propaganda and
set up a base. The members of the militia included: Mr. Trinh Cuong
(commander), Mr. Thai Khai Du (deputy commander and head of the Qui Nhon
Tam Thanh Group), Mr. Diep Bao Xuong (political officer), Mr. Tran Hong Hoa,
Mr. Du The Xuong, Miss Vuong Hong Hue, Mr. Thai Tho Eng, Mr. Ngo Can
Tung, Mr. Diep Nang Trang, Mr. Diep Nang Chan, and Mr. Au Quynh Phien (Ten
Tap).
These people were from wealthy families. They came to serve the
revolution, fearing neither hardship nor death. While militia member Mr. Au
Quynh Phien was away in the south, his brother Mr. Seven Xit got into an
argument and was beaten to death by a tenant farmer. Had Mr. Phien been at home
at the time this tragedy would have been avoided.
Besides the Overseas Chinese Youth Militia, everywhere in Vietnam many
young Overseas Chinese enthusiastically joined the Vietnamese People's Army and
fought alongside their Vietnamese comrades-in-arms, performing many
magnificent feats.
In 1950 Hainan was liberated. The Zone V Committee and the Zone V
Overseas Chinese Campaign Committee gave permission for the General
Assembly of the Democratic Progressive Party in the South Midlands to organize a
Welcome Hainan Liberation Group to return to Hainan to congratulate and
distribute gifts to the Chinese People's Liberation Army. The group consisted of
nine persons: Mr. Diep Phong (head), Mr. Banh Trach (representing elderly
Overseas Chinese), Mrs. Diep Phong (representing Overseas Chinese women), Mr.
Diep Chau, Mr. Diep Bao Dieu, Mr. Ngo Nhuoc Hoa, Mr. Han Lan Dinh, Mr. Diep
Nang Trang, and myself.
The members of the group sailed from Quang Ngai in four boats, three of
which belonged to the Viet Thang Company. Mr. Banh Trach set off alone in one
of the company's boats, carrying goods to sell in Hong Kong. Mr. Han Lan Dinh
went in a second company boat with a manager of the company named Mr. Ton
That Luyen (also known as Mr. Ngo Thanh Giang). Mr. Diep Nang Trang sailed in
the third company boat with another company manager named Mr. Nguyen Duan.
I had also planned to go on this boat, but before it left the harbor my wife Kim Anh
went into labor (she was carrying our daughter Ai Nga) and it was agreed that I
would stay behind and follow later. Mr. and Mrs. Diep Phong, Mr. Diep Chau, Mr.
Diep Bao Dieu, and Mr. Ngo Nhuoc Hoa went on the fourth boat.
Mr. Banh Trach's boat had not gone far when it was seized by the French
navy. The boat and all its cargo were confiscated. Mr. Banh Trach was arrested and
imprisoned. Fortunately, he was not tortured in view of his age. He remained in a
French prison until 1955, when he was handed over to the Vietnamese government
as a prisoner of war.
Mr. Diep Phong's boat, helped by a favorable wind, had a smooth voyage to
Hainan. But as soon as they had disembarked all the passengers were arrested by
the local police on suspicion of being agents of the Kuomintang. Mr. Diep Phong
had indeed participated in the anti-Japanese resistance in Hainan as an agent of the
Kuomintang, while Mr. Diep Chau had been a cadet at the Kuomintang's
Whampoa Military Academy. The passengers were sent to the Hung Long Prison
Farm for Overseas Chinese. After some time Mr. and Mrs. Diep Phong were freed
but the other three remained there. When I went back to visit China in 1989,
someone told me that Mr. Diep Phong was teaching at the Haikou Teacher
Training College. I went there to see him. He told me that after his return to China
he had been continually struggled against.[2] He had been accused first of being a
special agent of the Kuomintang, then of being a rightist. He had finally been
rehabilitated but it was too late. Now he was retired and could no longer work. His
wife had also been sent home and was growing rice. They had a daughter who was
working at a factory.
The second company boat had drifted to Macao. From there Mr. Ton That
Luyen was later allowed to return to Guangzhou to work, while Mr. Han Lan Dinh
was allowed to go to Beijing to study.
The third company boat drifted to Hainan, where the police arrested Mr.
Nguyen Duan and Mr. Diep Nang Trang and confiscated their merchandise. Later,
with the help of military officials from Guangzhou, they were cleared of suspicion
and released. Mr. Nguyen Duan was then assigned to the task of campaigning
among Overseas Vietnamese in Guangzhou. Mr. Diep Nang Trang was sent back
to Vietnam, where he worked as an interpreter and took part in the Battle of Dien
Bien Phu.

Notes

[1] As the French were at war with the Vietminh and not the Kuomintang he must
have thought that the Kuomintang flag might give him some protection.

[2] This means that he had been the target of “struggle meetings” at which people
would have denounced him, spat on him, beaten him, and so on.

Chapter 18. I open a Chinese medicine store

After the birth of our daughter Ai Nga, my wife Kim Anh ran a general
merchandise store in our house while I carried on an itinerant trade from place to
place. Gradually we saved some money. We decided to open a Chinese medicine
store. Kim Anh gladly sold some of her jewelry and put the proceeds into the kitty
but there was still not enough. I borrowed some Chinese medicines from Mr. Four
Dan Loi and Mr. Dong Loi but could not find good premises to rent so we were not
yet able to open our store. Luckily for us, Mr. Nguyen Cuu Khoi had an empty
house next to Dap Da Bridge. He didn't live there because he was afraid that the
house might be hit during one of the French air raids on the bridge. He agreed
without hesitation to let the house to us. Now we had premises and we immediately
opened for business. I had many friends and acquaintances and I prepared Chinese
medicines skillfully and packaged them beautifully, so we soon had many regular
customers and were doing very well. Although Kim Anh was not highly educated,
she was very intelligent and soon acquired a good knowledge of common Chinese
medicines and how to prepare them. She helped me a lot and took charge of the
store whenever I was away.
I also collaborated with Teacher Xi to manufacture all sorts of common
Chinese medicines for wholesale distribution, including six god water,[1] sore eye
medicine, cough medicine, cold medicine, malaria medicine, supplement for good
digestion, vitamins, medicine for women who had just given birth, skin patch
medicine, and scabies medicine. Whenever any kind of Chinese medicine was in
short supply I would find a way to supply it. In addition, I provided raw material
for making cigarettes to various companies such as the Nam Duong Tobacco
Manufacturing Company. Besides these ventures I produced tea boxes for sale.
Thanks to my efforts at diversification the business grew very quickly.
During the first two years our store was bombed and set on fire several times
by French planes, but each time I rebuilt it and the business carried on as before.
Within about three years we started to make a profit. Mr. Dong Loi noticed the
growth of our business and spontaneously offered us a spare house for a second
store. With much help from him and some help from other relatives we laid down a
firm foundation for the smooth running of our family business. We have always
remembered Mr. Dong Loi and the other relatives who helped us.

Note

[1] Six god water, also known as floral water, is a herbal fragrance applied to the
skin to repel mosquitoes and other insects, prevent heat rash, and relieve itchiness.

Chapter 19. The war against the French continues

At this period I was spending part of my time on business and part on public
activities. I sympathized with my fellow Overseas Chinese, so when my supervisor
set me a task I often found a way to carry it out that created as few problems for
them as possible. The Overseas Chinese came to love and trust me. They elected
me secretary of the United Chinese branch in Dap Da, with Mr. Dong Loi as
deputy secretary.
Together with some young activists we started campaigning among local
Overseas Chinese to open a Chinese school for children in Dap Da. People
welcomed the initiative and willingly gave money and support. However, our
budget was still small -- only enough to hire a principal and one teacher for about
fifty registered students. So we encouraged young people to perform some plays to
collect money. We also asked some of them to work as volunteer teachers. Quite a
few of them were keen to get involved, including Mr. Tu Mau Tung, Mr. Au
Quynh Hoa, and Mr. Au Quynh Phien. So we were able to establish a regular
Chinese school -- at that time, due to wartime conditions, the only Chinese school
in Binh Dinh Province. It functioned until the end of 1954. The students' parents
had the opportunity to meet and understand one another better, overcoming the old
divisions between regional groups of Chinese.
In 1953 the French landed troops in Qui Nhon. The provincial police were
worried that some Overseas Chinese might help the French, so they arrested
Chinese in Qui Nhon, An Thai, and other places who were opposed to the
Vietminh and sent them to an internment camp in the Central Highlands (although
it was called a sanatorium). They also wanted to arrest some Chinese in Dap Da
who were against the revolution and send them to the same place. I objected. I told
the police: “These people only talk. In reality they dare not do anything.”
The police agreed not to arrest them but warned me that I would have to be
their guarantor. If they did make any trouble I would be held responsible. I agreed
to be their guarantor, so no Chinese from Dap Da ended up in the “sanatorium.”
Elsewhere in our county, however, quite a few Chinese were interned, including
Mr. Au Bich Son, Mr. Van Loi Hung and his brother Nhon Te, Mr. Han Phu
Quang, and Teacher Soa in Qui Nhon and Mr. Diep Nang Duc and Mr. Sau Hoa in
An Thai.
In Dap Da we organized an Overseas Chinese party group. This was a core
group to mobilize the enthusiasm of local Overseas Chinese to involve them in
local activities such as building roads, digging shelters, demolishing walls between
houses to facilitate guerrilla operations, destroying bridges to deny their use to the
enemy, planting trees, cleaning water, raising funds for famine relief, and
participating in the literature and art movement. In addition, we organized a youth
emergency response team to work together with local residents to help war victims,
extinguish fires started by French bombs, and catch germ-infected insects dropped
by French planes. All in all, the work of the Overseas Chinese party group really
demonstrated the active support of local Overseas Chinese for the Vietnamese
Revolution and for the anti-French Resistance.
At the beginning of the French war many residents of Qui Nhon evacuated
to Dap Da. Overseas Chinese especially resettled and did business there. As a
result, Dap Da turned into a large, prosperous, and densely populated city. People
from neighboring counties came to trade and the local economy grew very fast.
But it also became a principal target for French air raids. The planes came
frequently, by day and by night, dropping bombs, napalm, and germ-infected
insects, strafing with machineguns, and flying low over people’s rooftops to shatter
their spirits. There were heavy losses of human life and property and people were
in a constant state of terror. The French methods of warfare at Dap Da were truly
barbaric.
Our family store too caught fire several times during the raids, but we were
well prepared and quickly put out the fires, so our losses were not very great. Once
the French planes dropped napalm on Dap Da Stadium, just ten meters away from
our family shelter. We were inside the shelter at the time. Fortunately, the shelter
was on higher ground above the stadium and we escaped unharmed. We were very
lucky. Thank you, Heaven and Earth, for your blessing.
Mr. Dong Loi and his family were also inside their shelter at the time. They
too had a lucky escape. A bomb landed just one meter from the entrance to their
shelter, but the shelter was solidly built and none of them was hurt.
With such frequent and savage air raids, local residents had to work very
hard at rescue and reconstruction. On October 1, 1950, French bombers attacked
the marketplace and the Vietnamese school in Dap Da, killing and injuring many
innocent people, including children. There were two Overseas Chinese women
among the dead. Our response team of young Overseas Chinese got to the scene
fast and rendered first aid. Local people were unstinting in their praise for our
efforts.
When our young cousin Kham was at school and heard French planes
approaching he would run into the shelter wearing a straw hat. One day planes
destroyed the school in a direct hit. A bullet passed through the rim of his hat but
missed his head. He was safe and sound. Thank you, Heaven and Earth, for your
blessing.
After this air raid my mother's father was worried out of his wits. All day
long he shook in fear, he was unable to eat or sleep, and he became seriously ill.
When his house burned down in another air raid and all his belongings were
destroyed, his condition grew worse and despite receiving a lot of treatment he
died. We were all very sad.
Once the Binh Dinh Province Committee organized a conference for all
members of progressive groups of Overseas Chinese in the province. I too
attended. The conference took place at the Doi Tower in Qui Nhon. Perhaps
someone had revealed the location, because as soon as the conference started a
French warship off the coast began to bombard the tower. The bombardment
continued without a break until seven or eight in the evening. We were all trapped
in the tower and could not escape. Now and then we heard a fireball exploding
over the tower. We were scared to death. We were all sure that this time we were
doomed, but luckily no one was hit. On this occasion they only bombarded Qui
Nhon but did not land troops. Had troops landed we would all have been captured
-- no doubt about it.
I participated in revolutionary activities but I did not go underground
because I was very busy with my business. Kim Anh and I willingly helped the
underground agents and made their lives easier so that they could do their work
better. Among them were Mr. Tran Gia Loc, Mr. Ly Minh Ky, and Mr. Diep Chan
Khach, all from Binh Dinh Province. We gave each of them over 20 kilograms of
rice per month (they received no pay at that time). That was enough for them to
live on, but they had no money to send home to support their families, whose lives
were extremely hard as a result. We understood this problem and for a long time
took care of the agents by feeding and sheltering them without charge in our own
house, so that they could send the rice home to their families. At that time rice was
very expensive and people in the South Midlands were starving.
We also often gave money to various people. One of them was Mr. Tran
Quoc Anh, another underground agent. He had many children and his wife had no
job. They lived in extreme poverty. He told us that he was going to sell one of his
sons in order to get money to live on. It pained us to hear him say that, so we often
gave him money to feed his family and advised him never to sell any of his
children.
We also often gave money to honest and trustworthy friends such as Mr. Ba
Quynh and Mr. Ton Xuong Nam to help them start their own businesses.
It was also during this time that Mr. Ba Ta, son of Mr. Tu Phong, came to
visit us from Kim Son, a remote mountainous area in the far north of Vietnam. He
wanted to arrange a wedding for his son Hai Quang, but did not have the money.
Kim Anh and I gave him all the money he asked for.
At the start of the Anti-French Resistance War, Mr. Lim Quang, his wife,
and their families had evacuated to Da Nang. They had opened a business there,
but it failed and they went bankrupt. Then eight members of their families moved
to Dap Da. When they arrived they had nowhere to live and no money to do
business. Kim Anh and I gave them one of our houses, lent them some money, and
gave Mr. Lim Quang my new bicycle so that he could move his merchandise
around easily. He went on several business trips and used the profit to cover his
household expenses and build up his business.

A really tragic story is that of Mr. Au Quynh Phien from Nha Trang. Mr. Au
Quynh Phien had stomach ulcers. Forgetting that Nha Trang was still under French
occupation and without informing the organization, he went back home for
treatment. He also intended to ask his relatives to lend him some money to start a
business. However, as soon as he arrived in Nha Trang his relatives informed the
French police. They arrested him, put him in prison, and tortured him in many
different ways. At the same time he was disciplined by the Communist Party
because it was a violation of party rules for a party member to enter a zone
controlled by the enemy. A few months later his relatives told his mother to bring
money to Nha Trang to pay bribes for his release, but she refused because she did
not want him to leave for the North. While he was in prison his only son, who was
only a few months old, fell sick and died. After southern members of the Vietminh
regrouped in the North, he was freed by the French and went home. But he was
arrested again when the Ngo Dinh Diem government took over in the South. Mr.
Chau Vinh and Mr. Au Quynh Hoa (Mr. Hai Quynh Hoa's brother) were also
arrested.

At the beginning of March 1954 the zone committee and Binh Dinh
province committee organized a training course for leaders entitled “The New
Situation and Our New Responsibilities.” I was invited to take part. The course
was to last over a month. Its goals were to raise the level of our political
knowledge, help us learn from our mistakes, praise good work, and prepare our
thoughts for a new stage in the Anti-French Resistance and for a new campaign to
“reduce taxes and reduce profits.” We should be ready to answer the party's call,
engage in a new struggle, and fight and sacrifice our lives for the revolution and
for the fight against the French.
At the start of the last week of the course, in order to check each person's
progress, we engaged in criticism and self-criticism. You had to write a detailed
account of your personal and family history, clearly describing everything that
your ancestors did, going back three generations in the male line. Then you read it
out loud, criticizing one part at a time. For example, my great-grandfather was a
merchant. That meant that he robbed people, sucked their blood, and was a big
swindler. We had to draw a clear line between the robber and the robbed, so that
we could rise up to destroy the robber. After self-criticism the other participants
added their own opinions, which you had to accept and approve. Then you
graduated and were expected to organize similar courses for other groups.
It was very funny to see how some participants had tears running down their
faces and mixing with fluid from their noses and saliva from their mouths. Their
eyes bulged and they ground their teeth to demonstrate their sorrow and anger at
the sins of their ancestors. A few people could not stand the stress and had panic
attacks or even passed out.
On the last day of the course I heard that the night before French planes had
bombed Dap Da. I was very worried and anxious for my family, but I dared not
talk about it. I could only quietly hope that they were safe and sound.
The end of the course was declared at exactly midnight. We all dispersed. I
set off immediately for home on my bicycle. The course had been held somewhere
in the mountainous terrain of An Thai, a very long way from Bong Son. Being
impatient to get home, I just headed south, ignoring the darkness and giving no
thought to possible dangers. That was the only time I ever traveled a mountain road
at night. I did not know the way, but I could see the road and followed it. I bicycled
nonstop until dawn. By then I was out of the jungle but still saw no sign of any
human presence. I kept going, not daring to stop.
About five or six in the morning I spotted a small village. I went into a
house and asked for directions. I learned that I was in Phu My Province, not very
far from Phu My Market. I could hardly believe it. The villagers were astonished to
hear that I had traveled alone along the jungle road at night. They said that I had
passed through areas where tigers often came out to attack people and livestock. A
chill ran down my spine and I regretted my rash adventure. Fortunately, the
security situation had improved: no one mentioned any dangers. After taking a rest
I continued my journey and arrived home about eleven in the evening. Everyone in
my family was unharmed. I was happy and at ease. But as I recall this episode I am
again really frightened.

A few days after my return home, the committee appointed me head of
civilian support personnel for the An Khe Operation.[1] While I was undergoing
training, however, divisions arose within the Overseas Chinese community, so the
leadership decided that I should remain and solve the problem. They appointed
someone else to take charge of civilian support personnel.
Expecting further prolonged warfare, the local authorities ordered the
destruction of all brick houses along Highway One[2] in order to facilitate guerrilla
operations by the Resistance. The guerrillas destroyed the brick houses of local
Vietnamese as they advanced, but when they reached the big brick houses of the
Overseas Chinese the residents, who were strongly attached to their homes,
persuaded them to delay.
Mr. Au Quynh Phien, an Overseas Chinese member of the Communist
Party, hastened to destroy his own house and called upon other Overseas Chinese
to follow his example. But they were still reluctant to lose their homes. They came
to me and asked me to beg the local authorities not to destroy their houses
completely but only demolish the walls between the houses and lay mines inside
the houses. They themselves would know where the mines were and take care not
to explode them, but if French troops attacked and occupied the houses the mines
would explode and destroy the houses along with some French soldiers.
I did as they asked and explained the matter to the local authorities. After
thoroughly studying the proposals they accepted them. For the time being they
stopped destroying houses belonging to Overseas Chinese and contented
themselves with demolishing the walls between the houses. Soon after that the
French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu and the war came to an end. At long last,
after nine years of fighting, the Anti-French Resistance had defeated the invader. I
was bursting with pride at the contribution that we overseas Chinese had made to
the victory.
As for the brick houses of the local Overseas Chinese, they all remained
intact except for the house of Mr. Au Quynh Phien.

Notes
[1] The An Khe Operation, also known as the Battle of An Khe, Dak Po, or Mang
Yang Pass, took place in late June 1954 when Vietminh battalions ambushed a
French convoy on the way to Pleiku. The convoy escaped after suffering heavy
casualties. This was the penultimate offensive operation of the Vietminh against
the French before Dien Bien Phu.

[2] Highway One, built by the French colonial authorities in the early twentieth
century, is an asphalt road that traverses the whole length of Vietnam from north to
south -- a total distance of 2,301 kilometers (1,430 miles).

Chapter 20. After the Geneva Accord

The Geneva Accord of July 1954 that ended the war against the French temporarily
divided Vietnam into two zones -- North and South. The South was placed
temporarily under French control, while the North was assigned to the Democratic
Republic of Vietnam. Each side was to regroup its forces to its own zone. Two
years after the conclusion of the Accord general elections were to be held to unite
the country under a single government.
At first the Vietnamese party and government expected that the French side
would strictly implement the Geneva Accord. Therefore only troops and a few very
important officials were regrouped to the North. It was decided that I would remain
in the South and carry out secret missions. But it was not long before massacres of
old fighters and supporters of the Anti-French Resistance began at various places
in the French-controlled zone, such as the notorious massacres at Duy Xuyen and
Duoc Market in Quang Nam Province and at Chi Thanh in Phu Yen Province.
Thousands of old fighters and supporters of the Resistance were massacred in a
short time.
Leading officials then realized that all cadres remaining in the South were
going to be killed by the French. This would inflict a big loss on the party. So they
decided to move more people to the North in order to preserve revolutionary
forces. I was one of these people. Other Overseas Chinese who regrouped to the
North were Mr. Ngo Khon Dao, Mr. Diep Nang Tin, Mr. Vuong Qui, Mr. Diep Dat
Thanh, Mr. Han Han Sum, Mr. Diep Bao The, Mr. Xa Nhu Hung, Mr. Diep Nang
Nhuong, Mr. Han Anh Nguyen, Miss Vuong Nhung, Mr. Diep Nang Chan, Mr. Ly
Minh Ky, Mr. Tran Tu Le, Mr. Tran Quoc Anh, Mr. Tran Hoan Thong, Mr. Hoang
Khac Thanh, Mr. Hoang Phuong Cach, Mr. Truong Du Sinh, Mr. Hua Thanh Truc,
Mr. Lam Van Dinh, Mr. Thai Hieu An, Mr. Tran Tiep Kham, Mr. Anh Ba, Mr.
Tran Tu Lap, Mr. Ton Nhan Hung, Mr. Ngo Khon Phuc, Mr. Lam Hong Nghi, Mr.
Ngo Tan Dan, Mr. Au Duong Thach Hoai, Mr. Tran Quang Dinh, Mr. Diep Bao
Xuong, Mr. Diep Bao Xuan, Mr. Han Nam Vien, Mr. Han Tai Nguyen, Mr. Tran
Gia Loc, Mr. Thai To Tien, Mr. Thai Tho Vien, Mr. Ngo Can Tung, Mr. Ngo Da
Boi, Mr. Ngo Da Anh, Mr. Phan Chinh Quyen, Mr. Phan Chinh Giang, Mr. Phan
Chinh Phuc, Mr. Phan Tien Huan, Mr. Lam Du Bin, Mr. Tran Cam Tieu, Mr. Lam
Vinh Quang, Miss Vuong Hong Hue, Mr. Du The Xuong, and Miss Tran Hong
Hoa.

Chapter 21. We regroup to the North

I received a notice signed by a high-ranking official, informing me that I should
present myself at a specified assembly point on March 15, 1955 in order to regroup
to the North. At exactly five o'clock on the morning of March 20 the assembled
group proceeded to the harbor at Qui Nhon.
It was less than a month since my wife Kim Anh had given birth to our
second daughter Ai Hoa. Moreover, Kim Anh's mother had just passed away. I felt
deep grief at having to separate from my family at such a time. Although neither
my mother nor my wife wanted me to leave, for the sake of the revolutionary cause
I had to obey the official summons. I did not know what else I could do. We just
wept silently together.
I departed feeling very worried for my elderly mother and for Kim Anh. My
wife would have to look after three young children on her own: Ai Nga was then
five years old and our son Trung was two. In addition, she would have to take care
of my mother and carry on her business to earn a living. Another problem was that
a family with a member who had regrouped to the North would definitely face
reprisals of some kind from the puppet government or army. So I left most of our
savings for the use of Kim Anh. I took with me only a hand-knit woolen sweater
and a couple of keepsakes -- a Wyler wristwatch and a Parker fountain pen. I also
left some money with my mother and with my sisters so that their livelihood would
be secure during my absence, which I wrongly believed would be temporary. Then
I exchanged sad farewells with my loved ones -- my mother, wife, children, and
relatives -- and set off on my way.
Before I left for the North, Kim Anh and I decided to transfer our Chinese
medicine store for the time being to Mr. Lim Quang. This would help him make a
living and preserve the business during my absence. I thought that when full peace
and security were restored I would be able to return and take back the business.
On the day before our departure from Qui Nhon I went to visit and say
goodbye to Mr. Four Dan Loi. We stayed awake all night talking. The bond
between us was very strong and we did not want to separate, but I had a mission to
carry out. I could only comfort him and promise that we would meet again soon.
The time came to board the ship and we bade one another a tearful farewell.
So early in the morning of March 20, 1955 I boarded a Polish ship[1] -- a
naval vessel disguised as a merchant ship -- bound for the North. On the ship with
me were a number of other Overseas Chinese -- Mr. Diep Nang Tin, Mr. Vuong
Quy, and Mr. Diep Dat Thanh. After two days at sea, when we were already off the
coast of northern Vietnam, we got caught in a storm and the French navy sent a
landing craft to bring us ashore at Quy Cao. As we approached we could see a
crowd of people waving flags and banners to welcome us. Some people were
beating drums and a brass band was playing. Moved by the solemnity of our
reception, we burst into tears.
We were then taken to the Ninh Giang Reception Camp in Hai Duong
Province. During the Anti-French Resistance War the French troops had burned
down all the houses in the area and people were living in makeshift shelters made
of straw and without walls. It was the coldest month of the year in the North. Mr.
Diep Nang Tin and I were assigned a corner in one of these shelters. As new
arrivals we had not yet been provided with coats or blankets and we had to sleep
on a thin bed of straw. The next morning we had to walk 5--6 kilometers to another
place in order to receive food and other supplies. Being from the South, we were
accustomed to a very hot climate and had never experienced such cold weather.
We had not brought coats with us, so we shivered all day and night. It was hard to
bear. Luckily we did not fall sick.
At meal times we ate rice with stir-fried cabbage or kohlrabi and two or
three thin slices of meat. The camp official who welcomed us told us that this was
a special treat reserved for fighters returning from the front. It was indeed a special
treat for us, because in the Midlands we do not have cabbage or kohlrabi. Cabbage
has to be hauled by a long and difficult route from Dalat in the Central Highlands.
[2]
Under the French only wealthy people could afford to buy a few cabbages to
serve as decoration at the New Year. When they wanted to eat some of the cabbage
they removed only a few leaves and sliced them very thin before cooking.
Ordinary people never had cabbage. During the Anti-French Resistance War the
road was cut and there was no cabbage at all. Later, when I came to Hanoi, I saw
cabbages on sale everywhere at a low price. In the North cabbage was not regarded
as a delicacy.
The next day officials came from the leadership to visit us, shape our
thinking, mobilize us, and give us peace of mind. They asked us to stay and work
in the North, take a positive attitude, and assist in the task of restoring the economy
and building socialism. Then they gave each of us a little photograph of Ho Chi
Minh, about three fingers wide, and a book of poems by To Huu entitled Viet Bac.
[3]
These, they told us, were precious gifts from the party and government to honor
fighters returning from the front. And we did indeed feel highly honored and were
full of enthusiasm.
After we had been several days at Ninh Giang Camp, leading officials sent
down an instruction to transfer all Overseas Chinese to Hoang Hoa Camp in Thanh
Hoa Province with a view to sending them to China for training. When we heard
about this we were very happy.
Before the regrouping to the North, the United Overseas Chinese
Association had issued an appeal to Overseas Chinese in the South Midlands to
send their children to the North, so that talented people could be trained for the
future. Many Overseas Chinese responded positively to this appeal and were eager
to send their children to be educated in the North. Among the children sent to the
North by Overseas Chinese families at the end of 1954 were Mr. Dong Loi's
eleven-year-old son Lam Dao Ngo, Mr. Tran Hoan Thong's son Ty, Mr. Nam
Sanh's son, Mr. Bong Son's son, the younger brothers and sisters of Mr. Ton Nhan
Hung, Mr. Truong Tho Xuong, Mr. Phan Chinh Le, Mr. Phan Chinh Chau, and Mr.
Han Chinh Quang, Mr. Han Tai Nguyen's nephew, Mr. Duong Quang Ngoc, Mr.
Lam Dao Trung, and Mr. Nhan Huong Lien. Some Vietnamese families also sent
their children to the North at this time.
When we arrived at Hoang Hoa Camp, I immediately urged Mr. Tran Hoan
Thong to go and find his son Ty and my nephew Ngo and arrange for them to join
us. However, for a long time we could not find them.
After we had been at Hoang Hoa Camp for a while, leading officials decided
that some of the Overseas Chinese who had regrouped to the North should be
reunited with their wives and children. Among those selected for family
reunification were Mr. Ngo Khon Dao, Mr. Tran Hoan Thong, Mr. Tran Tiep
Kham, Mr. Tran Tu Lap, Mr. Truong Du Sanh, Mr. Thai Phieu An, Mr. Hoang
Khac Thanh, Mr. Phan Chinh Quyen, Mr. Tran Quoc Anh, and myself. We were
speechless with surprise at this happy news.
I immediately wrote Kim Anh a letter, telling her to prepare to come with
the children to the North (Ai Hoa was now two months old). At Hoang Hoa Camp
I had heard official propagandists say that communists do not use gold, that gold
has no value to a communist, and that communists do not care what gold is. So I
told Kim Anh to sell all our gold and bring the money to spend in the North,
overlooking the fact that South and North Vietnam now had different currencies.[4]
Kim Anh was overjoyed to receive my letter. Her wish had come true. She
sold her gold and asked her brothers to accompany her to Qui Nhon and help her
obtain the necessary papers. However, not wanting to draw attention to their family
connection with the communists, they avoided doing so. Later, with the help of
Mrs. Ty (the wife of Mr. Diep Bao Dong), she asked Mr. Diep Bao Toan to go
with her to Qui Nhon to meet Mr. Hoang Phuong, who would know what to do.
On May 4, 1955, Kim Anh took the three children to Qui Nhon Harbor,
where they boarded a Polish ship bound for the North. On May 6 they arrived at
Sam Son Harbor in Thanh Hoa Province. Since sending Kim Anh the letter I had
gone down to the harbor every day to look for them. As soon as I got to the harbor
on that day I spotted Kim Anh leading Ai Nga by one hand and Trung by the other
and carrying Ai Hoa in a papoose. We were overwhelmed with joy. Husband was
reunited with wife, father with children. I could not hold back my tears.
Arrangements were made for Kim Anh and the children to stay temporarily
at a farmer's house. After they were settled in Kim Anh and I took our money to
the bank, but the bank employees told us that they could not exchange it. Our
southern money, they said, was no better than waste paper. These words struck us
like a thunderbolt. My body started to shake and I broke into a sweat. What a
blow! To work hard year after year, build up savings, and then suddenly see them
crumble into dust. It was enough to make a person weep. However, we consoled
ourselves with the thought that at least we were now together again. To serve the
revolution -- that, after all, was the main thing. So we put our loss down to bad
luck. We did not want to make a scene: in a revolution where no one had much by
way of material possessions it might cause us a lot of trouble if it became known
that we had money. Later we returned to the bank to discuss the matter with the
management and they agreed to give us some compensation. It was only a small
amount, but it was better than nothing.
The Hoang Hoa Reception Camp was reserved for Overseas Chinese from
South Vietnam -- both from the Far South and from Zone V -- and for people from
Cambodia. The people in the camp were divided into three “battalions,” numbered
202, 203, and 204. Our Zone V cadres were in Battalion 202, Cambodian cadres in
Battalion 203, and cadres from the Far South in Battalion 204.
Battalion 202 consisted of cadres who had truly participated in the Anti-
French Resistance, employees of a government agency or company, and Overseas
Chinese children whose parents had remained in the South and who had been sent
to the North for education.
Battalion 203 consisted of a few Cambodian political cadres and people who
had joined the Cambodian Liberation Army.
Battalion 204 had a rather complicated composition. There were a few truly
active underground cadres from Saigon--Cholon, but all the rest were people of
unclear origin. Among them were remnants of the army of the Chinese
Kuomintang and people who had been imprisoned by the French for unknown
reasons and were later exchanged as prisoners of war.
All three of these battalions were completely controlled by people from the
Far South. They monopolized all leadership positions and did whatever they liked.
No one dare express a different point of view because the people from the Far
South had regrouped to the North earlier than the people from Zone V. They had
been allowed to regroup to the North immediately following the ceasefire, while
our Zone V people regrouped much later. Moreover, the most important leading
cadres from Zone V, Mr. Tran Quang Dinh and Mr. Diep Bao Xuong, had
tuberculosis, so as soon as they arrived at Sam Son Harbor they were taken for
treatment to the Hanoi Hospital. Less important senior Zone V cadres like Mr. Ngo
Khon Phuc, Mr. Ton Nhon Hung, and Mr. Han Nam Vien, who had worked inside
the United Association of Overseas Chinese in the South Midlands, did not
consider it their responsibility to challenge the leading cadres from the Far South.
They just let them do whatever they liked and did not worry about it.
The leading cadres of the three battalions at Hoang Hoa Camp were Mr.
Trang Dung, Mr. Le Hon, Mr. Truong Khoa, Mr. Duong Kien, Mr. Tieu Minh, and
Mr. A Cam. Only two of these six, Mr. Trang Dung and Mr. Duong Kien, had been
underground cadres in Saigon--Cholon.[5] Mr. Tieu Minh had been a cadre in the
Cambodian Liberation Army. Mr. Le Hon and Mr. Truong Khoa had been
exchanged by the French and returned to Vietnam as prisoners of war. I heard that
Mr. A Cam was a member of the Malayan Communist Party who was pursued by
the Malayan authorities and took refuge in Vietnam.
Because the Far Southerners controlled the leadership they took the largest
part of the pie for themselves.
At first the Chinese Embassy had intended to take all Overseas Chinese
cadres who had regrouped to the North to China for training. The leaders of Hoang
Hoa Camp took advantage of this by immediately sending some Far Southern
cadres to China. But when the Chinese Embassy saw how many Overseas Chinese
had regrouped to the North they changed their mind and urged Overseas Chinese
cadres to remain in Vietnam and assist in building socialism there. So it turned out
that we were not going to China after all.
Once the situation had stabilized, the Chinese Embassy helped the Overseas
Chinese in Vietnam by building the Friendship Hospital in Hanoi, offices for a
newspaper called Tan Viet Hoa (New Vietnam, New China), a teacher training
college to prepare Overseas Chinese teachers, and School No. 17 in Haiphong,
which was mainly for children of southern Overseas Chinese cadres who had
regrouped to the North. The leaders of Hoang Hoa Camp immediately took
advantage of the opportunities provided by this situation and arranged for their
own people to fill all the vacancies in these new institutions.
The cadres at the offices of the Tan Viet Hoa were Mr. Trang Dung, Mr.
Thien Thuy, Mr. Dinh Luc, Mr. Truong Khoa, and Mr. Tieu Minh. Most of the
cadres, office staff, reporters, security people, cooks, and other workers were also
Far Southerners. Only a handful of people were from Zone V -- Mr. Thai Nhu
Chieu (who had just returned from training in China), Mr. Ngo Da Anh, and Mr.
Ngo Da Boi.
The director at the Friendship Hospital was Mr. Dang Hoan Ban. All other
positions there were filled by people from the Far South.
The principal at the Overseas Chinese teacher training college was Mr.
Duong Kien. The principal at School No. 17 was Miss Quach Minh Tam.
The chairman of the United Association of Overseas Chinese (Hoa Lien)
was Mr. Ngo Lien. The vice chairman was Mr. Trang Dung.
The Overseas Chinese Campaign Group consisted of Mr. Ngo Lien, Mr.
Thien Thuy, and Mr. Diep Bao Xuong. Mr. Diep Bao Xuong always followed the
lead of the other two.
The enrolment of Overseas Chinese students from the South at School No.
17 was also handled in a discriminatory manner. Students from the Far South were
admitted even if they were over 21 years old, while students from Zone V were
admitted only if they were under 15 years old. (Our daughter Ai Nga was admitted
at that time; she was just five years old.) The children who were refused admission
could not swallow the news. They felt as though they had soap in their mouths.
Heaven did not hear their cry, nor did Earth answer their call. Mr. Tran Quang
Dinh and Mr. Diep Bao Xuong, as leading cadres in Zone V, had themselves
appealed to the parents of these rejected students to send their children to be
educated in the North. They should have taken responsibility for the situation and
arranged a conference with the leaders at Hoang Hoa Camp to find a fair and
reasonable solution to the problem. Instead they kept silent and ignored the matter,
allowing the Far Southern leaders to do whatever they liked.
After a while the rejected students were placed at the disposal of the Labor
Department and assigned to collective farms as laborers. Among them were Ton
Nhon Hiep, Truong Tho Xuong, Duong Quang Ngoc, Lam Dao Trung, Phan Chinh
Chau, Phan Chinh Le, Thai Hieu Quoc, Han Tho Nguyen, Han Dong Nguyen,
Nhan Huong Lien, and Diep Bao Uong. Later Ton Nhon Hiep was helped by his
brother Mr. Ton Nhon Hung, who arranged for him to work as a bookkeeper at a
collective fishing enterprise on Cat Ba Island.[6] He studied in the evenings and was
eventually admitted to the Agricultural University. There were a few other rejected
students who also worked hard and enthusiastically and later went to university.
The rest remained on collective farms until the country was united, when they were
free to return to the South.
Some additional points need to be made here about the leaders at Hoang Hoa
Camp who later became heads of the United Association of Overseas Chinese --
above all, Mr. Trang Dung and Mr. Diep Bao Xuong. Although they claimed to be
working for the benefit of the Overseas Chinese, in reality they pursued their own
agenda in cooperation with a cadre in the Overseas Chinese Campaign Group -- an
extreme anti-Chinese element by the name of Mr. Le Doan.
The cadres of the Overseas Chinese Campaign Group did a great deal of
harm to the Overseas Chinese. In the first period after the end of the war against
the French, for example, every cadre, whether Vietnamese or Overseas Chinese,
was permitted to go on a trip to visit his relatives. All his travel expenses were
reimbursed by his unit. If he was visiting relatives in China, the Finance
Department allowed him to purchase Chinese currency in an amount up to 100--
150 yuan (depending on the distance to be covered). It was not long, however,
before Mr. Trang Dung and Mr. Diep Bao Xuong, speaking in the name of the
United Association of Overseas Chinese, proposed that the Finance Department
allow reimbursement of expenses only for travel as far as the Vietnam--China
border and that each person be allowed to purchase only up to 20--25 yuan. The
cadres at the Finance Department told us that they themselves did not want these
changes, but that Mr. Trang Dung and Mr. Diep Bao Xuong had repeatedly
insisted on them until they gave in.
Mr. Trang Dung and Mr. Diep Bao Xuong also prevailed upon the police to
impose restrictions on the right of Overseas Chinese cadres to visit relatives in
China. A man was allowed to visit his wife and children every three years and his
parents every five years. He had no right at all to visit his brothers and sisters.
The Vietnamese government allowed Overseas Chinese cadres and
employees at state agencies and enterprises to take the day off on Chinese National
Day -- October 1. The Chinese Embassy organized receptions on that day in
various forms so that Overseas Chinese could gather together to celebrate the
occasion. However, Mr. Trang Dung and Mr. Diep Bao Xuong proposed that the
Chinese Embassy stop holding these receptions and that the Vietnamese
government no longer allow Overseas Chinese to take the day off. Their hidden
intention was to stop contact between Overseas Chinese and the Chinese Embassy.
Mr. Trang Dung and Mr. Diep Bao Xuong proposed to the top leadership
that Overseas Chinese students no longer be taught the Chinese language. Fierce
objections to this proposal came from Mr. Hoang Quoc Viet in his capacity as
chairman of the Association for Vietnam-China Friendship[7] and from the senior
party leader Mr. Le Duan.[8] Mr. Le Duan said: “Regarding cultural and educational
provision for ethnic minorities, we are going to develop a special culture for each
minority group. It is especially important to preserve Chinese culture, as China is
an ancient civilization that has had a great influence both on the Overseas Chinese
and on the Vietnamese people. In proposing to terminate the teaching of Chinese
you are going too far! It could also harm our relations with China. We cannot
accept your proposal.”
But Mr. Trang Dung and Mr. Diep Bao Xuong took no heed and proceeded
on their way regardless. They rudely told Mr. Han Nam Vien, principal of the
school for Overseas Chinese in Hanoi, to terminate the teaching of Chinese to his
students. Mr. Han Nam Vien replied that he could not do what they asked because
he had not yet received instructions from the Schools Department.
As this was a very important issue, with implications for Vietnam--China
relations, the Education Department dared not decide on its own. However, Mr.
Trang Dung and Mr. Diep Bao Xuong ignored all this. Mr. Diep Bao Xuong
removed Mr. Han Nam Vien from his post as school principal and demoted him to
the status of an ordinary teacher. The two of them even declared that the school in
Hanoi had now been converted into a Vietnamese school. That was the end of the
school for Overseas Chinese in Hanoi.
Next Mr. Trang Dung and Mr. Diep Bao Xuong persuaded the Schools
Department and the Higher Education Department to institute the rule that any
Overseas Chinese student who wanted to apply to go to university had to obtain the
prior consent of Mr. Diep Bao Xuong. Their papers went first to him. The result
was that after 1966 all children of Overseas Chinese, including children of
Overseas Chinese cadres who had regrouped to the North, were no longer able to
apply to go to university. Among those affected were the children of Mr. Ngo
Khon Dao, Mr. Tran Gia Loc, Mr. Tran Quoc Anh, Mr. Tran Hoan Thong, Mr.
Han Han Sum, Mr. Xa Nhu Hung, and Mr. Phan Chinh Phuc.
Other proposals put forward by Mr. Trang Dung and Mr. Diep Bao Xuong
were that Overseas Chinese in Vietnam should be forced to undergo naturalization
and that the term “Overseas Chinese” itself should be changed to “Vietnamese of
Chinese origin.”
Mr. Trang Dung and Mr. Diep Bao Xuong found many ways to make
trouble for Overseas Chinese cadres with strong pro-China sympathies. For
example, after the liberation of the South Mr. Trang Dung sent Mr. Diep Bao
Xuong and Mr. Ngo Nhat So to Nha Trang, capital of Phu Khanh Province,[9] in
order to advise the secretary of the provincial party committee not to use Mr. Ngo
Da Boi, Mr. Ngo Da Anh, and certain other individuals. The secretary immediately
rejected the suggestion, saying: “Mr. Ngo Da Boi and Mr. Ngo Da Anh are our
own local people. We have a good understanding with them. Whether or not we
use them is our own business. It is no concern of yours.”
Then Mr. Diep Bao Xuong and Mr. Ngo Nhat So went on a similar mission
to Ho Chi Minh City. They advised the city party committee not to use Mr. Diep
Nang Trang and certain other individuals on the grounds that they were elements
sympathetic to the Chinese Communist Party. There were many other stories. I
cannot tell them all.
I too was active in the revolution for a long time, but all my activity was at
the local level. I never ventured out into the wider political world. So the way I see
matters is very simple. I used to think that people who joined the revolution were
people who dared to sacrifice their personal interests to serve the broad public
interest. I saw it as a sacred responsibility and a great honor. So I was ready to
leave behind my kind old mother, my beloved wife and children, and my relatives
and abandon my business in order to regroup to the North. Now I had left my home
region and become a professional revolutionary. I was living communally with my
comrades. This enabled me to see with my own eyes everything that they were
doing. I saw that instead of serving the public interest they were often scheming to
advance their own interests. Everything they did was against the general interest of
the Overseas Chinese. They really were anti-people and anti-organization. They
talked in one way and acted in another. All their talk was a lie. They used the name
of the revolution to their own advantage. They worked together and at the same
time fought ruthlessly among themselves for power. I really hated this situation
and began to distance myself from them.

Notes

[1] Poland was one of the three countries, together with Canada and India,
represented on the international commission set up to oversee implementation of
the Geneva Accord.

[2] In South Vietnam cabbage can be grown only up in the hills, where the climate
is cooler.

[3] To Huu was the pen name of Nguyen Kim Thanh (1920--2002), Vietnam's
most famous revolutionary poet. Besides writing five collections of poems, he was
head of the Literary Association for National Salvation and later held many
important party and government posts. Before unification he was the official with
greatest influence over cultural policy. Viet Bac is the mountainous region of
North Vietnam that served as base and sanctuary for the Vietminh's guerrilla
warfare.

[4] In 1946 North Vietnam had introduced the dong to replace the piastre (“franc”)
of French Indochina.

[5] Cholon lies next to Saigon and is inhabited mainly by Overseas Chinese.
Saigon and Cholon are considered to constitute a single conglomeration.

[6] Cat Ba Island is the largest of the islands that comprise the Cat Ba
Archipelago along the southeastern edge of Ha Long (Descending Dragon) Bay,
near Haiphong.
[7] Hoang Quoc Viet (1905--1992) was a member of the second, third, and fourth
Central Committees, a member of the Politburo in 1951--56, and chairman of the
Vietnamese Fatherland Front from 1977.

[8] Le Duan was head of the party's Central Office for South Vietnam in 1951--54,
a member of the Secretariat of the party central committee from 1956, a member of
its Politburo and acting general secretary from 1957, and general secretary from
1960 until his death in 1986.

[9] Now named Khanh Hoa Province, in the South Midlands.

Chapter 22. Training for land reform

During our stay at Hoang Hoa Camp, we often went to help the peasants build
dikes and do other work on the water control system. This work was very hard.
Our bodies were immersed in water all day long. We had to dig and move soil. We
were exhausted, but no one dared complain.
Half a month after Kim Anh and the children arrived at Hoang Hoa, I was
told to go to Vang Market, near Duong Bridge in Hanoi -- the assembly point for a
training course organized by the Labor Department. Participants were to be
prepared for work on construction sites, work on restoration and expansion of the
economy, and work in the countryside in connection with the land reform
movement.
While waiting for the course to start, Mr. Diep Nang Tin and I were assigned
to live in the house of a poor peasant family. We gave the householder rice and
asked him to help us cook our meal. We had nothing to go with the rice, so we
asked him for some withered ends of water spinach, tough as bamboo roots and
cooked with a little salt. We ate like that for several days. At the Hoang Hoa Camp
the food was not delicious but at least we had enough of it to fill our stomachs.
Here in the countryside there was nowhere to buy food, so we had no breakfast and
very little for lunch and dinner. We were almost starving. When the time came for
the course to start, we were gathered in one place to live and eat together. Then we
were again able to fill our stomachs, but we still got no breakfast. Gradually we
grew accustomed to it.
Here in the North the standard of living in the countryside was very low and
conditions very backward by comparison with the countryside in the South. None
of the villages had a well. The villagers took their water from a small pond, which
served them both as a toilet and as a source of water for drinking, cooking, bathing,
and washing clothes. Animals also came to the pond. We were horrified. We knew
very well that the way they used the pond was unhygienic and very dangerous, but
we dared not say a word because the organization had told us that we had to follow
the “three togethers” -- eat together with the peasants, live together with the
peasants, work together with the peasants. Thereby we would come to understand
and sympathize with the peasants, forge a class standpoint, and prepare our
thinking for participation in the coming land reform movement.
The main document that we had to study was entitled: “The New Situation
and Our New Responsibilities.” We had two major new responsibilities:

I. Carry out the Three Year Plan for restoration and expansion of the
economy, including the reform of socialist and private business companies.

II. Implement the land reform.

The aim and purpose of the land reform was to wipe out the oppression and
exploitation of the peasants by the class of feudal landlords. This would be done by
confiscating the land and property of the landlords and dividing them among the
poor and destitute[1] peasants, thereby implementing the slogan: “Land to the
tiller!”

A. Organization of the land reform

The land reform was organized and implemented under the leadership of the
Central Land Reform Committee (CLRC), consisting of general secretary of the
party's Central Committee Mr. Truong Chinh (chairman), Politburo members Mr.
Hoang Quoc Viet and Mr. Le Van Luong, and Central Committee member Mr. Ho
Viet Thang (assistant to the chairman).
Below the CLRC was the Central Land Reform Team (CLRT), with Mr. Ho
Viet Thang as team leader. This body was responsible for direct management of
the land reform, including the assignment of detailed tasks.
Below the CLRT were the land reform teams for each province. Below the
provincial teams were the area teams -- on average ten per province. Each area
team had at least 100 members, guided by the area team leader.
The leader of a provincial land reform team had authority and responsibility
similar to those of the secretary of a provincial party committee. A team leader
received orders directly from the CLRT, bypassing the party committee and
government at his territorial level.
Below the area land reform teams, a small land reform team consisting of 6--
7 members was established in each village. The leader of such a team was chosen
from among the poor and destitute peasants of the village.
The land reform team had absolute power. There was a popular saying in the
North: "The land reform team first, the Lord of Heaven second." The local
government was required to supply its files on landlord families to the land reform
team.

B. The Land Reform Law

The Land Reform Law was promulgated on June 14, 1955. It contained five
sections.[2] The following were the main provisions of one section.
Confiscate without compensation all land and property (including houses
and everything in them, livestock, and farming tools) belonging to foreign
colonists and to dishonest, cruel, and reactionary landlords and divide it among the
poor and destitute peasants.
Provisionally confiscate land, livestock, and farming tools belonging to
other landlords, including landlords who supported the Anti-French Resistance and
landlord-businessmen.[3]
Confiscate without compensation land, livestock, and farming tools
belonging to religious groups (Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist).
The categories of people who were to benefit from land reform were, in
descending order of priority:
(a) poor and destitute peasants with no land or too little land to produce
enough food for a family to live on;
(b) middle peasants, and also small artisans, peddlers, and fishing people,
who could ask to be given some land so that they would have some extra produce
to live on;
(c) parents, wives, and children of revolutionary martyrs and wounded
soldiers.

C. Land reform courts

In every village where the land reform was being implemented a special people's
courts was set up, with a judge who was assisted by a peasant representative. The
judge was chosen from among members of the village land reform team. The
assistant to the judge was chosen from among villagers who knew the personal
history of the defendant and rented land or a house from him.
The land reform court had absolute power. It was responsible for passing
judgement upon tyrannical, dishonest, wicked, and reactionary landlords as well as
upon anyone who opposed or sabotaged the land reform policy, for settling land
and property disputes, for determining people's social class, and for confiscating
and dividing up landlords’ land.
D. Stages of the land reform

The land reform occurred in stages:

(1) The preparatory phase (end of 1953--1955). The first experiments with land
reform were held at the end of 1953 and beginning of 1954 in a number of
liberated areas in Thai Nguyen Province and Thanh Hoa Province.

(2) The implementation phase (1955--1956).

First the rural population was divided into five classes:

(i) The destitute peasants were the poorest class. They had no land, house,
livestock, farming tools, or other property. They also had no steady employment,
only temporary jobs when needed as substitutes. Some supported their families by
working as servants in landlord households.

(ii) The poor peasants owned a house made of straw[4] and 1--2 sao of land (1 sao =
360 square meters).[5] As this was not enough land to support a family, they had to
work for landlords as day laborers or sharecroppers.

(iii) The middle peasants owned 1--3 mau ta (1 mau ta = 10 sao), which they tilled
themselves. This was sufficient to support a family.
The middle peasants were divided into two subclasses: the lower middle
peasants, who owned 1--2 mau ta of land, and the upper middle peasants, who
owned 2--3 mau ta of land and an ox for plowing.

(iv) The rich peasants owned 3--4 mau ta of land and an ox for plowing. They had
to hire temporary workers at harvest time.

(v) The landlords owned a lot of land but did not till it themselves. They supported
their wealthy lifestyle by renting land out to sharecroppers and in many cases also
by moneylending. The landlords were categorized as follows:

-- Ordinary landlords had 4--5 mau ta of land. They were not very rich. They
had no criminal record as collaborators during the French occupation.

-- Powerful and cruel landlords were those who oppressed and exploited the
poor and destitute peasants.
-- Reactionary landlords were those who belonged to political parties such as
the Dai Viet Party and the Vietnam Nationalist Party.[6]

The land reform team treated landlords in different ways depending on their
category.

E. Procedure for the confiscation of land

In dealing with landlords who owned nearly two hectares of land, the land reform
team had to find some way to bring them to court and destroy them.

Besides the main document on land reform policy, we also studied other
documents such as the Model Report about the poor and destitute peasants who
had been oppressed and exploited by the powerful and cruel landlords. The aim
was to help students understand the deep suffering of the poor and destitute
peasants. In that way we were led to sympathize with them and aroused to hatred
of the landlord class, thereby preparing us for the fierce struggle against the
landlords in the forthcoming land reform campaign.
Mr. Ngo Khon Dao and I sat together in the classroom. After listening for a
while as the Model Report was read out, he became afraid on behalf of the
landlords (this is not to say that he did not also sympathize with the peasants).
Suddenly his face turned blue, his eyes opened wide, bubbles of saliva came out of
his mouth, and he fell to the floor unconscious. I was scared to death.
As the reading continued, a number of Vietnamese students reacted in a
similar manner. I heard that those who had such reactions were regarded as having
a firmer standpoint than the other students.
When the session ended, Mr. To Lieu, chairman of the An Nhon County
Council and head of the Overseas Chinese Campaign Office in Binh Dinh
Province, came over to me and asked in a jocular tone: “Did Mr. Ngo Khon Dao
really fall unconscious?”
“Oh yes,” I replied. “It was for real.”
“That’s because he is a wealthy man himself as well as a landowner.”[7]
While I was on the course, the organizers of the Hoang Hoa Reception
Camp took Kim Anh and the children, together with the wives and children of Mr.
Ngo Khon Dao, Mr. Tran Tiep Kham, Mr. Tran Tu Lap, Mr. Phan Chinh Quyen,
and other comrades, to settle in the town of Thai Nguyen.

Notes
[1] The term “landless peasants” is often used in this context. However, not all
landless peasants were destitute because some residents who did not own land did
own other valuable property (a house, furniture, tools and equipment for
handicrafts, etc.).

[2] For a fuller account of this training course see Chapter 12 of Hoang Van Chi,
From Colonialism to Communism: A Case History of North Vietnam (Frederick A.
Praeger Publishers, 1964).

[3] Individuals who owned land and also conducted a business.

[4] Generally a single-room house. Straw was mixed with mud and inserted into a
bamboo frame.

[5] Traditional Vietnamese units of measurement were still in use alongside the
metric units introduced by the French. Land area was measured in sao (1 sao = 360
square meters), mau ta (1 mau ta or “native mau” = 10 sao = 3,600 square meters),
and hectares (1 hectare or “Western mau” = 10,000 square meters). These
equivalents of the traditional units in square meters apply only to the Far North of
Vietnam; the sao and mau ta in Central Vietnam are one-third larger (Hoang Van
Chi, From Colonialism to Communism, p. 81).

[6] The Dai Viet (Great Viet) Party and the Vietnam National Party (Viet Nam
Quoc Dan Dang) were anti-communist Vietnamese nationalist parties.

[7] Although Mr. Ngo Khon Dao owned some land, he was not classified as a
landlord because he lived in town (Qui Nhon) and was primarily a merchant.

Chapter 23. I work with a group of Chinese specialists

I was only halfway through the two-month training course when the government
redirected me to Hanoi to work as a translator for a group of Chinese specialists
attached to the General Trade Company. The specific task of this group was to help
Vietnam build a new oil depot at Duc Giang and repair the Top Quality Oil Depot
at Haiphong.
Also working with me there were Mr. Tran Hoan Thong, Mr. Diep Nang
Chan, and Mr. Phan Chinh Phuc. Mr. Diep Nang Chan and I worked in the office
translating technical drawings and plans. Mr. Tran Hoan Thong accompanied the
specialists to interpret for them at the worksites. Mr. Phan Chinh Phuc interpreted
for officials in charge at the worksites. Our director was Mr. Hoang Quoc Thinh
(he later became minister of internal trade[1]). The manager was Mr. Nguyen Bach.
Soon after I moved to Hanoi, Mr. Tran Tiep Kham (who had also been sent
to Hanoi) and I asked permission to go to Thai Nguyen Municipality and bring our
wives and children to Hanoi. When we arrived in Thai Nguyen, we went to the
reception center and met with the official in charge. We explained to him why we
had come. He received us with warmth and sincerity. He told us: “Comrades, you
have both been separated from your wives and children for a very long time. We
have arranged ‘happy rooms’ where you can have intimate relations with your
wives.”
Hearing that, Mr. Tran Tiep Kham's face and ears immediately turned red.
He got angry and said: “We came here just to see our wives and children. We are
not asking you for that. What do you think -- that we came here to satisfy our
urges?”
The official looked as though a bucket of cold water had been poured over
his head and he had not had time to wipe his face. He dared not say a word and
quickly disappeared. He did not come back. As for me, I found the exchange really
funny. I laughed until I cried.
When Kim Anh and the children arrived at Thai Nguyen Municipality, it had
been arranged for them to stay temporarily with the family of an official. Thai
Nguyen is in a mountainous area; the weather was very hot and living conditions
were poor. Not yet being accustomed to the mountain water, all of the children had
fallen sick. Ai Nga had sore eyes. Both her eyes were red like fire. Trung's body
was covered with boils. There was a big boil the size of an egg on his neck. Ai Hoa
was still only a few months old. She could not bear the heat and cried and
screamed all day and night. Kim Anh had never lived in such hard conditions
before. She was starting to wilt. I really felt sorry for her.
Kim Anh and I were very worried. We could only sob. I could not bear to
leave her and the children there to suffer any longer. I wanted to take them with me
to Hanoi right away, but how would I arrange it? I was still confused and had no
clear plan. The North was a strange land for us. We had no relatives or old friends
there to help us. I would need to rent a house, but we had very little money.
Fortunately, Heaven took pity on us. Regardless of difficulties, I decided to
bring the family to Hanoi right away. We stayed for a few days at a hotel on Hang
Dau Street, next to the Long Bien Bridge. The couple who owned the hotel were
honest and benevolent. Seeing that we had three young children, they were very
understanding and helpful. They told us they had a house they could rent to us at
81 Hang Bot Street. The rent was reasonable. I was very happy to hear that. I
immediately thanked them and we rented the house. So from then on we resided at
81 Hang Bot Street, Hanoi.
The house had a main room about 12 square meters in area, a kitchen, a
toilet, a front garden, and a courtyard with washing facilities. It was very
conveniently located. And it was clean.
After we moved in, I began to look for my friend’s son Ngo. It took me a
while to find him. I brought him to our house. As he too was unaccustomed to the
water and the poor living conditions, he had rashes all over his body and his
clothes were stained with pus and blood. It was pitiful! He was from a wealthy
family, only eleven years old, and already separated from his parents, brothers, and
sisters, suffering far away from home in the North.
Kim Anh loved Ngo very much. She cared for him as though he were her
own child. She bathed him two or three times a day and filled his stomach with
tasty food. Soon he was cured, chubby, and healthy. Then we sent him to attend
School No. 17 in Haiphong. From then on he was always in good health and did
well at his studies. Later he was chosen as an honor student and sent to Tsinghua
University in Beijing. For over a year he studied automotive engineering. Then the
Cultural Revolution broke out and the Vietnamese government ordered him to
return to Vietnam. He continued his studies at Bach Khoa University in Hanoi.
Upon graduation he was invited by the university to stay on and teach. But he had
never wanted to be a teacher, so he excused himself by claiming that he could not
teach because he spoke with a stutter. Then he was assigned to work in the field of
water resource management in a remote place near the border with Laos. When he
received the notification he was very perplexed and came to inform us. I
immediately went to the Ministry of Higher Education and requested them to
assign him a post near Hanoi. They agreed and sent him instead to Hung Yen on
the outskirts of Hanoi.
As Ngo was a very good worker, his director wanted him to join the
Communist Party and asked me to complete the application form for him.
However, the political situation at that time was very complicated, so I advised him
not to join the party.[2] I told him to do his best in his professional field. That would
be good enough. From then on his director often reminded him to join the party but
he never did.
So our family was settled in Hanoi. Mr. Ngo Khon Dao was less fortunate:
he had not yet been assigned a post there. He noticed that I had a job and my
family a home in Hanoi. So he begged us to allow him and his family to move in
with us for the time being. When he was assigned a post they would find a
different house and move out.
As he was a comrade and a compatriot and as we sympathized with his
situation, we were happy for them to move in with us and told him not to worry. So
Mr. Ngo Khon Dao and his family shared the house with us. Altogether we were
ten people -- five of us and five of them -- crowded together in a small room. It
was very cramped and embarrassing. But we lived happily. Soon Mr. Ngo Khon
Dao got a job at a gasoline station in Hanoi, but he and his family continued to live
with us.
I worked with the group of Chinese specialists for about a year. The new oil
depot at Duc Giang had now been built and the Top Quality Oil Depot at Haiphong
had been repaired. The group had completed its task.
The General Trade Company originally came under the Ministry of
Economic Management. Soon, however, this ministry was divided into two -- the
Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of Trade. The Ministry of Industry was
placed in charge of the oil depots, so for a short period I found myself working for
that ministry. The Ministry of Industry wanted to keep me, but the Ministry of
Trade refused to release me. They were fighting over me. Eventually I was
assigned to the Ministry of Trade.
During the time when I was working with the group of Chinese specialists,
every Saturday the parliament welcomed visitors and newly arrived specialists
from various countries. We were invited to accompany them as interpreters.
Chairman Ho Chi Minh also came on these occasions. We met him and felt highly
honored.

Notes

[1] Hoang Quoc Thinh (1911--2009) was minister of internal trade from 1967 to
1977.

[2] The application form for joining the party requires detailed information about
the applicant's family background. Applying to join would have drawn attention to
his ‘bad’ class origin.

Chapter 24. At the General Export-Import Company. Land reform and its
aftermath. Visit to Hainan. Search for housing

When I returned to the Ministry of Trade it was undergoing further division into
two ministries -- the Ministry of Internal Trade and the Ministry of Foreign Trade.
I was assigned to the planning office of the General Import-Export Company under
the Ministry of Foreign Trade. At the time this was the only company belonging to
the Ministry of Foreign Trade. The director of the company was Mr. Nguyen Quoc
Thai and the planning office was headed by Mr. Bui Khon.

Land reform
This was the time when the land reform in North Vietnam was entering its most
decisive phase. I was not directly involved in the land reform, but the struggles of
the peasants against the landlords in the rural counties surrounding Hanoi
intermittently intensified and then the managements of all enterprises and
organizations mobilized their workers, employees, and cadres to participate in
support of the peasants in order to implant in us a class viewpoint. Through our
participation we learned more about the methods used in the campaign.
First the land reform team for a specific village struck roots among the poor
and destitute peasants, developed sympathy with them, and won their trust by
practicing the “three togethers.” Then the team members encouraged and
stimulated them to stand up and denounce their old landlords. On the basis of these
denunciations the team members arrested the accused landlords and imprisoned
them in the house of a poor peasant. Their relatives were forbidden to see them,
and could send them food and drink only through a member of the land reform
team. So the landlords were isolated from the start. Their relatives were also placed
under house arrest and not allowed to contact anyone. Any children of the accused
landlords who were still at school were expelled.
Before an accused landlord was taken to the special land reform court for
trial, the team members forced him to memorize the answers to the questions that
the judge would ask him. The witnesses were also made to memorize their
answers.
The next day the court sent summonses to everyone in the village -- old and
young, male and female -- to attend the court on the specified date.
When the accused was led before the court on the day of his trial, his hands
were tied behind his back. He was made to kneel and bow his head in front of the
judge. There was no defense lawyer for him. In response to the judge's questions,
the witnesses and any other peasants who wanted to give testimony stood and
addressed the court (this was also called "speaking bitterness"). They denounced
not only the accused but also his father, grandfather, and other ancestors. As they
spoke they continually spat in the face of the accused and insulted, kicked, and
punched him. A daughter-in-law might even insult her parents-in-law or a child his
own parents.
When the “speaking bitterness” was finished, the judge and his assistant
stood up and on the basis of the testimony pronounced the verdict in front of the
angry peasants. No matter what, the accused was always found guilty. He was not
allowed to speak in his own defense. He had to stay silent. If he did try to speak,
then the team members started shouting the slogan “Down with the stubborn
landlord!” and the crowd joined in. The noise of their shouting echoed in Heaven
and shook the Earth. Terrified and shaking, the accused fell silent. He could only
bow his head and acknowledge his guilt.
It was in this tense atmosphere, charged with anger and hatred, that the judge
pronounced the verdict that had been approved in advance by the land reform
team. The team members and the soldiers and militiamen guarding them held their
guns up high and loudly repeated the judge's words to show their agreement. All
those in attendance joined in, waving their fists up and down in the air as they
shouted. Then the judge confirmed the verdict.
Some landlords, knowing what awaited them, put an end to it all and took
their own lives on the day before their trial. They did not want to undergo torture
or face public disgrace.
The sentence imposed on a condemned landlord was often very heavy. It
depended on the situation in the province concerned and on the landlord's class
category and activities.
Condemned landlords who owed debts of blood or who were reactionaries or
traitors to the county were executed.
Also tried were the widows and children of dead landlords who had been
powerful, deceitful, and cruel or spies for the French or who had collaborated with
the colonial regime as village chief, hamlet chief, or village mayor or in some other
capacity. All their property was confiscated and they were ostracized. Given their
family history, they could not find suitable jobs whatever they did.
Some landlords had in the past been reactionaries, betrayed the country, or
belonged to parties such as the Dai Viet Party or the Vietnam National Party but
had later joined the Resistance and contributed to the struggle for independence.
Some of them were now high-ranking officials in the government or high-ranking
officers in the People's Army. The land reform team would submit a special
request for such a person to be sent back to his original home province for trial.
Other landlords, including those who were members of the Vietnam
Workers' Party, were sentenced to undergo “re-education” in a prison camp. This
meant a term of 5--20 years or longer.
Death sentences were executed immediately, before the open court. On the
orders of the head of the land reform team, a grave had already been dug and other
necessary preparations made.
Many different methods of execution were used in different places:

-- shooting;

-- burial alive;

-- beheading;
-- placing the condemned person in a big bamboo basket with hands tied
behind his back and submerging the basket into the village pond;

-- tying the condemned person to a pole that had been stuck into the ground
up on a hill and leaving him to die of hunger, thirst, and exposure.

After the verdict was pronounced, the condemned person's family was
immediately kicked out of their house. All their property, including land, house,
rice, livestock, and farming tools, was confiscated and distributed among the poor
and destitute peasants.

Results of land reform

As a result of the first four stages of the land reform, 800,000 hectares of land,
100,000 working oxen, and 150,000 rooms of housing were confiscated from
powerful, deceitful, and cruel landlords and from landlords who were reactionaries
or traitors and distributed among 200,000 poor and destitute peasant families.
Also as a result of the first four stages of the land reform, according to
incomplete data, about 100,000 people were killed and another 40,000 placed in
“re-education” camps where they were mistreated.
During the fifth stage of the land reform, about 100,000 more people were
killed, including 40,000 cadres and members of the Communist Party. According
to classified government documents, 15,000 cadres were killed unjustifiably.

Causes of the errors

According to the instructions issued by the party Central Committee and by the
Central Land Reform Committee, at least 15% of landlords were to be liquidated in
each province. This quota was very difficult to reach because the number of
landlords in reality was smaller than the number assumed in the instructions.
Population pressure on the land was very strong in North Vietnam. By family
tradition a father bequeathed his land to his sons in equal portions, thereby dividing
one large family holding into several small family holdings. As a result, the
amount of land owned by the majority of peasants was less than 3 native hectares.
[1]

In order to satisfy higher officials that the quota had been achieved,
however, all that the land reform teams needed to do was to adjust the standards
for defining classes or introduce new standards (this, of course, required the
agreement of the Center). The new or adjusted standards had the intended effect of
raising some rich peasants and even some middle peasants into the landlord class.
Then they could be struck down. If necessary this procedure could be repeated.
Seeing what was happening and fearing that they too would be reclassified
and mistreated like landlords, some rich and middle peasants stuck together and
closely cooperated with the land reform team. They were more than willing to give
false testimony against any accused person, even if they had never seen him
before. Losing all sense of right and wrong, they were willing to denounce their
parents, their brothers and sisters, or their good friends.
The result everywhere was that some rich peasants, middle peasants, and
even poor peasants with little land were struck down. Members of land reform
teams warned that there were reactionary elements everywhere: they had even
crept into the party in order to destroy it from within. So party members were also
struck down in large numbers, almost destroying the foundation of the party.
And so the land reform teams struck and killed on a large scale. The whole
country descended into chaos. People were gripped with fear day and night. They
could not eat or sleep well.
In late 1955 and in 1956 there were altogether five more surges in the land
reform campaign, each one fiercer and more terrible than the last. The fifth surge
came in the middle of 1956 and was the most vicious of them all, especially in
Nghe Tinh Province.[2] The victims included not only rich and middle peasants but
also cadres and others who had joined the party as early as 1930 or the Society of
Young Comrades during the period 1922--1926.[3] Many managers at our General
Import-Export Company were also sent back to their home provinces for trial by
the land reform teams. One of them was Mr. Nguyen Dai, a provincial delegate in
Nghe An Province and head of the company's personnel department, who narrowly
escaped beheading.
Absurdly, even the parents of Mr. Truong Chinh himself were put on trial by
a land reform team. They fainted during the trial and were crippled by the beatings
that they received.
Nor was Mr. Truong Chinh the only one of the top leaders to be affected
personally by the land reform campaign. Mr. Hoang Quoc Viet happened to be in
hospital for treatment at the time. For security reasons the hospital staff had not
been told who he was. One day he overheard a member of the hospital staff say:
“We must also drag this old man out and put him on trial.” He was scared to death.
Could low-level staff really threaten someone of his stature? Could he himself be
arrested? He immediately escaped home and reported the incident to the party
Central Committee, the Central Land Reform Committee, and Chairman Ho Chi
Minh. That was how the top leadership discovered that everywhere in the North
the land reform teams were out of control and committing serious errors.
Too many peasants, too many relatives of cadres and party members were
wrongly accused or sent to “re-education camps.” They suffered insult and
mistreatment. In several provinces people showed their anger and organized to
fight back. The first uprising started in Nghe Tinh Province, where members of
land reform teams and people who had made false accusations were killed. This
caused even more chaos and insecurity in society.
In order to assuage the dissatisfaction with land reform among cadres and
party members as well as the majority of peasants, and to heal people's hearts, on
July 1, 1956, during a conference to sum up the results of the campaign, Chairman
Ho Chi Minh sent out letters to cadres openly admitting the errors made and
declaring that the Central Committee of the party had carried out self-criticism. He
also issued detailed instructions about how to correct errors and prove one's
innocence. Mr. Truong Chinh had to resign as party general secretary. Mr. Hoang
Quoc Viet and Mr. Le Van Luong were removed from the Politburo and Mr. Le
Van Luong lost his position as head of the Organization Department of the Central
Committee. Mr. Ho Viet Thang was dropped from the Central Committee. Finally,
in November 1956 Chairman Ho Chi Minh spoke on Hanoi Radio and openly
apologized to the nation.

Aftermath of land reform

In late 1956 and continuing into 1957, there was a “prove innocence, correct
errors” campaign to restore the honor of wrongly accused cadres and party
members and their families. Wrongly accused cadres and party members were
restored to their old ranks. People who had been wrongly expelled from the party
were readmitted and restored to their old ranks. Party members who had been
wrongly executed or had died in “re-education camps” were honored as patriotic
martyrs whose lives had been sacrificed to the revolutionary cause. This honor was
inscribed in the personal histories of their family members. Their siblings and
children, now regarded as belonging to the families of revolutionary martyrs, were
given priority in assignment to higher education and to government jobs.
The families of wrongly executed landlords received symbolic compensation
in the form of a small plot of land that was just sufficient for them to live on. They
were reclassified as “ordinary” or “other” landlords and given full civil rights. This
helped protect them against discrimination and renewed isolation. Later, after the
collectivization of agriculture, they were allowed to join collective farms.
So the chaos created by the land reform in Heaven and on Earth gradually
subsided, but complete security did not return. The situation remained difficult.
Some wrongly accused cadres and party members and their families were still
dissatisfied. Taking advantage of the “correct errors” campaign, they worked
together by various means to oppose the party and government leadership. Among
the writers, musicians, and artists whose activities attracted public attention were
the members of the Van Nhan -- Giai Pham (Humanism and Masterpieces) group.
They openly published newspapers and magazines such as Arts and Letters,
Humanism, and Masterpieces and handed out several leaflets criticizing party
policy and the party leaders. They also incited interpreters and translators to rise up
and demonstrate against the party and government leadership.
In addition, they incited some southern students to roam around Hanoi and
pick arguments and fights with northern students, other residents, and the police.
These students burned down houses, committed armed robberies, and occupied
police stations.
So the situation throughout North Vietnam and especially in Hanoi was
chaotic and noisy. It looked as though a big storm was brewing. It was a real
headache.
The party and government leadership immediately took steps to put an end
to the chaos, using both soft and hard methods.
Against the Van Nhan -- Giai Pham group the authorities used tough
methods. The publication of reactionary books, newspapers, and magazines was
banned and those already published were confiscated. The ringleaders who had
caused the trouble were arrested and severely punished.
To deal with the southern students among the troublemakers the authorities
mobilized a large number of southern students from School No. 17 to confront
them. Among the students mobilized were Lam Dao Ngo, A Ty, Ngo Da Thuy, Ly
Hoai Trung, and Dam Bich Hang. People said that these students knew martial arts
and looked very rough and fierce. When the troublemakers heard that students
from School No. 17 were looking for them they were very frightened and dared not
commit any more crimes.
To interpreters and translators leading officials applied a policy of
persuasion, working with them one on one to advise them and mold their thought.
If they had a problem or request they were urged to sort it out with their unit leader
but not to bring any conflict out into the open. The leadership used soft methods
because they knew that interpreters and translators were mostly children of high-
ranking cadres. During the Anti-French Resistance the government had sent them
to study abroad and now they had returned. It would have been unwise to apply
hard methods to them because if they took offence they would join forces and
make things difficult for the government agency where they worked. They might
even go on strike. This would hinder the work of the foreign specialists who had
come to help Vietnam. It would also cause great harm to the economic and
political interests of the government.
One day, while I was at work, Comrade Bui Khon, head of our company's
planning department, came in a hurry to see me. “Comrade Quang,” he said, “you
are a translator and interpreter. If you see any of the company's managers do
something wrong please report the matter to us. We shall definitely solve the
problem. I hope that you do not listen to any colleagues who urge you to join in a
strike. That would not be a good thing to do. I know that some interpreters and
translators in government offices have decided to go on strike tomorrow. Will you
be joining them?”
As I did not know what his intention was, I pretended not to understand. I
feigned surprise and asked him: “What on earth are you talking about?”
“Not long ago,” he explained, “at a meeting of the company's department for
work with foreign specialists, some managers proposed new rules to save
government money. The proposals were adopted and the new rules issued. These
new rules, however, are not appropriate for interpreters. For example, when
leading cadres receive foreign visitors or specialists only they are now allowed to
smoke cigarettes with them. Interpreters are not given cigarettes. When tea is
served, only the leading cadres and visitors or specialists can have sugar in their
tea. Interpreters are not allowed sugar. When visiting specialists go on site for an
inspection, interpreters can travel in the car with them on the way there but on the
way back they have to walk. These are just some of the new rules. The interpreters
feel that these new rules insult their dignity in the presence of foreigners, so they
have called a strike and a protest in front of the parliament building.” I then
realized that the situation had become very serious.
Mr. Khon continued: “Comrade Quang, you are a party member and a
leading cadre. If you have any problem please come straight to us and we shall
definitely sort it out.”
I said: “I do not have any problem. I did not understand why some
interpreters would do such things. No one has asked me to join any action. If
anyone does come and ask me to join the strike I shall refuse, so please do not
worry.”
When he heard that he was reassured.

Visit to Hainan

After working at the Import-Export Company for a while, I requested leave to go
home to Hainan Island to visit Chinese Mother and my sister Neo. My request was
granted and I made the visit in autumn 1957. After being separated for so many
years, I finally saw Chinese Mother, sister Neo, and other Hainan relatives.
Chinese Mother was both happy and sad. She was happy to hear detailed news
about our family in Vietnam and to see how I had matured and progressed. She felt
that her efforts in bringing me up had proven worthwhile and she was very proud
of me. At the same time, she was sad because she and her daughter were far away
from Vietnam and from our family there and because they had suffered a lot since
returning to the homeland. They had suffered a lot in their lives. She told me that
for over ten years they had managed to survive only by diving in the sea to collect
coral for sale.
When Chinese Mother told me this I felt deep grief and unease. I deeply
regretted that by helping them return to the homeland I had caused them such
suffering. But what had happened had happened and could not be undone. We
could only place our trust in Heaven and Earth.
I stayed in Hainan for three weeks. Then I bade farewell to Chinese Mother
and Sister Neo and returned to Vietnam. Yet another separation -- it was heart-
rending! Mother's eyes were full of tears. I was so sorry for her. But I still had my
mission: I could not remain in the homeland any longer. I could only comfort her
and Sister Neo and promise to come see them again one day.

Search for housing

A while after my return to Vietnam, Mr. Tran Quoc Anh was sent to work in a
different place and had to leave the small apartment that he was renting at 9B
Truong Han Sieu Street. He wanted to transfer the tenancy to someone else. He
came to ask Mr. Khon Dao and myself whether we would like him to transfer the
tenancy to us. There were conditions. We would have to buy all the furniture --
bed, table, and chairs -- and other contents. We would also have to pay several
months' back rent and unpaid water and electricity bills.
I could see how crowded it was for our two families -- ten people in all -- to
share one small house. Day by day the children grew bigger and it became more
uncomfortable. So I asked Mr. Khon Dao to move with his family to 9B Truong
Han Sieu Street so that we would have the whole house to ourselves. But Mr. Khon
Dao was notorious for his greed, cunning, meanness, and selfishness. He always
found a way to take more than his fair share. He realized that if he accepted Mr.
Tran Quoc Anh's offer he would have to pay quite a lot of money, so he refused to
move out. In this situation I had no choice but to accept the offer myself. So Mr.
Khon Dao took over our house for free. Later, when his organization provided
another house for his family, he transferred our house to someone else and
received a big commission.
During the Anti-French Resistance War Mr. Tran Quoc Anh was an
underground cadre. He and his wife had many children. His wife had no job. Their
life was very difficult. We had helped him in every way we could so that he would
feel secure and be able to concentrate on his work. If he had had a heart he would
not have asked us to pay a lot of money in order to move into his apartment. But
we did not want to blame him for anything. He needed the money and we needed a
place to live. Both parties benefitted.
This lesson taught us the meaning of the saying: “It is easy to draw the
tiger's outside but hard to draw its skeleton. You can see the face but not the heart.”
Do not expect your love to be reciprocated.
And so we moved to the first floor apartment at 9B Truong Han Sieu Street.
The apartment was very small and narrow as well as very dirty and unhygienic.
Living there was very awkward. In the second-floor apartment there lived a poor
student named Mr. Hien. We often helped him out. One day he came to us and
said: “I am going away to school soon. I know that you are living in very crowded
conditions here. You have both treated me very well. Now I would like to leave my
apartment to you. I do not ask for a lot of money -- only two dong. I shall leave a
paraffin lamp for you to remember me by.”
We were very happy to hear this. We gave Mr. Hien some money and
moved into his apartment on the second floor. At that time a young man from
Nghe An Province (he spoke with an accent) named Mr. Hoe was living on the
third floor. Mr. Hoe and his family shared the third-floor apartment with a
musician named Mr. Tan Huyen and his family. When Mr. Hoe heard that we had
moved to the second floor, he came to ask us to give him our old apartment instead
of returning it to the landlord. We agreed and he went to the Housing Office to
register his tenancy. We were surprised to discover that he had tricked us. He had
registered his family as occupying not the first floor but the second. We were very
angry and argued with him. He went to get help from some local residents. These
people were all from families that had served the French colonial regime. They had
no sympathy for us southern cadres regrouped to the North. They bullied and
overpowered us with their numbers. It occurred to me that we were in Hanoi only
temporarily, until peace came and we could return to the South. I did not want to
fight them. And so we moved back to our old first-floor apartment.
Next I went to see the landlord. His name was Mr. Duc Loi. I explained to
him what had happened and asked him to let us move into a large apartment that he
was using to store his belongings. Mr. Duc Loi was a very good person and
sympathized with us. He agreed to my proposal and I immediately hired some
people to move all his belongings to our apartment and all our belongings to his
large apartment. This was the best apartment in the whole of the building at 9B
Truong Han Sieu Street. It was spacious and clean, with a front garden and its own
kitchen. It was a beautiful and very comfortable place for a cadre's family at that
time. We lived there until we left North Vietnam almost twenty years later.
I recalled the saying: “Good deeds bring good luck, evil deeds -- bad luck.”
It was true. Mr. Hoe used trickery to take our second-floor apartment for Mr. Tan
Huyen's family. Soon after that Mr. Tan Huyen's wife suddenly died. A while later
Mr. Hoe's wife also died. Their children lost their mothers. There was no one to
look after them. All day long they wandered the streets. A real pity! We had a large
apartment to live in because we were good and Heaven loved us. We lived a good
life and made a good living. Everything was as we wished it to be.
I had a Vietnamese friend named Mr. Nguyen Khac Hieu. He too used to
live in Dap Da before regrouping to the North. He was now old[4] and weak and
suffered from stomach ulcers. He lived and ate at his unit, but the living conditions
there were poor. He asked us to let him come and live with us temporarily and to
help him cook his meals. As he and I were comrades from the same place and as
Kim Anh and I were sorry for him, we were willing to help and make him feel
secure. He lived with us for a long time. As our children grew older this
arrangement became very inconvenient for us, so we suggested that he move back
to his unit. But he refused. He was determined to stay and we could not do
anything about it.
Some time later Kim Anh gave birth to our son Hung. He cried and
screamed a lot and this bothered Mr. Nguyen Khac Hieu, so -- luckily for us -- he
finally returned to his unit.
This taught us another good lesson and broadened our range of vision. It is
very difficult to judge people's characters. We pitied others, but they did not pity us
in return. When we did anyone a favor, we risked arousing the resentment of
others. All the same, Mr. Nguyen Khac Hieu was reasonable. After the South was
liberated and the country reunited, he went back to Dap Da and told his wife about
our good deeds and kind hearts. So when our daughter Ai Nga got married they
made a beautiful wedding cake for her to show their gratitude to us. That was a
good thing to do.
Whether people were good or bad to us, we still loved and sympathized with
them and were ready to help them when they needed us. After Mr. Nguyen Khac
Hieu, many friends and relatives came from far and wide to stay with us. We
always welcomed them with open arms and did all we could to help them. To our
great regret, most of them proved to have fickle hearts. They were the sort of
people who do not know how to behave and do not understand the difference
between feeling and duty. When they returned to the South they immediately
betrayed us and treated us as strangers. When we happened to bump into them on
the street they pretended not to know us. It was as though a strong wind had blown
away all their memories of the past.

Notes
[1] Just as a hectare was also called a “Western mau,” so was a native mau (mau
ta), equal to 3,600 square meters, also called a “native hectare.”

[2] A large coastal province south of Hanoi. In 1991 it was divided into Nghe An
Province and Ha Tinh Province.

[3] The Communist Party of Vietnam was founded in 1925. The Society of Young
Comrades was a patriotic youth group and a precursor of the Communist Party.

[4] He was in his fifties, but in Vietnam that is already considered old.

Chapter 25. Further work in the field of foreign trade

I worked at the General Import-Export Company for over a year. In 1957 the
company expanded and the Ministry of Foreign Trade decided to establish several
more import-export companies for different kinds of products, such as food and
livestock, minerals, forest products, machinery, and general merchandise. I was
assigned to work at the Miscellaneous Goods Import-Export Company.
The director of the company was Mr. Nguyen Duan. He was the one who in
1950 had asked me to go to Hong Kong with him. He had just returned from
China. He was honest, gentle, amiable, and proud. It was easy to get along with
him. He had been a revolutionary fighter in Ba To during the peasant uprising there
in 1930.[1] He was highly disciplined and organized but very old-fashioned.
I was assigned to work in the Planning Department. I was responsible for
monitoring trade with China and for checking translations. The director of the
department was Mr. Bui Khon.
Foreign trade was a completely new field for me. I knew nothing about it. I
was as blind as a bat. Fortunately, when Mr. Duan returned from China he brought
back with him a lot of Chinese-language textbooks about the import-export
business. He entrusted them to my care. From those textbooks I gained much
knowledge that helped me greatly in my career.
The Miscellaneous Goods Import-Export Company was newly established. I
realized that most of my colleagues were former professional soldiers who knew
nothing about foreign trade. Sometimes I stayed late at the office in order to select
especially important documents from the Chinese textbooks and translate them into
Vietnamese for the use of my colleagues. These documents were a great help to
them.
At the Miscellaneous Goods Import-Export Company I had a Vietnamese
friend named Mr. Nguyen Cat. He too was a former professional soldier. He
worked in the General Merchandise Office, where he was in charge of bicycles. He
monitored the movement of certain goods, mainly bicycles. I often translated short
stories from Chinese books and newspapers. As Mr. Cat was good friends with the
editor of the newspaper Thoi Moi (New Times), I asked him to take my translated
stories to his friend. All these short stories were published and we received
royalties for them, which we used to buy breakfast. Mr. Cat and I also became
good friends.
On one occasion Mr. Cat asked me to accompany him to the General
Merchandise Import-Export Company to receive bicycles for the Miscellaneous
Goods Import-Export Company. During our visit he introduced me to someone he
knew there and this enabled me to buy a very beautiful bicycle of the Favorit
model.[2] At that time bicycles were allocated only as special rewards and with
prior approval, so I was very happy.
Kim Anh also took a job at the Miscellaneous Goods Import-Export
Company -- in the Arts and Crafts Department, on a contractual basis. As the
children were still young, after a while she asked to leave the job. She continued
doing some work at home and was provided with materials for that purpose. Only
in 1964 did she return to work on a permanent basis. Later she was transferred to a
firm manufacturing woolen goods under the Bureau of Light Industry.
When I had just started at the Miscellaneous Goods Import-Export Company
the Mai Lam Dike on the outskirts of Hanoi broke. Like many others, I was put to
work for ten days to repair the dike. On returning home I had hardly had time to
rest when the company mobilized me again. But I was too tired and did not go
again.
After a while the leadership wanted to send me to Bach Long Vi Island to
take charge of a team of interpreters there.[3] The Miscellaneous Goods Import-
Export Company did not want me to go, but could not openly oppose a decision of
the leadership. The company sent a cadre from its personnel office named Mr.
Nguyen Kha Ke to talk with me. He said: “If you go to Bach Long Vi Island you
will be permanently stationed there and belong to the Haiphong municipal
administration. You will not be able to return to Hanoi.”
“In that case I won't go,” I said.
“Good,” replied Mr. Ke, “but you have to give a reason why you cannot go.”
At that time Kim Anh was expecting our son Hung. That was a good reason
for me to give. I told Mr. Ke that my wife was having a baby very soon and we had
no one else to take care of the young children.
Mr. Ke was very happy to hear that. He asked me to recommend someone to
go in my place. Straight away I recommended Mr. Ngo Tam Dan, who was then
working at the Finance Ministry. Mr. Ke left to report to the leadership. As a result,
Mr. Ngo Tam Dan was sent to Bach Long Vi Island instead of me. He was
overjoyed to accept this assignment, because he had two brothers working in
Haikou, the capital city of Hainan, which was not very far away from Bach Long
Vi Island. He hoped that he would be able to go to Haikou to visit his brothers. It
was a rare chance for him.
The import-export business continued to grow. In 1958 the Ministry of
Foreign Trade decided to set up a commercial agency in Hong Kong in order to
expand Vietnam's trade with the Hong Kong market. The ministry appointed Mr.
Ngo Thanh Giang and Mr. Tran Hoan Thong to go to Hong Kong to establish
contact with Chinese import-export companies and related agencies there and
request their help in learning how to do business in the Hong Kong market.
However, the Hong Kong offices of these organizations had not received
corresponding instructions from their head offices and without such instructions
they were unwilling to provide any assistance. Mr. Ngo Thanh Giang and Mr. Tran
Hoan Thong stayed in Hong Kong about one year without learning anything or
doing any business. Mr. Ngo Thanh Giang had to return to Vietnam, leaving Mr.
Tran Hoan Thong alone in Hong Kong.
Later the Ministry of Foreign Trade appointed Mr. Nguyen Duan and myself
to head a ministry delegation to go to Guangzhou for negotiations with the
Southern China Foreign Trade Bureau and the Guangdong Province Foreign Trade
Bureau. The head of the Chinese delegation was Mr. Nghiem Tuan, director of the
Guangdong Province Foreign Trade Bureau.
At the conference our delegation requested the Chinese side to share with us
their experience of the Hong Kong market -- how they assessed the situation on
that market, which export goods were in demand there, how they had developed
their business network and relationships with banks, transport companies, and
insurance companies, how they had set up their own business agency. We asked
for guidance concerning the rules and regulations governing the conduct of
business in Hong Kong. We also requested that Vietnam's import-export
companies be allowed to join the Guangzhou Trade Association. Finally, we asked
the Chinese side to help train Vietnamese students in China.
The Chinese side granted all our requests. They agreed to help our ministry
establish a general import-export agency in Hong Kong called Vinacor Hong Kong
(Vinacor HK for short). Vietnam's import-export companies would be allowed to
join the Guangzhou Trade Association and display their goods at its twice-yearly
(spring and autumn) trade exhibitions of Chinese export goods (China Expo). At
that time Vietnam was the only socialist country accorded these privileges.
So our negotiations were very successful. We were really happy. During our
stay in Guangzhou we were warmly received by Mr. Dao Chu, secretary of the
Southern China Foreign Trade Bureau, by Mr. Tran Hao, chairman of the
executive committee of Guangdong Province, and by many other province leaders.
A reception was arranged for us. We were taken to visit some enterprises
producing export goods and many other places. Never before had I felt so proud. I
was very happy and enthusiastic. After Mr. Nguyen Duan and I returned home
from the negotiations, I was appointed to go to Guangzhou twice each year to
oversee the display of our goods at the trade exhibitions of the Guangzhou Trade
Association. I continued to make these trips until the middle of 1960.
Before each trade exhibition opened our Chinese colleagues made very
thorough preparations. We were assigned rooms ready for our use. Workers and
technicians were also sent to help decorate our exhibition rooms. We did not have
to pay for anything. The Chinese side supplied materials and paid all expenses.
True to the spirit of proletarian internationalism, the Chinese workers and
technicians worked hard at all hours of the day and night so that our rooms should
be ready in time for the opening.
The leader of the team of Chinese technicians who helped us was called
Comrade Ly. As we were later to learn, at that time his wife was very sick. She
was at home alone with no one to look after her. Comrade Ly went on working and
made no mention of it. When the task was completed, Comrade Nguyen Trong
Tinh, the head of our group, invited him to share a friendly meal with us as an
expression of our appreciation. Comrade Ly thanked him but declined. As we kept
on inviting him, he eventually told us the truth about his domestic situation. Now
that the work was done he just wanted to go home and take care of his wife.
Comrade Nguyen Trong Tinh and I were very moved to hear this. We could not
hold back our tears.
When the exhibition opened many buyers came to do business with us. At
that time I was the only one with the ability to interpret for our group and this
made things very difficult. The leaders of the Guangdong Province Foreign Trade
Bureau saw the situation and immediately arranged for two additional interpreters
-- one Chinese comrade from Beijing and another from Nanning[4] -- to fly to
Guangzhou to help us. With their assistance our business went smoothly. The
Chinese side paid the interpreters’ travel and living expenses.
In order to help Vietnam identify goods that could be exported for foreign
currency, develop their production, and create jobs for its people, Vietnamese
workers were sent for training in various places in Guangdong Province such as
Guangzhou, Dongguan, Nanhai, Xinfeng, and Futian, where they were taught how
to make and prepare arts and crafts products for export -- for example, rugs, straw
mats, bamboo chairs, palm tree leaves, ivory goods (mainly from elephant tusks),
silver goods, and painted and lacquered pictures.
The Vietnamese trainees always received sincere and impartial guidance
from the Chinese import-export companies and related agencies, enabling them to
learn production techniques as quickly as they could and be of the greatest possible
value to their enterprises upon their return home. Vietnam's import-export
companies began to sell the new products to other countries as well as to different
parts of Vietnam. All the techniques learned from China were put to good use.
With the wholehearted assistance of the Chinese side, the Miscellaneous
Goods Import-Export Company and the Arts and Crafts Import-Export Company
exported increasing quantities of goods, earned considerable amounts of foreign
currency, and provided employment for several tens of thousands of workers.
Responsible Vietnamese officials will always cherish fond memories of the
fraternal aid given by China. Even after many storms and hurricanes, they still
have good feelings about China.
On one of these trips to the exhibition of the Guangzhou Trade Association
our delegation was led by Mr. Nguyen Trong Vuong, a deputy director of the
General Import-Export Company and my boss there. He was a demobilized army
officer. He was very mean, resentful, and narrow-minded, and had no sympathy for
lower-ranking staff. If he saw that one of his subordinates was more capable than
him, he would surreptitiously look for some way to bring that person down. One
Sunday the Chinese side invited our delegation to go and watch an international
football game. Mr. Vuong did not let us go but made us stay at work. I sincerely
asked him to allow the staff to go. This, I said, was the first time they had been
abroad and it would encourage them to work even better. I offered to stay and do
all our work myself. However, he was determined not to allow them to go. He
thought that I was beneath him and had no right to express my opinion. He secretly
took offense and waited for the day when he would have the chance to take
revenge against me.
After everyone else returned to Vietnam Mr. Duan and I, as the managers
responsible for our display, remained behind in Guangzhou to dismantle the
display and send the exhibits back to Vietnam. While we were away the company
considered the matter of raising salaries of staff members. Someone argued at a
meeting that my salary should be raised, but Mr. Vuong was strongly opposed. The
argument continued but he remained adamant. It was finally agreed to await the
return of Mr. Duan and ask him to solve the problem.[5] When Mr. Duan returned
Mr. Vuong took the problem to him.
Mr. Duan told him: “Mr. Quang is a good worker. He works hard and has
great potential. He deserves to have his salary raised. This is a small problem. Why
could you not solve it? Why did you have to wait for my return?” Mr. Vuong had
to agree to raise my salary, but he was still angry.
I had already been in the North for over twenty years. I had worked in many
departments and directly assisted many important leaders. I had discovered that the
majority of leaders were very good people who took care of their subordinates.
This Mr. Vuong was the only exception. He was narrow-minded and mean. (Later,
when I returned to the South, I was to encounter another like him, named Mr. Dinh
Trac.) There were no good feelings between Mr. Vuong and his subordinates. Later
he was the target of a great deal of well-deserved criticism from staff in the
General Merchandise Company.
As I mentioned, the Ministry of Foreign Trade had decided to open a general
import-export agency in Hong Kong (Vinacor HK). The head of the team sent to
Hong Kong was Mr. Bui Khon; the other team members were Mr. Le Minh Cam,
Mr. Ly Minh Xuan, and Mr. Tran Hoan Thong. After a little while the ministry
recalled Mr. Tran Hoan Thong to Vietnam and appointed in his place Mr. Ngo
Thieu Huy. Mr. Ngo Thieu Huy, whose nickname was Brother Phi, came from an
ethnic minority group in Thai Nguyen Province in the Far North. He spoke poor
Chinese and had no knowledge of foreign trade.
So the team had a lot of problems. Trying to improve the situation, Comrade
Bui Khon repeatedly invited me to come and work at Vinacor HK. Our family was
big by then. My wife did not yet have a steady job and the children were still small.
So I declined.
In 1959 Kim Anh gave birth to Cuong. I was appointed to join a foreign
trade survey group on a tour of China's Guangdong Province. We visited many
places in the province, including Forshan, Xin Hui, Shantou, Huiyang, Haifeng,
Jiangmen, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Taishan, Nanhai, Donghua, and Haikou
(Hainan).
The head of the group was Mr. Nguyen Trong Tinh, director of Department
II of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. Upon our arrival in Haikou, knowing that I had
an old mother in a nearby village, he decided that I should visit her. In view of my
official responsibilities I did not immediately agree to go. But he insisted that I
should go at once. I had to comply. My visit was arranged by the Hainan Area
Reception Department. There was insufficient time to give mother advance notice,
so she did not expect me. When I turned up that day she was taking a nap and
thought that she was dreaming. When she realized that it really was me she cried
for joy. Then she asked the village cadre to telephone for sister Neo, who was
collecting coral from the sea, to come home right away. Mother and children,
brother and sister were reunited. Words cannot express how happy I was.
I stayed for five days. I made careful use of the time, visiting relatives and
friends and touring the collective farm and some other places. Soon enough I had
to bid farewell to mother and sister Neo and rejoin the survey group at Haikou. We
finished the survey work in Hainan, returned to Guangzhou, and from there
proceeded to other places.
At the time of my visit the homeland had just completed land reform and
established collective farms of an advanced type. Large quantities of farm products
were being produced. The life of the huge rural population was changing rapidly.
Wherever I went I saw the signs of a happy, prosperous, and vibrant life.
After returning to Hanoi I wrote an article entitled “Homeland: New
Changes” and submitted it to the Tan Viet Hoa Hanoi newspaper.[6] When it was
published I was overcome with joy. I immediately sent mother several copies of
the issue containing my article, hoping to give her a little comfort and show my
gratitude to her for raising and teaching me. Mother was also very happy when she
received the newspapers. She immediately handed them out to local leaders, who
regarded them as precious keepsakes and in turn passed them on to others. In 1989,
when I again visited the homeland, the old leaders of Pho Tien Township, the
current chairman of the township, and Mr. Lam, the township's current party
secretary, came to visit me. They recalled my article and said that people in the
community had always praised me for really caring about the homeland. That
article had a big impact and greatly helped my career.
Whenever my work took me to Guangzhou I went to the bookstores and
bought all the textbooks I could find on foreign trade. I brought them home to
study and selected those that I thought worth translating into Vietnamese. I
supplied most of those translated texts to foreign trade offices and to the Foreign
Trade University. In this way I earned an additional private income. Altogether I
translated ten books. The Foreign Trade University was overjoyed to receive these
books because it had only recently been carved out of the Foreign Affairs
University as a separate institution and did not have money for textbooks. Those
books that it did have were used only for reference.
Gradually I acquired a reputation as a knowledgeable specialist among
people in the field of foreign trade and especially among Chinese-Vietnamese
translators and interpreters and staff of the import-export company. They had great
respect for me and regarded me as their teacher. Whenever they had Vietnamese
documents translated into Chinese they brought them to me to correct any errors. I
was always glad to help. In this way I built a good relationship with everyone in
the field and laid a solid foundation for my future. The leadership trusted me and
made use of my skills. Whenever they had an important job they assigned me to
work on it. It was a big honor for me.
In September 1960 there took place the Third National Congress of the
Vietnam Workers' Party (previously the Vietnam Communist Party). Before the
plenary session I was assigned to translate the congress documents into Chinese.
Among the Overseas Chinese who worked with me on the translations were Mr.
Trang Dung, Mr. Dinh Luc, Mr. Ton Nhan Hung, and Mr. Thai Tho Vien.
During our work we were honored with a visit from Chairman Ho Chi Minh
and had a photograph taken with him to commemorate the occasion. Chairman Ho
showed great concern for us, especially with regard to our meals. He asked us:
“How are your food and drink?” We replied: “Dear Uncle, our food is the same as
the food given to all personnel serving the party congress.” After that, Uncle Ho
talked to Mr. Nguyen Luong Bang, the chief organizer of the congress. He told
him: “The translator-interpreters all work very hard. You must treat them in the
same way as you treat the congress delegates.” As a result we were well fed at the
congress.
When the congress was over I was assigned to translate into Chinese some
Vietnamese texts on military affairs for the benefit of the Chinese military advisers
who were helping us prepare for the fight to liberate the South and unite the
country.
After I finished translating the military texts, the Ministry of Foreign Trade
decided to send me to work at Vinacor HK. I still did not want to go. I presented
evidence to show that I did not speak the Guangzhou dialect. The ministry leaders
were not convinced. They told me: “Comrade, this is a party decision. You must
accept it. If you do not we shall take disciplinary action against you.” Hearing that,
I dared not refuse.
Before taking up my new assignment in Hong Kong, I sponsored a colleague
named Mr. Thai Hoa for party membership. Mr. Thai Hoa had worked with me at
the General Import-Export Company in Hanoi. He was a southerner and the son of
a martyr. His father had been a revolutionary activist in Saigon. He was arrested by
the reactionary government of Ngo Dinh Diem, taken to the Chi Hoa Prison, and
poisoned to death there. His son was brought to Hanoi, where he studied Russian.
After graduating he was assigned to work as a Russian translator at the General
Import-Export Company. He and I shared a room. He was naive and humble and
studied hard. Although he had already graduated he continued to learn. At that time
there was no Vietnamese-Russian dictionary, so he used a Chinese-Russian
dictionary. As he did not know Chinese he often asked me to help. We became best
friends. After I was sent to Hong Kong he was appointed as a commercial attache
in Russia. Upon his return he was placed in charge of the office. He was always
grateful to me. Every lunar new year, both before his departure for Russia and after
his return until the South was liberated, he made it his custom to bring his wife and
children to pay their respects to our family.

Notes

[1] A rural district of Quang Ngai Province. The uprising was crushed by the
French colonial regime.

[2] This model came from Czechoslovakia. Mass production began in Rokycany
in 1948. The model was relaunched in 2011 in Kunovice by the Favorit
Czechoslovakia Company.
[3] Bach Long Vi Island is in the Gulf of Tonkin, about halfway between
Haiphong and Hainan Island. Its administrative status is that of an offshore district
of Haiphong. Although its inhabitants are Vietnamese, the leadership wanted
interpreters there to deal with any Chinese who might arrive on the island.

[4] Capital of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, 561 kilometers west of
Guangzhou.

[5] As leader of the delegation Mr. Vuong had higher rank than Mr. Duan within
the delegation. Within the company, however, Mr. Duan had higher rank.

[6] A Chinese-language periodical for Overseas Chinese in Vietnam.

Chapter 26. At Vinacor Hong Kong and after my return

I left for Hong Kong on March 15, 1961, exactly two months after Kim Anh gave
birth to our son Manh.
The head of Vinacor HK was Mr. Tran Xuan Phoi. Under him were Mr. Le
Dinh Can and myself. My mission was to represent the General Import-Export
Company, the General Import-Export Arts and Crafts Company, and the Haiphong
Import-Export Company, and at the same time to perform administrative functions
for Vinacor HK, including financial control, translation and interpreting, market
research, and liaison with Chinese import-export companies and related agencies in
Hong Kong.
The first task that I set myself was to put the property belonging to Vinacor
HK into good order. For a couple of years stocks of goods and private possessions
had accumulated in the office, using up almost all the working space. The goods
came from several general import-export companies in Vietnam and had been
originally intended for exhibition in Indonesia, but due to a political upheaval in
Indonesia could not reach their destination and were diverted to Hong Kong. Now
they were crammed into our office, for which we were paying a monthly rent of
3,000 Hong Kong dollars (HK $), equivalent to 20 taels of gold.[1] I started sending
goods back to the general import-export company in Vietnam. Gradually our office
acquired the appearance of a regular government agency.
I also presented proposals to regulate staff activities and spending.
Previously the representative of each general company had reported only to his
own company, bypassing the head of Vinacor HK, who therefore had no idea of
what was going on. Even when Mr. Tran Xuan Phoi was head, Mr. Le Dinh Can
continued acting in the same way. When the ministry leadership asked Mr. Phoi for
details of our work, he was unable to answer.
As for spending, previously staff had always used agency funds to go to
movies, plays, and concerts and for other leisure activities. When the agency car
broke down they went to work by taxi. Each trip cost HK $20. To receive guests
they bought Brand 555 cigarettes in tins, each tin costing HK $2. I proposed that
we adopt a clear system of financial control and also a rule that before any report
was sent back to one of the general companies it had to be shown to the head of the
agency and his opinion had to be taken into account. For leisure activities staff
should use their own money. When the agency car broke down staff should go to
work by tram, which would cost HK $0.20 per trip. There was no need to splash
out on taxis. Brand 555 cigarettes should be bought in packets, which cost only HK
$1. Mr. Phoi accepted my proposals, as did Mr. Le Dinh Can.
I also succeeded in establishing excellent relations with Chinese import-
export companies and related agencies in Hong Kong. Our Chinese friends
willingly gave us their wholehearted help. So our business proceeded smoothly and
grew very fast. We were always able to satisfy any requests from the general
import-export companies in Vietnam. I also sold most of the goods previously
stored in our office. The ministry leadership and the heads of the general import-
export companies were very pleased with my work.
In 1963 I used my leave to visit my family in Hanoi. Mr. Phoi invited me to
draw one month’s salary in advance in order to buy gifts for my family. I thanked
him for his kindness but did not draw the money. At the end of my term, when I
was about to return home, he told me: “If in the future you want to buy anything
that is not available in Vietnam, just let me know and I'll be glad to help.” Again I
thanked him for his kindness but never took up his offer. In that way I gained his
trust and respect as well as the confidence of the ministry leadership.
On March 15, 1964 I had worked at Vinacor HK for exactly three years.
Considering that I had completed my mission, I asked the ministry leadership to
allow me to return to Vietnam. Mr. Phoi, with the backing of Mr. Le Binh, head of
the General Import-Export Company for Food and Agricultural Products, and Mr.
Vu Phong, head of the General Import-Export Company for Forestry Products,
tried to make me stay on for another three-year term. However, with the war
expanding every day, I felt that I could not leave my wife and children to suffer
without my care. I was determined to go back.
Mr. Phoi finally had to agree to my departure. As he saw me prepare to
leave, he became melancholy and was moved to tears. He told me: “It is good for
your wife and children that you are returning home, but for our office it is truly a
great loss. Without you we could not have enjoyed our present success. Only you
could have established good relations with the Chinese import-export companies
and related agencies. Only you could have won their trust and sincere help.”
Hearing this, I too was moved to tears. I knew that he was speaking from the
heart. He had a very high opinion of me. Later, when he returned to Vietnam, he
spoke highly of me to the ministry leadership, just as he had promised. It was true
that we owed a lot to our Chinese friends, who came to regard our office as a
foreign affairs agency, always invited us to join them for entertainments, and
introduced us to many prominent people -- government officials, big businessmen
who had business dealings with China, directors of banks, insurance companies,
and shipping companies, the chairmen and managers of the Chinese business
associations in Hong Kong and Singapore, newspaper editors, and journalists.
While working at Vinacor HK, Mr. Phoi and I lived together. We
sympathized with and learned from one another. He helped me improve my literary
and diplomatic Vietnamese. Although I was his subordinate we became very good
friends.
In Hong Kong I acquired real practical experience of state business. I
learned to speak the Guangzhou dialect much better and greatly improved my
written Chinese. In my free time I wrote several articles about the economic
situation in South Vietnam. I submitted them to a Hong Kong business journal that
willingly published them. As this journal was also read in Singapore my articles
were republished in an Indonesian business periodical. This was a big
encouragement to me.
While at Vinacor HK I helped a struggling Hong Kong businessman named
Mr. To Ke Thao. Later he was promoted to director of the Shin Sang Import-
Export Company, which had business dealings with the Vietnam general import-
export companies, and became a millionaire.
Mr. Thao began his career as an assistant at a general merchandise store in
Hong Kong. This store often imported Vietnamese medicinal herbs from Vietnam.
It was a small family business. The business did not do well and soon went
bankrupt. Mr. Thao found himself unemployed. He came to our agency and asked
to do business with us. After we checked with the Chinese Import-Export Bank
and discovered that he had only HK $5,000 in his bank account the other staff
members of our agency ignored him. He begged me to help him do business with
us. As he and I were both Chinese, I agreed to help him establish contact with the
Vietnam general import-export companies and buy from them some odds and ends
of merchandise that the big companies did not want.
I told Mr. Thao that if he wanted to do business with us he had to be honest
and repay any credit we gave him. He promised to do so. At first he bought only
fresh bananas and Vietnamese medicinal herbs. Gradually he expanded his
business and started to buy other kinds of merchandise. By that time North
Vietnam was undergoing incessant American air raids and no longer wanted to risk
shipping valuable merchandise. The country was exporting only goods of little
value that the big Hong Kong companies were not interested in buying. So the
Vietnam general import-export companies sold them to Mr. Thao.
Later, after South Vietnam was liberated and the country reunited, there
were border clashes between Vietnam and China and Vietnam adopted a policy of
hostility to Chinese, including Overseas Chinese. Hong Kong businessmen who
previously bought Vietnamese goods now boycotted Vietnam. Not knowing what
else to do, the Vietnam general import-export companies once again sold all their
merchandise, from gold to bran, to Mr. Thao's Shin Sang Company, which had
never done business with China. In the course of ten years Mr. Thao made an
enormous profit.
In my three years at Vinacor HK I always did my best. With the help of my
comrades at the agency and Chinese friends in Hong Kong I achieved a great deal.
Surely I deserved praise. Nevertheless, I had to work under extremely heavy
pressure. Like all personnel working overseas, I was kept under strict surveillance
by the secret service. Whenever I left the office, even if it was only to mail a letter
home to my family, a secret agent would follow me. The slightest mistake could
ruin one's whole future.
One Saturday evening a Vietnamese ship, the Thong Nhat (Unification),
docked in Hong Kong. Mr. Phoi told me to go visit the sailors on board. I took the
road along the seashore. As I was walking there suddenly appeared a beautiful
young woman. She gestured to me with her hand and said: “Won't you come to my
place? You can have anything you want.” I was very frightened. Ignoring her, I
looked straight ahead and quickened my pace. At last I reached the safety of the
Port Administration office.
After visiting the sailors I returned to the agency. Mr. Phoi kidded me: “Why
were you in such a hurry today, Mr. Han?”
“I was almost kidnapped,” I replied.
“I know,” he said.
I had not realized that Mr. Phoi himself was following me. I was very lucky.
Had I stopped even for a moment when that woman accosted me I would have
been in big trouble. For a minor offense you were criticized and warned; anything
more serious entailed disciplinary action. I could have been recalled to Vietnam
and cast down into hell. Never again could I have raised my head.
We were also kept under secret surveillance by the British authorities in
Hong Kong. If the British embassy in Hanoi were displeased for any reason then
the British authorities in Hong Kong would find some way to take revenge on us.
For example, they sent people to photograph us publicly as we left our house for
work in the morning. In an attempt to scare us, we were also closely followed
when we went to visit stores after work.
Social conditions in Hong Kong were extremely turbulent. Every day there
was a kidnapping, a murder, an armed robbery, or some other big crime. It caused
us a lot of worry.
In Hong Kong there was a consulate of the South Vietnamese government. It
had a large staff, but they were very frightened of us. They too secretly sent people
to follow us. Once Mr. Le Dinh Can and I were in a general merchandise store,
examining the goods on sale and taking note of prices, when we were approached
by several South Vietnamese.
“You must take care,” one of them warned us. “There are Vietnamese
communists here.”
“What, are you scared of Vietnamese communists?” asked Mr. Can.
“This is an instruction from the consulate,” he replied. “We must all be
vigilant.”
On another occasion I was walking on the street alone when I met Mr. Han
Tu Phong. He was a relative of mine who used to live in Go Boi. In order to evade
the draft he had run off to Hong Kong and settled there. He seemed very frightened
and also embarrassed to see me. He thought that I had come to Hong Kong to
engage in some sort of political activity. Straight away he whispered to me:
“Brother Quang, you have to be careful.”
I explained my position: “I now work for an agency that represents the
Vietnam general import-export companies in Hong Kong. I'm here to do business
for them.”
He calmed down.
“Do you want to do any business?” I continued. “I may be able to help you.”
He paid a visit to our office to obtain information about business
opportunities, but unfortunately he decided not to do any business with us. So I
forgot about him. Later, after the South was liberated, he returned to Saigon and
told Mr. Four Dan Loi that he had a cousin engaged in big business in Hong Kong.
“Who might that be?” asked Mr. Dan Loi.
“Mr. Hung Quang,” he replied.
Mr. Dan Loi laughed and said: “He is my cousin too, you know!”
He had suddenly remembered that we were all cousins.
When I was nearing the end of my term of service and making preparations
to return to Vietnam, the Ministry of Foreign Trade appointed Mr. Truong Duc
Hoa to replace me. As Mr. Hoa was an official of the Ministry of Foreign Trade
and also an Overseas Chinese like myself, I was too trusting and sympathetic
toward him. I was unaware of his connections with the secret police. I wanted to
help him work as well as he could. When he arrived at the agency, Mr. Phoi
wanted to arrange a quick test of his knowledge of Chinese (a very important
requirement) by giving him a contract in Vietnamese and asking him to translate it
into Chinese. Mr. Phoi asked me to look over his translation.
I quietly expressed my misgivings. “As you have told me to do it I have to
obey. But it would really be better not to set him this sort of test. I'm afraid it will
cause misunderstanding and division among us.”
“Never mind,” replied Mr. Phoi. “If anything happens I shall assume
responsibility. We must fulfill our whole responsibility to the ministry.”
Indeed, as I expected, Mr. Hoa saw me looking over his translation. He
seemed annoyed, but he said nothing and I took little notice. A few days later I
offered my assistance to Mr. Hoa:
“I’ve been here three years. I’ve learned a lot about this city. I’ll be glad to
tell you whatever you need to know to continue the work.”
At that Mr. Hoa exploded with anger. His face and ears turned red, his veins
swelled up, his eyes opened wide.
“I am a ministry official,” he yelled at me, “not a translator!”
I said no more. From then on Mr. Hoa did not talk to any of us. Every day
after returning from work he took a chair outside into the courtyard, sat there
alone, and talked to nobody. Mr. Phoi and Mr. Can were puzzled.
“Mr. Hoa is a party member like us,” remarked Mr. Phoi. “He has only just
arrived, but already he is showing a bad attitude. We have no idea what he’s up to.
It’s very strange.”
Before setting off for Vietnam I asked Mr. Hoa whether he would like me to
take anything back with me for his family. He made no answer. I felt like laughing.
He was a party member and had been chosen to work overseas, but he had a mean
attitude and was behaving like a child. It was a real pity. I knew that his wife had a
heart condition and wanted to help her, so I used my own money to buy a lot of
vitamins for her.
There was another episode involving Mr. Hoa that made me half laugh and
half cry. Just after he arrived in Hong Kong, Chinese friends of ours organized a
party and invited us to come. In a quiet voice I gave Mr. Hoa some advice:
“The friends who have invited us often offer us a lot of wine. We must take
care not to drink too much.”
But he took no heed. It was his first time abroad and he was greedy for new
sensations. He drank and drank and drank. Soon he was swaying from side to side.
Then he vomited and fell down. Mr. Phoi and Mr. Can were upset and
embarrassed. They did not know what to do. They could only apologize to our
friends.
After returning to Vietnam I heard that Mr. Hoa and the other comrades at
the agency were not getting along well. So the ministry recalled them all home.
My three years at Vinacor HK were also the three years of the great famine
in China. My Chinese mother and sister in Hainan were in dire straits. To help
them through those difficult times, I arranged for them to receive every month at
my expense several tens of kilograms of rice, cooking oil, sugar, condensed milk,
medicine, clothes, and other provisions. I also sent them money. The leadership of
the Ministry of Foreign Trade had given me permission to go to Hainan to visit
them before returning to Vietnam. Then, however, with the war in Vietnam
expanding, they changed their mind and ordered me to return immediately and take
up a new mission. Soon after that my Chinese mother fell sick and passed away. It
was heartbreaking to be unable to see her one last time.
After Chinese mother's death sister Neo got married and went to live with
her husband and build a new life.
While I was getting ready to return home, Mr. Duong Van Dam, chairman of
the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce, paid a visit to our agency on his way back
from a meeting in Japan. Mr. Phoi asked me to take our visitor on a tour of Hong
Kong. I welcomed him with all my heart and took him everywhere in Hong Kong.
He was very interested and happy. He really liked me. He was honest, good-
natured, and approachable. He promised me: “After you return I shall definitely
ask the leadership of your ministry to assign you to work with me at the Chamber
of Commerce.” I sincerely thanked him. Indeed, as soon as I arrived back in
Vietnam he did as he had promised.
At that time an educational campaign was underway in the country to
“preserve the party.” I too took part. The party branch at the Ministry of Foreign
Trade told me to write a report with clear details of everything I had done during
my three years in Hong Kong -- for example, with whom I had worked, when,
what I had said, and who knew his job.
Among those who took part in the campaign in our section were Comrades
Ngo Khon Dao and Ngo Khon Phuc. They had to write detailed personal histories.
They were both very worried because they had once applied to join the Chinese
Kuomintang. If they reported this fact they would have a lot of problems. If they
omitted it they might be accused of concealing the truth and creeping into the party
on false pretenses. Then they would suffer even more hardship. They came to ask
my advice. I advised them not to complicate things by reporting the matter. If
anyone checked up on them I would willingly clarify the issue on their behalf. My
reassurance gave them peace of mind. Nothing happened and they both remained
safe and sound.
On my return to Vietnam I visited the General Import-Export Company to
see my old comrades -- all the people I had known before leaving for Hong Kong.
The company was then in the throes of the “Three Build, Three Oppose”
campaign. My friends at the company told me that a new deputy director had
recently been appointed. Her name was Miss Ho Thi Minh. She was the adopted
daughter of Chairman Ho Chi Minh. (Because she knew French, during the anti-
French Resistance War she had been sent to Paris with a delegation of Vietnamese
women to attend an international women’s conference. Chairman Ho thought so
highly of her that he adopted her.) So with Ho Chi Minh's sponsorship she was
appointed a deputy director of the General Import-Export Company. She was vain,
conceited, and pretentious and had evil intentions. From the start she aimed to
bring down the management of the company and become its director. Taking
advantage of the campaign, she incited some dishonest people who were
dissatisfied with the current management to come forward and fabricate
accusations against company director Mr. Nguyen Trong Vuong and also against
some other members of the management. Mr. Vuong and the others were accused
of stealing gold and silver, which were used as raw materials in the production of
luxury goods. They were dragged out and kicked and beaten until they were black
and blue. Mr. Vuong could not bear the ordeal. There was nothing he could do, so
he decided to commit suicide. Fortunately, he was found in time and his life was
saved.
Then Miss Ho Thi Minh went to Chairman Ho and gave him a false report.
She told him that deputy director Mr. Nguyen Xuan Ba had conspired with Mr.
Vuong to steal gold and silver bars belonging to the company. When he heard her
report Chairman Ho got very angry and said: “Send people to arrest him and bring
him here so that I can pluck out his beard. Let's see whether he continues to do
such things after that.”
When Mr. Nguyen Xuan Ba heard of this he was scared to death. He could
not stop trembling. The poor man was unable to confide in anyone. He called to
Heaven, but Heaven did not answer. He called to Earth, but Earth did not hear. He
too tried to commit suicide, and he too received medical treatment in time to save
his life. This “Three Build, Three Oppose” campaign was throwing the company
into disorder. The more they fought, the more the fighting got out of control. There
was no way to stop it. Mutual suspicion spread up to higher and higher leadership
levels. Then the top leadership started to doubt the accusations and appointed a
team of professional investigators headed by Mr. Nguyen Quoc Thai to go to the
company and investigate the case. Their conclusion was that the accusations were
false. Mr. Nguyen Trong Vuong and Mr. Nguyen Xuan Ba were not corrupt after
all. They had not stolen public property. However, they did have a very
bureaucratic and authoritarian style of leadership. They showed no sympathy for
their subordinates and ignored their opinions. So some members of the staff had
taken advantage of the campaign to exact revenge. They were encouraged to do so
by Miss Ho Thi Minh, who aimed to gain control of the company. The verdict was
clear, but in order to save face the leadership took no action against Miss Ho Thi
Minh but only transferred her to a different organization.
And that was the end of the story as I heard it from my friends.
“You were lucky to have left the company before all this happened,” they
added. “If you had still been here you too would have been dragged into the affair
and it would have become even more complicated.”
“Yes,” I thought to myself, “I am indeed lucky.”
After my return to Vietnam I received a letter from my younger cousin Boi
in Hainan (Second Uncle’s son). He wrote: “My son is now grown up and it is time
for him to marry. But he has no house so no girl will fall in love with him. Please
give me the half of the house that you inherited from your father so that my son
can find a wife.” I agreed to his request. The whole house now belonged to cousin
Boi and his son was married.
In 1993 a big typhoon struck Hainan and caused severe damage to the house.
Cousin Boi sent me a letter appealing to me for whatever help I could give. So we
sent him money to repair the house. Soon we received another letter from him,
saying that the house was completely restored and was now the most beautiful
house in the village. We were very happy for cousin Boi.

Note

[1] A Hong Kong dollar at this time was equivalent to about 17 US cents. A tael is
a weight used in China, equivalent to an ounce and three quarters or 50 grams.

Chapter 27. At the Chamber of Commerce. The Sino-Soviet split

After my return to Vietnam the minister of foreign trade assigned me to work at the
Vietnam Chamber of Commerce. My main task was to research, edit, and compile
documents about the market situation in Hong Kong, Singapore, and other
southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines,
and Burma. I also had to write up the results of our work experience in the Hong
Kong market and create files on individual businessmen whom I had met in Hong
Kong.
All those documents provided important reference information for general
import-export companies and related agencies in Vietnam. During the war few
countries apart from Hong Kong and Singapore did business with Vietnam, so not
many people read the documents. After the South was liberated and the country
united, however, many countries jumped in to establish diplomatic relations and
develop economic ties with Vietnam. All the documents then proved very useful –
a real treasure.
My time at the Chamber of Commerce was also the time when the conflict
between the Chinese and Russian communist parties was at its peak. Vietnam’s
communist party divided into two factions: the members of one faction were close
friends with China while the members of the other were close friends with Russia.
The two factions argued nonstop.
After a while the Central Committee of the Vietnamese communist party
issued its Decision No. 7, which appeared to agree with the viewpoint of the
Chinese communist party. The pro-Russian faction lost face. Many high-ranking
officials lost their positions. Among them were: minister of foreign affairs Mr. Ung
Van Khiem[1]; Mr. Bui Cong Truong, who had only a short time before been
appointed minister of economic affairs; and president of the Vietnam-Soviet
Friendship Society Mr. Duong Bach Mai.
There was also a conflict inside the United Association of Overseas Chinese.
When the chairman of the association, Mr. Ngo Lien, was assigned to work in the
South, Mr. Trang Dung, the deputy chairman, and Mr. Lieu Thang, chairman of the
association’s Hanoi branch, both expected to be named the new chairman. To their
surprise the leadership appointed Mr. Thien Thuy, chief editor of the Tan Viet Hoa
(New Vietnam-China) newspaper. Neither Mr. Trang Dung nor Mr. Lieu Thang
was happy with this turn of events. However, Mr. Trang Dung was wise enough to
keep his disappointment to himself, while Mr. Lieu Thang was foolish enough to
express his dissatisfaction openly. As a result, he lost even his modest position as
chairman of the Hanoi branch.
At this time a delegation from the Czechoslovak National Assembly was
visiting Vietnam. The Czechoslovak delegates and the Vietnamese leaders who
received them agreed that the positions of the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet
party were correct, even though this contradicted Decision No. 7 of the Central
Committee of the Vietnamese party. When Mr. Thien Thuy learned of this, he
remarked to Mr. Trang Dung: “The Old Man has lost his mind.” An anonymous
informer reported this conversation to the leadership. Mr. Thien Thuy was
denounced for opposing Chairman Ho Chi Minh and removed from both his posts
– as chairman of the United Association of Overseas Chinese and as chief editor of
the Tan Viet Hoa newspaper. He was replaced as chief editor by Mr. Dinh Luc.
After that there was yet another scandal involving the Tan Viet Hoa
newspaper. In response to articles in the Chinese press accusing the Russian
communist party of revisionism, the Tan Viet Hoa newspaper published (I don’t
know with what intention) a statement that both the Chinese and the Russian
parties were revisionist. This statement caused a lot of trouble. The Chinese
ambassador in Hanoi complained to the minister of foreign affairs. The outcome
was the dismissal of Mr. Dinh Luc.
Later Mr. Thien Thuy, Mr. Dinh Luc, Mr. Diep Bao Xuan, Mr. Duong Kien,
Mr. Lieu Thang, and several other Overseas Chinese working at the Tan Viet Hoa
newspaper, anxious about the tense political situation in Vietnam, left the country
for China. They preferred to face a hard life in China rather than take the risks of
staying in Vietnam.
After the departure of Mr. Thieu Thuy, the leadership appointed Mrs. Tran
Lang, the wife of Mr. Ly Ban, to serve as deputy chairperson of the Overseas
Chinese Campaign Group. Mr. Thai Nhu Chieu became chief editor of the Tan
Viet Hoa newspaper.
Aiming to preserve unity both inside the Vietnamese communist party and
between the Vietnamese party and the parties of all fraternal countries, the Central
Committee of the Vietnamese party sent all party members an instruction to
maintain neutrality in the Soviet-Chinese conflict and not favor either side. Anyone
who violated neutrality would face disciplinary action. In practice, however, the
many party members who said bad things about Russia were all disciplined but if
anyone said something bad about China it was ignored – the leadership pretended
to know nothing about it.
On one occasion Mrs. Tran Lang complained about this in the presence of
colleagues at the Overseas Chinese Campaign Group. It was not fair, she said.
Anyone who insulted Russia was disciplined, but if anyone insulted China the
party did nothing about it. An anonymous informer reported what she had said.
The leadership labeled her a pro-Chinese element, dismissed her, and abolished her
post.
For some reason – I don’t know why – Mr. Thai Nhu Chieu too was
dismissed as chief editor of the Tan Viet Hoa newspaper. However, he continued to
hang around at the newspaper office. The new chief editor invited him to draw his
salary on payday every month, but Mr. Chieu said: “I no longer do any work, so I
should not be paid.”
Rather than stay at home doing nothing, Mr. Chieu made a deep study of
acupuncture and started treating people at the newspaper office. Although he
displayed no signboard, he became very popular and attracted many patients,
including middle and high-ranking officials. But he was sowing the seeds of
disaster for himself.
He treated people without charge, although he accepted gifts. Early every
morning his patients were already waiting for him to arrive and cure them,
crowded together like ants in a long line outside the front door of the building. The
newspaper office was starting to look like a private acupuncture clinic. He also
invaded other offices in the same building, such as the office of the United
Association of Overseas Chinese (all organizations of the Overseas Chinese
community had their offices in this building). Half of the staff of these offices were
crying, and the other half seemed about to cry.
Leading personnel from the various offices repeatedly advised Mr. Chieu to
stop invading their space in this way and warned him that he was endangering
public security. Mr. Chieu replied: “These people have come of their own free will.
I did not invite them.”
When police came and chased the patients away, they cursed the police and
came back again as soon as the police had left. One patient, a veteran, told the
police: “We put our lives on the line for you. We have returned from the front sick,
but you don’t cure us. Now we have found someone to cure us and you come to
make trouble for him.” The police could do no more. They accepted the situation
because they understood that the patients were tough characters. No one dared
offend them.
What a headache for the leading office personnel! Unable to persuade Mr.
Chieu to remove his “clinic,” they began to get angry. They urged him to submit an
application to return to China. He replied: “I was born and raised in Vietnam and I
shall die in Vietnam. I refuse to go anywhere else.”

The great power conflict between Russia and China had a big impact on the
situation inside the Vietnamese communist party. According to an internal
communication that I received while in Hong Kong, Mr. Hoang Minh Chinh,
director of the Institute of Marxist-Leninist Philosophy, had created an anti-party
group because he disagreed with Decision No. 7. This institute provided advice to
the Central Committee of the Vietnamese communist party. Policy documents,
slogans – all came from there. For reasons that are unclear to me, he stole secret
party and military documents containing information about troop deployments,
hidden emplacements for anti-aircraft artillery, other weapons and military
equipment, ammunition, the situation in China, and the supply of Chinese aid to
Vietnam. His aim was to take all these documents to the Soviet embassy in Hanoi,
obtain sanctuary there, and escape to Russia, but he was arrested by secret agents
on his way to the embassy. I do not know what happened to Mr. Hoang Minh
Chinh as I was overseas at the time.[2] In accordance with party principle I did not
ask any questions.

When I returned to Vietnam from Hong Kong the American bombing of
North Vietnam was intense and continuous. The bombing was particularly fierce in
the area around Hanoi. The situation was extremely tense. Living conditions were
extremely hard, especially for workers and employees. Food and provisions were
in very short supply. Workers and employees at government agencies and
companies were therefore required to join in labor to supply them with food and
provisions. The union of company personnel also worked hard and liaised with
import-export companies and related agencies in order to supply extra provisions
to improve its members’ daily meals.
The Ministry of Foreign Trade did the same. It was lucky enough to have a
food processing enterprise in Hai Duong that often supplied all units of the
ministry with chicken heads, wings, and legs. There was not enough capacity to
refrigerate these chicken pieces, so they were stuffed into gunny sacks and left
outside in the sun and rain. Even though you could get poisoned by eating such
spoiled food, under wartime conditions people were not fussy. The chicken was
considered a luxury and those who got a portion were very happy. They often
joked that they would rather die with a full stomach than live with an empty one. A
portion was also set aside for me because my colleagues knew that I had been
abroad much of the time and had not yet had a chance to enjoy these delicacies.
When they offered it to me, I expressed my appreciation and tactfully declined.
At this time Kim Anh had just started work making boxes at a packing unit
of a general import-export company. The union organization told her to take her
bicycle and go to a distant storeroom to collect chicken parts and bring them back
to the unit. She had only recently learned to ride a bicycle and was not yet very
good at it. She could not ride a heavily loaded bicycle. But as she had only just
started there she reluctantly agreed. She put a huge bag of chicken parts on the
back seat and half-pushed and half-dragged the bicycle all the way back to her unit.
She arrived exhausted and drenched in sweat. The parts were divided among
everyone in the unit except herself. They told her: “You are new here and not yet a
member of the union, so you do not have the right to a portion.” She had slaved for
them and they were too mean to reward her. Not that it really mattered, because we
would never have eaten such rotten stuff anyway. We were afraid of food
poisoning. Strangely enough, though, I never heard of anyone coming to harm as a
result of eating those spoiled chicken parts.
After a while I was reassigned to the Chamber of Commerce. A few months
later Mr. Tran Xuan Phoi also returned from Hong Kong to assume the post of
chairman of the Chamber of Commerce. We were again happily working together.
During my time there I again often worked abroad.
Once Mr. Phoi and I went with some employees from the Ministry of
Foreign Trade to a collective farm belonging to the ministry in Vinh Phu Province
to grow vegetables for ten days. The collective farm had a cow that had given birth
to a calf two or three days before our arrival. The calf had died and the collective
farmers had thrown it into a canal, but when they saw us coming they fished it out
and cooked it in order to “fatten us up.” Mr. Phoi and I were scared out of our wits.
We could not tear our eyes away, but we dared not eat the meat. However, all the
others enjoyed it.
Once the union organization bought some food to be divided among the
employees. I too was allocated a portion. In our unit there was an employee named
Mr. Tan – a party member and a veteran. Originally from Thua Thien Province, he
spoke with a heavy accent. He was a mean and greedy cheat. Everyone hated him.
On the pretext that the next day he had to worship his ancestors and make an
offering to them, he asked the head of the union organization to give him my
portion. That made the head of the union organization and the other employees
very angry. They mocked him:
“Mr. Quang is a Marxist. We do not see him worshipping anyone. You too
are a Marxist. Why do you worship so much?”
At that Mr. Tan was very embarrassed. He closed his mouth and made no
reply. Everyone else held their tummies and laughed. Although he had been
humiliated, he felt no shame and continued asking for an extra portion. It was
funny and also pitiful.
Mr. Tan was malicious and dangerous. Whenever he heard that anyone in
the organization was due for promotion or for a raise in salary or had been voted a
“Progressive Worker” or assigned to work abroad, he would find some way to
block it. Then he would be pleased with himself and contented.

Notes

[1] Ung Van Khiem was minister of foreign affairs from February 1961 to April
1963, when he was replaced by Xuan Thuy. The author is therefore describing
events that took place in the spring of 1963.

[2] In 1967 Hoang Minh Chinh circulated a critique of party policy. In accordance
with Khrushchev’s strategy of peaceful coexistence, he opposed the use of military
means to liberate the South and unite the country and advocated peaceful
competition between the northern and southern systems. He also advocated
democratization. He was jailed until 1972, then held under house arrest until 1978,
jailed again in 1981, placed under house arrest again in 1987, freed in 1990, and
jailed for another year in 1995. He died in 2008 at the age of 85.


Chapter 28. In China and North Korea with a government delegation

The United States was escalating and expanding its invasion of Vietnam. Civil war
raged in the South. The devastation of the North caused heavy material losses and
great suffering and depressed people’s spirits.
With the aid and support of China, Russia, and other fraternal socialist
countries, we were confident that we would soon win the war against America,
liberate the South, and unite the country.
On June 1, 1965, the party central committee and the Vietnamese
government sent a government economic delegation to visit China, Russia, North
Korea, Mongolia, Cuba, and all the European socialist countries.
The head of the delegation was Mr. Le Thanh Nghi, a member of the
Politburo and a deputy prime minister. The deputy head of the delegation was Mr.
Ly Ban, a member of the central committee and a deputy minister of foreign trade.
The chief secretary of the delegation was Mr. Nguyen Dinh.
The members of the delegation were Mr. Dinh Van Tram, head of
Department I of the Ministry of Foreign Trade, Mr. Nguyen Manh Cam, an adviser
from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, other high-ranking officials and economic
specialists from various ministries, the ambassador of Vietnam to the country
being visited, and myself.
I was selected to accompany the delegation to China and North Korea,
mainly as a translator and interpreter. I would also perform general duties
pertaining to management of the delegation.
When I received the notice of my appointment, I was both happy and
nervous. I was happy to know that the party and the government trusted me and
wanted to use me. I also felt very proud because this was the greatest honor ever
bestowed on anyone in our family. I had long dreamt of going to Beijing, the great
capital of China, and meeting the Chinese leaders. My dream would soon come
true. So I was extremely happy. But at the same time I was nervous because never
before had I worked for such an important delegation. I asked myself whether I had
enough ability to assume such a heavy responsibility. I worried that I might prove
unworthy of the trust of the party and the government. It was a daunting set of
duties. So initially I refused to go. The leadership, however, decided that I must go.
I was very proud to join the delegation.
On June 15, 1965, while I was abroad with the delegation, Kim Anh gave
birth to our youngest son Chien.
The task of the delegation was to ask the countries visited to give Vietnam
economic and military aid. Our delegation visited the same countries again in
September and continued to visit them twice a year. I traveled with the delegation
whenever it visited China or North Korea until the end of 1967.

All the Chinese party, government, and military leaders and the people who
came to see us from Beijing and other places greeted us with great solemnity and
warmth. It was always arranged for us to stay at the Diaoyutai State Guest House.
Prime minister Chou Enlai received us upon our arrival and held a banquet to
welcome us. Other Chinese leaders who received us included Mr. Li Xiannian, Mr.
Li Fuchun, Marshal He Long, Mr. Fang Yi, Mr. Luo Guibo, Marshal Chen Yi,
General Yang Chengwu, Mr. Han Nenlong, and Mr. Li Ke. Group photographs
were taken as souvenirs.
Whenever our delegation visited China, our Chinese hosts always willingly
did their best to satisfy all our needs and requests. From China our delegation
would proceed to North Korea. All the North Korean party, government, and
military leaders and people greeted us with great solemnity and warmth. We were
accommodated at a state guest house. Prime minister Kim Il Sung received us upon
our arrival and held a banquet to welcome us. Other North Korean leaders also
received us. Group photographs were taken as souvenirs.
In every country that we visited our delegation fulfilled its duties with
outstanding success. This was a great honor for our delegation and for me too.
During the years when our delegation was visiting China, the country was
experiencing great difficulties as a result of the Cultural Revolution. However, the
whole country and the Chinese party, government, and armed forces were willing
to tighten their belts and work hard in order to support the just war of the
Vietnamese people against America until final victory. China gave Vietnam
unconditional material and financial aid on a huge scale over a short period.
Vietnamese party and government leaders often described this aid as “extremely
massive, extremely unstinting, extremely comprehensive, extremely timely, and
extremely effective.”
Mr. Le Duan, general secretary of the Vietnamese communist party, also had
to acknowledge that this was completely true. In April 1965 he visited China to
request that Chinese troops be sent to Vietnam. During the negotiations with Mr.
Liu Shaoqi, president of the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Duan said: “We
always think of the great Middle Kingdom as our staunchest friend. The enormous
resources that we receive in aid from China are securely reserved for us.”
After China sent troops to help Vietnam, Mr. Duan bluntly denigrated
Russia and praised China to the skies: “We always think that the country that gives
us the most direct and timely aid, whose people live and die with us, is China and
not Russia.”
On March 23, 1966, Mr. Duan again visited China. During negotiations with
prime minister Chou Enlai, he asked China to increase its aid to Vietnam. He said:
“First of all, on behalf of Chairman Ho Chi Minh and the central committee of the
Vietnamese communist party, let me express our sincere thanks to Chairman Mao
and the central committee of the Chinese communist party for all the aid they have
given to Vietnam. We always think that without the vast material aid that China
has concentrated along our border, without the contribution of China’s People’s
Liberation Army we would be unable to win the war against America and save our
country. We simply could not do it.”
On April 13, 1966, Mr. Le Duan made yet another visit to Beijing to
negotiate with prime minister Chou Enlai and party secretary Deng Xiaoping.
Again he praised China’s aid to Vietnam: “We always think that China is our
closest friend. China has given us the greatest and most effective aid. The
Vietnamese party and people will never forget this.”
In just a few short years China provided unconditional aid to Vietnam worth
about two billion US dollars, not including food and clothing. China provided
military supplies for two million troops, ammunition and other war material, and
all kinds of weapons – modern guns, fighter planes, missiles, anti-aircraft and other
artillery. China also built factories in Vietnam to repair weapons and produce all
sorts of secret items.
In addition, China sent large quantities of military material and civilian
goods to the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam.
At the request of the Vietnamese party and government, China gave
Vietnam up to 400 essential goods both for the front and for the rear, including:

30,000 trucks

over 20 million tons of oil, 3,000 km of oil pipe, and an oil pipeline from the
Chinese border direct to South Vietnam

a railway several hundred kilometers long and trains

five million tons of food

300 million meters of various kinds of fabric

tens of thousands of tons of assorted provisions

several hundred million US dollars in cash

China designated the provinces of Hunan, Hubei, and Guangdong and the
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region as support zones for Vietnam’s war against
America. These zones were assigned to provide material and human resources to
aid fraternal Vietnam. Numerous facilities were also built there for the storage of
military and civilian goods earmarked for Vietnam. During the war Vietnam sent
personnel to manage these stores, while the Chinese side provided guards.
At the request of the Vietnamese party and government, China sent Vietnam
many military advisers and specialists, anti-air defense artillery crews, construction
and railway workers, and troops to secure the rear. About 340,000 Chinese in all
went to Vietnam, although the largest number present in Vietnam at any one time
was 170,000. China supplied all their provisions except for water and fuel for
cooking. About 4,000 of these Chinese were martyred while serving in Vietnam.
The Chinese who came to help Vietnam worked side by side with their
Vietnamese brothers and sisters. They made a great contribution to the war against
America. Chinese and Vietnamese were of one mind and shared suffering and
hardship.
Chinese anti-air defense artillery crews were in action 2,153 times, shot
down 1,707 manned and 1,608 unmanned aircraft, and captured 42 American
pilots.
Over a three-year period, Chinese construction workers in Vietnam helped
build and maintain seven new motor roads. They also helped repair roads damaged
by bombing raids, including the northern section of Road No. 2, thereby ensuring
the smooth movement of traffic. In all they helped build 1,206 kilometers of
roadway and 305 bridges (total length 6,854 meters). They helped build two
additional roads not covered by the aid agreement – Number 10, connecting Phong
Vinh to La Vuong, and Number 1B from Thai Nguyen to Dong Dang.
Chinese construction workers in Vietnam built two modern airports, many
airplane shelters, nine railway stations, 239 underground tunnels (total length over
25,000 meters), and 138 artillery emplacements. They laid 149 underground
communication cables (total length 103 km).
Chinese railway workers built or widened two railway lines (total length 479
km) and repaired 98 kilometers of other railway lines.
The Chinese navy cleared mines from Vietnamese waters encompassing a
coastal strip 13.9 kilometers (27.8 li) long and a sea area of 50 square kilometers
(201 square li).

The Vietnamese party and government were reluctant to request any further
Chinese aid, being wary of the ramifications of doing so. The Chinese, however,
offered additional aid through our delegation on their own initiative. For example,
when several provinces of North Vietnam were hit by a typhoon and suffered
heavy flood damage, China offered the Vietnamese government a loan of several
tens of millions of US dollars to buy food, fertilizer, and other provisions for the
inhabitants of the flooded areas. (At that time the price of a tael of gold on the
Hong Kong market was $20.)
In 1967, during negotiations in Beijing with the head of the Vietnamese
delegation Mr. Le Thanh Nghi, the head of the Chinese economic delegation Mr.
Li Xiannian conveyed a suggestion made by Chairman Mao Zedong:
“Some years ago, the Vietnamese government borrowed from us a large sum
in US dollars. It has not yet been repaid. We know that you are still fighting the
war against America. We know that you are still in a difficult situation. Even if the
war soon comes to an end, you will still be in a difficult situation. The Chinese
party and government feel great sympathy for you. So while we of the older
generation are still alive, let China give you additional aid in foreign currency to
enable you to settle the account now rather than passing the burden on to your
children and grandchildren.”
Comrade Le Thanh Nghi replied by sincerely thanking Mr. Li Xiannian and
asking him to convey our thanks to Chairman Mao, prime minister Chou Enlai, and
other leaders of the Chinese party and government. He also promised to report the
matter to Chairman Ho and the central committee of our party without delay.
After the negotiating session Comrade Le Thanh Nghi hastened to send his
report to Hanoi. The response came quickly. Chairman Ho instructed Comrade Le
Thanh Nghi to accept the offer of aid and convey his sincere thanks to Chairman
Mao and the leaders of the Chinese party and government. China duly provided the
additional aid and Vietnam used it to repay the loan.
So China gave Vietnam an enormous amount of unconditional aid.
However, the Chinese side always requested Vietnam not to publicize the aid.
Even today few people know about it.

The results of our delegation’s visit to China were excellent. Acting in his
official capacity, Chairman Ho Chi Minh sent our delegation a special telegram
praising our brilliant achievements. The telegram made us all very happy and
proud gave us endless encouragement.
Next we proceeded to visit North Korea. From Pyongyang we returned to
Beijing and prepared to return home. Our delegation received a telephone call from
Hanoi to inform us that Chairman Ho was sending his own private plane to Beijing
to bring us home. That made us feel very honored and proud. When Chairman
Ho’s plane landed at Nanning, capital of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous
Region, we received a second urgent telephone call – this time from the Ministry
of the Air Force – to tell us that they were expecting another American air raid
over North Vietnam and ask our delegation to proceed to Nanning and wait there
until further notice.
When we reached Nanning, Comrade Dinh Van Tram asked me: “Mr.
Quang, do you happen to be carrying any of the delegation’s documents? If we
have the bad luck to be shot down, our lives are not important but our documents
must not fall into enemy hands. We must guard them carefully.”
I assured him that I was carrying no documents. He was satisfied.
About an hour later, our plane received the go-ahead to take off and return to
Vietnam. The pilot told delegation head Mr. Le Thanh Nghi that there were no
enemy planes anywhere near our route and that the air force had sent thirty fighters
to protect us, so he should not worry.

At the same time as our government economic delegation was in China,
groups from relevant departments of the Vietnamese government were also in
China to discuss matters of detail. One of the departments that had sent a group
was the General Department of Army Ordnance. The head of this group was Mr.
Dinh Duc Thien. He was a vulgar, arrogant, conceited, pretentious, and perverse
man. Although he was a civilian, his manner was no different from that of an army
officer. Whenever he opened his mouth he talked on and on without a pause. He
had no sympathy for his comrades and colleagues. He knew nothing of etiquette.
When he went abroad, he brought all sorts of people along with him – his
secretary, his physician, his interpreter, his bodyguard, his assistant, and so on. He
had more people at his beck and call than the head of our delegation. He brought
with him over ten big suitcases filled mainly with all sorts of books – perhaps just
to show off, because he never had time to read. His assistant, Mr. Nguyen Anh
Thu, had to lug them around from Vietnam to China, from China to Russia, from
Russia to the countries of Eastern Europe. The poor man was exhausted.
While Mr. Dinh Duc Thien was preparing for negotiations with the Chinese
side, he somehow offended the Chinese officials. They hated him. They arranged
for him to stay at the Beijing Hotel and left him there to eat and play, but they
refused to work with him. They told him: “Our cadres do not speak Russian, so we
cannot work with you. Please arrange for an interpreter so that we can work with
you.” He looked for an interpreter, but could not find anyone willing to work with
him. So for a long time nothing was discussed with him.
Our government economic delegation was staying at the Diaoyutai State
Guest House. The head of our delegation suggested that Mr. Dinh Duc Thien and
his group be moved into the state guest house as that would be more convenient for
the negotiations. This was arranged.
When Comrade Le Thanh Nghi took most of the delegation to visit Cuba, he
left Mr. Dinh Duc Thien and myself at the state guest house to continue detailed
talks with the Chinese side.
At mealtimes Comrade Dinh Van Tram told Mr. Thien’s interpreter Mr.
Nguyen to go and ask Mr. Thien to come and eat.
“Let him be!” replied Mr. Nguyen. “If he wants to eat, he will come.”
“Isn’t Mr. Thien your boss?” I inquired.
“No, he is not. I was working in another group. In the middle of our work he
asked me to help him.”
While our delegation was in China the Cultural Revolution was at its height.
In Beijing the Red Guards were fighting one another everywhere. Society was in a
state of extreme disorder. The Chinese government often provided security guards
to protect foreign delegations and foreign guests.
One day Mr. Dinh Duc Thien complained about the guards sent to protect
us. When we went to eat at the Beijing Hotel, he told our Chinese hosts:
“After I joined the revolution I was arrested and jailed by the French
colonialists and lost my freedom. Now we come here as your guests and you too
send people to keep close watch on us and deprive us of our freedom.”
He repaid their kindness with rancor. It was most regrettable!

In the middle of the night, when we were all getting ready for bed, I was
surprised to see Mr. Thien bringing me his three-piece suit. He told me to take it to
the night manager of the state guest house and ask him to alter it for him to wear
the next day on his trip to North Korea.
What an unreasonable person he was! It was the middle of the night, the hen
had not yet stirred and the rooster had not yet crowed, and here he was bothering
us about this petty private matter. What is more, I was not part of his group. So I
did not beat about the bush.
“It is late,” I told him. “Everyone is asleep. No one is awake to alter your
suit for you.”
He opened his mouth and started to curse:
“Damn it, here we are in Beijing, the great capital of China, and no one is
available to alter a suit?”
“You have worn this suit many times,” I pointed out. “Tomorrow we are
going to North Korea. Why don’t you wait until you return to have it altered?”
“You are young,” he replied. “You don’t understand the psychology of us
old folk. When we grow old we are like children. We want to look good.”
The day before we left for North Korea, Mr. Thien’s assistant, Mr. Thu, had
said to him:
“It is very tiring to carry all these heavy books around. You have not even
read any of them. Tomorrow we are going to North Korea. Please let us leave the
books here. We’ll sort them out when we return. OK?”
Mr. Thien had agreed to leave the books in Beijing. However, after he
completed his work in North Korea he suddenly lost his temper and demanded that
his assistant give him books to read.
Mr. Thu was puzzled. “But you agreed to leave the books in Beijing!”
“Damn you! Why don’t you bring me my books? How dare you refuse!”
Mr. Thu was angry and started to cry, but dared say no more. Instead he
came to me and said:
“Mr. Quang, that old man is impossible. Dinh Duc Thien can’t be his real
name. His real name is Dinh Duc Ac!”[1]
“What’s going on?” I asked.
Mr. Thu told me the story from beginning to end. I was worried that their
argument at the state guest house might cause our delegation to lose face. So I gave
him some advice:
“That will be enough, thank you. Please just endure it. Wait until we return
to Hanoi. Then we’ll sort things out.”
“Return to Hanoi for what?” he asked. “I am not his assistant!”
“What are you talking about?”
“I am not Mr. Thien’s assistant. He and I already knew one another. I was
working at the Thong Nhat (Unification) Hanoi Hotel. One day Mr. Thien came to
eat there and asked me: ‘Would you like to go abroad?’ I was overjoyed at the
prospect and immediately agreed to go with him. He said that I would be his
assistant. I thought that going abroad would bring me great honor, happiness, and
success, but I did not realize that being his assistant would be worse than slavery. I
have to lug around over ten suitcases. I am tired out. And now I have to bear his
insults and swallow my anger.”
Our group finished its work in North Korea and returned to Beijing. Now we
were waiting for the main delegation to return from Cuba.
During a meal Mr. Tram told Mr. Thien:
“The head of our delegation, Comrade Le Thanh Nghi, is on his way back
from Cuba. His plane is arriving tomorrow morning. Will you come with us to the
airport to greet him?”
“No,” replied Mr. Thien. “If he has crept off somewhere, then let him creep
back by himself. There is no need for me to greet him.”
Mr. Thu, however, did go to the airport to greet Comrade Le Thanh Nghi.
When he saw him he cried and said:
“Comrade Delegation Head, please let me return home or send me to work
somewhere else. I can’t work with Mr. Dinh Duc Thien any more because he is no
good.”
“Why, what has happened?”
“He has insulted me many times since we left Vietnam. He treats his
comrades and subordinates just as landlords used to treat their servants. As soon as
he opens his mouth he starts to curse. He insults you, he insults your father, he
insults your mother. You have no dignity left at all. I can’t take it any more.”
Comrade Le Thanh Nghi immediately ordered Mr. Dinh Duc Thien to
collect his briefcase and return to Vietnam the next day.

After the negotiations were successfully concluded, Comrade Le Thanh
Nghi, accompanied only by a Chinese comrade named Ly, went to pay a last visit
to the Chinese leaders. On the way back to the state guest house, a group of young
people suddenly stepped out on to the roadway in front of the car. It was a
dangerous situation. The driver – a former soldier – was going fast. He quickly
swerved onto the sidewalk and brought the car to a halt. Comrade Ly, who was
sitting in front next to the driver, hit his forehead on the roof of the car and broke
his glasses. Comrade Le Thanh Nghi received a light injury to his right foot.
Fortunately, no one was badly hurt.
At the time of the accident most members of our delegation were at the
Vietnamese embassy. Only I had stayed behind at the state guest house. The
manager of the guest house came to inform me that the head of our delegation had
been in a car accident. Though thoroughly alarmed, I managed to ask for a few
details. He told me that Comrade Nghi had only sprained his right foot. I
immediately telephoned the embassy.
Although Comrade Le Thanh Nghi was not seriously injured, our Chinese
hosts were very worried and arranged the best possible treatment for him. The
hospital used the best plaster to make him a cast. It took about ten days for his foot
to heal, although he continued to use a walking stick.
Shortly thereafter Comrade Nghi returned to Vietnam. The Chinese assigned
a doctor to follow him to Vietnam and look after him there. Only a few days later,
when his recovery was complete, did the doctor return to China. While the Chinese
doctor was in Vietnam I stayed with him.
After the car accident, a rumor spread in Vietnam that Comrade Le Thanh
Nghi had been assassinated by Chinese Red Guards. When I returned to Hanoi, my
colleague Mr. Ly Minh Ky asked me about this story. I explained to him what had
really happened.

On one occasion during our stay in China, when other members of the
delegation were not present, I asked the comrade driver of the car assigned to me
to take me to Tsinghua University to see my nephew Lam Dao Ngo, who was
studying there. The university’s Red Guards, thinking that I was a Chinese power
holder, surrounded the car and shouted criticism at me. The driver helped me
explain to them who I was and they dispersed, but somehow they had scratched the
car. I was scared to death. “If the delegation bosses find out,” I thought to myself,
“I shall definitely be severely disciplined.” Fortunately, no one found out. Thank
you, Heaven and Earth!
On another occasion Comrade Le Thanh Nghi told me to prepare a reception
for a special guest – a heroine from South Vietnam. The guest walked a few steps
into the lounge, saw me, yelled “Mr. Quang!” and rushed up to me, hugged me,
and kissed my cheek. Startled, I took another look at her. Suddenly I recognized
her as my old comrade Hoang Anh Xong.
“Mr. Quang,” she told the delegation head, “is a good old comrade of mine
from the days of the Anti-French Resistance War.”
In those days she was the cadre in charge of the women’s campaign in the
An Nhon District on the outskirts of Qui Nhon, while I was the cadre in charge of
the Overseas Chinese campaign in the same district. When I went to the North, it
was arranged for her to stay in the South on a secret mission in Nha Trang, which
is between Qui Nhon and Saigon. Tragically, her own brother informed on her to
the Ngo Dinh Diem regime and she was arrested. She underwent many kinds of
torture, but she remained loyal and gave her jailers no information. She was
released from prison and continued with her mission. Later she was evacuated and
sent to Hanoi, where she was awarded the “Heroine Fighter” medal. Then she was
sent to Beijing for medical treatment. She and I had not seen one another for over
ten years. It was a happy surprise to meet her again at the state guest house.

Over the course of three years I accompanied the economic delegation of the
Vietnamese government on six visits to China and four to North Korea. I also
accompanied the Vietnamese party and government delegation on one visit to
China. The work was very intense and demanding, but I had to try my best.
Together with Comrades Dinh Van Tram and Nguyen Dinh and other members of
the delegation, I worked day and night. At last we completed our task and achieved
excellent results. The head, deputy head, and other members of the delegation all
gave a very high evaluation of my work and that made me feel very proud.
On one occasion the party leaders told Comrade Ly Ban: “Your group
within the delegation is overburdened. The Central Committee has decided to
appoint another comrade as a secretary to help you.”
Comrade Ly Ban sincerely thanked the Central Committee for its concern,
but declined the offer: “It is true that our workload is very heavy, but the three of
us (he meant Comrade Dinh Van Tram, me, and himself) can cope with it. We
don’t need to impose additional personnel costs on the government.”
Whenever our delegation was preparing a foreign tour, prime minister Pham
Van Dong and party general secretary Le Duan would receive us and assign our
duties. General Vo Nguyen Giap, General Nguyen Chi Thanh, and other leaders
would also meet with us. We felt highly honored.
While we were in China, the whole delegation was taken on a tour of major
cities and famous sights, such as Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Shenyang, Hangchou,
Wuhan, Changsha, Hangyan, Nanning, Guangzhou, Suzhou, Xian, Liuzhou, and
Yangshan. In North Korea we also visited many places, including Panmunjom.

Once the departure of our delegation for China was delayed because the
scheduled time happened to coincide with heavy American air raids. For several
days and nights bombs had been falling everywhere and the bombing was
especially intense in the Vietnam--China border area. The leadership decided that
Comrade Dinh Van Tram and I should go to China in advance of the main group,
crossing the border by jeep to Bang Tuong Railway Station.
That day American planes had dropped many bombs, including time bombs,
on the area through which we had to pass. Our driver, a former soldier, was very
brave. He had no fear of danger or death, but drove along the road at top speed, not
slowing down even when we had to cross a river at a ford. Comrade Dinh Van
Tram and I, however, were afraid. Our faces were very pale. This time, I thought,
my number must be up. Driving a jeep through an area laid with time bombs was
extremely dangerous. A time bomb could explode at any moment. Either our
bodies would be blown to smithereens or the engine would stop and water would
flood the jeep and drown us. Though very worried, I kept my silence and placed
my trust in Heaven and Earth. We got through the danger zone without hearing a
single bomb explode. Perhaps the bombs were set on very long fuses. Anyway, we
were lucky enough to reach our destination safe and sound.
After we arrived at the railway station, Comrade Tram smiled at me and
asked: “Were you scared, Mr. Quang?”
I dared not answer directly, but just said: “What point would there have been
in worrying? If anything had happened, we would have been in the same boat.”
To myself I thought: “If I admit that I was scared, they’ll laugh at me. I may
be disciplined. If you join the revolution, you must not fear death. If I claim that I
was not scared I’ll be lying, and that too is not good.”
During my visits to China, besides my general work for the delegation, I
helped several comrades solve important personal problems. For example, one
member of the delegation named Mr. Nguyen Van Dai was a manager at the Voice
of Vietnam radio station. His wife, Mrs. Tran Lang, was a Vietnamese expert
working for Beijing Radio. So he was very happy to learn that he would be joining
a delegation on a visit to China. As soon as we arrived in Beijing, before we had
started our work, Mr. Dai told me that his wife was in Beijing and that he wanted
to see her as soon as possible. He did not inform the delegation leaders but only
told me privately. I conveyed his request to Comrade Ly Ban, who immediately
agreed to help. It was arranged that a driver would take Mr. Dai to his wife every
evening after dinner and bring him back the next morning. He was very happy and
sincerely thanked me for helping him.
Mr. Ly Ban’s wife, Mrs. Tran Lang, came to Beijing to attend Chinese
National Day celebrations on October 1, 1967 as head of a delegation of the United
Association of Overseas Chinese in Vietnam. Their Chinese hosts had arranged for
her to stay at the Beijing Hotel. She said to me: “I hear that the Diaoyutai State
Guest House is very famous. I would like to take a short tour. Could you please ask
Mr. Ly Ban to allow me to do that?”
I conveyed her request to Comrade Ly Ban. He agreed and asked me to
arrange the tour for her and then take her back to the Beijing Hotel.
Next I reported to the comrade in charge of receiving guests at the state
guest house. He arranged for her to move into the state guest house and live
together with Comrade Ly Ban. He also arranged for cadres to take her on a tour of
the surrounding area.
She was very satisfied and thanked me. When we returned to Vietnam, she
and her husband invited me to their home as a guest to express their gratitude.

The Ministry of Foreign Trade had sent a team of three people to staff a
transit post at Manzhouli (Inner Mongolia) on the Chinese—Russian border. Their
task was to inspect and register goods being transported as aid from Russia to
Vietnam through China. They had to live all year round in a sparsely populated
area. In winter it was very cold and the ground was covered with snow. It was a
very hard life for them. For a very long time the demands of their work had
prevented them from returning home to visit their families. They were sad,
homesick, and discouraged.
The comrades in the commercial affairs section of the Vietnamese embassy
in Beijing alerted me to this situation and asked me to help. As I myself had
worked abroad and been separated from my family for many years, I sympathized
with their plight and was glad to help. I reported the matter to Comrade Ly Ban
and suggested that he take measures to raise their morale.
Comrade Ly Ban agreed with me and devised a solution to the problem. He
ordered the team leader to come to Beijing and report to him on the work situation.
He would stay in Beijing for a week and the commercial affairs section would
arrange a tour of the sights for him.
The second team member would also be summoned to Beijing to report on
the work situation. He would come at a time when a flight to Vietnam was
available. He would be entrusted with delegation documents to deliver to the
Vietnamese leaders and take a week’s leave with his family before returning to his
post.
The third team member would also be summoned to Beijing. He would be
added to a delegation visiting North Korea.
So all three members of the team at the Manzhouli transit post obtained a
very reasonable solution to their problem. They saw that the leaders cared about
them. Their morale was restored and they returned to duty with renewed
enthusiasm. The leaders thanked me for my help.

Note

[1] Thien is Vietnamese for “good.” Ac means “cruel.”

Chapter 29. Beginning of the Vietnam-China split

Even though the Chinese party, government, and people gave Vietnam massive,
timely, unstinting, unconditional, and effective aid, some individuals in the
Vietnamese party and government leadership were very greedy. They were still
dissatisfied with the amount of Chinese aid and criticized China for not providing
more.
For example, at a meeting at the Unification Club in Hanoi with southern
cadres who came to the North in 1954, Mr. Le Duan, general secretary of the
Vietnamese communist party, openly said: “The aid that we receive from the
fraternal countries is equivalent only to a single hair on a cow.”
Some people took advantage of the war to get hold of Chinese goods,
materials, and funds on the largest possible scale and enrich themselves. As Mr. Le
Duan said at the club: “The soldiers at the front are suffering heavy losses, but
some people in the rear are growing rich.”
Those people whose greed was not satisfied fabricated and spread malicious
rumors and propaganda to poison public opinion.
In 1965 Mr. Le Duan visited Russia, where he addressed staff of the
Vietnamese embassy and representatives of Vietnamese students studying in
Moscow. He bluntly declared:
“We need to reconsider our relationship with China. During the revolution
the Chinese communist party put forward the slogan: ‘Use the countryside to
surround the cities.’ They build socialism in accordance with the formula:
‘agriculture as the base, industry as the leading sector.’ The Chinese have a peasant
ideology, not a communist ideology. We cannot and shall not learn from them.”
In March 1966, the Vietnamese Historical Studies Review published an
article entitled: “The Trung Sisters: National Heroines Fighting Foreign Invasion.”
In Hanoi and some other places in North Vietnam there were performances of the
play “The Trung Sisters.” Both the article and the play were aimed against China.
On March 23, 1966, during negotiations in Beijing with prime minister
Chou Enlai, Mr. Le Duan requested an increase in Chinese aid to Vietnam. The
Chinese side agreed. After the negotiating session, however, Chou Enlai said:
“Comrade Le Duan, recent propaganda in Vietnam has focused on the
Chinese invasion of Vietnam in feudal times. Why raise this topic now? Why study
this episode from ancient history? If the officers and soldiers of our People’s
Liberation Army and other Chinese participating in Vietnam’s war against
America hear about this, what do you suppose they will think? Our common
enemy at present is US imperialism. We are fighting together against US
imperialism!”
Hearing this, Mr. Le Duan rubbed his hands together nervously.
“No,” he responded, “we are not using this historical topic as anti-Chinese
propaganda. That was never our intention. Rest assured, prime minister, we shall
definitely do our best to affirm and strengthen the friendship between Vietnam and
China.”
At this point Mr. Hoang Tung, a member of the central committee of the
Vietnamese party and chief editor of its mouthpiece People’s Newspaper (Bao
Nhan Dan), quickly added:
“That is correct. The Historical Studies Review did publish that article, but it
was not directed against present-day China. Anyway, the newspaper of our central
committee has never published anything like that. Our headlines always stress
friendship between Vietnam and China. There is no ambiguity about this.”
In 1966 the Chinese ship Hongxi, carrying aid for Vietnam, was waiting to
enter Haiphong harbor and dock. A Russian ship was following behind. The port
authority immediately gave permission for the Russian ship to dock and told the
Chinese ship to wait outside the harbor. While it was waiting there was an
American air raid. Bombs fell on the Hongxi, causing severe damage.
However, the Vietnamese leaders did not take this incident seriously. When
Mr. Le Duan visited Beijing, Chou Enlai raised the matter with him:
“Is it fair?” he asked. “Shouldn’t the first ship to reach the harbor be allowed
to dock first? Why did you not intervene?”
Mr. Le Duan pretended not to know about the incident.
Vietnamese leaders did other bad things. Together with the Russians, they
disseminated lies to malign China. For example, Russian and several Vietnamese
leaders spread propaganda openly accusing the Chinese of stealing Russian aid
intended for Vietnam on its way through China. The Vietnamese party and
government pretended not to know about this propaganda. Their motto was: See no
evil, hear no evil. Let the propagandists peddle their lies and nonsense.
The Chinese side was unhappy with this attitude. During negotiations
between the Vietnamese and Chinese economic delegations, Chinese deputy prime
minister Li Xiannian complained to the head of the Vietnamese delegation,
Comrade Le Thanh Nghi:
“The Russians and some Vietnamese are saying that China is stealing
Russian aid on its way through China to Vietnam. Is this right? You know very
well, comrades, that this is not true. You should tell the truth. It is the right thing to
do.”
Soon after this the Vietnam Press Agency issued a statement on the matter.
It acknowledged that some people were saying that China was stealing Russian aid
on its way through China to Vietnam and declared that such stories were
fabrications and completely untrue.
At this time the police in Hanoi and some other places in North Vietnam
were causing a lot of trouble for staff at the Chinese embassy and for Chinese
specialists who had come to help Vietnam. The police were rude to them, assaulted
and beat them, confiscated their cameras and other belongings, and even illegally
arrested and imprisoned them.

At the end of September 1967, I was appointed to accompany a Vietnamese
party and government delegation to China as its translator and interpreter. The
head of the delegation was Politburo member and deputy prime minister Mr. Le
Thanh Nghi. The deputy heads of the delegation were Mr. Hoang Van Hoan,
Politburo member and chairman of the National Assembly, and Mr. Ly Ban,
member of the party central committee and special correspondent of the People’s
Newspaper resident in Beijing. The other members of the delegation were the
members of the government economic delegation.
This time our Chinese hosts received our delegation with great solemnity
and enthusiasm. Many party, government, and military leaders came to the airport
to welcome us and over 20,000 people lined the route from the airport to the
Diaoyutai State Guest House. We were also entertained by song and dance troupes.
During our stay in China our delegation was invited to join in the celebration
of National Day – the 18th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of
China. After that we were received by Chairman Mao Zedong, deputy chairman
Lin Biao, prime minister Chou Enlai, Marshal Nie Rongzhen, General Yang
Chengwu, Mr. Wu De, Mr. Kang Sheng, and other important leaders. A
commemorative photograph was taken of our delegation together with these
Chinese leaders.
During the negotiations Chairman Mao met with the head and deputy heads
of our delegation. He told them:
“China is giving Vietnam unstinting aid in a spirit of comradeship and
brotherhood. Some Vietnamese think that we have ulterior motives for helping
Vietnam. They are wrong. We solemnly reaffirm that our aid to Vietnam is
completely sincere. We have no ulterior motives.”
In response, Comrade Le Thanh Nghi and Comrade Hoang Van Hoan
assured Chairman Mao that “the Vietnamese party, government, and people still
considered Chinese aid to Vietnam to be most comprehensive, most unstinting,
most timely, and most effective. The Vietnamese party, government, and people
have always been grateful to China for its aid and have never said those wrong
things.”
From then on, the party and government leaderships of China and Vietnam
felt increasing dissatisfaction with one another. However, they did not yet show it
openly. China continued as before to give Vietnam military and economic aid.
In July 1970, after the Chinese troops sent to help Vietnam had completed
their mission, they were all withdrawn to China.
Throughout this whole period, Vietnam continued to disseminate anti-
Chinese propaganda. Overseas Chinese working in state companies were
distrusted. False rumors were spread in order to incite popular hostility toward
China and Overseas Chinese. It was said that China had forced Vietnam to pay for
food from China and repay its debt to China. As a result, even ordinary
Vietnamese came to hate China and Overseas Chinese.
After Chairman Ho Chi Minh passed away, Mr. Ton Duc Thang became the
country’s chairman. He showed no sympathy whatsoever for Overseas Chinese.

Even though the Vietnamese leaders had created these unnecessary
complications in their relations with China, they still shamelessly went off to
Beijing clasping their begging bowls. It was really ridiculous!
In 1968, a Vietnamese economic delegation again visited China to ask for
aid. All the members of this delegation were new. There was no one in it who had
been in previous delegations. However, the prime minister’s office still decided
that I should accompany the delegation as its translator and interpreter. At that time
American bombing was wreaking increasing destruction on Hanoi and I had been
evacuated with my company to Lap Thach District of Vinh Phuc Province. For
some reason unknown to myself, when the leadership informed the Ministry of
Foreign Trade that I had been appointed to the delegation, the ministry did not
inform me but reported to the leadership that I was sick and asked them to find
someone to replace me. A few days later, while visiting Hanoi, I happened to run
into Mr. Nguyen Dinh, secretary to deputy prime minister Le Thanh Nghi. (We
were acquainted because we had both been in an earlier economic delegation.)
He was surprised to see me.
“Aren’t you sick?” he asked.
“No,” I replied.
“Then why aren’t you in Beijing with the delegation? The leadership asked
you to go.”
“No one told me about it.”
“Ah, I see. Well, let’s just ignore them. You will soon see for yourself.
Without us they can beg and beg, but they won’t get a single cent.”
I laughed and said: “You’re kidding! How do you know?”
“Just wait and see. You’ll see that I’m right.”
True enough, this time the economic delegation failed. They set off full of
expectation but returned empty-handed. They begged and begged but didn’t get a
single cent. Now they were consumed by anger against China and the Chinese.
They sought to rid themselves of the Overseas Chinese, spreading malicious
rumors about them and openly insulting them with obscenities that no one likes to
hear.
From then on I no longer had the opportunity to accompany delegations to
other countries. But for a few years I had been able to participate in party-
government and government-economic delegations to China and North Korea. I
had made a big contribution to the party, government, and people of Vietnam. I
was very proud of myself. Now the situation had changed. Nevertheless, I felt
satisfied. My wish had come true and I had no regrets.

Chapter 30. At the General Transit Company

The United States was escalating its bombing of North Vietnam. The bombs were
falling over widening areas of Hanoi and Haiphong and everywhere else in North
Vietnam. Day and night one wave of B52s followed another. Carpet bombing
inflicted enormous losses of life and property.
Under these conditions the Ministry of Foreign Trade and the Chamber of
Commerce were no longer able to conduct their activities. The leadership decided
to merge the Chamber of Commerce with Department II of the Ministry of Foreign
Trade. Some former personnel of the Chamber of Commerce were then assigned to
general import-export companies in Hanoi, while others were assigned to import-
export companies that had been evacuated to other places.
At the beginning of November 1970, Mr. Dinh Trac, director of the General
Marine Products Import-Export Company in Haiphong, sent me a courier with a
letter. In the letter he wrote:
“Deputy prime minister Le Thanh Nghi has a very high opinion of you. He
has reminded the minister of foreign trade to promote you and appoint you head of
one of the divisional offices of my company. Please try to arrange matters so that
you can come and help us in our work as soon as possible.”
I was very happy to receive this letter. Since coming to the North, I had
worked in the field of foreign trade for many years. Although I had made a big
contribution, I had been abroad much of the time and had not spent much time
working inside the country, so I had not had a chance to be promoted. Now I did
have such a chance and was really happy about it, but there were many things to
consider. I would have to go to Haiphong, which was a long way from home. I
would be able to visit my family only at long intervals. Kim Anh would be at home
with young children to face the bombing alone. Should I give priority to my work
or to my family? I was caught in a dilemma. However, the leadership would decide
and I would have to obey.
A few days later, Mr. Luu from the personnel department of the Ministry of
Foreign Trade came to see me. He communicated the minister’s decision to assign
me to the General Marine Products Import-Export Company in Haiphong.
I told Mr. Luu that I already knew of the minister’s decision to promote me
and asked him to give me the corresponding document. It would be best for me to
take it with me to Haiphong.
He replied: “Please go ahead and take up your new post. The General
Marine Products Import-Export Company can then submit to us a proposal for
your promotion and the minister will issue a decision. No one will question your
right to the post. You are secure.”
I insisted that I would not go until I had the document.
Mr. Luu returned to report my attitude to the minister. After that the minister
himself met with me. He urged me to accept the position at the General Marine
Products Import-Export Company.
“Please go to Haiphong,” he said. “They need talented people there. You
will have an opportunity to develop your abilities.”
“I am sincerely grateful for your concern. I have to accept the organization’s
decision to send me to Haiphong, but it is very difficult for me. I wish that you
could help me.”
“I understand your circumstances, but at present I have no appropriate
vacancy for you in Hanoi. If you hear about any organization that needs someone
like you, please let me know and I shall arrange your transfer.”
Later friends told me about a vacancy at the General Transit Company. I was
extremely happy to hear about it. I thought to myself: “It would be best for me if I
could remain in Hanoi. Promotion is not so important.”
I reported to deputy minister Mr. Ly Ban that the General Transit Company
had a vacancy. Right away he telephoned the director of that company, Mr. Duan,
and requested him to arrange my appointment. Mr. Duan immediately agreed. So I
was not going to Haiphong after all. I was just being transferred to the General
Transit Company in Hanoi. As I was satisfied with that, I did not raise the question
of my promotion.
The next day Mr. Luu came and asked me: “Are you ready, Mr. Quang?”
“I am ready, but I am not going to Haiphong. I am going to the General
Transit Company.”
Mr. Luu seemed unhappy about this, but he dared not object to a decision of
the deputy minister.
When Mr. Dinh Trac heard that I was not coming to Haiphong to work with
him, he got very angry. But he kept his anger to himself, waiting for the right time
to take his revenge.
At the beginning of 1971, I started work at the monitoring office of the
General Transit Company. The task of this office was to monitor the movement of
Chinese aid in the form of materials and funds through Vietnam to Laos. The
director of the company was Mr. Nguyen Duan, under whom I had previously
worked at the Miscellaneous Goods Import-Export Company. The deputy director
was Mr. Nguyen Luan, who had previously been secretary of the Ha Giang
Province Party Committee. He was very honest, supportive, and sympathetic, but
was not knowledgeable in the field of foreign trade.
The head of the monitoring office was Mr. Nguyen Van Chi. During the
Anti-French Resistance War, he had been a Vietnamese specialist sent to help
Laos. He was straightforward, highly disciplined, and a good organizer, but did not
yet have a firm grasp of foreign trade.
The deputy head of the monitoring office was Mr. Le Van Hoa. He was very
ambitious, dangerous, and cruel – an extreme element who caused internal splits
and destroyed unity. He had previously worked in the commercial affairs section of
the Vietnamese embassy in North Korea. He was sent back to Vietnam on account
of his divisive behavior. Then he got a job at the General Transit Company because
the director and he were natives of the same area. It was also thanks to his
connection with Mr. Duan that he was promoted to his current position.
The monitoring office had a staff of twelve. Only five of us were party
members: Mr. Nguyen Van Chi, Mr. Le Van Hoa, Mr. Le Thanh Duc (head of the
party group), Mr. Nguyen Van Y, and myself. The others were all young university
graduates.
I soon discovered that the internal politics of the General Transit Company
and its monitoring office were very complicated. Everywhere I witnessed power
struggles. People unjustly claimed credit, spread slander, made up malicious
stories, and found many other ways to harm one another.
One of my colleagues was Mr. Nguyen Thong. I heard that previously he
had managed the clothing department of the Miscellaneous Goods Import-Export
Company, where he had been the right-hand man of Mr. Duan – at that time
director of the company. When Mr. Duan was transferred to the General Transit
Company, he had brought Mr. Thong along with him. Mr. Thong was very
ambitious, arrogant, conceited, and pretentious. He thought of himself as a rising
star.
Knowing that Mr. Luan, the deputy director, was not a foreign trade
specialist, Mr. Thong schemed to pull him down and grab his position. And in the
course of time he did indeed get himself promoted to deputy director.
But Mr. Thong was not yet satisfied. He gathered a group of supporters
around himself and plotted to replace Mr. Duan as director. Mr. Duan, however,
was a tougher opponent than Mr. Luan. He had fought in the Ba To uprising in
1930 and had experience in foreign trade. Mr. Thong was unable to overthrow him.
On the contrary, Mr. Duan chased him back to the clothing department of the
Miscellaneous Goods Import-Export Company.
Mr. Le Van Hoa, who owed his position as deputy head of the monitoring
office to the fact that he and Director Duan were from the same area, schemed to
replace Mr. Le Van Chi as head of the monitoring office. He used all sorts of tricks
and stratagems and won over some employees, especially among the young
graduates. Mr. Chi was an old revolutionary, disciplined and a good organizer, but
rather stiff, so some of the young graduates did not like him. They took Mr. Hoa’s
side against Mr. Chi and tried to harm him. They made the monitoring office –
and, indeed, the whole company – disorderly, confused, and unstable, to such a
degree that chickens flew, dogs ran, ghosts moaned, and God wept.
I had only just arrived and did not yet understand the situation at the
company. I doubted that I would ever fit in. Being a party member, I stood up and
put forward some constructive ideas, but Mr. Hoa did not even listen. Instead, he
told lies about me to the organization. I found myself entangled in a web of
intrigue. He was looking for a way to push me out of the monitoring office. He had
no qualms about using mean and dirty methods. He went secretly to Director Duan
to slander me. The director, however, understood me very well. He paid no heed to
Mr. Hoa and even criticized him.
Mr. Hoa was not deterred. He tried a hundred tricks and a thousand schemes
to get rid of me, but none of them worked. Later he went to leading officials of the
Ministry of Foreign Trade to talk about me. Pretending to praise me, he called me a
talented person and suggested that the ministry send me to lecture at the Foreign
Trade University.

Toward the end of 1972, we received information concerning an imminent
massive air raid by B52s against Hanoi and its environs. The ministry ordered our
company immediately to evacuate our warehouse at Co Loa to a safe place,
because Co Loa was an important target for the American bombers. Director Duan,
however, was very passive and refused to evacuate the warehouse.
Over a period of twelve days and nights, from December 18 to December
30, 1972, American B52s made 663 flights and other bombers more than 3,800
flights over Hanoi, Haiphong, and the surrounding areas. The bombing was
continuous and very heavy. Over the Hanoi area alone B52s made 444 flights and
other bombers more than 100 flights. They killed or injured thousands of people
and destroyed residential areas, schools, hospitals, churches, railway stations,
warehouses, and foreign embassies. Our company’s warehouse at Co Loa was also
leveled.
After the air raid, the manager of the Co Loa warehouse, Mr. Nguyen Kien,
urgently sent a messenger to inform Director Duan of the loss. When he heard
what had happened, he may have lost his mind. He did not ask for a detailed
account of the situation. Instead, he hurriedly sent someone to buy 100 duck eggs
and hard-boil them. Then he jumped into the company car and told the driver to
take him to Co Loa. Assuming that most of the staff at the warehouse were dead,
he wanted to make an offering to their spirits. According to Vietnamese custom,
when a person dies an offering should be made of cooked rice germ and hard-
boiled duck eggs. Otherwise the dead person’s spirit will not be at peace.
And so Mr. Duan went to Co Loa to make an offering. When he arrived, Mr.
Kien asked him why he had brought so many eggs.
“Why,” replied Mr. Duan, “to make an offering to the dead. Most of our
people here are dead, are they not?”
Now Mr. Kien was a former army officer. He was very arrogant and had a
quick temper. Forgetting that Director Duan was senior to him, he exclaimed:
“You idiot! We are all safe and sound. Only the warehouse has been destroyed.”
Mr. Duan felt as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. All the
warehouse workers held their tummies and laughed and laughed until they cried.
The next day Mr. Le Van Hoa sent me and Mr. Dam Binh Hang, also an
Overseas Chinese, to Co Loa to assess the damage done to the warehouse. I knew
that he was hoping that we would be caught in an air raid and lose our lives, but as
a party member and his subordinate I could not refuse.
Mr. Dam Binh Hang did not want to go. As he was not a party member, he
did not feel obliged to go.
“Mr. Quang,” he told me, “I love you, but not as much as I love my wife and
children. If I go with you and we run out of luck and something happens to me, my
wife and children will suffer a lot. I hope you understand me.”
It took much encouragement from me before he agreed to accompany me.
At the beginning of 1973, it was announced on the news that the United
States had promised to halt all military operations against North Vietnam on March
15, 1973. Ministries and government departments brought all their evacuated units
back to Hanoi. Our own Director Duan did just the opposite. He ordered us to
evacuate – the further away from Hanoi the better. We were all on the verge of
tears. Many people in the Ministry of Foreign Trade ridiculed and mocked him.
“Is that old Mr. Duan confused or is he crazy?” they asked. “When he was
ordered to evacuate he did nothing. Now that the bombing has stopped and
everyone else is returning to Hanoi he orders us to evacuate. What a hoot!”
The place to which we were to evacuate was in the mountains about twenty
kilometers from Hanoi, near the town of Hoa Binh. On the day set for evacuation,
Mr. Le Van Hoa assembled all those who he thought were not on his side and sent
us away to the mountains. Besides myself, this group consisted of Mr. Nguyen Van
Chi, Mr. Le Thanh Duc, and Mr. Nguyen Van Y.
We were well aware that this was a cruel plot on Mr. Hoa’s part. He wanted
to send us away so that he could stay behind and be free to do whatever he liked.
But this was an order from our leader and we had to obey.
Mr. Le Thanh Duc and I were assigned to stay in a house belonging to a
family of a highland ethnic minority. The householder treated us very well. Around
December 20[1] the company director instructed Mr. Nguyen Van Chi to inform us
that evacuated staff were not allowed to return to Hanoi to celebrate the New Year.
None of us said a word, but on December 25 I told Mr. Le Thanh Duc to ignore
their nonsense and asked him to return to Hanoi with me to celebrate the New
Year. We stayed in Hanoi until January 4 and then returned to our place of
evacuation. The householder brought us a big piece of pork as a New Year gift.
“On December 28,” he told us, “the villagers slaughtered a pig to celebrate
the New Year. They saved a portion for you.”
We thanked him for his kindness and declined the gift, but he insisted that
we accept it. We told him that we too had eaten meat at a New Year celebration
and in turn offered him two cans of meat. He agreed and thanked us.
It was very cold in the mountains at that time of year. The house had no
walls. We shivered like leaves all day long. Twice a day we climbed up the
mountain and collected firewood to bring back for the householder. We did that
every single day, even in the wind and rain.
One day I was chopping up a dried sugar cane when suddenly a fire-red
snake jumped out. Luckily, nothing happened to me.
On another occasion I chopped off a very beautiful stick, brought it to the
house, and shaped it into a pestle to take home. But the pestle did not look as
beautiful as I had hoped. When the householder saw it, he went out and found
another stick, brought it back, shaped it into a more beautiful pestle, and offered it
to me as a souvenir.
A few days later, the company director ordered us all back to Hanoi.
We had spent only a month or so with the highland people of Hoa Binh
Province, but that was long enough to appreciate their good-natured hearts,
innocent minds, and simple manners. They were friendly and easy to understand.
What a contrast with some of the bull-headed and horse-faced people in our
company – cunning, crooked, dishonest, cruel, and dangerous in heart and mind.

Note

[1] Dates in this paragraph are by the lunar calendar.

Chapter 31. Advanced training in foreign trade

I had been at the General Transit Company only a short time, but I was already fed
up with its complicated internal intrigues. It was an unpleasant place to work – a
veritable hornets’ nest. I wanted out.
I heard that the Ministry of Foreign Trade intended to send me to the
Foreign Trade University, but there was no official decision. I did not know why.
Not long after our return from evacuation, the ministry decided to organize a
supplementary class in foreign trade for high-ranking ministry officials who
already had foreign trade experience equivalent at least to a university degree. The
students were enterprise directors and deputy directors and long-term professional
staff slated for promotion. It was decided that I should join them. I was very happy.
I studied until the end of March 1975.
The period of my training coincided with fierce fighting to liberate South
Vietnam. Mr. Nguyen Trung Tin, chairman of the people’s council of Binh Dinh
Province, came to Hanoi to ask the leadership to assign some Overseas Chinese
cadres to return and work in the province – cadres who had joined the revolution in
Qui Nhon and were familiar with the situation there.
Mr. Tin held a meeting with old Qui Nhon cadres. Most of the Overseas
Chinese among them gave some reason not to go. They knew that going to the
South would be very hard and dangerous: they might never come back. When Mr.
Tin pointed at Mr. Tran Quoc Anh, he said that he was originally from Saigon and
could not return to Qui Nhon. When Mr. Tin pointed at Mr. Hoang Khac Thanh, he
said that he had a hernia and could not go. When Mr. Tin pointed at Mr. Ton Nhon
Hung, he said that he did not speak Vietnamese. If he went to the South, he would
have to take an interpreter with him. So they all declined. At a loss, Mr. Tin had to
ask them to introduce others to him. Right away they introduced me.
They were greatly relieved. Everywhere they went, they spread the news that
I would soon be going to the South. At New Year 1975, the Year of the Cat, many
Overseas Chinese showed up at my home to wish me good luck in the year ahead. I
thanked them for their good wishes.
It was also about this time that the director of the Foreign Trade University
came to talk to me.
“Mr. Quang,” he said, “you have two sons at the university. The leadership
requests you to let one of them serve in the army.”
Kim Anh and I loved our children very much. We did not have the heart to
send any of them to their death, but this was a decision of the leadership and we
had to obey. I discussed the matter with Trung and Hung. Trung was about to
graduate. Hung had almost finished his second year and still had three years to go,
so I asked him to enter the army. He was very glad to go. He was only seventeen
years old.
Hung had served only a few months and was still preparing to go to the
South when the liberation of the South was completed. At that time I was working
in Danang. On their way south, Hung and his army buddies came to visit me twice
before continuing their journey to their place of deployment at an arms warehouse
in Long Binh, near Saigon.
At the beginning of March 1975, our course ended and we were assigned to
do research for our dissertations. There were more than twenty students taking the
course. Each of us was assigned to plan and set up a new import-export company
in Lao Cai Province, including choice of merchandise, production, supply, and
scheduling. I was assigned to focus on forestry products. Besides writing my own
dissertation, I helped many cadres outside our class write dissertations for their
degrees. Mr. Thai Chuoc, student leader for our class, was chosen to make a model
report.
At the time when I was undergoing practical training, the majority of school
students in the South were anti-communist. In late March, I had a telephone call
from the Ministry of Foreign Trade asking me to return urgently to Hanoi to
receive a new mission. When I arrived in Hanoi, the leaders of the ministry
informed me that they had assigned me to work in the South. I had already been
told that I would be going to the South, so I was mentally prepared. The
assignment was not a surprise.
After arranging some family matters, I attended a course on “The New
Situation, New Responsibilities.” I was ready to go, but I was still awaiting
approval by the Zone V party committee. I finally set off on June 5, 1975. Before
leaving I was summoned to a private meeting with Comrade Ly Ban. He reassured
me and urged me to do a good job and not disappoint the party.
“If your wife,” he said, “or your son studying at the Foreign Trade
University, or any of your other children have any problems, then they should go
to my secretary, Mr. Nguyen Duc Tien. He will help them. So you need not worry
about them. Just go to the South and concentrate on your work.”
I was very grateful to Mr. Ly Ban for his solicitude.
I had been in the North for more than twenty years. The party and
government had shown great concern for me, fostered my professional
development, and enhanced my capacity for struggle. I had made very rapid
progress and gained multifaceted experience. The leadership had trusted me and
used me in many important functions. I had always completed all the tasks
assigned to me and obtained good results. I had contributed a great deal to the
party, government, country, and people and to the Ministry of Foreign Trade. The
leadership valued me highly, which was a great honor for me and my family. I had
fulfilled my parents’ hopes for me and that made me feel very proud.
In the course of my work in the North, I had had the honor of meeting
Chairman Ho Chi Minh and many other party, government, and military leaders. I
had also made the acquaintance of many lower-level leaders. There were good
feelings between those leaders and myself. Our friendship was close and deep.
Although the situation had now changed, the heartfelt loyalty between them and
me remained constant. Now that the South was about to be liberated and the
country united, I had to return to the South, assume new responsibilities, and bid
farewell to my friends and relatives in the North. Loath to part from them and
overwhelmed by memories, I felt sad and forlorn. However, the Earth would
continue to go around. Some day we would meet again.

Although I was very busy with my work and often had to travel far from my
family, I was always very concerned with their lives and problems. I tried to do
whatever I could for Kim Anh and reduce her load so that she would have enough
time to look after the children.
Kim Anh was my main support in every way. She backed me up and helped
me so that I could feel secure and do well at my job. We loved and respected one
another. We never argued. When she returned from work, she would immediately
do the housework and take care of the children. She loved our children very much.
She never hit or insulted them. Our children loved and respected us in return.
Kim Anh also loved our neighbors and friends. She always sincerely
welcomed guests. She never offended anyone. Everyone loved and respected her.
The neighbors’ children liked her very much. Whenever we were at home, we left
our front door open. The neighbors’ children would come in, lie and sit all over our
floor, and ask for food as though they were in their own homes.
Our family life was harder in the North than it had been in the South. Our
life was very difficult, especially during the war against America, but Kim Anh
never uttered a word of complaint. We just faced the hardships together. We found
many ways to improve our situation. We took in extra work to do at home during
our free time. I received books and documents to translate at home. Together with
our older sons Trung and Hung, I would go to a warehouse or a construction site to
do jobs like packing goods in sacks and big boxes, shoveling sand, carrying
bamboo canes, making boxes, and knitting sweaters and cardigans. The additional
income helped cover our expenses.
The American air raids grew heavier and heavier. The children had to be
evacuated tens of kilometers away from home. Altogether they had to be evacuated
four times. Three times they were evacuated to Chem on the outskirts of Hanoi.
We asked the local people to take our children into their homes and feed them so
that they could go to school there. As the place of evacuation was not very far
away, the children returned home every Saturday afternoon, collected food and
provisions for the coming week, and returned early on Monday morning. During
their first two evacuations to Chem the children were safe and sound, but during
the third evacuation there were air raids in the vicinity of Chem.
One Saturday afternoon, American planes dropped many heavy bombs and
time bombs and fired missiles, killing and wounding many innocent civilians. For
safety reasons the local authorities prohibited the movement of people. So that
night our children did not return home as usual. We did not know why and were
very worried. I immediately decided to go to their place of evacuation. Halfway
there the police stopped me and did not allow me to proceed any further. I was
more worried than ever but did not know what to do. I returned home but was
unable to sleep. I wished for the morning to come quickly so that I could set off
again. Then, in the pre-dawn twilight, the four children arrived home – Ai Hoa,
Hung, Cuong, and Manh. They were all safe and sound. We were overjoyed.
We asked them what had happened. They told us that they had left Chem the
previous afternoon, but halfway home the police had stopped them and arranged
for a local family to give them shelter. Later the police had returned and told them
that it was now safe for them to continue on their journey.
The fourth time the children were evacuated to Sau Gia in Ha Tay Province.
Although further away from Hanoi,[1] the area still suffered constant American air
raids. The children were able to return home only once every three weeks.
At sunrise on Sundays, we would join the line at the store to buy food and
provisions for the children, then Trung would carry them to the place of
evacuation. On one occasion he had set off for Sau Gia and just reached the
outskirts of Hanoi when he heard the sound of American planes. He took cover on
the left side of the road, but perhaps the God of Heaven loved him, because on a
sudden impulse he stood up and ran over to the right side. No sooner had he lain
down again than he heard an explosion at his previous location. His sudden
impulse had saved his life.
Nor was this the only stroke of good luck. As he approached Sau Gia, he
saw that the surrounding villages had been obliterated by bombing. But Sau Gia
itself remained intact and our children were safe and sound. Thanks to the blessing
of Heaven and Earth!
At the end of December 1972, B52s and other American planes were carpet
bombing Hanoi day and night. Bombs and missiles landed all around our building
at distances as near as 40-50 meters. We were very frightened, but many of our
neighbors believed that our apartment was blessed and took refuge there.

Kim Anh and I paid close attention to our children’s education. We were not
afraid of hardship, but took them wherever they could go to school.
When Ai Nga graduated from high school she was not accepted by any
university, so I went to the Southern Office of the Students Selection Board to ask
them to solve the problem. The person in charge, Mr. Nguyen The, also known as
“Old Mr. The,” told me that Mr. Diep Bao Xuong from the United Association of
Overseas Chinese had informed him that any Overseas Chinese student who
wanted to apply to go to university had first to obtain the approval of Mr. Xuong.
I replied: “I am a cadre working for a government department. I have
nothing to do with the United Association of Overseas Chinese.”
Mr. The then agreed to allow Ai Nga to attend a preparatory course. This,
however, did not satisfy her because she could not be sure of admission to the
university after the course. I asked whether she could attend a college. Mr. The
agreed to arrange her admission to a college of finance. The college had been
evacuated to a place in Hung Yen Province, about 50 kilometers from Hanoi. I did
not mind the tiring journey and took her there.
Trung had applied to go to the Foreign Trade University, but the Southern
Office of the Students Selection Board had sent him to the Trade University
instead. I went to the office and asked them to switch him to the Foreign Trade
University. Mr. Nguyen The refused to do so. Next I went to the Ministry of
Higher Education to ask them to solve the problem. When I arrived, I was lucky
enough to meet the minister’s wife, who introduced me to the minister (I did not
know him but he recognized me).
“What’s the matter?” asked the minister.
After I had explained, he said:
“Your son wants to study in order to serve the country. Why should this Old
Mr. The make such a fuss and create problems for you? Perhaps he got up on the
wrong side of the bed this morning.”
The minister asked me to sit down and wait a bit while he solved my
problem. He went upstairs and soon came down with a letter of introduction. He
handed it to me and said:
“This letter will help you, but you will also need a signature from Mr. Khuu.
He is sick, but you can take the letter to him at home. Knock on the door, ask him
to get up, and he will sign it.”
“If he is sick,” I said, “I do not want to trouble him.”
“Never mind. When he sees my signature, he will add his own. Don’t
worry.”
I sincerely thanked him, said goodbye, and left. I took the letter of
introduction to Mr. Khuu’s home. I knocked on the door and asked him to get up
and sign the letter for me. I felt sorry for him. He was sick and lying in bed
moaning. When he heard me, he got up with an effort and signed the letter. It was a
real stroke of luck. I sincerely thanked Mr. Khuu, said goodbye, and went home.
With the help of this letter, Trung was allowed to switch to the Foreign Trade
University.
Ai Hoa took the examination for admission to the Foreign Languages
University. Although awarded a high mark, she was not admitted. That was
because – unbeknownst to us – the Vietnamese authorities had begun to conduct a
secret anti-Chinese policy. Overseas Chinese students were not allowed to go to
university. After the examination Ai Hoa stayed at home waiting until the
academic year had started. She had still not received any admission notice.
We were very anxious and did not understand the situation. Again I had to
go to the Southern Office of the Students Selection Board. That was a time of
heavy air raids against Hanoi and the board had been evacuated to some place in
Ha Tay Province. Ai Hoa and I set out to find them. The person in charge was still
Old Mr. The. This time, for some reason unknown to me, he received us in a
friendly manner and seemed very willing to solve our problem immediately.
“If I solve this problem,” he remarked, “the parents of the northern students
will definitely raise questions, but I shall ignore them. Their children really get
more education than our southern children.”
He gave Ai Hoa a letter of introduction to Agricultural University No. 2.[2]
We had no choice. All other universities had already started teaching and were no
longer admitting new students. This was the only university that she could attend. I
thought that any university was better than none at all.
In his letter of introduction, Mr. The wrote that Ai Hoa’s documents could
not be enclosed due to circumstances connected with evacuation, but that they
would be sent later. He asked Agricultural University No. 2 to try to help.
Agricultural University No. 2 had been evacuated to a mountain in Yen The
District of Bac Ninh Province. We sincerely thanked Mr. The and with his letter of
introduction traveled to the university, where we met the director – Mr. Nguyen
Hoang, a southerner.
“According to the rules,” said Mr. Hoang, “we should not admit your
daughter without her documents, nor should we admit a new student after the
academic year has started. In light of her special circumstances, however, we are
willing to admit her.”
So, with the help of Mr. The and Mr. Hoang, Ai Hoa was able to study at
Agricultural University No. 2 until she graduated.
Hung applied to the Foreign Trade University. I saw that the situation was
very difficult and was worried that he too would be excluded, so I told him to
apply also to the Architectural University as a backup. For some reason unknown
to me, however, Hung was admitted to the Foreign Trade University. That was a
surprise! We were very happy for him. Hung studied there for two years and then
went into the army for two years.
Cuong and Manh were still young during the war. They were still at school.
Later Cuong attended the Danang Foreign Trade College.
Chien was only a young child during the war. He could not be evacuated
with his brothers and sister, so he stayed at home with us. All of Hanoi’s schools
had been evacuated on account of the heavy American air raids, so we taught
Chien at home. When the air raid alarm rang, we ran to the shelter. When the all
clear sounded, we resumed his lessons. He learned more and more every day. He
was a quick learner and made rapid progress.

Despite the tension and hardship of people’s lives, our family still lived in
comfort. We made enough money to help many other people as well. Among them
was Mr. Dang Hoan Ban, head of the United Association of Overseas Chinese. He
came to ask me to lend him money. Out of consideration for a fellow southerner
and respect for his age, I was glad to help him. I had just received a royalty of 30
old dong. It was not yet warm in my pocket, but I lent it all to him. I did not
suspect that even many months and years later he would still not have paid me
back. After the South was liberated and the country united, he and his wife took
their children to the South to visit relatives. His relatives gave him a car. When his
family arrived in Danang, I arranged for a goods truck belonging to my company
to take his family back to Hanoi. On the way to Hanoi, Kim Anh used her own
pocket money to buy food and drink for his family. Still he did not repay the loan.
While he was in Danang, he said to me: “Mr. Quang, I owe you 30 dong.”
Happily expecting repayment, I replied: “That’s right.”
But he did not hand me any money and did not even thank me. Really
strange!
Out of respect for his old age, however, we did not reproach him. For the
whole time we lived in Hanoi, he always remembered our favor to him and came
with his wife and children at the New Year to wish us a happy new year. That was
a warm source of comfort to us.
Another fellow southerner was Mr. Phan Chinh Giang, a secretary at the
Vietnamese embassy in North Korea. In the absence of the ambassador, Mr. Le
Thiet Hung, who had returned to Vietnam for medical treatment, he was appointed
acting chargé d’affaires. He was received by prime minister Kim Il Sung, thereby
gaining everlasting fame. Regretfully, his glory was short-lived because for some
reason the Ministry of Foreign Affairs suddenly ordered his immediate return to
Vietnam. When he arrived in Beijing on his way back, his wallet was full, but he
still asked me to lend him money. Out of regard for his friendship, I lent him 20
Chinese yuan. It was a small amount but it had taken me a long time to save it,
because each employee working abroad received only half a yuan a day for pocket
money.
When I returned to Vietnam I often visited him, but he never mentioned this
loan. He seemed to have forgotten about it. Now he and his family have settled in
the United States and he has still not mentioned it. Really strange! In life one
comes across some strange people like that.
When I sit eating with friends, I recall these old stories and think how stupid
I was. Mr. Phan Chinh Giang was a high-ranking official. He had higher pay than
me. He was returning from a foreign country and must have been carrying plenty
of money. What was the matter with me? Why did I have to lend him 20 yuan?
With that money I could have bought a lot of presents for my wife and children.
Life is full of surprises. Friendship is very difficult to understand. We care about
people but they never care about us.
Kim Anh was sincere, courageous, and generous. If she had any good food,
she would share it with neighbors and friends until they had left. She did not save
any for later. Every Sunday a number of relatives and friends came around for a
meal or for tea and to join in happy talk. Our life went on like that for twenty
years. Everyone loved and praised Kim Anh. They always said that we were a
happy family. Mr. Han Nam Vien used to say that he had never known any woman
as good as Mrs. Kim Anh. When he visited China, he met Chinese Mother and
sister Neo and told them too how good Kim Anh was.
Regretfully, when the situation changed people’s feelings also changed.
After the South was liberated, we returned to Qui Nhon. Our family’s standard of
living was lower there than it had been in Hanoi. It was also lower than the
standard of living of our friends. When they had regrouped to the North, the
members of their families had remained in the South doing business. They were
rich – they had TVs, fridges, Honda motorcycles, and so on. Our family had none
of those things, so they ignored us and treated us as strangers. When they passed us
by, they pretended not to notice us and did not exchange greetings, even though
our house was close to the main road. For many years none of our close friends
came to visit. Even people who had reason to be grateful for our help never
showed up at our door. Only Mr. Ngo Khon Phuc remained our loyal friend.
As the proverb says: “The rich can live in the jungle and mountains and
many people will still come to visit them. The poor can live in the middle of the
marketplace, but nobody knows them.” Another proverb says: “If you have wine
and meat, then you will have friends too. When the wine and meat are gone, the
friends will also be gone.” That is exactly what the world is like!
However, our family were still willing to help others, especially northerners
who had come to the South to work or study, so we were still comforted.

Notes

[1] In the Red River Delta, about 25-30 kilometers from Hanoi.

[2] Agricultural University No. 1 was for students from northern families.
Agricultural University No. 2 was for students whose families came from the
South. After the unification of Vietnam, such institutional duplication was
abandoned. Agricultural University No. 2 was merged into the University of Hue.

Chapter 32. Return to the South

As soon as Danang was liberated, the Ministry of Foreign Trade sent Mr. Nguyen
Duan and Mr. Dinh Trac to Zone V to investigate the foreign trade situation and
discuss foreign trade prospects with Zone V party leaders. After they reported back
to the ministry leadership, it was decided to send a group of cadres to do foreign
trade work in the South Midlands. I was a member of this group.
At this time I was working at an import-export company in Lao Cai Province
in Vietnam’s mountainous northwest. When I received the order to return to work
in the South, I was very happy and felt highly honored. I was happy because I
would soon be seeing my old mother, sisters, brothers-in-law, and many other
relatives after a separation of twenty years. I felt honored because I was one of the
first people to return to the South after liberation. I returned to Hanoi to prepare for
the journey and make arrangements for my family. Then I attended a course
entitled “New Situation, New Responsibilities.”
Our group, consisting of over thirty people, was headed by my old boss from
the General Transit Company, Mr. Nguyen Duan. The deputy heads were Mr. Dinh
Trac, director of the General Marine Products Import-Export Company, and Mr.
Nguyen Kieu, former counselor for commercial affairs at the Vietnamese embassy
in Hungary.
The tasks of our group were to establish an import-export company in
Danang, take over private import-export companies in the South Midlands, help
the provinces of Quang Nam, Nghia Binh, Phu Khanh, Gia Lai, Kon Tum, and Dac
Lac establish their own import-export companies, and train their staff to build up
those companies.

The group set off from Hanoi at seven in the morning on May 6, 1975. A
fierce storm was raging. The ministry leadership told Mr. Duan to delay departure
until the storm abated, but he paid no heed. He was determined to get going.
“Even in the heaviest rain and the strongest wind,” he proclaimed, “we must
leave on time!”
Mr. Duan, his two deputies, and a few other leading cadres rode in a jeep,
while the rest of us traveled in two trucks. The jeep led the way and the trucks tried
to keep up. And so, braving heavy rain and strong wind, we headed south.
Soaked to the skin and shivering with cold like bedraggled chickens, we
begged Mr. Duan to let us take shelter somewhere for a while.
“Ha!” he jeered, “you call yourselves revolutionaries, and yet you fear the
wet and cold! Forward! Follow me!”
Fortunately, by the time we reached Ha Tinh we had left the storm behind
us. Now it was hot and sunny. We dried out our clothes and continued on our way.
About six or seven in the evening we reached Vinh City. However, instead
of taking us to the reception station, the driver of the jeep took the wrong road. He
had driven another 40—50 kilometers toward Nghe An Province before he realized
his mistake. He told Mr. Duan, but Mr. Duan refused to believe him.
“Listen to me!” he yelled. “Forward!”
We continued along another stretch of road. Then the jeep ran out of
gasoline. Mr. Duan told us all to get down off the trucks and push the jeep. We
pushed and pushed until we were too tired to push any more. We stopped to rest.
Just then, luckily for us, a military truck approached from the south. Mr.
Duan stopped the truck and asked for directions. Only then did he realize that we
had taken the wrong road. He asked the soldiers for a can of gasoline. We turned
our vehicles around and went off in search of the reception station. By the time we
got there it was nine o’clock.
It was a Saturday night and there was only one person on duty at the
reception station. Mr. Duan explained why we were there and asked him to provide
us with food and accommodation.
He replied: “Your group did not warn us that you were coming. We were not
expecting you. It’s Saturday night. Everyone else has gone home, only I am here.
We have no food for you. If we had some I would give it to you, but we do not.”
We were very disappointed. We did not know what to do. We returned to
our vehicles and went looking for the Nghe Tinh Import-Export Company. The
company had been evacuated to a place at a considerable distance from Vinh City.
At last we found it. The situation there was the same as at the reception station.
There was no food, but fortunately there was a place for us to sleep. Still hungry,
we lay down on the floor to sleep. The next morning we went out to buy something
to eat. The only food that we could find was polenta. We filled our stomachs and
resumed our journey.
Before we set off again, Mr. Duan told us: “We shall soon be entering the
liberated zone. We must take heightened precautions. The enemy may try to kill us
by putting poison in our food. None of you are allowed to buy your own food from
roadside vendors. Remember to follow the code of conduct.”
Then Mr. Duan and his deputies got in the jeep and led the way to the south.
We followed in the trucks. Somehow the jeep must have taken a wrong turn,
because we lost sight of it as we continued straight ahead. About noon our trucks
arrived on the outskirts of Hue City. We were very hungry, but we did not want to
tell the driver to enter the city because we were afraid of being harmed by the
enemy. Anyway, we had to obey the orders of the head of the group. So hungry we
had to remain.
The trucks halted at the corner of the bridge across the Perfume River. We
waited several hours but still saw no sign of the jeep. We thought that perhaps the
jeep had gone far ahead and we had failed to keep up. We told the drivers to go on
to Danang. There we found the company office for Zone V.
After talking with the office secretary, we realized that the jeep had not yet
arrived. We explained the situation to him and asked for food and accommodation.
He replied: “The Hoi An District Reception Committee is responsible for
your group. We had no advance warning, so we were not expecting you. Today is
Sunday. I am the only one on duty here. The others are at home. Fortunately, we
still have some bread for you to eat.”
We were again very disappointed, but after two hungry days it was good to
have at least a little bread to line our stomachs. Then we lay down on the floor to
sleep. The jeep finally showed up at noon the next day. We could not understand
why it had taken them so long. What had happened to them? We were very
worried. In answer to our questions Mr. Duan told this funny story.
The driver of the jeep had lost his way on the approaches to Hue City. They
had gone round and round until about three or four o’clock they reached the city
outskirts. Mr. Duan told the driver to stop and spoke with an officer of the traffic
police, who told him that he had seen two trucks pass by and that the trucks had the
letters TCTXNKBG painted on them. Mr. Duan, however, did not believe him. He
reasoned that the trucks must have gone more slowly than the jeep, so the trucks
could not possibly have arrived first. Paying no heed to the police officer, he told
the driver to turn the jeep round and go back northward to look for us. They went
as far as the Hien Luong Bridge at the boundary between North and South
Vietnam, but of course there was no sign of us. Only then did he tell the driver to
return southward. They reached Hue City at about eight or nine in the evening.
By this time the other passengers in the jeep were very hungry and asked
Mr. Duan to let them go and buy some food. He ordered them to beware of the
enemy and stay in the jeep.
“But we are so hungry,” they pleaded. “We can’t bear it.”
“You make revolution and yet you fear hunger?”
They cried and moaned, but they had to obey. When night fell, Mr. Duan,
still afraid that the enemy would harm them, ordered them all to sleep in the jeep.
The next morning, having still not spotted our trucks, Mr. Duan decided to
wait no longer and told the driver to proceed to Danang. As I said, they arrived at
noon.

On the previous trip that Mr. Duan and Mr. Trac had taken to the South to
investigate the situation, they had not discussed matters thoroughly with the
leaders of the Zone V party committee. As a result, there was no concrete plan and
it was hard for our group to find food and accommodation. Empty houses in
Danang were allocated to cadres from the North on a first-come first-served basis.
No house was available for us. Mr. Duan then had many meetings with Mr. Tam
Tu, secretary of the Zone V party committee, using their connection as natives of
the same area. As a result, we were offered temporary accommodation.
The house to which we were sent was not very big and had an aluminum
roof. It was hot in Danang at that time of year and there was not enough fresh
water. We were like an anthill in a frying pan. We just could not bear the heat. We
asked the group leaders to solve the problem.
“You make revolution,” sneered Mr. Duan, “and yet you fear heat and
hardship. We must live like this in order to show our sympathy with the suffering
of the poor people of the South. We must absolutely obey the party.”
To this no one dared object.
Later, Mr. Tam Tu came to visit us and saw the hard conditions in which we
were living. He provided us with another house next to his own. This house,
however, had no water supply. We had to go to his house to fetch water. It was
very inconvenient. Mr. Tam Tu’s staff did not like us coming in for water.
Whenever we started to fill our bucket, they would come and turn off the faucet.
We talked about it loudly with one another and reported the matter to Mr. Tam Tu.
Mr. Duan heard about this and criticized us for reporting directly to a higher-level
leader. That, he said, was going too far. Mr. Tam Tu also criticized his staff and
that did help, because from then on we were able to fetch water freely.
When we had just arrived in the South, the company did not have enough
provisions for us. We ate rotten and moldy food that had been stored for many
years as reserves in the war zone. At each meal we had a small and very smelly
flying fish as wide and long as three middle fingers held together. At breakfast
each person received a small bread roll made from old flour and containing a lot of
insects. You could see the insects in the bread. We were scared to death! But we
had just arrived in the liberated zone and had to act as role models, so no one dared
say a word. I closed my eyes and tried to swallow the bread, but I was often unable
to do so. The canteen staff saw my misery and felt so sorry for me that they told
me to give them some money to buy extra food to cook for me. However, some
members of the group were jealous and queried the arrangement, so I abandoned it.
When I had money, I went to eat at a small restaurant. That made my life less
miserable.
Due to the shortage of provisions, we were not eating enough to fill our
stomachs. Outside working hours some cadres socialized with Mr. Duan and took
the opportunity to tell him that their stomachs were not full.
“Go and buy a chicken,” he replied, “and make chicken and rice soup.
Chickens here are very cheap. Chicken and rice soup is nutritious and saves on
rice. I too eat chicken and rice soup.”
At that everyone held their stomachs and laughed until they cried. We were,
alas, ordinary cadres with a monthly salary of only a few dozen [northern] dong.
How could we afford to eat chicken and rice soup like him?

We had been in the North for over twenty years. Now that the South
was liberated, we all hoped to visit our relatives soon. After our arrival in Danang,
however, Mr. Duan told us that we had to start our work immediately. He did not
allow us to visit our relatives. This made us unhappy, angry, discontented, and
reluctant to work. Luckily, we got help from Mr. Nguyen Trong, permanent
representative of the Ministry of Foreign Trade in the South Midlands. He was
kind and sympathetic. He asked Mr. Duan to give us two weeks’ leave to visit our
relatives. At last, after twenty years, we were going to see our relatives again. We
were overjoyed!
Arriving in Dap Da, I got down from the bus in front of Mr. Dong Loi’s
house. I looked around me. The town had changed. Mr. Dong Loi’s house used to
be the biggest in Dap Da, but now it seemed small by comparison with the houses
of other neighbors. In the past, most of the houses in Dap Da had had straw roofs;
only a few roofs were made of tile. Now none of the houses had straw roofs; all
roofs were made of brick or tile. Many new buildings had appeared. The road had
been widened.
I looked and looked, but could not recognize my surroundings or even find
my house. I wandered in front of Mr. Dong Loi’s house, took a look inside, and
saw a young man who resembled my nephew Ngo. I guessed that he was Mr. Dong
Loi’s son, so I entered, greeted him, and asked who he was. I was right: his name
was Dong and he was Ngo’s younger brother.
Mr. Dong Loi happened to be out, but Ngo’s younger sister Dung was there,
busy selling herbal medicines. When she heard me inquire, her face lit up with
happiness. She told her brother to take me to the house of my sister Hanh to meet
my mother.
I had returned to Dap Da in the uniform of the National Liberation Front
(NLF). When I showed up at Hanh’s house, she was busy selling goods. She did
not have time to take a good look at me and I did not recognize her. When my
mother saw me enter, however, she recognized me at once. She burst into tears of
joy, took my hand, and pulled me up the stairs. I did not have time to greet Hanh.
My mother and I were reunited after twenty years. We were sad and happy at the
same time. We could not stop crying or say a word. I looked at her and saw that
she was still in good health. I was overjoyed and felt at peace.
Having completed her sale, Hanh wondered why her mother had taken some
strange NLF man upstairs and went upstairs to see for herself. She was surprised to
discover that it was her older brother Hai.[1] My sister and I were also very happy to
see one another. After a while Mr. Dong Loi turned up. He too was overjoyed. He
hugged me and cried. We had not met for many years and now we were reunited.
How happy we were! We could not hold back our tears.
Then I went to see my other younger sister Bon.[2] She cried and told me that
her husband, Mr. Kiem, had worked for the southern puppet government. Now he
had been arrested and taken to a district re-education camp. She asked me to help
him by going to visit him and giving him some comfort. I felt awkward and
embarrassed. If I visited Mr. Kiem I would receive a disciplinary penalty, because
before we set off for the South the leadership had strictly forbidden us to make
contact with personnel of the previous puppet government even if they were close
relatives. However, I also felt uneasy about not visiting my brother-in-law.
Eventually I did decide to visit him. My mother and sisters were very glad to learn
of my decision. They saw me as a good person who knew how to behave well and
love his family.
I also went to visit other relatives, elders, and local Overseas Chinese and
Vietnamese friends. Relatives and friends were all moved to tears and thought very
highly of me. They said that I had a loyal heart and knew how to balance feeling
with duty. They called me a real Confucian scholar who understands the affairs of
this world and loves people. A precious person!
I stayed two weeks with my family. Before leaving, I went to visit my
brother-in-law Mr. Kiem one more time. After returning to Danang, I took time off
every Sunday to go to Dap Da to visit my relatives until I was sent to work
permanently in Qui Nhon.
Before Kim Anh and I went to the North, we had given our herbal store,
together with all its contents, to Mr. Lim Quang. After a while Mr. Lim Quang had
left for Qui Nhon and given the store to his wife’s brother, Mr. Diep Bao Dong.
Then Mr. Dong had given it to Mr. Han Han Nguyen, who had given it to his
wife’s brother, Mr. Chau Kinh Cang. While minding the business, Mr. Cang had
also collaborated with the local puppet government, harassing and tormenting old
families that had been active in the Anti-French Resistance and relatives of people
who had gone to the North. When the South was liberated, he had given the keys to
the house and store to his sister Phung and gone into hiding in Saigon. He had told
Mrs. Phung to await my return and hand the house and store back to me in good
condition. When Mrs. Phung heard that I had arrived in Danang, she came to see
me right away and gave me back the keys.
So our house had passed through many hands and finally come back to us.
We were really happy. Sister Hanh used her own money to restore the house for
our mother to live in. Now that she had the house, mother was very happy. Her
livelihood was secure and her life was complete. She no longer had any cause for
worry.

Mr. Bon Dan Loi was living in Saigon. He was very happy to hear that I had
come back to Danang and would soon be in Qui Nhon. He went to Qui Nhon and
waited for me there for a few days, but being very busy he asked Mr. Lim Quang
to call him at once if he saw me and then returned to Saigon. When eventually I
did arrive in Qui Nhon he came to see me. Now, after so many years, we met
again. He threw a party for me at his house and asked me to stay overnight so that
we could catch up with one another’s news. We talked all night until morning
came and were still not tired. He confessed to me that he was worried:
“The revolutionaries are back. What will happen to the wealthy now?”
I reassured him and told him not to worry:
“When I was in Hanoi, Mr. Nguyen Trung Tin, chairman of the People’s
Council of Binh Dinh Province, came to the North. He told us that he was someone
who shows his gratitude to those who have helped the southern revolution, as you
have.”[3]
Mr. Dan Loi gave me a detailed account of his activities and situation. I told
him that he did not have any serious problem. If some trouble arose, he could
mention his connection with me. He could say that he had a brother who had
joined the revolution and was working in Hanoi. That would count in his favor. I
also sincerely advised him not to join any Overseas Chinese organizations. At that
time, however, I dared not tell him about the hostility of the Vietnamese leadership
to the Overseas Chinese.
While we were talking, Mr. Dan Loi surreptitiously put a thick wad of
banknotes into my jacket pocket. When I said goodbye to him in the morning, he
told me that there were 100,000 dong in my pocket. It was a gift for me to use right
away. If I needed some more money later, I should tell his assistant, who often
went to Danang to collect money for him, and he would give me more. I should not
hesitate to ask. He would tell his assistant to go and see me whenever he was in
Danang.
I thanked him profusely. I could see that he loved me very much and treated
me like a blood brother. Later, with the help of two taels of gold that Mr. Dan Loi
gave me and several taels that my sister Hanh gave me, I bought a house at No. 38,
Nguyen Du Street in Danang.
Some time after the liberation of the South, a noisy campaign to reform
private trade began in Saigon. The majority of trading companies were checked.
Houses and properties were confiscated. The police conducted sudden night raids
on the houses of Overseas Chinese, arrested them, and took them away. Saigon
was turned upside down. People were anxious and confused. They trembled with
fear and were unable to eat or sleep. But for some reason Mr. Dan Loi and his
company were not touched. He believed that this was thanks to me. He told me that
I was a good and trustworthy person.
When I visited my mother in Dap Da, she was holding some gold in her
hand. She offered it to me and told me to use it. I did not take it. I told her to keep
it for her old age.
I went up to Quang Ngai to visit my Aunt Du and her husband. My cousin
Kham told Aunt Du: “Please take out a few taels of the gold I asked you to keep
and give them to Cousin Hai. He is very poor.”
I thanked him but declined. I told him to save the gold to look after his old
parents, wives, and children.
I added: “I have just returned on my own and don’t need much.”
“If you don’t want gold,” he continued, “let me give you my motorcycle.”
He had just bought himself a new Honda motorcycle.
“Thank you,” I replied, “but I won’t take it. I dare not ride a motorcycle.”
So I took nothing from Mr. Kham.
Mr. Tam Loc, my wife’s very wealthy brother, came to visit me one day.
“I would like,” he said, “to give my sister a few taels of gold to spend.”
I sincerely thanked him, but told him: “Please wait until Kim Anh returns
home and give your gift directly to her. It will make her happy. I have only just
arrived and don’t need much.”
He agreed. When Kim Anh returned home from Hanoi, her brother invited
her to come and visit him in Pleiku. She went up to visit him and his family, but he
gave her nothing – not a single cent. She had long understood his real attitude, so it
did not upset her.

My cousin Mr. Thanh Quang gave me some jewelry and pocket money.
“In the old days,” he said, “you gave our family a lot of help. We shall never
forget it. Now our business is doing well and we have a high standard of living. If
you are ever in need of money, just ask me. Don’t hesitate.”
His mother, Aunt Bang Mai, also loved me very much.
“I know,” she said, “that you have suffered hardship in the North. My son
keeps my money for me. I’ve asked him to give you some.”
I thanked her and my cousin for their kind hearts. When later I returned to
work in Qui Nhon, I often visited them and they often gave me pocket money.
Mr. Lim Quang presented me with a bicycle made in Saigon. His wife, Mrs.
Lanh, treated me very well.
She said: “It is already over twenty years since we saw you. Now that you
have at last returned to Qui Nhon, please buy a house here near to us.”
“I have only just come home,” I replied. “I don’t have any money yet.”
“My husband has money. Please ask him to give you some.”
“I dare not.”
“Then I shall ask him.”
She was as good as her word. Her husband offered me a tael of gold leaves.
At the beginning of 1979, the Vietnamese authorities allowed Mr. Lim
Quang and his whole family to leave the country. Hardly had their boat set off,
however, than it had an accident. They had to go back to Qui Nhon. I came to visit
them and returned the tael of gold leaves.
I told Mr. Lim Quang: “I haven’t yet used the gold you gave me. Now you
are back again and I worry that you may not have enough money. So I am
returning the gold to you.”
“There is no need,” he replied. “I was unlucky and got caught in an accident,
but I still have enough money left for my requirements. Keep it. Use it to take care
of your old mother and your wife and children.”
I tried to give him back the gold many times, but each time he refused. So I
gave up.
Kim Anh and I went to Qui Nhon to visit our nephew Mr. Kinh Van and his
family. He and his wife welcomed us very warmly.
“You have been living a hard life in the North for over twenty years,” he
told us. “Now you should re-establish your old business, so that you can live
better.”
“A business needs capital,” I pointed out. “I have only just returned home
and have no capital.”
“That is no problem. We can help you with that.”
I thanked him. Later he and his wife opened a store, invited us to a party to
celebrate the occasion, and gave us each spending money.
My old friend Miss Au Nguyet Hoa was very nice to us. When she heard
that I was coming to work in Qui Nhon and did not have a house to live in, she told
me: “I have a house in Qui Nhon. Now I live in Saigon and hardly ever come to
Qui Nhon, so I would like to give you my house there.”
I was very happy to see her and thanked her. But at that time I had not yet
returned to Qui Nhon, so I did not take her house. She let our daughter Ai Nga live
there. The house was too big for one person, however, and soon Ai Nga began to
feel lonesome. She left the house and gave it back to Miss Hoa, who later sold it to
Mr. Ton Nhan Tuan.
When I finally did come to Qui Nhon, Miss Hoa heard that I wanted to buy a
house and immediately gave me 800 dong in new currency,[4] equivalent to half a
tael of gold, as a contribution to the cost of a house. As I was not yet in a position
to buy a house, I tried to return the money to her with my thanks, but she was
determined that I should keep it.
In 1979, Miss Hoa left for France and took up residence in Paris. I wrote her
a letter, asking to come to France and visit her, but as she never replied I did not
go. I shall always be grateful to her.

I lived in Danang for a while. Kim Anh brought Ai Nga and Chien from
Hanoi to visit me. I took them to Saigon to visit my Uncle Bon (Mr. Bon Nghi
Nguyen) and other relatives and friends. By this time Uncle Bon was old and
weak. While the Americans were in the South, he told us, he and his wife and
children had made a good living and saved enough money to build a two-story
house. He showed us round his house.
“For the time being,” he said, “our family is living well. Our only problem is
that our eldest son Loi, who used to be an officer in the Saigon puppet army, has
been arrested and is still in a re-education camp.”
About three years later, Uncle Bon fell sick and passed away. After that I
went to Saigon many times to visit Aunt Bon and her family. At the end of 1978 or
thereabouts, Aunt Bon told me that her youngest son Son had fled by boat and
settled in the United States. I told Loi, who had just been released from the re-
education camp, that he too should flee. However, he dared not.
“I’ve only just been released from the camp,” he said. “If my escape fails, it
would be tragic.”
In 1991, when I went to visit my hometown in Hainan, I ran across a friend
who was visiting from Saigon. Cousin Khon Quang, Uncle Hai’s son, asked him to
help find Uncle Bon’s family, because they had just heard that Aunt Bon and
Cousin Loi and his family had emigrated to the United States. Later Cousin Loi
sent a letter to Cousin Khon Quang. Using the address shown on this letter, I then
wrote to Aunt Bon and Cousin Loi in the United States and told them about our
ancestor.
Later Cousin Loi replied: “In the old days I had two sisters and three
brothers. Our father never let us know our nationality or who our ancestor was.
Our parents often used to go to the Midlands on business, but they never
mentioned any relatives or talked about Hainan. Now that I have read your letter I
understand. My elder sister and I have Han as our family name, but the family
name of my other sister and my two brothers is Lu – our mother’s family name. I
don’t know why.”
After Cousin Loi found out about his ancestor, he often sent money to help
Cousin Khon Quang. Up to 1996, Loi gave him altogether US $700. It was good of
Loi to do that. Cousin Loi was better than his father.
During our stay in Saigon we also visited Mr. Bon Dan Loi and his family.
He and his wife welcomed us enthusiastically, spent a whole day showing us
around Saigon, and threw a party for us.
After that we went to visit an elderly friend of mine by the name of Mr. Ngo
Van Chuong – Mr. Tu Chuong for short. He was already over eighty years old. His
experience of the revolution went back to the 1930s. During the Anti-French
Resistance War, he had worked as an underground agent in Saigon. When he and
Mr. Le Duan were exposed by the French colonial regime, he had sold all his
possessions and helped Mr. Le Duan to escape. Then he and his wife had escaped
to Cambodia and gone into hiding there, although his wife had later returned to
Saigon. After the departure of the French, the Vietnamese government had
arranged for him to go to the North for medical treatment. While living in Hanoi he
had been a deputy in the National Assembly. He was kind and good-natured and
had a calm manner, so it was easy to get close to him. Living in Hanoi by himself,
with nothing to do except daily activities, he had been sad and lonesome and we
were very concerned about him. We had treated him as our own relative and
helped and taken care of him in many ways. A very strong and special bond had
formed between him and us. He had loved and respected us as his main
benefactors. After the South was liberated, he had returned to Saigon. He had told
his relatives that when he was in Hanoi we had looked after him and given him
much comfort and happiness. He had felt as much at home with us as with his own
family.
When Mr. Tu Chuong saw us, he greeted us warmly. He reminisced about
old times and thanked us.
After visiting Mr. Tu Chuong, we returned to Mr. Bon Dan Loi’s house.
Then Mr. Tu Chuong came with his chauffeur and took us to see many places in
Saigon, ending with a meal in a restaurant. We were very moved.
After our stay in Saigon we returned to Dap Da. From there Kim Anh went
back to Hanoi, while Ai Nga and Chien stayed on in Dap Da with their
grandmother. The next year Ai Nga married Mr. Au Quynh Hoa, a native of Dap
Da. On July 1, 1978, Ai Nga gave birth to a son named Au Bang Loi. On June 6,
1979, they left Vietnam and settled in the United States.

Notes

[1] Hai means “number two.” In South Vietnam it is a common name for the
firstborn child in a family. It would be regarded as unlucky to call a firstborn child
“number one.”

[2] Bon means “number four.”

[3] Mr. Bon Dan Loi had given considerable financial assistance to the NLF.

[4] The new national currency was launched on September 22, 1975 at the rate of
one dong of the new currency for 500 dong of the old currency.

Chapter 33. At the South Midlands import-export company

When our foreign trade group arrived in Da Nang, we immediately took over the
Phuc Tho Duong Herbal Exports Store. At the same time, the Ministry of Public
Health took over the Phuc Tho Duong Herbal Medicine Store.
Soon after this, Mr. Phan Chinh Hoa, the owner of these two stores, came to
see us (I knew who he was, but he did not know me). He asked us to allow him to
continue his export business with our assistance.
Our group leaders and I told him: “Now that the South is liberated, private
export businesses are no longer allowed.”
All of his assets were expropriated and divided among related companies.
He saw the writing on the wall and found a way to flee the country and go to Hong
Kong.
One noontime, as I was taking a nap at the residence for company personnel,
a woman I did not know came looking for me. When she saw me, she asked:
“Are you Mr. Han Hing Quang?”
“Yes. What’s the matter?”
“I’m Mrs. Kim, the wife of Mr. Ngo Tan Dan. Why did you let him marry
another woman in the North?”
“I knew nothing about it.”
“You’re lying. You and Mr. Dan lived in the same city. How could you not
have known?”
“It’s true that Mr. Dan and I both lived in Hanoi. We knew one another. But
much of the time I was away. So I really did not know. I only heard him say that
you had stayed behind to work in the South and had died at the hands of the
enemy. He said that you had sacrificed yourself for the cause. He was very
lonesome, so he remarried.”
“In what sort of activity was I involved that I should die at the hands of the
enemy. You are all in this together! Even Mr. Ngo Khon Dao and Mr. Khon Phuc
act as his henchmen!”
When she had finished, she let out a loud sigh of indignation, stamped her
feet, and left. This was a very funny story!

It was the responsibility of our company to organize an import-export
company in each province of the South Midlands and train personnel for each of
these companies, giving them some basic knowledge of foreign trade. Once these
companies were established and their personnel trained, they would be sent to their
respective provinces to take up their duties.

Our group stayed in Danang for a while and set up an import-export
company for the South Midlands. The director was Mr. Nguyen Duan, the deputy
directors were Mr. Dinh Trac and Mr. Nguyen Kieu, and I was head of the
planning office.
The situation inside the company was very complicated. Mr. Duan was a
good-natured, honest, and generous man with a pleasant, relaxed, and calm
manner, considerate and friendly toward his staff. Mr. Kieu was also fair,
straightforward, and relaxed. If anything was wrong, then he would say so
immediately. Mr. Trac, however, was cunning, sneaky, mean, narrow-minded, and
malevolent.
During work breaks we senior staff used to discuss company affairs. Mr.
Duan often said that our company should be allowed to export goods directly to
foreign countries without having to go through the national company. It would
save time and expense. Mr. Kieu disagreed. Mr. Trac kept his silence. Mr. Duan
and Mr. Kieu were only engaging in casual talk. They were not expressing their
formal views. But Mr. Trac, ever since he had come to Danang, had been plotting
to overthrow Mr. Duan and usurp his position. He secretly reported these casual
conversations to the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. Spicing things up,
he wrote:
“Mr. Duan’s thinking is infected with localism. He wants to assert his
independence of the central government. Mr. Kieu foments internal divisions and
often argues with Mr. Duan.”
Mr. Trac’s report alarmed the ministry leadership. Feeling no need to find
out whether it was right or wrong, they immediately issued a directive for Mr.
Duan to retire and another directive for Mr. Kieu to return to Hanoi for
appointment to a different post. Mrs. Nguyen Thi Hien, deputy head of the
personnel department, was sent to Danang to talk with Mr. Duan about the
ministry’s decisions. When she arrived Mr. Duan was in Nha Trang on business, so
Mrs. Hien continued her journey that same night to Nha Trang to find Mr, Duan.
The ministry directive struck Mr. Duan like a thunderbolt. He looked
haggard, as though he were almost out of his mind or had accidentally swallowed a
piece of soap. He did not understand why he had suddenly been dismissed. With
no way out, he silently accepted the decision.
I felt sorry for Mr. Duan. All his life he had been loyal to the party and the
revolution. All he knew was how to struggle for the revolutionary idea. He had
followed the true path and given no thought to his personal interest. He could not
believe that his own colleague had betrayed him. Now he had to hand over his
directorship to Mr. Dinh Trac. He departed with no drums or trumpets to proclaim
his glory.
As the proverb says: “You can draw the tiger, you can draw the skin, but you
cannot draw the bone. You can see a person’s face, but you cannot see his heart.”
Mr. Kieu was even more pitiful. He had previously worked as commercial
attaché at the Vietnamese embassy in Hungary. His wife had had a permanent job
in Hanoi and his children had been doing well at school. His family’s standard of
living had been stable. After coming to Danang, he thought that he could put down
roots in his home area and help make it prosperous and beautiful. So he brought his
wife and children to Danang. Scarcely had he been able to make arrangements for
his family, however, when suddenly he was ordered to return to Hanoi. He too
almost lost his mind. He only managed to find a temporary job for his wife as a
worker at a woolen carpet factory in Danang to tide his family over until his
problem could be solved.
As for Mr. Dinh Trac, he had hit the jackpot. He rose up like a kite that has
caught the wind. With the departure of Mr. Duan and Mr. Kieu, he became
company director. In the space of a single year, his salary had been raised three
times – first when he went to the South, a second time when he was promoted to
director, and the third time when the company was dissolved upon his retirement.
He was like a dog that yawns and catches a fly.
I was engaged in official business for over twenty years. I saw a lot of good
things and a lot of bad things. My range of vision widened. I saw that leading
cadres were no better than anyone else. Many of them were greedy, mean, and
cruel, devoid of regret or remorse, willing to weave wicked plots and use any dirty
means to reach their dark goal. Some were even ready to sell their souls and
commit unspeakable acts to harm people.
After Mr. Kieu returned to Hanoi, the Zone V party committee appointed
Mr. Nguyen Hai deputy director of the South Midlands Import-Export Company.
Mr. Nguyen Hai was a political cadre. During the Anti-French Resistance War and
the War Against America to Save the Nation he had always worked in the war
zone. When the liberation of the South was complete, he had returned to Danang.
He was good-natured, honest, pleasant, and sympathetic to his subordinates, but he
was not a professional in the field of foreign trade. It was Mr. Dinh Trac who
controlled all the work of the company and made all the decisions.
Mr. Duan was my old director. I had worked with him for many years. He
understood, liked, and trusted me. I felt sorry for him in his current predicament.
After retiring he would often drop by at the company offices to chat with us. It
gave him pleasure and made him feel less sad.
One day I jokingly said to him: “Dear director, for many years I followed
you in our work for the revolution. We understood one another. Now you are
retired and famous, successful and fulfilled. So part of you must feel comforted.
But part of me is still in turmoil. Even now my family is not reunited, alas! Please
tell me your whole life story. I shall write your memoirs for you and you can keep
them for your children to read, so that they will know what life was like for their
parents’ generation.”
He immediately brushed off the idea. “That is enough!” he exclaimed.
“Don’t you dare write down those crazy stories!”
Hearing this, Mr. Hai held his tummy and laughed. “This Mr. Quang!”

Having established the South Midlands Import-Export Company, we
proceeded to organize provincial import-export companies. One of these was the
Quang Nam – Danang Provincial Import-Export Company, with Mr. Nguyen
Thong as director.
Mr. Thong had previously been director of a Hanoi clothing company. He
was an expert in the clothing industry, but knew nothing about foreign trade. He
was wicked, wily, strong-willed, self-seeking, conceited, pretentious, and wildly
ambitious. He was also extremely hostile to everyone outside his own circle.
As soon as he was appointed director, he announced: “I shall only take on
cadres from Quang Nam and Danang. I don’t want anyone from other provinces.”
When Mr. Nguyen Khang, who had been appointed deputy director of the
new company, heard this announcement, he told Mr. Thong:
“All the cadres in our group have ability. Some of them have fought in the
army at the front. All of them have fought on the foreign trade front. We should
treat them with respect. Even Mr. Duan, with all his experience, respected them.
How much more should you respect them! Instead you are insulting them. It is just
as though you were kicking your own leg.”
Someone reported the argument to the leadership. The leaders of the Zone V
party committee and the Quang Nam and Danang provincial party committees got
angry and labeled Mr. Thong an “extreme divisive element.” A few days later Mr.
Thong received a directive ordering him to retire.
Mr. Thong was furious with himself for losing his position even before he
had a chance to start work in it. He had said something wrong and someone had
informed on him. Even though he got what he deserved, I still felt sorry for him.

Another company that we set up was the Nghia Binh Import-Export
Company. The director was Mr. Tran Dung, the deputy director was Mr. Dao
Trong Mien, and the head of the planning office was Mr. Nguyen Van Long.
Mr. Tran Dung had previously headed the personnel department at the
Ministry of Foreign Trade. He had no experience in foreign trade or of direct
personal contact with ordinary staff in other departments. He was narrow-minded,
selfish, tricky, evasive, and malicious. All day long he seemed depressed, with
never even a little smile on his face. He had no sympathy for his subordinates.
Mr. Dao Trong Mien had previously headed the administration department
at the Ministry of Foreign Trade. He too knew nothing about foreign trade.
However, he was good-natured and agreeable. He and I had known one another for
a long time. When he took up his post in Qui Nhon, I asked for him to arrange for
Ai Nga to work at his company. He was glad to oblige, and Ai Nga was taken on
as the company accountant.
Mr. Nguyen Van Long had previously been a Level 4 technician in the
exports department of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. He had experience in foreign
trade. Mr. Long was cunning, malevolent, wildly ambitious, and an extreme anti-
Chinese element. He made a great show of supporting and helping Mr. Dung while
actually giving him misleading advice and taking advantage of his mistakes in the
hope of eventually overthrowing him and becoming company director himself.
When Mr. Dung took up his post in Qui Nhon, I repeatedly asked him to
allow Kim Anh and myself to work at his company. However, he and Mr. Long
could never agree on the matter.
I had now been back in the South for over a year, but Kim Anh was still not
allowed to join me. It made me feel uneasy. I did not know what to do. Kim Anh
missed me and our relatives in the South very much. She was worried and anxious
and imagined that I no longer cared for her or for the rest of the children. She put
the blame on me, alas!
Mr. Tran Dung and Mr. Long were narrow-minded, anti-Chinese elements.
They were prejudiced against Overseas Chinese cadres. On one occasion Chien
came from Dap Da to Danang to visit me. It so happened that on the same day Mr.
Dung and Mr. Long came from Qui Nhon to Danang by company car for a
meeting. When it was time for them to return to Qui Nhon, I asked them whether
Chien could go with them as far as Dap Da. They adamantly refused.
In 1976 I wanted to take some time off to visit my family in Hanoi.
Company regulations allowed each employee ten days’ leave a year. So I went to
ask Deputy Director Hai for permission take leave.
“How many days do you need?” asked Mr. Hai.
“I am asking for ten days, in accordance with the regulations.”
“You have a long journey ahead of you. You need more than ten days. You
can have fifteen.”
I was very happy to hear that. I sincerely thanked him for his concern.
When I returned from leave, I took Manh with me to Danang and then to
Dap Da to stay with my old mother and give her some comfort.
While I was away in Hanoi, Mr. Dinh Trac had taken advantage of my
absence to try to remove me from my post as head of the planning office. Although
he had not yet received a ministry directive on the matter, he told Mr. Nguyen Chu
to take over my office. Mr. Chu did so with alacrity. He thought that his big chance
had come. Seeing no need for formalities, he openly moved into my office. Even
more cynically, he cast aside all my documents, papers, stationery, and furniture,
and brought in all his own things.
When I returned I saw what had happened.
“Why have you moved into my office?” I asked Mr. Chu.
“Director Trac told me to.”
“Do you know what this office is for?”
He was unable to answer.
“You should know,” I continued. “This is my office. If even Mr. Trac wants
to come here, he has to ask me first.”
That punctured his enthusiasm. He picked up his belongings right away and
left. I never saw him in my office again. He reported the matter to Mr. Trac, who
was very angry but kept his anger to himself, waiting for the right time to take
revenge.
At one of our weekly meetings, Mr. Trac criticized me for taking longer
leave than the company regulations allowed. I accepted the criticism. I did not
want to explain myself, because I did not want to put Mr. Hai in a difficult
position.
After the meeting I told Mr. Hai: “You knew very well about this matter. I
really did nothing wrong.”
“That is Mr. Trac for you,” he replied. “He involves more people, pushes
here, pushes there, and stirs up a storm in a teacup.”
Mr. Trac had criticized me, but he was not yet satisfied. He still hated me.

Mr. Dung and Mr. Long had been at the Nghia Binh Import-Export
Company for over a year, but they had still not accomplished anything. On one
occasion they came to Danang for a meeting about work plans. The meeting was
attended by the deputy director of the personnel department at the Ministry of
Foreign Trade. As head of the planning office of the South Midlands Import-
Export Company, I also participated. I shared with them my ideas for conducting
research and investigation to acquire a deep understanding of the market situation
with a view to organizing the production of export goods.
Mr. Dung and Mr. Long immediately opposed my ideas. That made the man
from the ministry very angry. His whole body turned red and he criticized them
both:
“You don’t know how to do your job and Mr. Quang has the good heart to
help you, but you refuse to listen!”
From then on, the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Trade had a poor
impression of Mr. Dung and Mr. Long. The leaders of Nghia Binh Province were
also dissatisfied with them.
Another colleague of mine was Mr. Nguyen Tan Anh, a native of Phu My
District of Nghia Binh Province. While in the North, he had worked in agriculture
and been awarded the title of Labor Hero for Meritorious Service. He was very
enthusiastic and hard-working, but had no understanding of foreign trade. He was
also a bad and ambitious person. It so happened that the secretary of the Nghia
Binh province party committee and the chairman of the Nghia Binh province
people’s council were at that time, like him, natives of Phu My District. Taking
advantage of this fact and knowing that the leaders of the province were
dissatisfied with Mr. Dung and Mr. Long, Mr. Anh proposed a scheme to them.
The result was that Mr. Dung was forced to retire immediately and Mr. Long sent
to a different place, while Mr. Anh was promoted to the position of director of the
Nghia Binh Province Import-Export Company. At one fell swoop Mr. Anh had
seized Mr. Dung’s directorship.
Although he was now director, Mr. Anh did not yet have any professional
staff to assist him.
Over the course of time, import-export companies were set up in all the
provinces of our region. The Ministry of Foreign Trade therefore decided that the
South Midlands Import-Export Company should be closed down and all its
personnel reassigned to the import-export companies of their own provinces. Mr.
Dinh Trac sent everyone except me to the appropriate provincial company. I
repeatedly asked him to send me to the Nghia Binh Province Import-Export
Company. The ministry leadership also told him to send me there, but he paid no
heed. I became very worried.
At a staff meeting I said to him: “Everyone else has been assigned. What
about me? Where do you intend to send me?”
“You returned from leave one week late,” he replied. “You violated the
regulations. I have imposed a disciplinary penalty and I am going to report the
matter to the ministry.”
I got very angry. “Fine,” I retorted. “Go ahead and report it. I am not afraid
of you. Go ahead and chop off my head!”
Everyone at the meeting was surprised to hear me say that. They could not
believe that I had spoken out against the leader. They were all worried for me.
I thought to myself: “Returning a few days late from leave is not an
important matter. A short verbal rebuke would have sufficed. Let him send me
back to Hanoi. I wouldn’t mind. Or let him send me to Saigon. I wouldn’t mind
that either. Or let him send me to Qui Nhon. That would be best of all. But
wherever he sends me is fine with me. I am not afraid. If he doesn’t need me
anywhere, then someone else will need me. It doesn’t matter.”
Mr. Trac was himself surprised that I had stood up to him. He got angry. His
face turned red. But he was afraid of losing face in front of his staff, so he made no
reply. Secretly, however, he was determined to find a way to take his revenge.
Later friends told me that Mr. Trac had nursed a grudge against me for
refusing to join him at the Marine Products Import-Export Company in Haiphong
when he was director there. This was his way of getting even with me. So that was
how this story began!
With the reassignment of all the other staff, only Mr. Trac and I were left at
the South Midlands Import-Export Company. One day Mr. Trac told me to go to
Saigon and ask the ministry representative there to allocate two tons of gasoline to
our company. I took the opportunity to remind him:
“When I get back from Saigon, you must give me a new assignment and
solve my housing problem without further delay.”
He was still noncommittal: “When you get back we’ll decide.”
So I went to Saigon. With the help of old friends I obtained not two but five
tons of gasoline. With that matter resolved, I went to visit Mr. Nguyen Quoc Thai,
an old director of mine and also of Mr. Trac’s. In Saigon he was a representative of
the Ministry of Foreign Trade and director of the Food and Agricultural Products
Import-Export Company. No sooner had I stepped into the company’s offices than
I ran into Mr. Ngo Can, the older brother of Mr. Ngo Lang and a native of Cam
Tien Hamlet in Nhon Huong Municipality, which adjoins Dap Da. I recognized
him, but he did not recognize me. He asked me where I was from.
“From the South Midlands Import-Export Company.”
“Ah! Do you happen to know someone who works there by the name of Mr.
Han Hing Quang?”
“I do.”
“My director, Mr. Nguyen Quoc Thai, has told me to go to Danang and
bring him back to work here. No matter what, I have to find him and bring him
here.”
I laughed.
“I am Mr. Han Hing Quang.”
He didn’t believe me.
“I’ve often heard his name, but I have never met him.”
“Yes, you have. It really is me. Mr. Han Hing Quang from Dap Da.”
At last he took me to Mr. Thai, who was very glad to see me. He stepped
forward, shook my hand, greeted me, asked me to sit down, and gave me a drink of
water.
“Mr. Quang,” he said, “you have turned up at just the right moment. I need
you here. In fact, I was going to send someone to Danang to bring you here to
work with me. Later we can make a few trips abroad before we retire.”
I was very happy to hear this and sincerely thanked him for his offer, but
added:
“I am worried that Mr. Trac will not let me go.”
“Oh, I can send him a directive. I am a representative of the ministry, after
all.”
He wrote a letter to Mr. Trac clearly stating that the ministry had decided to
transfer me to the Food and Agricultural Products Import-Export Company in
Saigon. I took the letter, thanked him again, and left.
On my return to Danang, I reported back to Mr. Trac and asked him where
he intended to send me. He was still noncommittal. I could bear it no longer and
handed him the letter from Mr. Thai.
When Mr. Trac had finished reading the letter, he said: “You must go to the
Nghia Binh Import-Export Company. They are short of staff.”
I was very happy to hear that. I thought to myself: “This old man is very sly,
very tricky. He fears those above him and abuses those below him. If I keep
submitting requests to him, he will make a lot of trouble for me and it will be easy
for him to control me.”
I immediately asked him to give me a written directive to go to the Nghia
Binh Import-Export Company.
So I would be able to work in Qui Nhon and live near my old mother and
relatives. That gave me some satisfaction.
Ai Hoa was also in Qui Nhon. She had graduated from university and been
assigned to work for the Agricultural Land Survey at the Nghia Binh Province
People’s Council.
At about the same time, Mai and some others who had just graduated from
the Foreign Trade University were assigned to undergo practical training at the
Nghia Binh Import-Export Company.

Chapter 34. At the Nghia Binh Import-Export Company

At the beginning of 1977, I started work at the Nghia Binh Import-Export
Company. The director was Mr. Nguyen Tan Anh; the deputy directors were Mr.
Dao Trong Mien, Mr. Nguyen Dinh Thi, and Mr. Le Boi; and I was head of the
planning office. Funnily enough, this group of leaders looked like an army unit.
Mr. Anh had been appointed by the party committee of Nghia Binh
Province, Mr. Mien by the South Midlands Import-Export Company, and Mr. Thi
by the Ministry of Foreign Trade. Mr. Le Boi had applied for his position himself
and been appointed by the people’s council of Nghia Binh Province.
I had not been at the Nghia Binh Import-Export Company for very long
when the company leaders decided that I should take the post of secretary of the
company’s party organization. To be frank, since going to the North I had disliked
working in positions of leadership. Such work involved a lot of trouble. The
situation in the country at that time was extremely complicated and quite different
from before, so I repeatedly refused. Eventually I was told: “This is a decision
from above. As a party member you must obey.”
I knew that the party and government were now conducting an anti-China
and anti-Chinese policy, but I also wanted to see what sort of game they wanted to
play with me. So with some reluctance I accepted. I did not think that this was
really an important post, but others believed that it put me in a dangerous position.
I requested the company leaders to arrange for Kim Anh to come and work
at the company. They refused. They even claimed that Ai Nga did not have the
right to reside in Qui Nhon and demanded that she quit her job.
That made me very angry. Being in a fighting mood, I said: “Fine, it’s your
right to decide. But I told you the truth. I joined the revolution because I wanted to
struggle for communism, not because I was starving. Mrs. Lien here knows my
personal history very well.” (I was referring to Mrs. Nguyen Thi Lien, a company
employee who was also from Dap Da.)
They did not reply.
Then I went to see Mrs. Nguyen Thi Hoa Kieu in the personnel department.
I told her: “Unless the company leaders arrange for my wife to come and work at
the company I cannot work here any more. I’ll apply elsewhere.”
She told me to give her Kim Anh’s CV and said she would ask the province
party committee to solve the problem. The province party committee immediately
issued a directive to assign Kim Anh to work at the Nghia Binh Import-Export
Company. Our family would be reunited at last. We were so happy.
I prepared to go to Hanoi to bring Kim Anh and Cuong back to Qui Nhon,
but I was too busy with work and meetings to go right away. It so happened that
around that time an employee by the name of Mr. Nguyen Son came to see me
from the company’s arts and crafts department. In a jocular tone he said to me:
“Please help me, chief! Recommend me to the leadership for promotion! I’ll
remember you forever.”
“Don’t joke. Who am I to recommend you?”
“I know you can do it. Please help me.”
I laughed and laughed at the way he talked. When he was finished, I said:
“I heard that you are soon going to Hanoi. Is that true?”
“Yes, chief. If there’s anything you’d like me to do, just tell me. I’ll see to it
for you. Don’t worry.”
That made me feel happy inside. I told Mr. Son:
“My wife is in Hanoi. Now the province party committee has reassigned her
to work here. As you are going to Hanoi, please help me bring my wife and child
here. Can you do that?”
“Yes, that’s an easy job. I will certainly do it, chief. Don’t worry.”
I thanked him and promised: “Go ahead to Hanoi. When you return, I’ll see
what I can do for you.”
Mr. Son thanked me. He was true to his word. He brought Kim Anh and
Cuong back with him to Qui Nhon in his goods truck. They arrived safe and sound.

Kim Anh left Trung behind to continue his education in Hanoi. She started
work at the Nghia Binh Import-Export Company. Cuong and Chien were admitted
to school in Qui Nhon. Manh remained in Dap Da with his grandmother. We felt at
peace.
Although Cuong had been assigned to Sung Nhon School in Qui Nhon, first
he was sent to do productive labor for a month. Then they claimed that he was too
old to attend school and refused to admit him. So I immediately applied for him to
go to Danang Foreign Trade College. He studied there for a while, then he was sent
to Dac Lac in the Central Highlands to collect and purchase coffee.
Hung had been in the army for about two years. When Trung heard that the
government now had a policy of allowing all university students who had joined
the army in the middle of their studies to return to university to complete their
courses, he filled in an application form in Hung’s name requesting Hung’s
military unit to allow him to return to the Foreign Trade University. Hung returned
to university and continued his studies until May 1979.
After Hung had been back at university for a while, Trung graduated and
was assigned to teach at Danang Foreign Trade College. Later he married his
colleague Le Thanh Mai, a native of Hanoi.
I continued working at the Nghia Binh Import-Export Company for some
time. When Mr. Nguyen Tan Anh was transferred to the post of director of the
Nghia Binh Agricultural Specialty Products Company, the leadership appointed
Mr. Le Thanh Ha as the new director of the Nghia Binh Import-Export Company,
sent Mr. Nguyen Dinh Thi to be director of the Cau Doi Timber Company, and
appointed Mr. Nguyen Thiep deputy director of the Nghia Binh Import-Export
Company. I remained as head of the planning office and secretary of the
company’s party organization.
During the War Against America to Save the Nation, Mr. Ha and Mr. Thiep
had both been political cadres in the war zone. They knew nothing about foreign
trade, but came to work at our company through the good offices of the province
party committee and the province people’s council. The secretary of the province
party committee and the chairman of the province people’s council were at that
time both natives of Quang Ngai Province.

In the middle of 1978, I was in Hanoi for a meeting and Comrade Ly Ban
had a private talk with me.
He said: “Many of the Overseas Chinese in Hanoi have recently left for
China. You told your son at the Foreign Trade University not to go with them. If
he wants to go to China, please submit a request through the proper channels so
that there can be no misunderstanding.”
I sincerely thanked him for his concern for us, but added: “I guarantee that
my son and I remain of one heart and mind. I promise you that my son will never
desert.”
“That is good,” he replied, “but if the leadership allows you to go, well then,
that is a different matter.”
Chapter 35. The anti-China and anti-Chinese policy of the Vietnamese party
and government

My time at the Nghia Binh Import-Export Company was also a time when the
Vietnamese party and government were strongly promoting their anti-China and
anti-Chinese policy. Overseas Chinese found themselves subjected to a social
boycott. Although I was head of our company’s planning office and secretary of its
party organization, I was tightly bound with invisible chains.
At the beginning of 1978, the police in Qui Nhon City issued new identity
cards for all residents. They sent people to each workplace to register and
photograph employees. At the Nghia Binh Import-Export Company Kim Anh and I
were the first to be registered and photographed, but we had to wait over a year for
our new identity cards. As they had already taken away the old identity cards that
we had brought with us from Hanoi, we were left without identity cards. In the
situation prevailing at that time, it was risky to go anywhere without carrying an
identity card.
On Sundays I would often go to Dap Da to visit my old mother. The fare by
public transportation was only 0.50 dong with ID but 2 dong without. So I often
asked the company to issue a special permit so that I could get the lower fare. At
first they were glad to do it, but later they were no longer willing.
Kim Anh worked very hard and enthusiastically in her unit, successfully
completing any task she was given. Every year she was awarded the title of
“Advanced Worker.” But throughout the time she worked there they never
increased her wages. The head of her unit told her quite openly:
“You are a good worker. You successfully complete any task you undertake.
We really should increase your wages, but unfortunately your husband is an
Overseas Chinese so we can’t do it.”
What a miserable, mean-spirited fellow!
At that time Trung was a teacher at the Danang Foreign Trade College, but
they did not let him teach a course in foreign trade. He was told to teach physical
education instead. Hung was still studying at the Foreign Trade University. He was
often followed by secret police agents.

At the same time as the Vietnamese party and government pursued their
anti-China and anti-Chinese policy, they shamelessly continued to beg for Chinese
aid.
On June 4, 1973, secretary of the party central committee Mr. Le Duan and
prime minister Mr. Pham Van Dong headed a party and government delegation on
a visit to China. In their negotiations with prime minister Chou Enlai, they asked
for aid but at the same time made demands and threats.
The Chinese side not only had to impose great sacrifices on their own people
in order to aid Vietnam during the War Against America to Save the Nation, but
also had to endure the complaints and reproaches of the Vietnamese side. At this
meeting the Vietnamese delegation put forward all sorts of conditions. When it
seemed that the two sides were about to reach agreement, they demanded that the
Chinese side satisfy all their requests indefinitely. Anyone would have thought that
they were fighting the Americans to save some other nation rather than their own.
In 1976 the Chinese people suffered the loss of several top leaders. Prime
minister Zhou Enlai passed away, followed by chairman of the standing committee
of the National People’s Congress Marshal Zhu De and then Chairman Mao
Zedong. On top of that, a big earthquake in Tangshan, Hebei Province caused
heavy losses for the Chinese people. Most of Tangshan City was destroyed and
tens of thousands of people were killed. It was a terrible tragedy!
The Vietnamese leaders, however, showed not even the slightest sympathy
for the Chinese people, but only demanded yet more aid. In the middle of 1978,
another big delegation, headed by Mr. Le Duan, went to Beijing to ask for more
aid. It was really unreasonable! On this occasion, however, Mr. Hua Guofeng, the
new party central committee secretary and prime minister, refused to provide
further aid.
The Vietnamese leaders were very angry and openly expressed their
resentment. After returning to Vietnam, they intensified the campaign against
China and the Overseas Chinese. They circulated false rumors throughout the
country, accused the Chinese party and government of every conceivable sin, and
urged people to stand up and criticize China. What is more, they sent many
propagandists to the countryside to incite hatred of China and defame the Overseas
Chinese in the cruelest terms.
The hostility of the Vietnamese leaders to China and the Overseas Chinese is
nothing new. It began long ago. In 1976, in an interview with a Swedish reporter,
Mr. Hoang Tung, chief editor of the People’s Newspaper and a member of the
party central committee, said: “While Vietnam was at war, the Chinese and the
Russians did their utmost to help Vietnam. That was very important for Vietnam.
Now Vietnam is at peace and no longer needs to ask for aid.”
Vietnam has close connections with the south of China. Its relations with its
big neighbor had both positive and negative aspects. Vietnam had to resist political
and cultural pressure from the north.
Good relations with Russia were very important for Vietnam. The Russians
sought to minimize China’s influence in the world. This goal was very much in
accord with Vietnam’s interests. This was why more and more Vietnamese took
sides with Russia.
The Vietnamese leaders continued to provoke China. Vietnamese troops
often fired artillery shells across the border into China, damaged homes and
schools, harassed people in the border area, and invaded Chinese land. Overseas
Chinese living in the border area were forced to gather together and expelled from
the country.
The situation deteriorated day by day until finally, on February 17, 1979,
war broke out along the Vietnam—China border. The Vietnamese leaders
broadcast threats to retaliate against all Overseas Chinese cadres, workers, and
collective farmers. Plans were made to concentrate all Overseas Chinese in one
place. It was announced that Overseas Chinese would be allowed to work only as
bicycle repairers, barbers, rickshaw drivers, cart pullers, and unskilled laborers.
Use was also made of cunning methods like “give poison, then treat poison.”
Some Overseas Chinese who did not understand the true situation were induced to
criticize and openly insult China. Some people of that sort, being dependent on the
authorities for their livelihood, agreed to stage plays or make radio or television
broadcasts insulting China. This happened in Qui Nhon too.
One day Mr. To Lieu, director of the Nghia Binh television station, came to
mobilize me. (He was from the Minh Huong people and a very distant relative of
mine; his wife was an Overseas Chinese.) He asked me to speak on television and
insult China. I should say that the Vietnamese party and government were not
against China or the Overseas Chinese and that the Chinese leaders were wrong to
claim otherwise.
“It is appropriate,” he continued, “for you to go on television and express
your opinions, because you are entrusted with important work by the party and
government. Your children are also well treated and allowed to study at
university.”
“Unfortunately,” I replied, “my company just now is facing an emergency. I
must prepare to go to Ly Son Island. I am very sorry, but I cannot do as you ask.”
He said no more. I did not want to be used against my will, so I found a way
to avoid it.
The next day I was visited at home by Mr. Ton Nhon Tuan, an Overseas
Chinese who had been a cadre of the Nghia Binh committee of the Fatherland
Front since 1970.
“Mr. Quang,” he said, “the province leadership invite you to go on television
tomorrow to express your opinions.”
“I am very sorry,” I replied, “but tomorrow morning I shall be leaving for Ly
Son Island.”
“I can ask your company to postpone your trip.”
“That, I’m afraid, is impossible. The situation out there is very serious. Our
company persuaded the farmers to grow garlic for export. Now it is harvesting
time. If we don’t collect and buy the garlic from them very soon, they may explode
with anger. The situation may lead to violence. I must go to Ly Son Island
immediately. I cannot delay.”
Mr. Tuan said no more. He could not force me to do it. That was how I
avoided that unpleasant job! I was really lucky!
However, quite a few Overseas Chinese did agree to appear on Qui Nhon
television and “express their opinions.” Mr. Ton Nhon Tuan himself did so, as did
Mr. Hoang Khac Thanh, a cadre of the Qui Nhon committee of the Fatherland
Front, some retired Overseas Chinese cadres such as Mr. Ngo Khon Phuc, Mr. Ngo
Khon Dao, Mr. Tran Tu Lap, and Mr. Ba, and some ordinary Overseas Chinese
such as Mr. Ngo Khon Long.
Mr. Ton Nhon Tuan was very wicked and cunning – a real opportunist.
Being a cadre of the province committee of the Fatherland Front, he was the first to
insult China. He ranted and raved, and wept as though his father had just died.
With tears flowing, nose running, and saliva dribbling, he made a truly pitiful and
comic impression.
After appearing on television several days in a row to insult China, Mr.
Tuan, together with his brothers Mr. Ton Nhon Hung and Mr. Ton Nhon Hiep, his
sister Mrs. Ton Que Huong, and their families, left Vietnam for foreign countries.
Mr. Ngo Khon Dao was another opportunist. His son-in-law, Mr. Truong,
was an Overseas Chinese. His son, Mr. Nam Sanh, had been sent by the
Vietnamese government to study in Hungary and was now resident in Qui Nhon.
As Mr. Dao wanted to please the Vietnamese leaders and win their trust, he was
very active in this anti-China propaganda. On the day when he was scheduled to
appear on television, he was sick and unable to walk properly. Nevertheless, he
called a rickshaw to take him to the television station to express his anti-China
opinions.
Mr. Tran Tu Lap was yet another opportunist. He stood up and talked about
this and that in total confusion.
Mr. Ngo Khon Phuc was considered an honest man. He always agreed with
people and confined himself to repeating commonplaces. He would say, for
example:
“In any country where the revolution is victorious, all private companies are
nationalized. That is a necessary thing to do. It was done not only in Vietnam, but
also previously in China.”
Mr. Hoang Khac Thanh was shrewd and evasive. He expressed himself in
bookish style:
“The Chinese leaders say that Vietnam is against China and the Overseas
Chinese. History will decide who is right and who is wrong.”
Mr. Ngo Khon Long was an Overseas Chinese and an old friend of mine. He
lived in Binh Dinh City. Before his television interview he came to my home and
explained his situation to me:
“Mr. Quang, the leadership of An Nhon District told me to go on television
to express my anti-China opinions. I am being forced to do it. Please understand
me. It is not my wish.”
“If they told you to do it,” I replied, “you cannot refuse. Before you express
an opinion, you must get their approval. Otherwise you will get into trouble.”
“My speech has already been written by the An Nhon District leadership.
They said I should just read it aloud. Actually they wrote the speech for Mr. Kinh
Quang, but he is too busy. So I am delivering it instead.”

A few days later, the Nghia Binh committee of the Fatherland Front
convened a conference of all Overseas Chinese cadres in the province. Its purpose
was to induce Overseas Chinese cadres to take a stand against China. We were told
that the Vietnamese leadership had never been against China or the Overseas
Chinese. Overseas Chinese were treated very well in Vietnam. There was no
discrimination. The Chinese claims that Vietnam was against China and the
Overseas Chinese were unjustified.
I too was invited to this conference. Many of those present read out what the
Vietnamese leadership had told them to say. They said all sorts of things. I said
nothing.
After the meeting I was approached by Mr. Hoang Khac Thanh. He said to
me in confidence: “Mr. Quang, yesterday I spoke on television. Today several
mayors told me that I lacked a clear standpoint. They were really angry!”
“Of course,” I replied. “They told you to say bad things about China, but you
just mumbled. Of course they were not satisfied.”
Now Mr. Khac Thanh felt insecure. Friends of his had a boat and were
leaving Vietnam. There was enough room in the boat for him and his family. He
asked the local authorities for permission to leave and permission was granted. So
they left.
The departure of Mr. Khac Thanh and his family opened the door for other
Overseas Chinese cadres in Qui Nhon to follow suit. It also encouraged me to
decide to request permission for our family to leave. It would be very good to
escape from a difficult situation.
After the conference Mr. To Lieu came to my home. He asked me why I had
not said anything.
“I have grievances,” I replied. “I myself have suffered discrimination. It
would not have been good for me to express my views.”
Mr. To Lieu was very surprised to hear that.
“Why,” he asked, “what is the matter?”
“My wife and I have still not been given our new identity cards. The police
have held on to them for over a year. If this is how they treat even people of our
standing, then how do they treat others?”
I do not know what Mr. To Lieu said to the Qui Nhon police, but a few days
later I received a letter from them. They said that the photographs on our old
identity cards were unsuitable and asked us to come to the police station to have
new photographs taken for our new cards. We did as they asked. After another few
days we were summoned to the station to pick up our new cards. I saw that certain
details on my card had been changed. The old card had said that I was born in Van
Xuong, Hainan, China and was of Chinese nationality. The new card said that I
was born in Nghia Binh, Vietnam and was of Vietnamese nationality. I realized
that this was a dirty political trick for the purpose of assimilating me, but I
pretended not to notice. I told myself that it would not benefit me and my family to
complain.

A few days after the departure of Mr. Khac Thanh and his family, the Qui
Nhon city council convened another conference for Overseas Chinese cadres.
Among the people summoned to this conference were Mr. Ngo Khon Phuc, Mr.
Ngo Khon Dao, Mr. Tran Tu Lap, Mr. Tu Khuong (a member of the party
committee of Le Hong Phong District of Qui Nhon), Mr. Do Chi Quoc (principal
of the Qui Nhon Elementary School), and myself.
Two days before the conference, and then again on the day before the
conference, Mr. Tu Khuong went to see Mr. Khon Phuc and begged him not to
worry or be afraid and not to leave Vietnam. “If anything should happen to you,”
he promised, “I shall vouch for you.”
Also before the conference, Mr. Khon Phuc came to see me.
“Mr. Quang,” he said, “I always used to believe that the Vietnamese party
and government treated us Overseas Chinese very well. But in the last two days
they have caused me a lot of trouble. I am afraid! Now I see the truth. Everything
they say is a lie. I’ve had enough. If they allow me, I too shall leave.”
“If you really do want to leave,” I replied, “it is easy enough. During this
conference tell them that you and your wife are Overseas Chinese and want to
leave. They will let you go right away.”
Indeed, that is exactly what he told them.
Mr. Khon Dao was still undecided. He still did not understand that the
situation had now reached a very dangerous point. During the conference he
complained about how his children had been treated. His youngest daughter Xuan
had worked hard and had many accomplishments to her credit but had still not
been allowed to join the Communist Youth League. His second daughter Anh had
also worked hard and achieved many successes but had still not been admitted to
the Communist Party. I was sitting next to him and lightly knocked my leg against
his several times to signal to him that it was no longer appropriate to raise such
matters, but he ignored my nudging and continued to talk in the same vein.
Mr. Tran Tu Lap made a rambling criticism of Mr. Hoang Khac Thanh for
leaving the country.
Mr. Do Chi Quoc said: “Maybe the comrades have made a mistake. I still
work as a school principal. I am not retired yet. Why have I been summoned to a
conference with retired people?”
The conference organizer replied: “It doesn’t matter whether you are retired
or not.”
Mr. Tu Khuong said: “Although my ancestors were Chinese, three
generations of my family, from my paternal grandfather to myself, have now
grown up in Vietnam. We have become real Vietnamese.”
Then he took out a photograph of himself from the time of the French
colonial regime. In the photograph he wore a yellow turban and a long gown.
When the conference organizer saw it, he made a phony smile and remarked: “You
have taken great care to preserve this photograph.”
As for myself, I kept silent.
The day after the conference, Mr. Tu Khuong hurried yet again to see Mr.
Khon Phuc. “Heavens above!” he exclaimed. “Up to now I have always believed
that the Vietnamese party and government treat the Overseas Chinese very well. I
didn’t believe that they would cause trouble not only for other Overseas Chinese
but even for me. Yesterday, after the conference, the district party committee held
a meeting. They accused me of concealing my personal history and infiltrating the
party. I was so frightened! I did not know what to say. I had to apply to withdraw
from the party and my application was accepted.”
I felt sorry for Mr. Tu Khuong. It was only two days since he had promised
Mr. Khon Phuc that if anything should happen to him he would vouch for him.
Now, to his dismay, he could not vouch even for himself. All his life he had
dedicated himself to the Vietnamese revolution. Now his life had lost all meaning.

A few days after the China—Vietnam border war broke out in February
1979, the Nghia Binh province party committee convened a conference for party
officials at the district and province levels to communicate a draft resolution of the
Central Committee against China and the Overseas Chinese.
Mr. Ton Nhon Hung and I attended this conference. We sat in the front row.
The conference organizer was Mr. Vo Cong, secretary of the province party
committee for routine matters and chairman of the Nghia Binh planning group. In
introducing the Central Committee’s draft resolution, Mr. Cong used the cruelest,
dirtiest, and most merciless words. As I listened to his nonsense, I could not
believe my ears. Involuntarily I grimaced. When he saw that, he immediately
interjected: “This is not what I say. This is what the Central Committee says.”
During the break Mr. Cong came up to us and said:
“I knew that among the cadres attending this conference there would be
some Vietnamese of Chinese origin. I believe that those cadres also agree with the
views of the Central Committee, because they joined the Vietnamese revolution,
have contributed much to the Vietnamese revolution, and have great achievements
to their credit.”
Resuming the formal session, Mr. Cong proceeded to read out a secret
document of the party central committee:

Concerning the international situation

Previously America was the No. 1 enemy of the Vietnamese people. Now
the most dangerous and No. 1 enemy of the Vietnamese people is China.

Concerning the internal situation

Previously the No. 1 target was officials of the old puppet government and
soldiers of the old puppet army who had committed crimes and owed a
blood debt.

The No. 2 target was people of Catholic family origin.

This has now changed as follows:

The most dangerous and No. 1 target is Overseas Chinese cadres and party
members working in government organizations (underlined twice in the
original).

The No. 2 target is people of Catholic family origin.

The No. 3 target is officials of the old puppet government and soldiers of the
old puppet army who have committed crimes and owe a blood debt.
From that time onward, I was not allowed to participate in party activity or
in the work of my company, even though I was still head of the planning
department and secretary of the company’s party organization. I was just ignored.
Seeing the situation deteriorate from day to day, I was afraid that my
personal problem might affect Kim Anh. So I told her to request permission to
retire and that is what she did. A few days later, the company accepted her request
and allowed her to retire.
The leadership of the Nghia Binh Import-Export Company tried by various
means to get rid of me. One day, Director Le Thanh Ha told me:
“The Cong Trang Lumber Mill is currently in need of an experienced
manager. We intend to send you to work there.”
This mill was below the An Khe mountain pass and belonged to the Ministry
of Forestry. I was very upset.
“You must be crazy,” I told Mr. Ha. “The ministry assigned me to work in
foreign trade, not manufacturing. Besides, the mill belongs to the Ministry of
Forestry. It has nothing to do with our company. How did you get into such a
muddle?”
Mr. Ha said no more.
A few days later, the company held a training session to acquaint senior
managers with a top secret document. Although I was still secretary of the
company’s party organization, I was not invited to attend. I sought an explanation
from other members of the party organization.
Mr. Dao Trong Mien told me: “You are middle management. Wait a few
days and you will go to study with leading cadres at the province level.” I knew
that this was a lie.
Mr. Nguyen Nghe, a cadre subordinate to me, told me: “The company
leaders have decided not to let you participate in any political activity. They are
discussing sending you to a security zone.”
That startled me. It made me realize just how serious the situation had
become. The security zone was up in the mountains, in the jungle. It used to be a
resistance base and was now used as a prison camp for officials of the old puppet
government and soldiers of the old puppet army who had committed crimes and
owed blood debts. The water there was poisonous. You could go but you would
never return.
I worried night and day. I thought deeply, memorized many things, and tried
to prepare my thoughts for whatever might happen.

At the beginning of March 1979, the China—Vietnam border war came to
an end. China withdrew all its troops from Vietnam.
At the beginning of April, the people’s council of Nghia Binh Province
made known a new instruction from the leadership. It stated that China’s southern
oceanic fleet had withdrawn to Hainan Island in order to prepare to launch another
offensive against Vietnam. The Chinese plan this time was to land 600,000 troops
in Qui Nhon and along the coastal Highway 19. The people’s council of Nghia
Binh Province was instructed to evacuate Overseas Chinese, including Overseas
Chinese cadres, from Qui Nhon by April 26, the further away from Qui Nhon and
Highway 19 the better. The evacuees were to be concentrated in Mo Duc and Duc
Pho districts of the old Quang Ngai Province.
One day Mr. Le Thanh Ha came to talk with me.
“The current situation is very serious. The whole province is making hurried
preparations for war. For reasons of security, the people’s council of the province
has ordered the evacuation of some cadres to the security zone. Our company has
decided to evacuate you to the security zone.”
“I am just an ordinary cadre,” I replied. “I dare not make any trouble for the
party and government.”
“This is an instruction from the leadership.”
I did not want to go, but I realized that Mr. Ha was in a very difficult
position. He knew that I had contributed a great deal to the Vietnamese revolution
and that I had never done anything wrong or made any mistake. There was no
evidence that I needed to be sent to the security zone. If I persisted in refusing to
go, Mr. Ha would be unable to carry out the task assigned him by the leadership.
That was a problem for him. I thought to myself: “If in this situation I persist in
refusing, it will endanger me and my family.”
I told Mr. Ha: “I know that you are all in a difficult position. Let me find my
own means of solving the problem.”
“How will you solve it?” asked Mr. Ha.
“I’ll tell you tomorrow.”


Chapter 36. I retire and prepare to leave the country

After talking with Mr. Ha, I went home and discussed the situation with Kim Anh.
She agreed with my assessment. The next day I wrote a letter to the company
leadership. In it I said that I had a serious stomach ailment and was unable to
continue with my work. I requested to be allowed to retire. (I was then only 52
years old.)
When Mr. Ha read the letter, he was overjoyed. He looked as though he had
just hit the jackpot. Right away he went to report to the people’s council. The next
morning the people’s council issued an official decision for me to retire. The
company was instructed to arrange a month’s convalescence for me. When I
received my copy of the official decision, I was very happy and immediately began
to make arrangements to hand over my position. Then I completed the handover
procedure with the company leadership. Those minutes and hours marked the end
of my decades-long political career. I returned to my home town as an ordinary
resident no longer involved in politics.
I felt satisfied with my career. I had already achieved fame and success. I did
not regret bringing it to an end. However, I did resent the fact that the Vietnamese
government deprived Kim Anh and myself of our pensions. We got not even a
single penny. What a dirty trick – a socialist government that wipes out the
pensions of cadres who have loyally served it from the first day of the August
Revolution to the complete reunification of the country!
Before retiring I tried to help several professionals in the company obtain
opportunities for self-development. Thus I proposed that Mr. Nguyen Son be
promoted to deputy manager of the Quang Ngai Import-Export Depot. I also
sponsored Miss Nguyen Thi Thanh, a university graduate, for work at the planning
office of the people’s council of the province. Later she became deputy manager of
the shipping supply office at Qui Nhon Port. I was glad for her.
I also helped the Qui Nhon city government obtain the money that was in the
possession of the South Midlands Import-Export Company when it was closed
down and that had been entrusted to the safekeeping of Mr. Dinh Trac.
When Mr. Dinh Trac heard that Kim Anh and I had retired, he was not
happy with the way in which we had been treated by the leaders of the Nghia Binh
Import-Export Company. He came to see me and said: “Mr. Le Thanh Ha has
made a mistake. I must ask the people’s council not to allow you to retire. Your
departure will be a big loss to the company.”
That alarmed me considerably, because if the people’s council listened to
him and did not allow me to retire then I would again find myself in a dangerous
position. I told him that the decision had already been made and I did not want to
have it changed and make trouble for the organization. As a result, Mr. Trac
abandoned his plan to intervene.
When Mr. Ton Nhon Hung heard that I had retired, he too came to talk to
me.
“Mr. Quang, why did you ask to retire? You will lose a lot.”
“In the current situation,” I replied, “it is better to retire than to stay at
work.”
“Why is that?”
“I have retired and in a few days’ time you too will ask to retire.”
“But I have not reached retirement age. I’ll never ask to retire before then.”
“We’ll see.”
Indeed, two weeks after I retired, Mr. Nhon Hung also asked to retire and go
overseas. That is how history messes about with people’s lives.
At this time Ai Nga and her husband also asked to quit their jobs and leave
the country with all their relatives.

The campaign of the Vietnamese party and government against China and
the Overseas Chinese spread throughout the country. In order to protect the lives
and property of Overseas Chinese, the Chinese government requested permission
to send a ship to Vietnam to bring Overseas Chinese home to China. The
Vietnamese government refused permission. China sent the ship anyway, but the
Vietnamese authorities found a hundred ways and a thousand tricks to prevent it
from accomplishing its mission.
The leadership of Nghia Binh Province initially agreed to allow the Chinese
ship to dock at Qui Nhon Port and take Overseas Chinese on board. When the ship
arrived in the harbor, however, the captain was told to go back to international
waters and wait there. At the same time, the province leadership sent many cadres
to talk to the Overseas Chinese. They were urged not to return to China, but they
were also told that if they insisted on returning to China then they should do so
through the Orderly Departure Program for Overseas Chinese. That meant that
they should first assemble in the transit camp that the provincial authorities had set
up somewhere in Tuy Phuoc District, about ten kilometers from Qui Nhon.
When the Overseas Chinese heard about the transit camp, they took fright.
No one dared talk any more about returning to China.
The Chinese ship waited outside the harbor for a long time and was still not
allowed to dock. Unable to accomplish its mission, the ship returned to China.
As soon as the Chinese ship had left, the province leadership again sent its
cadres to talk to the Overseas Chinese, especially the wealthy people among them,
and urge them to go to Qui Nhon to follow the procedure for emigration.
In the middle of 1978, the Vietnamese party and government instructed the
party committee, people’s council, and police of Nghia Binh Province to campaign
for and organize the large-scale emigration of Overseas Chinese. First, they
allowed wealthy Overseas Chinese, as representatives of their community, to raise
money to buy boats and allocate space on the boats to Overseas Chinese who lived
in the province or came to Qui Nhon from Saigon, Danang, and other places in
order to go overseas. The Nghia Binh province police and Qui Nhon city police
established a “Departures Office” to make the emigration procedure for Overseas
Chinese easy and legal.
The fare for a place on a boat was 6 taels of gold per person for residents of
the province and 26 taels per person for people from outside the province. In
addition, each person had to pay 5 taels of gold to the province finance department
as so-called “duty money.” The boat owners also had to pay part of the gold they
had collected as bribes to the province and city police and other authorities.
Finally, the local authorities made departing Overseas Chinese sign papers
donating their properties together with their contents to the Vietnamese
government.
The Vietnamese authorities collected tens of thousands of taels of gold as
“duty money” from Overseas Chinese as they left the country, not including gold
extorted from boat owners.
During the period when the Vietnamese party and government were
conducting their anti-China and anti-Chinese policy and encouraging Overseas
Chinese to emigrate, up to the end of 1979, tens of thousands of Overseas Chinese
departed from Qui Nhon Port on hundreds of boats. Ten boatloads left in one night
alone. Two boats sank while still in Vietnamese territorial waters. About 500
people drowned. So much sorrow!
The Vietnamese authorities dealt with departing Overseas Chinese in mean,
dirty, and cruel ways. Cadres sent out by local authorities tried to deter Vietnamese
from buying the possessions of people about to leave the country. They were
warned that anyone who did so would be charged, taken to court, and fined. The
purpose of these threats was to ensure that emigrants would be unable to sell their
property and would therefore have to leave it for the government. The Vietnamese,
however, were not stupid. Things were going cheap, they had money, so why not
buy them?
Before an Overseas Chinese family left their house on the day of departure,
the local authorities would send a squad of armed police to wait outside. As soon
as the family had emerged from the house, the police commander would order his
men forward. They would noisily rush to surround the house, like buzzing bees
guarding a damaged hive, and seal up the house with papers prepared in advance.
It was absurd. Did a socialist government really have to act in such a ridiculous
fashion?
Some local cadres took the opportunity to extort money. They invented
reasons to force departing Overseas Chinese to pay additional charges. The victims
knew very well that the reasons were nonsense, but they dared not object. They
had to cough up. What else could they do?
From April 1979 onward, in the context of preparing for war, it was an
urgent priority of the leadership to secure the departure of Overseas Chinese
cadres. Overseas Chinese cadres from inside the province were to leave first.
Overseas Chinese cadres from outside the province were no longer allowed to
leave the country from Qui Nhon.
For us Nghia Binh Overseas Chinese cadres this policy was a chance that
comes once in a thousand years. We were really happy!
During this period the leaders of Nghia Binh Province and Qui Nhon City
were playing a tricky game. Some Overseas Chinese cadres, such as Mr. Ngo
Khon Dao, Mr. Ngo Khon Phuc, Mr. Tran Tu Lap, and Mr. Anh Ba, were told to
retire. Others were told to stay and continue working in Vietnam. Officially,
Overseas Chinese cadres were not allowed to leave the country.
This two-faced policy greatly perplexed and angered Overseas Chinese
cadres. They did not understand what sort of game the Vietnamese leaders were
playing. They would come to talk with me.
“Mr. Quang,” they would say, “the party and government told us to urge
Overseas Chinese to stay in Vietnam and live in peace. They told us to inform
Overseas Chinese that they are not allowed to leave the country. But in fact they
are allowing masses of Overseas Chinese to leave. When we talk to ordinary
Overseas Chinese, they scold and curse us. They accuse us of always telling lies
and trying to trick them. We are really angry and fed up!”
I would reply jokingly: “They trick you because you are so hardworking.”
They truly exemplified the motto: “Say all the good things, do all the bad
things.”
At this time the Vietnamese party and government also ramped up their
campaign against China and the Overseas Chinese. They mobilized hordes of
cadres to go everywhere and stoke up popular hatred of China and the Overseas
Chinese. They installed loudspeakers to broadcast anti-China propaganda. Many
appeared in Quang Trung Park in front of our house, so we were subjected to
constant insult day and night. Perhaps the loudspeakers were placed there
deliberately for our benefit. It was a real headache.
These conditions deeply distressed Ai Hoa. She told me and her mother:
“The situation has become extremely serious. It is a matter of life and death for our
family. Please try hard to think of a way to obtain permission for us to move to
another place, so that we don’t have to endure any more suffering and hardship.”
It was heart-wrenching to hear Ai Hoa talk like that. We realized that she
was right. I began secretly to prepare my thoughts about how best to obtain
permission for us to leave the country. But after carefully considering all the
possibilities I could see that there were many difficulties. The problem was not
easy to solve. So I did not yet make a definite decision.
My son-in-law Hoa, who happened to be visiting us from Dap Da at the
time, told us: “Most Overseas Chinese are leaving the country. You must think up
some way to save your children from this suffering and hardship.”
“There are a lot of difficulties,” I replied. “And I don’t have enough money
to buy places in a boat.”
“I have money. If it is not enough, I might be able to borrow some more
from my sister-in-law, Mrs. Hai Quynh.”
Then I received a visit from two of my former colleagues from the Nghia
Binh Import-Export Company – Mr. Nguyen Hieu, secretary of the trade union,
and Mrs. Nguyen Thi Lien, a native of Dap Da.
“Mr. Quang,” they said, “all the Overseas Chinese in Qui Nhon are leaving
the country. Do you too intend to go?”
“No,” I replied, “I haven’t given it any thought. Our hearts are still loyal to
Vietnam. I don’t want to follow them. But if the leadership want us to leave, then
we shall comply with their wishes.”
“The leadership will not consent to your leaving.”
“Right. It won’t happen.”
“How then do you view the situation? What is your impression of relations
between the two parties and governments – of China and Vietnam?”
“All I know is that when parents argue it is the children who suffer.”
They were satisfied. It seemed to them that I had decided to remain in
Vietnam. Later we learned that they had received an assignment from the
organization to investigate us.
After that, another two cadres from the company, Mr. Duong and Mr. Mai,
came for a private talk.
“Mr. Quang,” they told me, “the Overseas Chinese in Qui Nhon are all
leaving the country. Do you too want to leave? If you have any problem and need
help, then we are here to help you.”
I was afraid that they too might have come to investigate me. I dared not
answer them directly.
“I have no such intention,” I said.
After they left I thought to myself: “Mr. Duong is an old friend and
comrade. We have worked together since our time at the General Import-Export
Company in Hanoi. I can trust him. Mr. Mai is a new colleague. Although I have
not known him long, I am sure that he has no reason to betray me.”
I relaxed. Later I spoke again with Mr. Duong. This time I was more open.
“I too want to leave the country, but the paperwork is a problem. I would
like you to introduce me to Mr. Ho, the police chief of Qui Nhon City, so that he
can help me.”
I knew that Mr. Duong and Mr. Ho were from the same native place.
Mr. Duong gladly agreed. I promised him that if I succeeded I would give
him a bicycle.
For our family leaving the country was no simple matter. We had to think
very carefully, because I was a party member and a leading company cadre. I had
been abroad with party and government delegations. I knew many party and
government secrets. If I made any trouble I would attract attention from the secret
police. Any negligence on my part would endanger not only myself but also my
family. I had seen what terrible things could happen to people. If the leadership
found something wrong with you, they could easily send you to meet Chairman
Ho.
Night and day I weighed the pros and cons, searching for the safest way to
solve the problem. Finally I concluded that I should appeal to the sympathy and
goodwill of the province leaders. If they agreed to allow us to leave the country,
then everything would work out fine. Even if they did not allow us to leave, at least
they would not arrest or otherwise harm us.
For trying to leave the country illegally the lightest punishment – so people
said – was dismissal from your job, leaving your whole family to starve. You could
even be arrested and imprisoned on a charge of treason to the party and people.
That, in fact, was the normal outcome.

So off I went to visit Mr. Nguyen Hoang, secretary of the party committee of
Nghia Binh Province. When I arrived at his door I hesitated. I did not simply walk
right in, but opened the door slightly and peeped in. He and I had once been friends
and comrades, but now that people were hostile to me as an Overseas Chinese I
could not just walk into a leader’s private residence.
While I was hesitating, I had the good luck to be noticed by an old friend
who lived in the same building as Mr. Hoang. He greeted me and asked me what
the matter was. I told him that I wanted to meet Mr. Hoang and he took me in to
see him.
Mr. Hoang was kind, straightforward, and affable. I had known him for a
very long time. Every Monday he used to hold a meeting with leading company
cadres. I had often attended these meetings. We had a good rapport. He invited me
to sit down and have tea, we exchanged greetings, and then he calmly asked what
he could do for me. I explained our family circumstances and told him frankly and
clearly why I had come to see him.
Despite the noisy public campaign against China and the Overseas Chinese,
I still had excellent relations with many of the province’s leading officials. They
were very sympathetic. Of course, as party secretary of the province Mr. Hoang
had to express the official position of the Vietnamese party and government
regarding Overseas Chinese cadres. He said:
“The policy of the party and government regarding Overseas Chinese cadres
remains the same as before. We have always trusted you. Nothing has changed in
that respect. We have no reason to single you out or treat you differently. You have
no cause for worry. You can keep your positions and salaries and continue working
as before. If you feel able to continue, the party and government are very content
that you should do so. But if you do not want to continue the party and government
will not force you.”
I understood this last statement as a signal that we would be allowed to leave
the country. I saw that there was a way out. I felt happy inside.
Mr. Hoang continued in a sad tone of voice:
“We know very well that you have made a contribution to the Vietnamese
revolution and behaved well. We shall never forget it. Now there has been an
unfortunate development in the objective situation. That is a painful fact. We did
not foresee it. If now you want to leave the country and work abroad, then make
your preparations and go. As for other matters, you do not need to know. History
will judge.”
I was deeply moved and could not hold back my tears. I was unable to speak
except to thank him sincerely for his sympathy and concern.
“So where do you want to go?” he asked.
“I don’t really know.” Then, in order to assure him that I would not help
Vietnam’s enemies, I added: “But I certainly don’t want to go either to China or to
America. I’ll sit on the boat and wherever it drifts that is where I’ll go.”
He nodded in approval.
“When you return home, pay attention to the news. When you hear that the
authorities in Hong Kong are admitting boat people and that our government is
allowing them to leave the country, you may start the journey. If you have any
gold, then take it with you. You may need it in your new country. Without money
it will be very difficult for you. We shall do what we can to make it easy for you.
Have a safe journey. Bon voyage! That is all.”
He was choking with tears and held my hand tight for a long time. I too was
very moved and could not hold back my tears. I sincerely thanked him and went
home.
I shall always remember Mr. Hoang for his help and concern. In 1992 I
returned to Vietnam to visit my mother and relatives. I would have liked to visit
him too, but unfortunately he had already passed away. To my deep regret, I never
saw him again. Mr. Hoang has gone forever, but his name and image will never
fade from my mind.

Having surmounted this hurdle, I boldly proceeded to the next step. I went
off in search of the local Departures Office. This office belonged to a “secret”
organization. Outsiders did not know where it was. However, I had obtained a
letter of introduction from a related office and knew where to find them. The
Ministry of Police had set up the departures offices, staffed with officers from
province and city police departments, to implement the departure procedure.
I happened to arrive during the officers’ lunch break. They were eating in
the cafeteria. As the matter was urgent, I went straight into the cafeteria. I was
chased out and not allowed to go back in. I went home disappointed.
I returned to the Departures Office in the afternoon and asked to register for
our departure. Two police officers were on duty there. One was from the Ministry
of Police. His name was Duong. He was a native of Nghe An Province and spoke
with an accent. He was white and fat, his face was puffy, and his tummy was
round. Perhaps he had a long straw and had sucked up a lot of “big fat ingredient.”
The other was a local police officer named Gan. He was dark-skinned and thin.
Perhaps he had not yet sucked up any “big fat ingredient.”
I explained why we wanted to leave the country. Mr. Duong immediately
scolded me. With a raised voice he told me: “The party and government do not
allow Overseas Chinese cadres to leave the country. Go home!”
“I retired long ago,” I replied. “I am no longer a cadre. I am just an ordinary
Overseas Chinese resident. You should allow me to register.”
Mr. Duong then allowed me to register.
“How many are you?” he asked.
“Fourteen.” I was including the families of our married children.
Mr. Duong was surprised.
“You have a lot of people, don’t you?”
“Yes, old and young, males and females, we are fourteen in all.”
Mr. Duong smirked and wrote down each person’s name in his notebook.
I had surmounted another hurdle. I was very happy.

Next I went to look for a boat owner in order to reserve places. Alas! Many
boat owners knew that I was a cadre who had gone to the North and returned. They
knew that I was poor and did not have enough money to pay their fares. I saw that
they did not want to do business with me. I was very disappointed!
A short time later the leadership announced a new policy. Henceforth only
Overseas Chinese from Nghia Binh Province would be allowed to leave the
country from Qui Nhon. Overseas Chinese from outside the province would no
longer be allowed to do so. Even outsiders who had already registered would not
be allowed to go. Their money was returned to them. Many additional places
thereby suddenly became available. For us it seemed to be a chance that comes
once in a thousand years! We were really happy.
Again I went out to look for boat owners, but despite the new policy they
still did not want us. With the collusion of local officials and police, they continued
to give preference to outsiders, because outsiders paid 26 taels of gold per person
while local people paid only 6 taels.
One boat owner named Mrs. Hop Y was an old friend of mine. Out of regard
for our friendship she accepted us, albeit reluctantly and on condition that I would
pay 6 taels of gold for each place on her boat.
At that time another old friend named Mr. Diep Nang Tin was urging me to
leave the country. He took me to meet a boat owner named Mr. Diep Nang Trang.
This man was quite honest. He said that I could pay him 3 taels of gold for each
adult and one and a half taels for each child. I told him that I would give him my
answer in a few days. Then I found another boat owner named Mr. Diep Tuong.
He had previously lived in Dap Da District and was an old student of mine. Mr.
Tuong said that he would charge me two and a half taels of gold for each adult and
one tael for each child.
After meeting with several boat owners, I returned home, calculated total
costs, and found that I still did not have enough money. I went to see Mr. Diep
Nang Trang. I told him frankly that I was a cadre and did not have much money
and asked him to reduce his charges a little.
“The charges are fair,” he replied. “You can pay me part now and the rest
when you arrive in Hong Kong or settle in a new country.”
I felt reassured.
Mr. Diep Nang Tin heard that I did not have enough money. On his own
initiative he said that he might ask Mr. Duong Quang Ngoc to lend me some
money. I was very glad to hear that and thanked him, but for a long time I heard
nothing more from him. Later I learned that he had left the country with his family
without telling me. I did not blame him, because that was the objective reality.
I also had a good friend named Mr. Au Bang Binh in Dap Da. Knowing that
I was short of money, Mr. Binh spontaneously offered to lend me some money. I
was glad to hear it and thanked him.
“How much?” I asked.
“No problem,” he replied. “I can lend you any sum from 5 taels of gold up to
25 taels.”
I was struck dumb.
I came home and thought things over. I realized that I was in a fix. I had
recently returned from Hanoi after an absence of over twenty years. My friends did
not understand me. Who would dare place so much trust in me as to lend me such a
large sum of money? Moreover, I had rarely borrowed money – only in special
circumstances. Even now I dared not open my mouth to ask anyone for a loan. So I
put aside any thought of borrowing. And for a long time I saw no more of Mr. Au
Bang Binh.
At that time Mr. Dong Loi was doing the paperwork for leaving the country.
He prepared some herbal medicine for me as a gift, so that I could sell it and make
some money. He also gave me a French bicycle. Later he heard that I wanted to
leave the country but was short of money, so instead of the herbal medicine he
gave me half a tael of gold. Mr. Thanh Quang also gave me half a tael of gold.
I told my sister Hanh the truth:
“You gave me money to buy a house. I have not yet bought a house, and
now I am going to leave the country with my family. I would like to use this
money to pay our boat fares. Is that OK with you?”
Sister Hanh gave her consent. Her husband also gave me a tael of gold.
When we departed we left them all the contents of our home, which were worth
about the same as the money and gold they had given me – two French bicycles, a
Vietnamese bicycle, a new sewing machine, a new iron bed, a new electric rice
cooker, a refrigerator, an electric fan, a radio, and all our other belongings. Later I
also gave Sister Hanh my house in Dap Da. We shall always remember the
relatives and friends who helped us.
I now had almost enough money. I immediately went to find Mr. Mai and
asked him to help me meet Mr. Binh, the police chief of Nghia Binh Province. I
did not tell him the reason for my request, but I promised that if he did as I asked I
would give him a French Peugeot bicycle. Mr. Mai was happy to hear that.
“Whenever you need me, I am ready to help,” he said.
From then on Mr. Mai came to see me now and then to check out the
situation.
Still feeling insecure, I went to see Mr. Diep Nang Trang again and asked
him to reduce his charges a little. He replied in the same way as before:
“Give me now however much you have. You can pay me the rest later.”
I had with me 15 taels of gold. I was going to give it all to Mr. Trang and
find a way to pay him the rest when I arrived in Hong Kong. Mr. Trang took me to
see the boat. He was organizing two boats. He owned one of those boats, but that
boat was already fully booked. The second boat was owned by Mr. Thai Khai Du.
It was under repair. When the repairs were completed, the two boats would set off
together. Mr. Trang showed me the second boat.
“You can all go on Mr. Du’s boat,” he said.
We were standing on the dock. I looked down and spotted Mr. Du standing
on the boat and giving instructions to the workers doing the repairs. I was startled
to recognize him. Surely it could not be!
In 1949 Mr. Du had been leader of the Tam Thanh Group within the
structure of the Qui Nhon Kuomintang, while I was leader of the “progressive
democratic” movement among the local Overseas Chinese. Later, after the defeat
of the Tam Thanh Group, Mr. Du and his group had joined the progressive
democratic movement as members of the South Midlands Overseas Chinese Youth
Militia organized by the United Association of Overseas Chinese. After the end of
the Anti-French Resistance War we had gone to the North, but Mr. Du had
remained in the South and resumed his old activities with the Tam Thanh Group,
stopping only when the South was liberated. So our political positions were
directly opposed. Now we were going to leave on Mr. Du’s boat. This was not a
good idea.
After taking a look at the boat, I told Mr. Trang: “Wait for me to check my
money. I’ll give you my answer when I return.”
I never saw Mr. Trang again.
Next I asked a friend to take me to find Mr. Quach Quang Anh, owner of the
ship Nghe Quang.
“Yes, yes,” he said – and promptly disappeared.
So I went to see Mr. Quach Quang Anh on my own. As soon as I reached his
front door and asked to see him, his relatives stopped me and would not let me in.
“Mr. Quach Quang Anh is not at home,” they said. “He is not receiving
guests.”
I had to go home.

Then the central leadership suddenly changed their policy. Concluding that
China was not going to launch an attack against Qui Nhon after all, they prohibited
Overseas Chinese from leaving the country. No vessels would be allowed to
depart. Seven boats waiting to leave from Nghia Binh Province, including the
boats belonging to Mr. Trang and Mr. Du, were stuck – or so it appeared.
However, the police officers in the Qui Nhon Departures Office, greedy for
bribes, were not yet implementing the new instructions from the center. Then the
central government summoned Mr. Nghia, chairman of the people’s council of
Nghia Binh Province, to Hanoi for consultations. Before setting off, Mr. Nghia
instructed the province and city police departments to permit the prompt departure
of all boats that were already prepared to leave. Unfortunately, the officials in the
province finance department wanted to extort more “duty gold,” so they kept on
delaying the boats’ departure. When Mr. Nghia returned from Hanoi and saw that
the boats had still not left, he was very angry and ordered their immediate
departure.
When I heard this news, I was thunderstruck. Panic and confusion
overwhelmed me. For half a day I ran around looking for Mr. Mai. Then he
showed up at my home.
“Mr. Quang,” he told me, “all but one of the boats have now left. Why don’t
you complete the procedures to leave the country? You have to do it right away.
Otherwise you won’t be able to leave.”
In a panic, I asked Mr. Mai to take me to see Mr. Binh, the police chief of
the province, and seek his help. It was already about five in the afternoon and
people were just leaving work. Mr. Mai and I sat across the road from Mr. Binh’s
house, waiting for him to appear. When we saw him, Mr. Mai told me to follow
him into the house. He introduced me to Mr. Binh and then went outside.
Mr. Binh invited me to sit down and have some tea. Mr. Binh and I were old
acquaintances. We had seen one another every Monday at the party meeting. Now
the situation had changed. I no longer had the same status. That is why I dared not
simply show up at his house on my own.
“What is the matter?” asked Mr. Binh.
“I want to leave the country with my family, but as I cannot pay the fares no
boat owner wants to meet me. I don’t know what to do, so I have come to you for
help. Please introduce me to a boat owner so that I can negotiate the fares.”
Mr. Binh pretended not to understand.
“But you are Vietnamese,” he said. “You are not allowed to leave the
country. Remember how every Monday we used to attend the party meeting
together. Now you say you are Chinese. Do you have any documents to prove it?”
“I have. Please allow me to go home and fetch them.”
I hurried home. First I examined my identity card. I saw to my dismay that it
gave my nationality as Kinh (Vietnamese). I was very confused. I was shaking and
sweating all over.
“That’s it,” I thought to myself. “I have failed.”
But then I thought of something else. I looked for and found our children’s
birth certificates. I was overjoyed to see that they indicated my nationality as Han
(Chinese). I brought them to show to Mr. Binh. He looked at the certificates and
smiled.
“What is your request?” he asked. “Which boat do you want to board?”
“The Nghe Quang.”
“How many people?”
“Fourteen altogether.”
He immediately wrote me a letter of introduction:

The family of Mr. Han Hing Quang, Chinese, fourteen people in all, wish to
board the Nghe Quang in order to leave the country. I request the owner of
the Nghe Quang to reserve places for Mr. Quang’s family.

Mr. Binh handed me the letter and added: “This is only my opinion. You
will have to go to the Qui Nhon District Police Headquarters as well.”
I sincerely thanked him and returned home. I had surmounted another
hurdle.
The letter of introduction in hand, I went to find Mr. Duong and ask him to
take me to see Mr. Ho, police chief at the Qui Nhon District Police Headquarters.
Mr. Duong, however, was out. Only his wife was at home. I told her why I had
come. She led me toward the police headquarters. At a certain spot she stopped,
pointed her finger at a building about 100 meters away, and said: “That building
over there is the Qui Nhon District Police Headquarters.” Then she disappeared.
I was lucky. Heaven must have taken pity on me. When I reached the
building, I saw two police guards holding guns and standing before the gate. They
said nothing and let me pass. Had I been asked for papers I might not have been
allowed in, because at that time there were tight checks on people entering and
leaving all government buildings. Confidently I walked in and looked for Mr. Ho’s
office (we had not met before). I was not asked to wait. I just walked right into his
office, explained why I had come, and handed him Mr. Binh’s letter of
introduction. He looked at it.
“Do you need to request anything in particular?” he asked.
I asked him to introduce our family of fourteen people to the owner of the
Nghe Quang so that we could leave the country. He picked up a pen and wrote the
following on a sheet of paper:

To Mr. Quach Quang Anh, owner of the Nghe Quang

I would like to introduce Mr. Han Hing Quang and his family of fourteen
people, who wish to board your boat in order to leave the country. I request
you to reserve places for Mr. Quang’s family and ensure that the matter is
resolved smoothly.

He handed me the letter and said: “This shows our support, but you must
still go to the Departures Office to complete the specific procedure.”
I was very happy and thanked him for his help. I had surmounted another
hurdle.
I brought the letters of introduction to the Departures Office, where the same
two police officers were on duty as on my previous visit. Mr. Duong received me. I
explained why I was there:
“The province and district police chiefs have written these letters to
introduce me. I am now reporting to you and requesting your help in completing
the procedure for our departure.”
I handed him the letters. He looked at them but he showed displeasure.
Perhaps he wanted some money.
“I don’t know who these people are. I only know that the leadership are not
allowing any Overseas Chinese cadres to leave the country.”
He went away and left me standing on my own. I was embarrassed and
panic-stricken. I broke out in a cold sweat. I had no idea what to do.
“Everything I do ends in failure,” I thought to myself.
Fortunately, the other police officer, Mr. Gan, came up and stood beside me.
He had seen what happened.
“Don’t worry,” he told me. “Just ignore him and let me solve your problem.”
He took a pen and wrote and signed the following under Mr. Ho’s letter:

Pass to Mr. Quach Quang Anh, owner of the Nghe Quang, for
implementation.

Overjoyed, I sincerely thanked Mr. Gan, said goodbye, and went home. I
was still shaking as I left the Departures Office. But with help from Mr. Gan I had
surmounted another hurdle.
Next I took all my papers and went to see Mr. Quach Quang Anh, owner of
the Nghe Quang. Again his relatives stopped me at the door.
“Not receiving guests!” was all they said.
Not knowing what to do, I returned home. At that time our son-in-law Hoa
was visiting us from Dap Da. I gave him a detailed account of the situation.
“My whole family are leaving on the Nghe Quang,” he said. “I know Mr.
Quach Quang Anh. I can take you to see him.”
So that very evening Hoa took me to Mr. Quach Quang Anh’s house and
spoke with his mother.
“Mr. Quach Quang Anh is not at home,” she said.
“We have come from province police headquarters to see Mr. Quach Quang
Anh.”
“Well,” she replied, “please come back tomorrow morning at seven.”
In the morning we went there again. When we reached the door, Hoa went
off and left me on my own. Mr. Anh was upstairs, but did not come down. Instead
he sent a relative down to deal with me.
“I’m afraid we are busy at the moment. We are not receiving guests.”
“I am here on the instructions of the province police.”
Hearing that, Mr. Anh sent his assistant down to see me – Mr. Vuong Hong
Cam.
Mr. Cam apologized and said gently: “We really are busy at the moment.
You are welcome to come back at two o’clock this afternoon.”
I returned at exactly two. The relative came down.
“They are busy at the moment. They are not receiving guests.”
This time I got really angry.
“From now on,” I thought to myself, “I’m not going to be so polite any
more. Otherwise I shall get nowhere. Time is running out.”
“You invited me to come at two,” I reminded them sternly. “Here I am, right
on the dot. I won’t accept any more excuses. Are you willing to meet me or not?
Tell me the truth!”
Hearing my voice from upstairs, Mr. Anh immediately sent Mr. Cam down
to see me and apologize. I handed him the letters of introduction. He read them.
“OK,” he said nervously, “don’t worry. We’ll register you and your family
at once. Go back home and get ready to leave.”
“Do you have everything you need?” I asked.
“Yes, we don’t need anything else.”
“Are you absolutely sure?”
“Yes, absolutely.”
Then Mr. Cam informed me that the boat would leave on June 1, which was
about ten days from then.
The official procedure for departure could now be regarded as having been
completed. However, I faced another very difficult task. Our family was scattered
over the whole country. Travel between North and South required a special permit.
Unofficial communication by mail, telephone, and telegram was blocked by the
government. Kim Anh and Thang were with me at Qui Nhon, but Ai Hoa was on
temporary assignment in Saigon, Trung and Mai were in Danang, Manh was with
my mother in Dap Da, Hung was at the Foreign Trade University in Hanoi, and
Cuong was on a course work assignment collecting and buying coffee at Dac Lac.
I sent Hung many telegrams asking him to request leave to visit his family. I
also sent a telegram to the Foreign Trade University, asking them to allow Hung to
visit his family. But there was no response. We were very anxious and did not
know what to do.
When Cuong returned from Dac Lac, we explained the situation to him and
told him to go to his college in Danang and request withdrawal from his course of
study. We also told him to explain the situation to Trung and Mai, who were
teaching at the same college, and ask them to come home at once. Trung and Mai,
however, did not want to leave the country. Then we sent Manh to Danang to ask
them to come home, but the result was the same. Their attitude caused us great
anxiety. We were unable to eat or sleep well. We were like ants crawling inside a
hot frying pan. I sent Trung a telegram, but he did not receive it. Then I went to the
Qui Nhon post office to telephone him, but I was not allowed to use one of their
telephones. They told me to go to my company to make a call, even though the
company had never permitted employees to use its telephones for personal calls. I
asked the company to issue me a travel permit so that I could go to Danang, only to
be told that I had already retired and they were no longer responsible for me.
I could not solve any of these problems. It was like playing ping pong. A
real headache! I did not know what to do. I was confused, angry, and upset.
In the midst of this confusion Ai Hoa got back from Saigon. As soon as she
stepped into the house and put down her rucksack, I brought her up to date on the
situation. She was very concerned about Hung.
“I’ll find a way to bring Hung home, come what may,” she declared.
It was already six or seven o’clock in the evening. Ai Hoa wolfed down her
dinner, then she hurried to find Mrs. Thanh, an aunt of Hung’s fiancée Chung who
worked at the Qui Nhon railway station. Ai Hoa asked Mrs. Thanh to accompany
her to the Dieu Tri railway station on the main north-south line to buy a ticket to
Hanoi.
When Ai Hoa tried to buy the ticket, the ticket clerk said: “You are an
Overseas Chinese. I cannot sell it to you.”
Mrs. Thanh intervened: “Ai Hoa is a cadre and urgently needs to go to Hanoi
on a work assignment. She has an official permit for urgent travel. Whether she is
an Overseas Chinese or not, you are obliged to sell her a ticket.”
The ticket clerk issued the ticket.
When Ai Hoa reached our old house in Hanoi, she found Chung living there.
Chung told her that Hung’s university had sent him to a mountainous area in Hoa
Binh Province to perform productive labor. The authorities did not want Overseas
Chinese to remain in Hanoi.
Together with Hung’s friend and classmate Mr. Nhan, Ai Hoa bicycled to
Hoa Binh Province. By the time they reached the area it was very late at night.
They found Hung, explained the situation to him, and brought him back to Hanoi.
They had only just stepped into the house when an official from the Foreign Trade
University – actually a spy – turned up.
Seeing Hung, he asked: “So Hung is home?”
“Yes,” replied Hung, “I just came home.”
The next day Ai Hoa asked a friend to accompany her to the airport to buy a
plane ticket, so that she could return south first and reassure us that Hung was on
his way. At the airport, however, she was told that she could not travel by air as
she was an Overseas Chinese. She insisted, but they would not let her board the
plane. She did not know what to do. She could only cry and go back. It was truly
pitiful.
Meanwhile, Hung had asked Chung’s father Mr. Khiem, who was a train
driver, to buy him a train ticket, but he could not do it. When Ai Hoa returned from
the airport, she and Hung went to the railway station to buy tickets. At first the
young ticket clerk told them that there were no tickets left. But Heaven took pity
on them. It was a very hot summer day and the ticket clerk was half asleep.
“No,” he corrected himself, “I still have one ticket left. You can have it.”
Ai Hoa was very happy to hear that. She thanked him. But the two of them
still had only one ticket between them. Hung went with his friend to the back of the
railway station, waited for the train to start moving, and jumped on. Now at least
they were both on the train. However, there was at that time strict inspection of
passengers’ tickets. Anyone found to be without a ticket was taken off the train at
the next station.
Fortunately, sitting next to Ai Hoa on the train was a woman worker, a
native of Quang Ngai, taking her small son to her husband’s home. She had two
tickets (her work unit would reimburse her). Ai Hoa quietly spoke to her:
“Please let me borrow one of your tickets. When it is time for you to get off
the train, I’ll give it back to you.”
As she said this, she handed the woman a generous sum of money. The
woman was very glad to oblige. Now Hung had a ticket. Sister and brother felt at
peace. Whenever the conductor came around to check tickets, Hung put the boy on
his lap. The journey went smoothly. When the train arrived at Quang Ngai Station,
the woman got off and Hung get off with her, carrying her son in his arms to the
gate. Then he boarded a minibus to Qui Nhon.
I was worried that Hung’s university might call the police and cause
problems for us. So I immediately sent a telegram to the Foreign Trade University,
informing them that Hung had come home because his parents were gravely ill and
requesting that they grant him two months’ leave. Perhaps the university knew our
secret, but they did not do anything about it.
Now Hung was home, but Trung and Mai had not come. We were very
worried about them, but did not know what to do. We could only quietly cry.
Mr. Quach Quang Anh kept on sending people to ask me for various
documents – a certificate of exemption from “gold duty,” a declaration from the
leadership of my company that I had completed the handover of my position, a
declaration that I had withdrawn from party membership.
We now had only four or five days left until our departure, and there was
still no sign of Trung and Mai. I was growing more and more anxious and
confused. I did not know what to do. I could only hope for the protection of
Heaven and Earth. And truly, the Heaven God never abandons good-hearted
people like us. A pleasant surprise was in store for me. A group of cadres from the
Danang General Import-Export Company, old friends of mine, were passing
through Qui Nhon from an assignment in Tay Nguyen. When they heard that my
family and I were leaving the country, they came to pay me a visit and bid me
farewell. Among them was Mr. Cam, an old classmate of Trung’s. I asked him for
help. When he returned to Danang, would he please explain to Trung and Mai our
family’s real situation? Would he please tell them that they must come back home,
come what may?
“Only you can help us,” I told him.
He promised that he would definitely try to help us. And he did. After he
returned to Danang, that same night he went to the college where Trung and Mai
were teaching and made clear to them our family’s real situation. The next
morning Mr. Nguyen Trong, a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Trade
residing in the South Midlands, also talked with them. Trung and Mai came home.
At last, having overcome a myriad of troubles and difficulties, we were all
gathered together in Qui Nhon. Only my mother, old and weak, decided not to
leave the country. She stayed home.
Our preparations were moving ahead. My inner tension subsided. But my
difficulties were not yet at an end. I already had my certificate of exemption from
gold duty. Next I needed the management of my old company to certify that I had
been a departmental cadre, that I was now retired, that I had completed the
procedure for handing over my position, and that I did not owe the company any
money. The company’s personnel department agreed to provide the necessary
certificates. However, they said that they would give them not to me but to the
Departures Office. That was not to my liking. What game were they playing?
“That office is secret,” I told them. “Outsiders do not know about it.”
Eventually they agreed to hand the documents directly to me. I was really
lucky!
Then I went to find Mr. Dao Trong Mien, secretary of the party organization
at the Nghia Binh Foreign Trade Department, to ask him to certify that I had
withdrawn from party membership. But for some reason – perhaps he thought that
I was infected with the plague – he hurried away as soon as he caught sight of me.
I hurried after him. Without even turning to face me, he said: “I have an
emergency” – and disappeared.
I did manage to catch hold of Mr. Nguyen Nghe, a party member who had
been my subordinate. I told him to sign the paper for me, but he was too scared.
“Just make a scribble,” I told him.
That is what he did.
My paperwork was finally complete. I took it to the house of Mr. Quach
Quang Anh. I also brought with me five taels of gold.
This time Mr. Quach Quang Anh himself came down to meet me. He gave
me a warm welcome. I handed him all the papers and took out three taels of gold
for him.
“I am a cadre only recently returned from Hanoi,” I told him. “I have very
little money – only a few taels of gold that I would like to give you as a token of
my gratitude for the help that you have given my family.”
Mr. Anh accepted the gift and thanked me. He reminded me that the boat
would leave on June 1.
I was not obliged to pay him any money, but I thought to myself: “They
have been a great help to me. It is only right and proper to give them a little money
for their trouble. I must not be too greedy. And I must take care. While we are still
in Qui Nhon they dare not do anything to us, but once we are at sea our lives will
be in their hands. If I pay them nothing at all, they may think that I used my power
to bully them and they could easily retaliate by throwing us overboard to attend the
Ocean God.”
So I had to give them a little gold. It was not a lot, but they understood and
respected me. I had intended to give them five taels, but I had second thoughts and
gave them only three.
All our preparations were now complete. We had only to wait for the day
and hour of departure. I was satisfied, but I knew from experience that we could
not feel secure until the boat was at sea.
On June 1 the boat was ready to set off when the boat owner suddenly
received a notice from the province police. It informed him that a boat had left Qui
Nhon a few days earlier and reached Phan Thiet but its engine had broken down.
He was requested to send a mechanic to Phan Thiet to repair the engine.
This delayed our departure for a few days. Our boat finally put to sea on
June 6, 1979.

Chapter 37. At sea

Toward midnight on June 6, the members of our family joined the other passengers
gathered at Dong Da Seaport, Qui Nhon to wait to board the Nghe Quang. The
police added our names to their list. After everyone else got on the boat, it was our
turn. The cadres in charge at the dock smirked at me and asked:
“You too, a foreign trade cadre, leaving the country?”
“I am,” I replied.
They started to search my bag. I was not sure how thorough the search was
going to be. I was worried and nervous because there were two taels of gold at the
bottom of the bag. They searched at one place in the bag, then at another. My heart
was beating rapidly.
“If they find the gold,” I thought, “I’ll have to give it up.”
Fortunately, they did not find it. I calmed down. Although they caused us a
lot of trouble, they did eventually let us board. So ten members of our family
boarded safely (Ai Nga and her family went separately). I was truly happy and
thanked Heaven and Earth.
Our family was about to leave Vietnam. This was the second country in
which we had lived. Three generations of our family had shared life, hardship, and
death with the Vietnamese people. We and the Vietnamese had forged close
friendships and become as blood brothers. Now special circumstances had forced
us to tear ourselves away from this beloved land. Old memories passed through my
mind and melancholy filled my heart.
Decade had followed decade: the August Revolution, the Anti-French
Resistance War, the War Against America to Save the Nation, the liberation of the
South and the reunification of the country. I had poured my heart and soul into the
Vietnamese Revolution. I considered that I had proven myself worthy of the people
of Vietnam as well as the people of my native country. I felt that I had fulfilled my
parents’ hopes for me. I felt so proud.
Although I was now going far away, the images of my relatives, friends,
comrades, and colleagues in Vietnam would always remain deeply imprinted in my
memory.
And so our boat set off. It was the last boat that was allowed to leave. Seven
boats that were not yet ready to go were prevented from departing. The people who
had already paid for places on those boats found themselves bankrupt. All their
money was gone and they were left behind at the mercy of the Vietnamese
authorities. Many of them ended up in prison. Their fate was a tragic one.
Our family was lucky. We were blessed with the aid and support of Heaven.
Our voyage went smoothly. If we had been unable to leave Vietnam, we would
have faced hardship and possibly criminal charges. We had good reason to be
happy.
Our not very large boat left with over four hundred people on board. We
were packed tightly together. There was no space to walk. We had brought with us
crackers, dried bread, some bottles of fresh water, sugar, dried lemon, several cans
of condensed milk, and a very high quality, thinly sliced root of ginseng that Mr.
Dong Loi had given us.
Due to the shortage of space, only old people and women with small
children were allowed to sit in the middle of the boat. Everyone else, including our
family, had to stand around the edges of the boat and endure the wind, rain, and
heat.
For the first few days the weather was hot and dry. We all got sunburned.
Then it began to rain and we all got soaked like wet chickens. Fortunately, there
was a kind-hearted person standing next to Kim Anh and myself who shared with
us a large waterproof nylon sheet to shield us from the rain and sun.
No meals were provided. Passengers ate the food that they had brought with
them. Twice a day the boat owner distributed water – a small cupful for each
person.
Some youngster stole our crackers, so all we had left was dried bread. Every
day I gave each of my children a slice or two with a little condensed milk and also
a few slices of ginseng to suck. As Ai Nga had a baby and her father-in-law was
old and sick, we gave her family more food than we ate ourselves. Her in-laws
took advantage of this by giving her less food, so Ai Nga and her baby did not
have much to eat. Nevertheless, our family survived. Fortunately, we all stayed
calm and healthy.
After five days our boat was caught in a storm and sought shelter in a bay
along the coast. The next day the boat entered Chinese territorial waters in the
vicinity of Zhongshan District. The wind was still very strong, so the boat came in
close to the shore. A large group of local militiamen soon arrived to investigate us.
Our boat stopped there one day and one night. By the next morning we were ready
to continue our voyage. The militia commander asked whether we needed any
help. Mr. Quach Quang Anh asked only for some water.
“Do you need us to pull your boat out to sea?” asked the militia commander.
“Yes, please do. A short distance will be enough.”
The militiamen were highly disciplined. After they had provided us with
water, Mr. Quach handed them the empty water cans, but their commander told
them to give them back to us.
The boat continued on its way. About four or five in the afternoon we
reentered Chinese territorial waters and headed for a seaport to ask for directions.
As soon as we docked, we saw People’s Liberation Army men standing on a
hillock. They opened a grille barrier at the entrance to a small cave in the hillside,
pushed out two enormous cannons, and pointed them straight at our boat. We all
saw the cannons, but none of us was frightened. We realized that they were just
putting on a show for us. We did not believe that they would shoot at us.
When the boat came alongside the dock, two PLA officers stepped on board
and asked why we had come. It was the first time that Mr. Quach had ever seen a
Chinese army officer. He was so nervous that he lost his composure. He folded his
hands, bowed down, and said: “I wish you prosperity.” At that the rest of us quietly
giggled.
Mr. Quach followed the officers onto the dock and talked with them for a
few minutes. Then they pointed out to us the direction of Hong Kong.
The boat proceeded in the direction indicated. About noon the next day, we
thought that we might already be in the territorial waters of Hong Kong. We
spotted a small patrol plane. It flew round in a circle several times above our boat.
Our captain set off two firecrackers in the air to ask for help, but the pilot ignored
us and flew away.
About ten o’clock that night we arrived in the vicinity of Hong Kong. We
saw several boats of the Hong Kong Port Police. They stopped our boat and
through a loudspeaker informed us that our boat had entered the port illegally and
requested us to leave immediately. Our captain used his loudspeaker to tell them
that we were refugees from Vietnam and sought refuge.
After a while the port police brought their patrol boats up alongside our boat
and talked with us. When they learned that we had a very sick man on board (that
was Mr. Nam Quynh, my son-in-law Hoa’s father) and also a woman in labor, they
took the two of them straight to hospital. Then they pulled our boat to the shore of
a small island next to Sunset Peak (Tai Tung Shan). Already gathered there in
orderly rows were hundreds of refugee boats from Vietnam, large and small. Our
boat was assigned the number 715. It was one of the largest boats. Some of the
small boats carried only two or three people. The boats were perched tightly
together, noisily bustling like greenflies swarming around a piece of bait. While
refugees were at this place, the Hong Kong police gave each person a daily ration
of four slices of bread, a few canned baked beans, and a little water.
A few days later Mr. Diep Dat Thanh’s boat also arrived. Although our own
stomachs were far from full, we shared some of our provisions with Mr. Thanh and
his family. His boat had taken longer to reach Hong Kong, so they were hungrier
than us.

Chapter 38. In Hong Kong refugee camps

After seven days and nights at sea we had arrived in Hong Kong safe and sound.
Now we really felt secure. We offered sincere thanks to Heaven and Earth for
having pity on us. We were also grateful to our Vietnamese friends and to Mr.
Quach Quang Anh, owner of the Nghe Quang, who had given us wholehearted
assistance and brought us safely out of Vietnam, a land full of sorrow and disaster,
to a better place where we would be able to build a new life.
While preparing to leave the country, we had to face many difficulties and
endure many hardships, but we overcame all the difficulties and survived all the
hardships. Our family had good luck and good fortune.
After two or three days next to Sunset Peak, the port police pulled our boat
alongside the closed refugee camp at Hei Ling Chau Island. We were told to wait
another day on the boat. The next day they let us off the boat onto the shore,
carried out an inspection, registered our names, and completed other procedures.
Then we were admitted to the camp. One or two straw mats were laid on the floor
for each family. This was where we were now going to eat, sleep, and live.
After settling down in the camp, we were joined by some of our former
neighbors – Mrs. Tau Nam and her family from Dap Da and Mrs. Nam Hoa’s
children (Bay and her brothers and sisters) from our street in Hanoi. They gave us
some water and sugar. We offered water, sugar, and some of our cans of condensed
milk to Mr. Dong Loi’s family and Mr. Ang’s family. They were very glad to have
them. Provisions were the most precious thing at that time.
Relatives and friends of ours who were already at the camp were surprised
when we joined them. None of them had expected that our family would be able to
leave Vietnam. Even if we had obtained money to buy places on a boat, surely the
Vietnamese authorities would not have allowed us to leave. Moreover, our family
was large and scattered around the country. How could we possibly have gathered
together at short notice?
We heard from Mr. Ang that when his son A Ich had told him that Uncle
Hing Quang had just arrived he had replied:
“You must be daydreaming! There’s no way he can leave!”
“No, it’s true. Uncle Quang really is here. He waved at me.”
Mr. Ang still did not believe him. He thought that A Ich had mistaken
someone else for me. When our family entered the building and settled down next
to him, he was full of admiration and respect.
The camp was not large, but about a thousand people had already been
packed into it. There was not even enough space to stretch your legs. The faucets
ran very slowly and there were too few toilets. In the morning people rushed about
like bees emerging from their hive. People fought to gain access to the faucets and
to the toilets.
When the time came for the distribution of drinking water, the refugees from
North Vietnam were already waiting in a long line. They had more experience of
waiting in line. They had been waiting since the crack of dawn, holding their
bowls, cans, pots, pans, and washbasins. No room was left for us southerners. That
led to frequent arguments and fights. Some even had knives with them and tried to
kill one another. The malicious Hong Kong police used their power to bully the
refugees. On the slightest pretext they would start lashing out with their fists and
feet. The victims dared not complain. It was pitiful!
More cunning and ruthless in their methods were the immigration officials.
“Using poison to treat poison,” they recruited a few vicious thugs from among the
early arrivals and paid them a pittance to abuse the refugees who came later. These
thugs, backed up by the police, obeyed orders like attack dogs. They yelled at
refugees, beat them up, and broke up their gatherings.
Some young men newly arrived from Haiphong could not bear the brutality
of the police and hired thugs. Threatening them with knives, they warned:
“If you continue to bully us, we’ll exchange our lives for yours.”
From then on the police and hired thugs were less aggressive.
A few days later, the Hong Kong Immigration Agency had our photographs
taken and carried out some procedures.
We stayed at the camp on Hei Ling Chau Island for a week. Then the police
moved us to another closed camp – the Chi Ma Wan Center on Lantau Island. This
camp had previously been a hostel for homeless and unemployed young men. It
was surrounded by high barbed-wire fences, with a single gate for entry and exit. It
was not very large, but – just like Hei Ling Chau – it held about a thousand
refugees. The police gave each family one or two straw mats on which to sit and
sleep. Each person received a daily ration of four slices of white bread, half a can
of hot baked beans, a small orange, and some drinking water. On getting up in the
morning and before going to sleep at night, all the refugees had to stand in line to
greet the police and answer roll call – just like prisoners.
There was a woman security guard at the camp, about forty years old, who
always looked as angry as a devil. She never showed the slightest trace of a smile.
One day she made a cup of tea and instead of drinking it herself came and gave it
to Kim Anh. Everyone was surprised to see her do that. She had a hard face but a
kind heart.
A few days after our arrival at Chi Ma Wan, a couple of troublemakers came
along – one from our boat, the other from a different boat. They looked very angry,
as though they wanted to kill someone. They came looking for us in order to start a
quarrel.
“Who here is a Viet Cong?” they demanded.
When they came face to face with us and saw that our family had several
strong young men, they shut up and had soon quietly disappeared. We never saw
them again.
We stayed at Chi Ma Wan for one month. (At that time Ai Nga’s and Hoa’s
son Loi was just out of the cradle.) Then the police moved us to Kai Tak camp – an
open camp. The Hong Kong Immigration Agency sent a large contingent of armed
police and transported us in prison vans. That embarrassed and upset us all, but
there was nothing we could do. We ignored them and let them do whatever they
liked.
Kai Tak was a very large camp, holding 10,000 people. There were many
different blocks. Like most people from the Nghe Quang, our family was housed in
Block A. The accommodation was very cramped. There were three layers of single
bunk beds, each of which had to be shared by two people. Our family was
allocated four beds. Luckily, Hung and Manh got jobs and were able to sleep at
their workplaces. We also bought some folding beds. So for the time being we
were not too crowded.
The situation in most of the refugee camps, and especially at Kai Tak, was
very complicated. There were people of all kinds, with three main religions. There
were also hooligans and criminals. Within just two days of our arrival we had
already observed them stealing, robbing, and fighting. People were often abused.
Some were murdered for their possessions.
Two of the criminals, twins named Phung Son and Phung Hai, were from
Qui Nhon. They lived in a different camp, but collaborated with some hooligans at
Kai Tak. One night they stole a gold chain from a woman in Block B, next to our
block. A young man nearby happened to be awake and see them do it. Although he
would not have dared inform on them, they took a knife and slashed him to death.
We were always nervous, anxious, and scared. We were never able to eat or sleep
in peace.
A few days after our arrival, officials from the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees and from the immigration agencies of various
countries came to the camp to prepare lists of names and carry out procedures for
the admission of refugees. The US Immigration and Naturalization Service
accepted our whole family for resettlement in the United States. We were very
happy.
When we first arrived at the camp, we were not yet free to come and go.
Two meals were distributed daily. A meal consisted of a box of cooked rice and a
piece of stir-fried pig intestine with squash, black bean sprouts, or pickled mustard
greens. This was the first time in the two months or so since we had left Vietnam
that we got to eat rice, so at first we were very happy. However, as the food was
the same day in and day out, after a while we grew sick and tired of those meals,
though we had to swallow them in order to survive one more day. We continued
eating them until we were free to go out and buy our own food.

One day a young thug in our camp bullied and beat Thang and there was a
fight between them. We did not know why it happened. A few hours later, a young
Vietnamese came to see us. He threatened Thang and us:
“I am Nguyen Van Long from Danang. I used to work for the CIA. I eat
human liver and suck human blood.”
When he was finished, I responded calmly:
“Ah, I have a nephew who also likes to do things like that.”
Hearing this exchange, Hung told Manh:
“Go and ask Brother Ty to come here at once.”
“Which Brother Ty is that?” asked Mr. Long.
“The one who lives in your block,” said I.
We mentioned Brother Ty in order to let him know that we were not alone
and that we were not frightened of him. In fact, we did not know whether Brother
Ty was really capable of scaring him. So we were surprised to see that he showed
signs of fear at the mention of Ty’s name. He stopped talking and quietly
disappeared.
About an hour later he returned and spoke to me in a very polite and
apologetic tone:
“I apologize. Please accept my apology. I misunderstood the situation. I
heard people say that your son had beaten someone else’s son. I felt that it wasn’t
fair, so I came to talk to you. Now I realize that it was the other guy’s son who
bullied your son. I am so sorry.”
“Well, never mind,” I said with a laugh. “Let’s forget it.”
Brother Ty was the son of Mr. Tran Hoan Thong. He had been an officer of
the military police in Hanoi. While holding that position he had often fought with
the civilian police and committed thefts and robberies. He had been in prison many
times. As soon as he reached Hong Kong and entered Kai Tak, he had begun
fighting with other refugees in the camp. As a former military police officer, he
was trained in the martial arts. He had a quick temper. Even the tiniest thing could
provoke him to violence, so most people dared not tease him. Later I heard from
friends that he had got into many fights in the camp and had been taken off to
prison several times.
Fortunately for us, we were able to use one bully to protect ourselves against
another. However, we did not appeal for help to Brother Ty again, because too
close an association with him might have got us into trouble. For the rest of our
stay at Kai Tak no one dared bully us. We were respected even by people who had
worked for the old puppet government.

Nevertheless, we continued to run into complications.
One day a young man named Thanh, who had arrived with us on the Nghe
Quang, came to ask me to speak on his behalf with the boat owner, Mr. Quach
Quang Anh, and persuade him to return some gold that Thanh had overpaid.
“Mr. Quach Quang Anh is a Chiuchow. I cannot speak to a Chiuchow.
You’ll have to go and ask Mr. Truong Luong Huu for help.”
On hearing this name he fell silent, because he knew that before Liberation
Mr. Truong Luong Huu had been best friends with the notorious Qui Nhon drug
dealer Mr. Tau Xi. No one dared mess with them.
Soon after this there arrived in the camp a bloodhound named Mr. Diep Bao
Wong, a Hainanese native of Tuy Hoa in Phu Yen Province who had come to
Hong Kong through China from Hanoi. Together with a former secret agent of the
Saigon puppet government named Mr. Nguyen Khang, he went sleuthing around
various refugee camps in search of former Overseas Chinese cadres from North
Vietnam. With the aid of threats and inducements, they extracted from them
general intelligence information about Vietnam.
A few former Overseas Chinese cadres took advantage of this situation for
their own benefit. Others were afraid that evidence might be presented against
them by way of revenge, spoiling their chances of immigration for permanent
settlement. They agreed to serve as unpaid informants in the hope of pleasing the
Americans and being accepted for resettlement in the United States. There were
also a few who agreed to perform disloyal acts because they imagined that thereby
they could win the Americans’ trust and obtain gainful employment from them. So
there were a few people who sold their souls and acted against their conscience.
Ironically, however, they received very little for their dirty work. Mr. Khang paid
each of them 30 Hong Kong dollars – barely enough for a single meal in a
restaurant.[1] He cynically told them: “You took the day off work to talk to us, so
we are paying you compensation for your lost wages.”
Let us take pity on those who sold their souls for a pittance. Their hopes
were dashed: none of them was accepted for resettlement in the United States.
They applied to go to Canada, Australia, and other countries.
Let me tell you a funny story about Mr. Ton Nhon Hung, who was once a
best friend of mine. In the refugee camp he was always worrying about
resettlement. Every day he called me at my work to ask what he should do. I was
always glad to advise people as best I could, especially when it was a good friend
who sought my advice. However, when he was accepted for resettlement in
Canada he did not tell me but left without even saying goodbye. Perhaps he was
worried that I might follow him to Canada and compete with him for any
employment opportunities. As the proverb says: “Friends are like birds nestling
together in the dark forest at night and waiting impatiently for the dawn, when they
will go their separate ways.”
One day Mr. Diep Bao Wong brought Mr. Khang to see me. He asked me to
come outside to talk.
“I am on the staff of the CIA,” said Mr. Khang. “I would like to talk with
you about the situation in Vietnam.”
“I have to go to work now,” I replied. “Please come to see me some other
day.”
After that I avoided them. Mr. Wong knew that in Hanoi I had worked at the
Ministry of Foreign Trade, but he did not know exactly what kind of work I had
done there.
A few days later, I received a telephone call at my work from a Vietnamese
man. (I had given my work telephone number only to Mr. Ton Nhon Hung;
perhaps this man had got it from him.) He told me that his name was Tu and that
he was Mr. Khang’s superior at the CIA. Then he invited me to come around to his
place to talk about the situation in Vietnam.
“Well,” I replied, “if you want to know what the situation was ten years ago,
then I can tell you. I am not well informed about the current situation.”
“But you arrived from Vietnam quite recently, isn’t that so?”
“Yes, but I retired long ago.”
“You are not yet of retirement age.”
“True, but I am Chinese. You must surely understand my circumstances.”
“Yes, I understand. I am interested in the current situation in Vietnam, not in
the past. Some people have already talked with me about the current situation, so I
don’t really need to see you. That is all. Thank you.”
I felt happy and safe. I had been lucky enough to avoid another trap. I
thanked Heaven and Earth. I knew that if I did not fully satisfy those people they
might easily do me harm or even send me to serve God in Heaven. I had to stay
calm, clever, and careful. I should not oppose them directly. I would suffer for it if
I did.
In order to protect myself against Mr. Diep Bao Wong, I “used poison to
treat poison.” At that time the Hong Kong newspapers were reporting that the
immigration authorities intended to send all Chinese refugees who had arrived
from the mainland back to China. They would not be allowed to remain in Hong
Kong. I was overjoyed to see that, because I knew that Mr. Wong had just arrived
in Hong Kong from mainland China.
“I can use this to scare him,” I thought to myself, “so that he will make no
trouble for me.”
I immediately went to buy some newspapers and distributed them among my
relatives, who passed them on to others in the camp. I also gave a newspaper to the
wife of Mr. Hoang Khac Ky. She was happy because Mr. Wong often made
trouble for them. After reading the article she knew how to deal with Mr. Wong.
She showed him the article.
“Have you seen this?” she asked. “From now on please do not bother us. If
you do, I shall report you to the immigration authorities so that they can arrest you
and send you back to China. You deserve it.”
Mr. Wong was frightened. He begged her not to report him and promised to
make no more trouble.
Later I myself went to see Mr. Wong.
“You and I are compatriots,” I told him. “I’m asking you to show a little
kindness and not to go around saying bad things.”
“I don’t dare,” he replied. “I promise not to say any bad things.”
So we achieved the desired result. We dampened Mr. Wong’s spirit.
Although he continued making trouble for other people, such as Mr. Hoang Khac
Thanh, Mr. Diep Nang Tin, Mr. Han Tu Phung, Mr. Truong Tho Xuong, Mr. Ton
Nhon Hung and his brother, and Mr. Duong Quang Ngoc, from that time on he was
always polite to our family and caused us no trouble. Nor did he make trouble for
the family of Mr. Hoang Khac Ky.
One day I asked Mr. Wong: “Did you say anything about me to Mr.
Khang?”
“No, I never said anything about you to him.”
Soon after that, American immigration officials came to tell our family to go
to their office to take an oath and fill in papers for our resettlement in the United
States. This proved that Mr. Wong had not in fact made any trouble for us.
Despite intimidation by a bull-headed horse-faced thug, despite threats and
inducements, I stood firm. While in the refugee camps I never did anything against
my conscience. That made me feel proud and worthy of my friends and of the
Vietnamese people.
Our whole family had reached Hong Kong safely. This was a miracle. Some
people admired us and were glad for us; others were jealous. When it became
known that our family had been accepted for resettlement in the United States, the
jealous people were not happy. They spread lies about us and even produced
evidence to stoke controversy. As we were not yet allowed free passage in and out
of the camp, we asked relatives about living conditions and employment
opportunities in Hong Kong. They did not answer us.
A few days after we arrived at Kai Tak, Mrs. Diep Lanh came to me and
said:
“Mr. Hing Quang, when you were in Qui Nhon you borrowed a tael of gold
from us. Please repay it now, so that our daughter Binh can buy things to take to
America.”
At first I thought that she herself had come up with this idea, because she
regretted having given me the gold. I agreed to pay it back, but explained that I
was not yet in a position to do so. I went to see her husband, Mr. Lim Quang,
reminded him that he and his wife had given me a tael of gold, and told him that
now his wife had asked me to repay it.
“Can you give it to her?” he asked.
Then I knew for sure that it was his idea and not only hers.
“I don’t have any gold leaf,” I said. “I have only a gold bar. Will that do?”
“Fine,” he replied.
I was going to give them a gold bar. But I changed my mind. The previous
day I had asked Mrs. Lanh’s brother, Mr. Diep Bao Tung, to sell a gold bar for me
and he had brought me back 1,700 Hong Kong dollars, so I gave Mr. and Mrs. Lim
Quang that money instead of a gold bar. It came as a surprise to them and they
were very happy. A few days later, however, the price of gold in Hong Kong
suddenly shot up to 4,000 Hong Kong dollars per tael. Mr. and Mrs. Lim Quang
must have been chagrined and angry at me.
Mr. and Mrs. Lim Quang were not really short of money. While getting
ready to go to the United States, Mr. Lim Quang was afraid that he might be
robbed, so he brought a small bag of diamonds and asked me to keep it safe for
him.
During our stays at Chi Ma Wan and Kai Tak camps, I taught our children
Cantonese to enable them to apply for jobs once they were allowed to do so. When
we were free to leave the camp, all our children did in fact find jobs. Trung and Ai
Hoa worked at toy factories, Cuong and Thang at a mattress factory, and Hung and
Manh at a food processing company at Tsuen Wan.[2] After a while Hung and
Manh left their jobs because they were too far away from the camp and looked for
other jobs.
Soon after we were allowed to leave the camp, I took Hung along with me to
look for a post office. I wanted to send telegrams to my mother and sisters in
Vietnam and let them know that we had arrived safely in Hong Kong. We walked
around for a long time but could not find a post office. Then we went to see old
friends of mine at the reception office of a shipping agency and ask them to help us
find some of the buyers with whom I had done business in the old days.
When my old friend Mr. Tu Do, assistant director of the reception office,
heard that we had come, he came out to welcome us and invited us in for tea. After
a brief exchange of greetings, I told him about our situation. He was very
sympathetic and immediately wrote down the addresses of several of my old
business partners. I expressed my gratitude and we said goodbye.
First we visited the Tien Shang Hong Company. Mr. La Luong, the director,
and Mr. Du Duc Duc, the assistant director, received us and invited us in for tea.
After we had exchanged greetings, I asked them to introduce us to potential
employers. They were willing to help.
“How many of you are looking for jobs?” they asked.
“Ten of us,” I replied. That included Ai Nga’s husband Hoa and Mr. Diep
Bao Phong and his son.
They arranged for us all to work at their tea-processing factory, with me in
charge of the others. I thanked them and said goodbye. Mr. Duc showed us the way
to the elevator. Then he took out some Hong Kong banknotes and offered them to
Hung. I sincerely thanked him but declined.
“In the past,” I thought to myself, “I was their business partner. Now I am a
refugee. I don’t want them to think that we’ve come begging for money. It’s
enough that they have found jobs for us.”
We did not go to work for them after all. Later we all found other jobs.
Next Hung and I went looking for Mr. To Ke Thao, director of the Shun
Shang Import-Export Company. It was I who had originally introduced Mr. Thao
as a trading partner for Vietnam’s import-export companies. The friendship
between Mr. Thao and myself was very special. Not having seen one another for
over ten years, we were so happy to meet again! Mr. Thao invited us in for tea.
After exchanging greetings, I asked him to give me directions to the post office.
“Do you want to send a telegram?” he asked.
“Yes, to Vietnam.”
He laughed.
“We have a post office right here.”
What Mr. Thao meant was that the Shun Shang Company had a fax
machine. He asked his secretary to fax my message right away. Then he took out
3,000 Hong Kong dollars and offered them to me.
“This is my personal gift to you. We’ll work something out later.”
I tried to decline, but Mr. Thao insisted.
“Please don’t be shy. We are best friends, you and I. You’ve been of
enormous help to me. This is just a little gift to show my appreciation. I’ll give you
more help later on.”
We talked for a long time. I saw that I could not refuse the gift. I asked Mr.
Thao how his business was doing. Again he thanked me for the enormous help I
had rendered his company by giving him the opportunity to trade with Vietnam’s
import-export companies. He told me that the Shun Shang Company was doing
very well. Its total capital was now a hundred million Hong Kong dollars. I was
impressed and felt very happy for him. In just over ten years Mr. Thao had grown
from an ordinary worker into a big capitalist. It was a miracle. I sincerely wished
him even greater success. Then I asked him to arrange employment for members of
my family. He agreed without hesitation.
“For how many people?” he asked.
“Ten,” I replied.
“I’ll arrange it step by step.”
First Mr. Thao asked Hung to come and help manage his warehouse. Then
he introduced Manh to his brother, who owned the Hoi Sang Hong Dried Seafood
Store. Manh was given a job accompanying their truck to help deliver goods.
I was found work as a salesman and bookkeeper for the Lee Shang Hong
Dried Seafood Store. The work was quite hard. The store was crowded with
customers. I had to use 16 x 1/4 ounce English scales to weigh each portion of
food, calculate the sum in Hong Kong money, and make out the receipt. All this
had to be done quickly. It required a lot of concentration. After a few months I
asked Mr. Thao for another job. He arranged for me to work at the Shun Hing
Frozen Seafood Company, which was owned by Mr. Shim Shang’s son. This was a
small business that sold frozen seafood. It suited me very well. Every day I wrote
receipts, recorded sales in the account book, and went to the bank to pay money in
and take money out. When I had the time, I went to collect money from customers.
The work was easy and convenient and the salary was high. I remained in this job
until I left Hong Kong.
One day Mr. Thao told me:
“Recently I visited Vinacor and met the director. I told them about your
situation – that you had left Vietnam and were in Hong Kong. I also told them that
for old friendship’s sake I am looking for a job for you. Did they have any ideas?
They were sympathetic. They said that you are a very good person and told me to
try to help you. They said that despite the current situation they still have good
feelings about you. They said that you would always be their good friend.”
I was very happy to hear that and felt comforted.
A little later, on the occasion of Mr. Thao’s house-warming party, I gave
him a huge painting on glass entitled Boats Sail the Sea Safely with a Good Wind.
Mr. Thao showed his appreciation by immediately hanging it on the wall by the
front door, so that it would be seen by everyone coming in or going out, including
Vinacor staff.
While working for Shun Hing, I also acted as an agent for the Shun Shang
Company, selling swift nests. In addition to any profit, which depended on the
price, for every kilogram I sold I received a bonus of 50 Hong Kong dollars. So
our income was good and we lived comfortably.
On October 1, 1979, while we were at Kai Tak camp, Mai gave birth to
Dinh.

On the first day of the lunar new year 1980, the first transport of refugees
from Vietnam set sail for the Philippines to await resettlement in the United States.
Among them were Nga and her family.
After a while we received a letter from Nga in the Philippines.
“The situation here,” she wrote, “is terrible. The camp is on an isolated
island without inhabitants or housing. We refugees have to gather and chop wood
to build huts for ourselves. We are short of everything. The jungle is full of peril.
The water is unsafe to drink. The mountain is beautiful but there is not enough air
to breathe. Most of the refugees have caught serious diseases like malaria, cholera,
typhoid fever, and dysentery. There is no medicine. Every day another person dies.
The situation inside the camp is also very difficult. There are frequent arguments,
fights, thefts, even murders. It is really terrible here! Apply to go to other countries
if you like, but stay away from the Philippines! It’s very dangerous here!”
After receiving this alarming letter, we were very worried for Nga and her
family. We did not know whether they would be able to endure such conditions.
We regretted letting them go to the Philippines. We also worried about our own
prospects for resettlement.
It was at this time that the US Immigration Agency put up notices in the
refugee camps saying that people over 60 years old would fly directly to the United
States but everyone else would go first by boat to the Philippines and remain there
for a period of anywhere from three months to three years before continuing to the
United States.
A few months later, American immigration officials came and invited us to
their office to complete the paperwork for our resettlement in the United States.
“Do we have to go to the Philippines?” I asked them.
“Yes, you do.”
“How long shall we have to stay there?”
“Anywhere from three months to three years.”
“But your notices say that people over 60 years old don’t have to go to the
Philippines. I am over 60, so that should apply to me. Now you tell me that I do
have to go. How can that be?”
“We have not heard about that.”
I thought to myself: “I was a member of the Communist Party. If the
Americans want to harm me, they may send me to the Philippines and even after
three years refuse us entry to the United States. What would we do then? It is better
for us to stay here in Hong Kong and apply to go to some other country. Or we
may find a way to stay on in Hong Kong.”
So we declined the offer to resettle in the United States.
Next we applied to go to Canada, but camp officials told us: “As you refused
an offer to resettle in the United States, Canada will not accept you.”
“Well then, send us to any other country willing to accept us. We want to
leave the camp as soon as possible.”
“Only England will accept you. Will you go?”
“Yes, we’ll go.”
“In England there are no cars. There are no skyscrapers. Do you still want to
go?”
“Yes, we don’t mind.”
So we registered for resettlement in England.
A long time passed and we heard no more about it. We were anxious. What
was going on?
Then Mr. Lam Quang, the son of Mr. Lam Minh Chau, told us that his
parents, brothers, and sisters were already settled in England. I was very happy to
hear that. I asked him to write to his father and ask him to apply for our family to
resettle in England, in the same place as where his family lived. I too wrote to Mr.
Chau many times, but never received an answer.
Eventually we were interviewed by officials from the British Home Office.
They asked us to complete some procedures for resettlement in England. It took a
long time. I asked them whether our whole family, including Trung, Mai, and their
son, could travel together. They agreed.
Finally all the procedures were completed.
“Everything is ready,” they told us. “Now you have to go to England. Don’t
hide away any more.”
We thanked them.
When Mr. Lim Quang heard that we had decided to resettle in England, he
came to give me some advice.
“Mr. Quang,” he said, “you should think again. It’s better to go to America.”
“Don’t worry,” I replied. “Wherever we go we’ll be OK. My children are
hardworking and know English. We can work and survive anywhere. I don’t want
to go to America. I would be in a very difficult situation there.”
He said no more.

Before our departure for England, I talked with Mr. To Ke Thao and Mr. To
Thanh, Mr. Thao’s blood brother and chief executive of the Shun Shang Company.
“We used to be good friends,’ I told them. “Now I am a refugee in Hong
Kong. You have both helped me. I really appreciate all your help.”
“Please don’t say that,” they replied. “It is really we who should thank you,
because it was you who helped and supported us when we were just starting our
business. Now it has grown big, but we have never forgotten how much we owe to
you. Later, if you want to start a business in Canada or the United States, we shall
do our best to help and support you. So don’t worry. If you need to find jobs, we
can help you with that too, because we have a lot of connections.”
“We were accepted by the United States, but now we have decided to go to
England instead. Do you know anything about the situation in England?”
“We don’t know much about England. When you have settled, let us know
about the situation there. We shall try our best to help you.”
It turned out that life in England was very comfortable. I did not need to ask
them for any more help.
During our stay at the Kai Tak refugee camp I helped some friends sell
various products. I sold Chinese medicines for Mr. Diep Bao Wong and Mr. Xi
Ho, incense for Mr. Diep Bao Phong, swift nests for Mr. Duong Quang Ngoc and
Mr. Au Bang Lien, and bear bile for Mr. Hoang Trung. However, I did not accept
any commission. When I sold Chinese medicines for Mr. Xi Ho for 1,700 Hong
Kong dollars, he took 1,000 and left me 700 as commission, but I refused to take it.
(At that time 700 Hong Kong dollars were equivalent to over 20 days’ salary.) I
did not treat it as business. I just wanted to help.
I also helped Mr. Ngo Khon Phuc to ask his brother-in-law Mr. Diep Kinh to
apply for him and his family to resettle in the United States. He was grateful to me.
In general, I was always happy to help anyone in any matter to the best of
my ability. There were many people who appreciated my help and loved me.
Notes

[1] At that time one Hong Kong dollar was equivalent to about 18 US cents. It is
currently worth 13 US cents.

[2] Tsuen Wan is in the western part of Hong Kong’s New Territories.

Chapter 39. We resettle in England

In the last week of July 1980, our family was sent to an assembly area at A Cai Lu
camp to prepare for departure. We were accommodated there together with Mr.
Diep Nang Tin’s family. They had arrived some time before us and were waiting to
go to Canada but did not understand why it was taking so long. Mr. Tin told me
that his family had been interviewed by American immigration officials but a
group of people in cahoots with Mr. Diep Bao Wong and Mr. Nguyen Khang had
threatened them and written a letter denouncing them to the US Immigration
Agency. Some people, he added, had sold their souls cheap and agreed to do things
against their conscience.
I advised Mr. Tin not to withdraw their application to resettle in Canada.
They should just wait. Canada bordered on the United States and they would easily
be able to visit their relatives there. Mr. Tin accepted my advice.
On the afternoon of August 6, 1980, our family left Hong Kong for England.
Before our group set off, the Catholic Church in Hong Kong sent nuns to pray for
our safe journey and wish us good luck.
On August 7, 1980, we arrived safely at London’s Heathrow Airport. Our
reception was very different from the way in which we had been treated upon our
arrival in Hong Kong.
When we stepped into the reception room, we saw the director of the
English refugee camp, members of his staff, and Chinese and Vietnamese
interpreters. They welcomed us with open arms. This reassured us and put us at
ease, as though we were coming home.
Then we were taken to a van and driven to the Morton Hall camp in
Swinderby, Lincolnshire. When we arrived there, we did some paperwork.
At that time the British Home Office was willing to allow my mother to join
us, but she did not want to come. She was old and weak and afraid of the cold
weather in England. She preferred to remain near her two daughters who were
taking care of her.
In October 1980 Nga and her family were allowed to leave the Philippines
and resettle in the United States.
We stayed at the camp for about six months. We used the time to study the
English language and English customs and manners. Hung, Trung, and Manh went
to Lincoln to study advanced English.
When preparations were being made for us to move out of the camp, we
asked to go to Liverpool and live near the families of Mr. Lam and Mr. Chau. I
also wrote to Mr. Chau asking him to apply for us to live near his family. I waited
a long time but received no reply. Later I learned that his family did not want us to
come and live near them.
On January 29, 1981, our family was settled in a new house in Mansfield,
Nottinghamshire. We lived in one apartment and Trung’s family in another.
A week later Hung got a job in Scotland. The rest of us attended English
classes. Cuong and Manh went to train as mechanics. Thang started going to
school. Trung, Hoa, Cuong, and Manh all found jobs.
While we were living in Mansfield, some English Christians came to our
house from near and far to teach us English or to make friends with us. Among
them were Mr. Tony’s family from Lincoln, a teacher named Mrs. Moore from
Swindon, Miss Reader, and Mr. Ravenshead. They were good friends to our
family. We shall always remember them.

We had lived in Mansfield for about a year when we received an unexpected
telegram from my sister Hanh in Vietnam telling us that Minh and Chanh had left
Vietnam and asking us to find out their exact whereabouts.
We requested the refugee camp near Derby to ask the UNHCR to find them.
A few days later we were informed that Minh and Chanh had arrived in Hong
Kong and were in the Wailingchow camp. I immediately sent sister Hanh a
telegram to let her know. Then Kim Anh and I asked Trung, Hoa, and Hung to
make a family reunion application for them to join us in England. At first the
Home Office refused. We asked English friends and a Member of Parliament to
intervene on our behalf, but without any result. At the same time, we asked Nga
and her husband and friends to apply for them to settle in the United States. We
offered to pay all the expenses. But there was still no result.
We kept on applying, however, and eventually Heaven took pity on us. The
Home Office allowed them to join us, but on the condition that after settling in
England they would not apply for anyone else to come. If they agreed they could
come; otherwise they would have to remain in the camp in Hong Kong.
We thought it best to bring Minh and Chanh to England as soon as possible.
The sooner they left the Wailingchow camp the better, because it was a closed
camp. People in that type of camp would be returned to Vietnam if no other
country would take them. That would be dangerous. So we had to accept the
condition set by the Home Office.
On August 11, 1983, after exactly one year at the Wailingchow camp, Minh
and Chanh left for England and came to live with us. Kim Anh and I loved and
took care of them as though they were our own children.
It was very fortunate that the Home Office allowed Minh and Chanh to join
us, because there were still hundreds of thousands of refugees from Vietnam living
in closed camps in Hong Kong and other countries whom no country had accepted
for resettlement. They were waiting to be sent back to Vietnam, where they would
face suffering and ill-treatment.
However, when Minh and Chanh arrived in England they were not satisfied,
because they both had great ambitions. They aspired to go to the United States,
Canada, or Australia in order to make huge fortunes. They regarded living in
England as a waste of their talents. They were also dissatisfied at not being able to
apply for their family to join them. They were unhappy that we could do nothing
more for them. We came to regret that we had applied for them to join us in
England. But what had happened had happened.
We lived in Mansfield for over two years. In May 1983 Mai gave birth to
Han Anh. Sammy followed in January 1986.
Hoa married Stephen D. Shenfield. She gave birth to Meili in 1986 and to
Natasha in 1988.
On December 1, 1983, Hung’s wife Ho Minh Chung was admitted to
England for reunion with Hung. In August 1984 she gave birth to a daughter,
Chau.
Nga, her husband, and their son Loi came to England to visit us.
At the beginning of 1986, two weeks after Sammy’s birth, our old landlord
found a house for Trung, Mai, and their children in the city of Nottingham. In the
middle of January they moved in. Half a year later, he found us a house near
Trung’s family and we too moved there.
Before we moved to Nottingham, Kim Anh and I asked Minh and Chanh
many times to move there with us so that we could look after them and they could
continue their education. Each time they refused to go. We kept on asking them
until finally they told us: “Living with your family, we have lost our freedom.”
After that we did not ask them again. We just accepted their attitude. Kim
Anh and I asked Trung to ask his landlord to find a house for them to rent. He was
glad to help, but the local council objected. They said that Minh and Chanh were
still minors and could not live on their own. Later, after repeated requests, they
gave in. Minh and Chanh rented a house in Mansfield and continued their
education.

On April 5, 1989, all the members of our family were naturalized and
became British citizens. That was a happy day for us.
Although several decades have passed since the August Revolution of 1945,
we Overseas Chinese in Vietnam were never allowed to undergo naturalization.
The Vietnamese government said that we were Chinese. The Chinese government
said that we were Vietnamese of Chinese origin and regarded us as Vietnamese.
We were like a pendulum that went on swinging until we left Vietnam. So when
the Vietnamese party and government conducted an anti-China policy, they also
targeted us Overseas Chinese and expelled masses of us from Vietnam.
Now, however, we had been officially naturalized in Britain. That was a
happy occasion. From now on we could reside safely, earn our living, and build
our new life.

Chapter 40. I take Cuong to the homeland to marry

After our family had been in Nottingham for a while, Hoa and Hung told me that
many young people among the Overseas Chinese from Vietnam were going to
China to marry and that the Home Office was allowing their spouses to join them
in England. Kim Anh and I decided that I should take Cuong to China to find him a
wife. Mr. Lam Minh Chau heard of our plans and introduced us to his niece Lam
Que Huong. In October 1988 I took Cuong to Hainan to marry. I had been away
from the homeland for thirty years. Now I had the chance to return and visit Sister
Neo, other relatives, and friends.
After the wedding celebrations I went to see relatives and friends. We were
all very happy. While I was in Hainan, I received visits from Mr. Han Khoan Sieu,
chairman of the People’s Council of Fu Qing Town, and from Mr. Lam, secretary
of the town’s party committee. Mr. Khoan Sieu thanked and praised me. He said
that when I sent my newspaper article the town cadres had been very happy. They
had read it and passed it around. He had kept it as a souvenir. He still had it.
“Local people praise you,” he told me. “We regard you as a patriotic
Overseas Chinese concerned for your homeland.”
I was treated well in Hainan. People sympathized with me and appreciated
me highly.
At the end of 1989, Manh married Han Shiu Shan, who was also from
Hainan. She had been living in Hong Kong and had come to England to study. On
July 8, 1990, Shan gave birth to twin boys, Hao Kiet and Thieu Bao. On January 1,
1997, she had another son, Han Hy.
In 1990 Hoa and her husband and two daughters went to live in the United
States.
At the beginning of 1990, Cuong’s wife Que Huong received a notice from
the British Embassy in Beijing asking her to come with an interpreter to be
interviewed for admission to Britain. Huong asked a relative to accompany her. At
first he seemed willing to help, but for some reason he changed his mind. So I had
to go to Hainan again, take Huong to Beijing, and interpret for her. After the
interview we were told that as I was her father-in-law they could not accept the
application. She had to make a new application and bring an interpreter who was
not related to her.
Huong had to wait 2—3 months before she received a notice for a new
interview. Before setting off again for Hainan, I wrote a letter to Mr. Han Lan Dinh
in Beijing. He was a good friend and comrade of mine. We had worked together
during the Anti-French Resistance. I asked him to act as Huong’s interpreter. He
was very glad to help. Near the appointed time I returned to the homeland and took
Huong to Beijing. We stayed at the home of Mr. Han Lan Dinh. He and his wife
welcomed us with open arms. He took Huong and myself to see many tourist
sights, including the Forbidden City, the Thirty Royal Tombs, the Great Wall of
China, Tienanmen Square, Chairman Mao’s mausoleum, the Imperial Palace, and
the Workers Stadium.
Mr. Han Lan Dinh and I had not seen one another for several decades. We
were overwhelmed. We talked all night. It was very interesting. He told me about
the situation of some other old friends who had returned to China from Vietnam
and their lives after resettlement.
On the day of the interview Huong was afraid that if Mr. Han Lan Dinh
acted as her interpreter the embassy staff might think that he was a cousin and then
the application would fail again. As she knew Mandarin, she asked me to let her go
by herself. This time the interview was a success, but the embassy official said that
Huong’s case was an immigration matter so they had to obtain the approval of the
Home Office. Again Huong had to return home to wait.
I was worried about traveling so much and spending so much money, so I
too stayed in Hainan to wait. I waited about a month, but still there was no news. It
was summertime and very hot. My children, concerned for my health under these
conditions, wrote urging me to hurry back to England and wait there. That is what I
did. A few months later, our family were glad to hear that Huong had received a
letter from the British Embassy informing her that the Home Office had approved
her immigration.
Yet again I set off for the homeland. On November 28, 1990, Huong started
her journey to England. She arrived in Nottingham and was reunited with Cuong
on December 2. Everyone was safe and sound and we were all happy.
On June 16, 1996, Huong gave birth to a son – Thanh Dinh (Sheng Dinh).

During one of my stays in Hainan, Mr. Bon Dan Loi brought a group of
Hainanese from Los Angeles to attend the opening of a community school in his
hometown. He invited me to join them at the opening ceremony and at the
celebration that would follow. The opening ceremony was very dignified and
joyful. Unfortunately, there were no invitation cards to the celebration left for us.
So Mr. Dan Loi took me, Sister Neo, and Huong to see Mr. Han Khon Nguyen,
organizer of the celebration and head of the Fu Qing Overseas Chinese
Department.
“This,” he said, “is my good friend Mr. Han Hing Quang, with his sister and
his daughter-in-law. Please arrange three special seats for them at the celebration
and take good care of them. Mr. Quang was a guest of Prime Minister Chou
Enlai.”
Mr. Khon Nguyen did as he was told and took good care of us.
That night the three of us were invited to the opera. Mr. Bon Dan Loi
himself arranged seats for us. He loved me very much and showed great concern
for me. It moved me to tears. I can never forget the deep feeling between us.
At the celebration Mrs. Diep Lanh sat next to me, while Mr. Han Tham
Nguyen sat on the chair in front of me. He was from Hong Kong. I used to help
him sell swift nests. I did not spot him, but he spotted me. It was over ten years
since we had seen one another and I was now fatter and whiter than I had been at
the refugee camp, so he did not recognize me right away. He turned his head and
asked Mrs. Lanh: “Who is this?”
“This is Mr. Hing Quang,” she replied.
He apologized immediately.
“I’m old and it’s over ten years since we met. I really couldn’t recognize
you. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s alright,” I said.
He explained to Mrs. Lanh: “When he was in Hong Kong, Mr. Hing Quang
helped me make a lot of money. I really appreciated his help.”
I smiled and said: “I’m so glad that you remember me.”
A moment later Mr. Han Khoan Sieu, chairman of the Fu Qing Town
People’s Council, came to greet me. Some local cadres saw that and asked him:
“Do you know this man?”
“I made his acquaintance long ago, when he was a journalist. He is a
patriotic Overseas Chinese.”
On this visit to the homeland, I not only visited relatives but also helped the
local authorities. A few years previously, they had conducted a campaign to fund
the building of a “six generations school.” Some money was contributed by local
citizens. They also took out a bank loan for $2,500. Now they were unable to repay
the loan. But now Mr. Bon Dan Loi had returned to Hainan for the opening of the
community school in his hometown. Knowing that he was very interested in public
affairs, they had asked Mr. Lim Quang to talk with him on their behalf and ask him
to raise the necessary funds among Overseas Chinese from Hainan in the United
States. Mr. Lim Quang had promised to do as they asked and made an
appointment. The chairman of the town people’s council and the secretary of the
town party committee were to meet him at his house at 7 pm and he would take
them to see Mr. Bon Dan Loi. But when they turned up he told them that he was
sick. He did not want to take them there. He asked me to do it in his place. Out of
respect for him I felt obliged to agree.
I entered Mr. Bon Dan Loi’s house first and explained why we were there.
Mr. Bon Dan Loi was just getting ready to go to a concert. He heard me out and
said: “Mr. Lim Quang never mentioned this matter to me. I do not know these
people yet. Don’t be so foolish as to listen to Mr. Lim Quang. He is very cunning.”
It seemed that he was refusing to see them. I asked him, out of regard for
me, at least to see them and hear what they had to say. Mr. Bon Dan Loi agreed to
receive them.
They asked him for his help. When he returned to the United States, could
he campaign among Overseas Chinese with roots in Hainan to contribute money to
repay the loan?
At first Mr. Bon Dan Loi said that it would be very difficult. He could not do
it. Afterward I talked with him again and asked him to do his best to help. He then
agreed to raise a half of the total sum – that is, $1,250. Mr. Lim Quang should
undertake to raise the other half himself from his relatives. That would solve the
problem.
When the chairman and the secretary learned of the result, they thanked Mr.
Bon Dan Loi and also me.
“Why did Mr. Dan Loi listen to you?” they asked me.
I replied in a jocular tone: “I have a special relationship with Mr. Bon Dan
Loi. Getting a few thousand dollars for you was easy enough. If you need a few
tens of thousands, that should not be too difficult either.”
Indeed, Mr. Bon Dan Loi soon raised $2,750 and sent it to them. As for Mr.
Lim Quang, he did nothing at all.
The next day, the chairman of the Wen Chang County People’s Council and
the director of the county’s Overseas Chinese Department invited Mr. Dan Loi and
his group to tour the county center, Wen Chang City, and the nearby Louqiangang
Bay. I was also invited to come along. I sat in the back row on the minibus. At first
the other passengers took no notice of me. When the minibus had gone halfway, it
stopped to pick up Mr. Phan Chinh Hoa, a very wealthy businessman who had
owned the Phuc Tho Duong Store in Danang and was now honorary chairman of
the Los Angeles Hainan Overseas Chinese Association. As an enthusiastic donor to
public works, he was well known and respected by his fellow countrymen. When
he got on the minibus, he spotted me, greeted me, and introduced me to the other
passengers as a good friend of his. Then they all started to take notice of me and
turned their heads to greet me.
The funniest thing was that in the row in front of me there sat a relative of
mine named Han Tan Quang, a professor at Changsha University in Hunan
Province who came from the same town as Mr. Bon Dan Loi. When Mr. Phan
Chinh Hoa introduced me to him, he turned his head, greeted me, and apologized:
“We never met before, so I was impolite. Please forgive me.”
“There is nothing to forgive,” I replied.
When we arrived at the county center, the chairman of the county people’s
council and the director of the county Overseas Chinese Department hosted a
banquet for us. They paid me the honor of presenting me as a representative of the
Overseas Chinese community in England. Mr. Han Tro Lang, a well-known
member of the county gentry, also introduced me to everyone at the reception.
On Tuesday, the director of the Hainan Province Overseas Chinese
Department and the deputy chairman of the Hainan Province People’s Council held
a reception for representatives of Overseas Chinese communities from all over the
world. Huong and I were also invited as representatives of the Overseas Chinese
community in England. It was a great honor for us, but some people were
surprised. Most jealous of them all was Mrs. Diep Lanh. When she heard that
Huong and I had been invited to the reception, she openly told Sister Neo:
“No one invited you! Why go and take someone else’s seat?”
“We were invited by the province,” replied Sister Neo.
“Really?”
“Yes.”
As we waited in line to go into the reception, Mr. Kinh Quang asked me:
“Did the province really invite you?”
“Have you forgotten?” I replied. “When the central government hears that I
am back in the homeland, they too will have to invite me. The province is even
more obliged to do so.”
“Ah, now I remember!”
Huong and I were standing in line just behind Miss Ba Dao. She turned her
head and asked me: “Are you invited too?”
I smiled and nodded.
“Ah!” she said. “I knew. After all, you are an important cadre.”
There was another incredible incident involving Mrs. Diep Lanh. When
from a distance she saw Huong and me taking our places, she rushed over to our
table. She looked around the table with her eyes wide open, as though she were
trying to find something. Perhaps she wanted to see our name plates. It made me
feel rather strange.
“What are you looking for?” I asked her.
“I’m trying to find Quynh Anh’s name plate.”
“Who is Quynh Anh?”
“She’s my niece. The province didn’t invite me, but Quynh Anh gave me her
invitation card.”
I did not understand her intention. Maybe she was playing some sort of nasty
game.
Some of the people who reacted in these strange ways were just surprised to
see us there and did not understand why we had been invited. Others, however,
were jealous. They thought that only people visiting from the United States had the
right to attend the banquet. Overseas Chinese from other countries had no right to
be there.
An even more incredible incident concerned Mr. Han Ky Nguyen, a younger
brother of Mr. Han Nam Vien, who was visiting Hainan from Australia. When he
saw me he openly said:
“You are from England. How come you were able to get so many plane
tickets?”
I smiled and replied: “Plane tickets are not so very hard to get. It is no
problem to buy even nine or ten tickets.”
“I know that you have visited the homeland several times already.”
“Yes, and I shall visit yet again.”
He saw the world through the eyes of a dog. He imagined that those who
settled in England were very poor – far below those who settled in the United
States, Canada, and Australia. How ridiculous!

Chapter 41. I visit the United States

Chien made good progress at university in England. In 1991 he received a
government grant to study for one year at the University of California at Berkeley.
That was a great honor for Chien and also for our family.
On September 1, 1992, I went to Los Angeles to visit Nga and her family
and other relatives and friends, especially Mrs. Diep Lanh. Everyone made me feel
welcome. When relatives heard that my son was studying at Berkeley they showed
great respect and praised me for providing my children with such good conditions
for study that one of them had got a chance to study at a famous American
university and honor our ancestors.
While in Los Angeles I made daily visits to the Hainan Fellowship Club.
Mr. Phan Chinh Hoa openly introduced me to everyone with the words: “Mr. Hing
Quang is a Communist, but I like him best of all. He is impartial and
compassionate. I have great respect for him.”
Mr. Han Than Nguyen also introduced me to everyone, saying: “When I was
in Hong Kong Mr. Hing Quang helped me sell swallow’s nest. Thanks to him I
made a lot of money and built a big house in the homeland.” Afterward he invited
me to a restaurant to thank me.
During my visit friends old and new all made me feel welcome. Every day
someone invited me to a restaurant. The people who talked with me and took care
of me the most were Mr. Bon Dan Loi and Mr. Kinh Quang. Although they were
both weak and elderly, they took me to see the sights and threw parties for me. I
was very moved.
When Mr. Hai Quang and Mr. and Mrs. Phuong Ly in Santa Ana heard that I
was in the United States, they came to collect me and took me to their home.
When Mr. Phung Du Lam, who was in his eighties, heard that I was in the
country, he too was very happy. He praised me as a good and clever person.
When Mr. Diep Nang Di, who was also in his eighties, heard that I was
visiting, he came to the Hainan Fellowship Club, waited to see me, and took me
out to eat and talk.
Mrs. and Mr. Ngo Khon Phuc invited me to their house for a meal and to
thank me for helping them in Hong Kong.
I was very moved by the warm reception I received from relatives and
friends. I felt very grateful to them.
While in Los Angeles I was also fortunate enough to meet Mr. Dong Loi,
who was visiting the United States from Canada. His brother, Mr. Lam Minh
Nhuan, had just arrived in Los Angeles from Vietnam. Mr. Dong Loi and I had not
seen one another for several years. Now we were overwhelmed by our reunion. We
exchanged confidences about our situation since leaving Vietnam. I sincerely
thanked Mr. Dong Loi for his past help and support. My gratitude gave him some
comfort.
“In the old days,” he said, “I made friends with many people, but you were
my only real friend and always will be.”
Although most of my relatives and friends treated me very well, there was
one exception. Mr. Lim Quang told me that I had to spend one night at his house so
that we could talk, because we had not seen one another for a long time. When he
heard Mr. Hai Quang arrive in his car to take me to visit his family, he wanted to
come with us. After the visit Mr. Phuong Ly took us to Mr. Lim Quang’s house.
When we entered the house we saw Mrs. Diep Lanh in the kitchen (the living
room, dining room, and kitchen were joined together). For some reason that I did
not understand, after letting us in she just ignored us. She stayed in the kitchen and
did not come out to see us. So I myself went into the kitchen to greet her. She had a
very fierce and angry expression on her face.
When Mr. Lim Quang saw her attitude he felt embarrassed. He immediately
went into the kitchen to talk to her. “We have guests,” he told her. She reluctantly
came out, greeted Mrs. and Mr. Phuong Ly, and set out cookies. Seeing the
situation, Mrs. and Mr. Phuong Ly stayed only a short time and then went home.
Mr. Lim Quang and I sat side by side and did not say a word.
A while later Mrs. Diep Lanh, their daughter Binh, and Binh’s husband and
children prepared and ate dinner. They did not ask Mr. Lim Quang or myself to
join them.
Mrs. Diep Lanh’s attitude gave me a really strange feeling. I did not
understand what had happened to make her behave that way. Mr. Lim Quang was
very embarrassed but did not know what to do.
Mrs. Diep Lanh and Binh and her family finished their dinner and went to
bed without saying anything. Mr. Lim Quang was very angry but did not want to
distress me, so he too kept his silence.
After Mrs. Diep Lanh had been in bed a while, Mr. Lim Quang went to the
kitchen himself to make lotus seed pudding and asked me to eat with him. That
was when Mr. Han Cao Nguyen dropped by. However, Mrs. Diep Lanh’s attitude
had upset me and I had lost my appetite, so I thanked him and declined. He
understood how I felt. After a very long separation we had met again, but we were
not happy. Mrs. Diep Lanh’s surprising attitude had made Mr. Lim Quang lose
face. He was in an awkward situation and felt ashamed in front of a cousin.
At about 10 pm Mr. Lim Quang went into the kitchen to make noodle soup.
He told me that I had to eat with him. As he was my cousin and I did not want him
to feel sad I made myself do so. Then we quietly went to bed.
Previously the relationship between our family and his had been very close.
We had loved one another like blood relatives. We had helped them and even
helped Mrs. Diep Lanh’s relatives. But now circumstances had changed, like
everything in this world. Mrs. Diep Lanh had also changed. I knew that Mr. Lim
Quang was suffering inside. He had been severely rebuked by her. I did not know
what to tell him to make him feel better.
The next morning, just after I got up, I saw Mr. Lim Quang in the kitchen
cooking rice soup for our breakfast and preparing a lunch box for his daughter
Binh to take to work. After breakfast he took me to the Hainan Fellowship Club.
Although Nga and Hoa were very busy during my visit, they took time off to
show me Hollywood, Disney World, the Taiwan Buddha Pagoda, and many other
interesting places. My wishes were fulfilled and I was happy and enthusiastic.
Before going to America I had been very worried and hesitant about my trip.
I was afraid that some people might be prejudiced against me, treat me badly, or
even harass me. In reality, everyone (with the sole exception of Mrs. Diep Lanh)
liked and respected me. No one was prejudiced against me.
The man in charge of the Hainan Fellowship Club, Mr. Phu, repeatedly
urged me to apply to settle in the United States so that I could work at the club
with him. I thanked him and all my relatives for their kindness and wished them
everlasting health and good luck.
During my visit Mr. Bon Dan Loi urged me to return to Vietnam with a few
of my children to do business there. That would be better than staying in England
and working for other people. “I have a multistory house at 369 Hong Bang Street
in Cholon,” he told me. “I have been offered 300 taels of gold for it, but I do not
want to sell it because my children are in America and have already established a
business there. If you would like to go and do business in Cholon, you can use that
house rent-free.”
“Wait until I visit Vietnam to assess the situation there,” I replied. “I’ll get
back to you.”
He told me to meet him in Saigon to discuss the matter in April. However, I
went to Vietnam in March and returned to England in April. So I missed him. I had
no interest in doing business in Vietnam, because in my heart I still believed in the
Vietnamese Revolution. I did not bring the matter up again.

Chapter 42. I visit Vietnam

On February 21, 1992, after a month in Los Angeles, I returned to England to rest.
On March 16 I set off again – to Vietnam, to visit my mother, my two sisters and
their families, other relatives, and friends.
When I arrived at Tan Son Nhat Airport, my sister Hanh and her children,
my cousin Kham, my sister Bon’s children, and my nephew Ngo were there to
welcome me. It had been over ten years since we had seen one another.
My sister Hanh was so impatient that when she saw a tall man emerge from
the plane she rushed over to him, seized hold of his hand, and cried out: “Brother
Hai! Brother Hai!” The man walked along with her for a short distance, then he
smiled and said: “I am not your brother Hai. Your brother Hai is over there.” Still
Hanh took no notice. Only when her son Dung spotted me and yelled: “Uncle Hai
is here!” did she realize that she had mistaken the identity of that man. It was very
funny.
I went to Hanh’s house to rest. I was very anxious to get to Dap Da as soon
as possible to see my mother, other relatives, and friends, but I had to wait two
days for my niece Tuyet’s husband Ha to take us there in his van. At last we left
for Dap Da.
In the van I sat next to Mrs. Diep Lan Anh, because she was old and weak
and needed someone to take care of her. By the time we reached Nha Trang she
was very tired. I was very worried that something might happen. That would lead
to many complications. Fortunately, two of her nieces had met her at the airport
and were with us, so I asked them to take care of her. She arrived in Dap Da safe
and sound.
After a night and a day on the road we reached Dap Da on March 19 at about
10 pm. There was an electricity blackout at the time and it was pitch black. My
mother heard us arrive and came out of the house carrying a paraffin lamp with a
very dim light. My sister Bon and a lot of neighbors came out with her to greet me.
When I got off the van everyone was very happy. The neighbors kidded my
mother: “Brother Hai isn’t here yet!”
Mother touched my ears and said: “Yes, it really is him!” Then she pulled
me into the house. At that moment the electric light suddenly came back on.
Mother examined me from head to toe. It was over ten years since we had seen one
another. Now we were overwhelmed by our reunion. Mother’s eyes filled with
tears. She cried for a long time before she could start the conversation. She asked
me to tell her in detail about the situation of everyone in the family. Then she cried
again and said: “It’s lucky that you left. Had you remained, you would have had a
hard and pitiable life.”
I jokingly asked: “What, are they still insulting us?”
“Not now.”
I thought that she might be hard of hearing and was unsure whether she had
heard me right, so I asked again.
“It’s true, they are no longer insulting us.”
I saw that mother was still healthy. Her vision was good. She could still
draw a thread through a needle. Her gait was quick and firm. My sisters and
brothers-in-law were also in good health. Their life in general was secure for the
time being. I was happy for them and felt at peace.
When I had left Vietnam I was thin, my neck was long like a stork’s, and
only my brown skin covered my bones. Now, on my return, I was plump, my skin
was white, and I looked healthy. Some people were unable to recognize me. They
asked Mrs. Diep Lan Anh: “Is he really Mr. Hing Quang?” It was very funny.

The very next day the An Nhon District Police delivered a notice
summoning me and Mrs. Diep Lan Anh to the police station. I was surprised. I did
not know what sort of game they wanted to play. When we entered the station we
were greeted by two police officers. As they did not introduce themselves, I did not
know their rank. Their demeanor was friendly. They invited us to sit down and
offered us tea. Then they asked us the usual questions: “On what boat did you
leave the country? What did you do before you left? Do you have a job now?”
At first they called me “uncle.” But when they learned that I had gone to
Hanoi with my family at the end of 1954, worked at the Ministry of Foreign Trade
and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, returned to the South in 1975, worked at the
Nghia Binh Import-Export Company, and was now retired, they changed their tone
and started to call me “elder.”
They suggested that I might have returned earlier had I not heard alarming
rumors. I said: “I did not return earlier because I did not have the money.”
Then they asked me to show them my passport. My passport was in a large
leather holder with many pockets. One of the police officers used his finger to
check all the pockets. Perhaps he hoped to find foreign currency, but there was
nothing there. It was really funny, but also pitiable.
When they had finished they said: “We invited you today to ask a few
questions. That is all. You are free to go.”
We thanked them and set off for home. They followed us to the doorsteps. I
offered them a big wad of Vietnamese banknotes for them to treat themselves to
some refreshments, but they dared not take the gift even though I had offered it
informally.
On the same day I received from the An Nhon District Committee for the
Protection, Care, and Education of Young Children a three-page printed letter
entreating Overseas Vietnamese to open their hearts and help homeless children
who had no one to look after them. The next day Mr. Nguyen Van Tien, chairman
of the that committee, showed up in person at my door to discuss the matter with
me. He appealed to my compassion for children. I donated 500,000 dong. He was
very happy and thanked me.

The day after my arrival many friends came to visit me. Some hugged me
and kissed my cheeks for as long as they could. Some had even come long
distances to see me face to face. They wanted to know about my present situation.
Among them was Mr. Tran Dung, director of the Nghia Binh Import-Export
Company. When he heard that I was visiting, he came to meet me from Canh Hang
District. He held me tight and kissed me on the cheeks for a very long time. He
wanted to show me his friendship and sincerity. I was surprised and moved to
tears. I recollected his attitude when the South had just been liberated and he
returned to take up his post as company director. The contrast between that time
and this was like that between Hell and Heaven.
One day there was an engagement party for my niece Van, daughter of my
sister Hanh. I was upstairs welcoming guests when a friend named Ngo Lang
arrived. He came straight upstairs to look for me. When he saw me he was
overwhelmed. Forgetting to greet the guests surrounding me, he came up to me
really fast and hugged me. He was very happy and moved. I invited him to sit
down and have some tea, but he just blurted out: “Well, I heard people say bad
things about you and was very worried. Now that I have seen you face to face, I am
happy and at peace.”
I asked him about his health, his family, and what he was now doing. He
told me that he had opened a herbal medicine store and was doing quite well. I was
very happy for him. I asked him to stay and have dinner with us. He thanked me
and said: “I have done what I set out to do. I am satisfied. I still have other things
to do.”
He invited me to come to his house and visit his family, but I was preparing
to go to Saigon and did not have time to spare. I thanked him for his concern,
wished him and his family everlasting health and good fortune, and promised to
see him again on my next visit.
I visited relatives, friends, and neighbors – everyone, rich and poor alike.
Dap Da is where I was born and raised. I had always been on good terms with the
older people and with people of my own age. They had always been warm and
friendly toward me.
One good friend of mine, a retired army officer, told me: “The party and
government created a lot of confusion. They made mistakes and failed to correct
them. What do they say now after causing so much suffering? Nothing! I am fed
up with them.”
Mr. Nguyen Nhi, chairman of the Dap Da People’s Council, said to me:
“When you left Vietnam some cadres at the county level criticized you and said
incorrect things about you. But there were also many who defended you. I told
your critics: ‘Mr. Quang left the country with the permission of the party and
government. He did not “escape.” Don’t say incorrect things about him.’ We were
all aware of your contributions to the Vietnamese Revolution. I myself saw many
photos of you.”
We do not blame those local people who criticized us for leaving the
country. We understand that they felt forced to do it by a brutal regime that they
dared not defy.

One of those I visited was Mr. Lam Ba, an old friend and comrade from Dap
Da. He was a cadre who had gone to the North and returned. Now he was
unemployed, old, and sick. He had just returned to the South when the county
assigned him and his wife as maintenance workers at Dap Da Market. The work
was heavy, the wages low. They lived a hard life. Now the former cadre swept the
marketplace. People looked down on him and ridiculed him behind his back. It
made the party and government lose face. He knew how people regarded him, but
that was his life and he accepted it. Now he was old and weak. His job was also
gone. The couple lay in bed before my eyes – sick, hungry, and tired. It was a
pitiful sight.
When I called in on him, he was moved to tears. He cried out loud and
lamented: “Here is Lam Ba, back from the North for over ten years already and no
one has ever come to visit me yet. I was a lower-ranking cadre and you were a
higher-ranking cadre. Now you are an Overseas Vietnamese, but you still care
about me and come to see me. I am so grateful.”
Before leaving I gave Mr. Lam Ba and his wife some money. She was so
happy. He was speechless. His eyes filled with tears. He could say only: “Thank
you, thank you.” Now they had some money to buy rice. They would be less
hungry and maybe they would be able to walk around.
The next day Mr. Lam Ba’s wife came to talk to my sister Hanh. “Not long
ago,” she told her, “my husband and I were sick. We had no food, we could not sit
up, we could only lie shivering in bed. Luckily for us, yesterday an Overseas
Vietnamese named Mr. Quang paid us a visit and gave us some money to buy rice
to eat. Today we can walk around. I’m going to buy some sweet potatoes, boil and
sell them, and make some money to buy more rice. We’ll be able to live. It’s so
good!”
“He’s my brother Hai,” said Hanh.
Then she thanked sister Hanh as well.
Another person I visited was a distant relative named Suu. His family was
big and poor. He did not even have enough money to buy long pants to wear. The
whole year round he wore only shorts and a T-shirt.
Mr. Suu’s wife was in very poor health. Her blood pressure was so high as to
endanger her life. I gave her some money to buy medicine, but soon after that she
passed away. The family was penniless. I gave Mr. Suu money to buy a coffin and
cover the funeral expenses. When the local people heard about it, they praised me
as a good person wherever I went.
Late one afternoon, a woman about 93 years old showed up at my sister
Hanh’s house. Her face expressed sincerity and good nature. She told Hanh: “A
vendor gave me ten boiled duck-embryo eggs to sell. If I can sell them I shall have
money to buy some rice to eat, but since this morning I have sold only two eggs
and made only 200 dong profit. With that I have bought a bowl of rice. Now I am
begging people for a glass of cold water to add to the rice so that I can cook and eat
it and not go hungry.”
At that point I happened to drop in at sister Hanh’s house. The woman saw
me and asked Hanh: “Who is he?”
“This is my brother Hai,” replied Hanh. “He is visiting from Saigon.”
Then she asked Hanh and me to buy some of her boiled duck-embryo eggs.
We bought three eggs. She was so happy! She looked me over from head to toe
and said: “At the market I heard talk of a very good Overseas Vietnamese who
helping the poor. Mr. Suu’s wife was very lucky! She died penniless but he paid to
buy her a coffin. What luck, eh? Everyone was praising him. I’d like to meet him
myself and ask him to give me some money, if that would be appropriate.”
While she was speaking, a friend of Hanh’s happened to come by. She
pointed her finger at me and told her: “This is the man!”
The old woman was delighted to hear it and asked me: “Can you please give
me some money?”
I jokingly replied: “How much do you want?”
“Can you give me 2,000 dong?”
Still in a joking tone, I asked: “Do you mind if I make that 5,000?”
At that she was so happy that she started dancing. “Not at all, not at all!” she
exclaimed. “I heard people say that you only give 5,000 and no less. I thank you
from the bottom of my heart.”
I gave her the 5,000 dong and said: “You haven’t eaten dinner yet tonight.
Now you can buy two bowls of rice noodles to eat and with the rest of the money
you can buy tea to drink, go home, and relax.”
“I dare not eat rice noodles,” she replied. “I’ll use these 5,000 dong to buy
sweet potatoes. I’ll boil and sell them and with the profit I can buy rice to eat.”
There was an old man in the district to whom I gave 6,000 dong, again
jokingly inviting him to eat a bowl of rice noodles and then go home for a nap. He
too said: “I dare not eat rice noodles. With these 6,000 dong I’ll buy three
kilograms of rice. That will make me enough rice soup to last a month.”

From my many visits I learned that while a small section of the population
enjoyed high incomes the majority of workers, office employees, retired people,
and veterans lived a hard and miserable life – even harder and more miserable than
before 1979. This situation saddened me greatly. I only regretted that I did not
have more money to help the destitute people of the district. But at least I was able
to help them a little.
I also visited some Overseas Chinese relatives and friends who had stayed
behind. I wanted to learn from them how the anti-Chinese campaign of the
Vietnamese government had developed after 1979. They told me that it had
become more ruthless and cunning. The Overseas Chinese cadres who had
remained in Vietnam were mistreated in all sorts of mean and cruel ways.
One such cadre was Mr. Au Quynh Phien. He was from a wealthy family.
He joined the Vietnamese Revolution in 1948 during the Anti-French Resistance
War. He became a member of the Communist Party and of the Overseas Chinese
Youth Militia. He worked as an underground propagandist and organizer. As Mr.
Phien had stomach problems, he traveled to Nha Trang for treatment and to visit
his relatives, but was arrested and tortured by the French. After a year in jail he
was released.
After the French withdrew from Vietnam Mr. Phien was arrested again by
the Ngo Dinh Diem regime. Also arrested were my son-in-law’s brother Mr. Au
Quynh Hoa and Mr. Chau Vinh. All three were tortured half to death and then held
at a big prison under truly atrocious conditions. Despite this, they remained loyal to
the revolution and determined to fight to the end. They were released at the start of
the war with America. Mr. Phien came home, opened a business, and continued his
underground activities. Mr. Chau Vinh also came home, but he was sick and died
soon after. Mr. Au Quynh Hoa had the bad luck to be killed in a car accident.
In 1975 the South was liberated and Vietnam united. Mr. Phien was assigned
to work at the Qui Nhon Means and Materials Company. Soon after liberation the
party and government conducted a campaign for the reform of private business and
industry. Drawing no distinction between friends and enemies, they struck out at
anyone who had money. Even Mr. Phien could not evade this campaign.
The official slogan at this time was: “Fight your enemies first, then fight
your friends.” These were the very words used by Mr. To Dinh, a deputy chairman
of the People’s Council of Nghia Binh Province and head of the campaign in the
province, speaking to a group of leading provincial cadres.
Poor Mr. Phien! All the property accumulated by his sweat and tears over
twenty years was now confiscated by the government – three gasoline stations, a
timber processing firm, a chemical fertilizer factory, a two-story house, and
100,000 new dong in the bank. Mr. Phien was devastated. He could not say a word.
His wife pleaded with him to take her and their children out of the country and
start a new life abroad. In his heart, however, Mr. Phien remained loyal to the party
and the revolution. He did not want to leave. He stayed on and suffered all sorts of
mistreatment.
When I went to visit Mr. Phien he was overwhelmed. His first words to me
were that he had made a big mistake. “I was too immature, too superstitious, so I
was tricked, mistreated, and shamed. I am full of regret. After 1979 the anti-China
and anti-Chinese campaign of the Vietnamese party and government day by day
became more cunning and ruthless. After you left, hoping to win the trust of the
party and government, I stood up and fiercely criticized you. I was surprised to
discover that I had failed to win their trust. The leaders of my party organization
repeatedly urged me to request permission to withdraw from the party. I refused. I
told them: ‘I have contributed a great deal to the Vietnamese Revolution. I have
devoted my life to the cause and offered my property to the party and government.
I have never done anything wrong. So I shall not withdraw voluntarily from the
party.’ I was adamant. Then they tried sweet talk. They assigned me to Cu Mong
Hill to manage the cattle ranch there. Still loyal to the party and the revolution, I
accepted the assignment as a challenge. I thought that the party and government
were showing their trust in me. I worked at the ranch for exactly seven years. I
tended cattle and endured many hardships – more than I can recount. At last I
could bear it no longer. I finally woke up. I realized that this was a cruel and
cunning means by which the party and government sought to shame and torment
me. I knew that they had lied to me and deceived me. I was extremely angry.
Without further hesitation I asked to withdraw from the party. The leaders of my
party organization must have been very happy. After all those years they had
finally achieved their goal. They accepted my request and granted it immediately.
That was it.
“After a decades-long political career I went home a nobody. The leading
comrades ‘understood.’ They had not completely lost their conscience. They
pretended to be naïve and allowed me to retire. My monthly pension is 50,000
dong.” (At that time one kilogram of rice cost 2,000 dong.)
I pitied and sympathized with Mr. Phien with all my heart. He had devoted
his whole life to the Vietnamese Revolution and faced danger, imprisonment,
torture, and suffering without wavering in his determination to struggle. And this
was the result!
Mrs. Phien was heartbroken, discouraged, and pessimistic. Many times she
had begged her husband to take the family out of Vietnam, but he remained
adamant. She had to bite her lip and clench her teeth. Eventually she left her
husband and two sons behind in Vietnam and took her two daughters to escape by
boat. However, only one of the daughters survived. According to a letter that she
sent her uncle (Mr. Phien’s brother Mr. Ba Ta), who was living in China at the
time, their boat had landed on an island in Malaya where her sister, being hungry,
climbed a fruit tree and fell to her death while her mother died of starvation. I
know of this letter because when I met Mr. Ba Ta in China he asked me to translate
it into Chinese for him. Mr. Phien, however, told me a different story. According to
him, pirates had robbed the boat and killed them. In any case, the surviving
daughter reached Hong Kong and was accepted for settlement in the United States.
Mr. Phien’s account moved me to tears. Although bad luck played a role in
the deaths of his wife and daughter, the underlying cause was the anti-China and
anti-Chinese policy of the Vietnamese party and government.

I paid a visit to Mrs. Han Nguyet Hoa, the widow of Mr. Ngo Khon Dao.
She and her children told me the terrible story of their family. Mr. Khon Dao was
also a wealthy man. He had joined the Vietnamese Revolution at a young age. In
1949 he became a member of the Communist Party of Indochina. In 1955 his
whole family went to the North. Thanks to his contribution to the revolution and
also to his personal connections, the family received special treatment from the
government. He and his wife worked at one of Hanoi’s gasoline stations for nearly
a year before retiring on lifelong pensions. Their two children were sent abroad by
the government for training.
In 1979, when the party and government were conducting their anti-China
and anti-Chinese policy, they chose Mr. Khon Dao to go on Qui Nhon Television
to insult China. After 1979 his own family fell victim to that policy.
His eldest son, Mr. Ngo Da Ky had previously worked at the Hanoi General
Machinery Factory, which actually produced weapons and ammunition with
Russian assistance. After the South was liberated he was reassigned to work in
Saigon. One day, while at work, he suddenly died of some unknown cause. By the
time an ambulance had taken him to the hospital, his body had turned black. His
family requested the authorities to arrange a post mortem to determine the cause of
death, but some well-meaning people advised them to drop the matter:
“He is already dead. What good will it do? Don’t be stupid! Or else he won’t
be the only one who dies.”
Indeed, his son also died soon after him.
Mr. Khon Dao’s second son, Mr. Ta, was a correspondent for the army
radio. During the American war he fought at the front and was gravely wounded,
but was rescued and brought to the rear for treatment. When the border war with
China broke out, he again went to fight. Unfortunately, he lost contact with his
unit. Suspecting that he had defected, the army stopped paying his salary to his
wife. For several months his wife received no news of him and received no money.
She and their children had a hard time. After many people had intervened on his
behalf, the army resumed paying his salary to his wife. When the border war
ended, it was discovered that he had again been gravely wounded and sent to
Hanoi for treatment. He died soon after.
Mr. Khon Dao had a third son named Da Thuy. The government had sent
him to Romania to learn how to drive diesel trains. After his return he drove trains.
He was a good and hard worker. In 1979 he was forbidden to continue driving
trains. As he had been trained abroad, however, the Railways Ministry
reconsidered and allowed him to drive a freight train carrying stone from the Cau
Ganh Quarry to Qui Nhon. This helped him not to get angry at the government. Da
Thuy told me that recently the government had rectified its errors. He had been
reassigned to Dieu Tri Station, where he was in charge of scheduling trains.
The husband of Mr. Khon Dao’s second daughter was the son of Mr. Nam
Sanh, who used to live in Bong Son and now lived in Qui Nhon. In 1954 the South
Midlands branch of the United Association of Overseas Chinese had sent him to
the North for an education. He went through medical school, qualified as a
physician, and was assigned to the war zone in the South, where he worked over
ten years as an army doctor. As he had worked hard and was a good doctor, the
government was going to send him to Hungary as a research fellow. Everything
was prepared. He had been to Hanoi to study Hungarian and was waiting to go to
Hungary. Then suddenly the leadership issued an instruction that he was not to go
abroad and must leave Hanoi immediately. He was sent to Quang Ngai to “keep
safe,” even though his parents, wife, and children were all in Qui Nhon.
Mr. Khon Dao’s third daughter, Miss Xuan, was a member of the Youth
Volunteer Service. The Ministry of Education had sent her to a mountainous area
in Ba To, Quang Ngai Province to teach people from the ethnic minorities. Miss
Xuan was good and hardworking, but many years passed and she was never
admitted to the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth League. Worst of all, she was
engaged to an ethnic Vietnamese. They went to the Qui Nhon City People’s
Council to apply for a marriage license, but the council cadre disapproved of the
match. Miss Xuan was Chinese; she could not marry a Vietnamese. Their
happiness was destroyed.
Mr. Khon Dao’s youngest son Hung had been working at the printing press
in Qui Nhon when he was dismissed with no reason given. He remained
unemployed until 1997, when he went to Pleiku to grow coffee on a private
plantation.
Mr. Khon Dao was constantly subjected to heavy criticism. He was sad,
anxious, and tired of living. He did not want to eat or sleep. Reflecting on all that
had happened, he could not hold back his tears. He had suffered from high blood
pressure for a long time. One day, while watching TV with his wife and children,
he suddenly fell out of his chair and died. What a miserable way to bid farewell to
his family! He had told his wife and children that as his body was big there was no
need to buy a coffin for him. It would be good enough to wrap him up and bury
him in a jute mat. Apart from that, he left no will.
Listening to Mrs. Han Nguyet Hoa’s heart-rending tale, I was moved to tears
and could not say a word. I gave her some money, comforted her, said goodbye to
her and her children, and returned home. I felt grief and pity for Mr. Khon Dao, a
lifelong communist devoted to the Vietnamese Revolution who came to such a
tragic end.

I also paid a visit to Mrs. Tran Kim Cuc, the widow of Mr. Thai Hieu An.
He had joined the Vietnamese Revolution long ago. He and his wife went to the
North in 1955. They had two sons. In 1960 he was sent back to the South on a
secret mission, but was soon killed by the enemy.
After Vietnam was united Mrs. Cuc took her sons back to Qui Nhon. She
worked at the City Trade Department. The boys attended school. In 1979 she was
dismissed and her children were no longer allowed to go to school. Following
many appeals, the authorities agreed to allow one son to return to school, but the
other had to stay home. They said: “It is only because Mr. Thai Hieu An was a
martyr that we have reconsidered and allowed one son to attend school. Otherwise
neither would be allowed to attend.”
I felt sorry for them. Mr. Thai Hieu An had been loyal to the party and the
revolution with all his heart. He had sacrificed his precious life to the cause. And
yet his wife and children were shunned. His wife was unemployed and his children
had been expelled from school.
“One of our sons finished school,” said Mrs. Cuc, “but he has no job. All
day long he wanders the streets.” She had taken in someone’s paintings to sell on
commission, but no one wanted to buy them. She had thrown them in a corner and
refused to take any more. Her family had a very hard life.

I went to see Mr. Tran Tiep Kham. He too had joined the party and the
revolution long ago. In 1955 he and his wife Mrs. Thanh went to the North, where
they both worked at the Marine Products Import-Export Company in Haiphong. He
was a subordinate of Mr. Dinh Trac. She was the company’s telephone operator.
Through her negligence she offended Mr. Dinh Trac, who took revenge on the
couple by sending them far away from Haiphong under the guise of evacuation.
After the South was liberated they and their children came to Qui Nhon. Mrs.
Thanh obtained work at the Qui Nhon Clothing Company. Mr. Kham repeatedly
applied to work at the Nghia Binh Import-Export Company, but each time Mr.
Dinh Trac found a way to intervene and block his appointment.
Mr. Kham finally obtained work at the Qui Nhon Trade Department. He was
assigned to the management of the Qui Nhon Market. His job was to arrest small
traders who were selling fish or meat without a permit. I observed that this was a
really dangerous job.
“I know,” he said. “This was a job to be avoided at all costs. But I had to
take it. No other job was available to me. Whenever I stepped into the marketplace,
the first thing I did was to shout out: ‘Anyone selling fish or meat without a permit
report to me immediately for arrest!’ They all heard me and ran away.”
In 1979 the couple were dismissed from their jobs and their children were
expelled from school. Due to unemployment the family had a very hard life. Mr.
Kham distilled liquor illegally at home and his wife mixed it with medicinal herbs
for sale. His oldest son salted turnips to sell to laborers, cart pullers, and rickshaw
drivers to eat with their lunch. The second son sat in front of the house repairing
ballpoint pens, cigarette lighters, locks, and other small items, but he fell very sick
and they could not afford to have him treated. Soon he was dead. A real tragedy!
Mr. Kham told me: “Once I secretly listened to a foreign radio station. Mr.
Tran Tu Lap knew about it and reported it to the police. I was arrested and sent to a
re-education camp for a week.”
Mr. Tran Tu Lap and Mr. Kham came from the same village and were good
friends. Hoping to win the favor of the authorities, Mr. Lap had no qualms about
informing on Mr. Kham and sold his soul for a trifle. He deserved to be mocked!

I visited my nephew Lam Dao Ngo and his family. He worked at the Second
Saigon Dredger Company under the Ministry of Water Resources and Hydraulic
Works. As Ngo was a good worker, he was promoted to director of the company.
He had two disabled children with muscular dystrophy. They could sit up but not
walk. I felt really sorry for them.
In 1979 Ngo, his father, and their families received permission to leave
Vietnam. His father wanted the two families to leave together, but in his heart Ngo
was loyal to the party and the revolution. Not only did he refuse to leave, but he
told his father that leaving was the same as going into exile. Kim Anh and I
advised him many times to leave with his father, but he paid no heed. Eventually
he told us: “You go your way, I shall go mine.”
So Ngo, his wife, and their children remained in Vietnam.
During my stay I made two visits to Ngo and his family. He told me what
had happened to them. After 1979 he and his wife were forced out of their jobs.
The leading cadres played many cruel and dirty tricks against their family. Even
though the weather in Saigon is very hot all year round, averaging about 35° C.,
they cut off the family’s electricity and water supply. Their children were in
torment. They could not bear it. Sometimes they even fainted in the heat.
Ngo concluded: “I bitterly regretted not listening to my father and to you.
Instead I stayed behind and suffered hardship and disgrace.”
I also visited some old friends who were now retired. They had a hard life.
Their monthly pension was 50,000 dong – equivalent at that time to US $3.50,
enough to buy only 20 kilograms of rice.

I happened to be in Vietnam at the time of the Festival for Tending Graves. I
went to clean my father’s grave. I also invited relatives and friends over for an
intimate meal with me to demonstrate my true feelings for them. Many people
came. The atmosphere was very friendly and happy.
Before I left for Saigon the Dap Da party organization held a meeting and
sent Mr. Tu Hieu, secretary of the Dap Da Town Party Committee, to see me. He
said: “The town committee of the Communist Party has sent me in the name of the
people and party members of Dap Da to thank you for coming to visit us and for
your warmth and sincerity. People told me to convey to you their sincere praise.
They said that you are a good man who has remained loyal despite the many
difficulties you have experienced. You are truly a rare and precious person.”
I was very glad to hear his words. My mother and sisters were greatly
comforted.
Before leaving Dap Da, I presented the town committee of the National
Front with a donation of 300,000 dong for them to buy some gifts for sick veterans.
They sincerely thanked me.

During my stay, my sister Hanh told me: “After your family left the country,
the Qui Nhon City People’s Council found many ways to cause trouble for Phuc
and her husband Duong. First they confiscated their house in Qui Nhon. They said:
‘This house belongs to Mr. Han Hung Quang. Now that he has left Vietnam, the
government definitely has the right to confiscate it.’ Luckily, Phuc was officially
registered as the house’s owner. You were registered only as a temporary resident,
so they had no right to confiscate the house. But they still found a way to make
trouble. They said that as Phuc and her husband had allowed Chinese to live in
their house and had direct contact with Chinese her husband must be kept under
surveillance and report at the police station every day at a certain time. That went
on for several years. It was a real headache. They could not work or eat properly.
“Duong’s presence at the police station annoyed a leading police official
there. One day this official asked Duong: ‘Why do you come here every day?’
Duong replied: ‘I was told to come here every day. I don’t know why.’ The official
then asked his colleagues: ‘Why did you tell this man to come here every day?’
They were at a loss for a proper answer and made some vague remark. Then the
official got very angry and said: ‘Tell this man to stop coming here to bother us
and waste our time!’”
So from then on Duong did not have to report at the police station. What
luck!
Sister Hanh continued: “After you left, people from the local government
came twice more to check and inventory my goods. They confiscated a lot of my
merchandise and furniture. There was also someone who reported to the local
government that two of my children had escaped over the border. The People’s
Council summoned Duc Hanh [her husband] to their office for a talk. He was very
scared, so I told him not to worry, I would go instead.
“The council officials asked me: ‘We heard that two of your children had
escaped over the border. Is that true?’ I replied: ‘I had two children registered to go
out of the country with their uncle to study. They did not escape over the border.’
They said nothing more.”
The local government had Mr. Duc Hanh’s house and business checked and
inventoried several times. His losses were heavy and his two sons were far away.
He missed them terribly. His mental health was affected. He could not eat or sleep
properly. He lost interest in daily activities. He was pessimistic and tired of living.
He spent money all day. He developed lung cancer. He went for treatment: the
doctors did all they could for him, but his cancer could not be cured and he passed
away. Such a pity!
Sister Hanh told me that she herself had also come under heavy criticism.
After her husband died, his older and younger sisters fought for his estate. They
used many cunning tricks to harm her and incited her children to quarrel with her.
It was a very nasty fight. Her children told her to compile a clear list of family
possessions and give the list to them. They took over her business and her
accounts. Each day they wrote down how much money they had given her to go to
the market and buy food for the family. They did not allow her to inquire into the
family business.
Mr. Duc Hanh’s nieces and nephews also conspired to make trouble for her.
They even pretended to be drunk and threatened her with a knife.
It takes courage to bear such things. Hanh just clenched her teeth and
endured all these hardships and difficulties. My sympathy for my sister was mixed
with admiration for her courageous spirit. My heart went out to her. All her life she
had worked hard for her husband and children. Now her in-laws and children were
mistreating her. Fortunately, she was blessed with a full heart and a strong mind, so
she managed to avoid many of the bad things that might have happened.
Sister Hanh continued: “After you left, our brother-in-law Mr. Bon Kham
coveted your house. So he often made trouble for me. He even beat me, yelling
that it was his wife’s ancestral home and he had a right to part of it.”
My mother added: “You said that the house would belong to whoever takes
care of me. No one from the Bon family ever came to take care of me. Only my
granddaughter Thu came and took care of me. So you decided that Thu would
inherit the house. When Mrs. and Mr. Bon heard that, they were very angry. They
have often made trouble for her, beaten her, and insulted her and her children. Now
I have officially transferred ownership of the house to Thu. But Mrs. and Mr. Bon
have still not accepted it. Now that you are here, please write a note for Thu stating
that you have given this house to her, so that there will be no further
complications.”
I said: “There is no need for any note. Not only will a note not help: it may
cause more problems. Because it will be written by someone who has left the
country the government will confiscate it. Anyway, the house is already registered
in Thu’s name. The authorities have accepted her as the owner. No one can fight
for the house any more. Should Mr. Bon again dispute her ownership, you, Hanh,
should tell him right out: ‘This house was bought by Mr. Hai for our mother to live
in. It is not your ancestral home. No one has a right to claim it. Even you can do
nothing about it.’”
Later Thu told me: “Grandma has already transferred ownership of the house
to me. If you and your family come back, then I’ll return it to you.”
I told her: “We have already settled in England. We have no plans to return.
Even if later we do return, we’ll find another house near our work. Don’t worry,
Thu.”
So the problem of the house was solved. There was no more fighting for the
house between the two sisters and their families.

I had already spent three weeks in Vietnam. I said goodbye to my mother
and to all my relatives and friends. On April 10 I went to Saigon to prepare for my
return to England.
When I reached Saigon, I immediately went to visit Mr. Ngo Van Chuong,
also called Elder Tu Chuong, and his family. When he saw me he was so
overwhelmed that he ran to me and held me tight for a long time. We were so
happy to meet again after almost twenty years. He cried and was unable to speak
for a while. He showed great concern for us, asking detailed questions about the
health and work situation of each member of our family.
Elder Tu Chuong was already over ninety years old, but he as well as his
wife were still in excellent health. I wished them good health and good fortune
with all my heart. Later he came to sister Hanh’s Saigon house, greeted us very
warmly, and invited her, her children, and myself to the big Hai An Hotel for a
meal. As it was only a few hours before my departure for England, he had his
chauffeur drive him to sister Hanh’s house and take us to Tan Son Nhat Airport so
that he could see me off. Before saying goodbye he held me tight and cried loudly.
He loved me so much and did not want to part from me. I was very moved. I too
cried and could not say a word. I sincerely thanked him, urged him to try to stay in
good health, and promised to visit him again. His image will always remain
engraved in my heart.
It had already been thirteen years since I last saw my meek good-hearted
mother and my other relatives. Now I had visited Vietnam and seen them again. I
was relieved to discover that they were in good health and – at least for the time
being – secure. I felt happy and at peace. Mother had seen me and learned about
our family situation abroad. She felt reassured. Now that I had to part from her she
was sad and cried. I too cried, but could only comfort her. I told her: “Don’t be sad.
Your grandchildren and I will often return to visit you.”

Chapter 43. Again to Vietnam

I left on my second visit to Vietnam on April 8, 1996 and arrived at Tan Son Nhat
Airport the next day. My sister Hanh and her children, sister Bon’s children, and
Tho, son of Mr. Xai Quach, were at the airport to meet me. They were very happy
to see me. I went to sister Hanh’s house to rest. The next day I went to visit Elder
Tu Chuong, but he had moved away. I told his relatives to let him know that I had
come to see him.
On the third day sister Hanh and her children drove me to Dap Da. Four
years had passed since my last visit. I was reunited with my mother, sisters,
brother-in-law, nieces, and nephews. I was overwhelmed! When my mother saw
me she cried out with joy. Her eyes filled with tears. She held me tight and kissed
me from head to toe and all over my face and hands like a baby. I was very moved
by her love. I was glad to see that my mother was still as healthy as she had been
on my first visit. Her gait was sturdy. Most of my relatives were in good health, the
businesses of my nieces and nephews were doing well, and their children were
making good progress at school. I felt at peace.
After I had been in Dap Da for three days, Elder Tu Chuong telephoned me
from Saigon. “First,” he said, “let me send my comrade and best friend my
warmest welcome.” I sincerely thanked him. Then he asked me to let him know
when I intended to return to Saigon, so that his chauffeur could bring him in his
jeep to Dap Da to fetch me.
His enthusiastic offer put me in a very embarrassing position. If I declined,
he might scold me and say I was being unreasonable. If I accepted, I would feel
very uneasy. He was over ninety years old, it was a long journey (600 kilometers)
over bad roads, and the weather was very hot (35--37° C.). I worried that the
journey to Dap Da and then back to Saigon would be a miserable ordeal for him. If
something were to happen it would cause a lot of trouble. So I tried many ways of
declining his offer, but he was very determined to come and fetch me. Finally he
said: “It will give me a chance to tour Qui Nhon. I’ve never been to Qui Nhon
before.” At that I gave in and promised to give him five days’ advance notice of
the date I wanted to leave for Saigon.
A few days later he called again and urged me to go to Saigon earlier, so that
he could take me to visit some places. I sincerely thanked him and told him the
truth: my elderly mother had not seen me for a long time, so on this visit I wanted
to stay with her longer and give her more happiness. He agreed.
On May 13 I called Elder Tu Chuong and told him that I would like to leave
for Saigon on May 18. He replied: “I am sincerely sorry, but the 17th is my
mother’s memorial day and I’ll be very busy with guests. So I won’t be able to go
to Qui Nhon. I hope you understand. If you could have come a few days earlier, I
would have been able to go to Qui Nhon to fetch you and you could have
celebrated my mother’s memorial day with us. Or I could come and fetch you a
few days later.”
I was glad to hear that, because now I had a reason to decline his offer.
“Thank you,” I said. “Please forgive me for not coming to Saigon earlier to
celebrate your mother’s memorial day with you. I am truly sorry. I cannot wait and
go later because I have to buy a plane ticket for my nephew’s wife.”
So he had no choice but to accept that he would not be coming to Dap Da to
fetch me. What luck!
I also told him that I was going to depart from Qui Nhon Airport early on the
morning of May 18.
On this visit I spent two whole months in Dap Da, so I had plenty of time to
talk with my mother. At first she was very happy and enthusiastic. She ate and
slept well and talked nonstop about her life. She reminisced about the day she had
married my father and the day he died, leaving her behind with three children. She
had just turned 37. She had remained a widow, earning money as a trader. She
went places to buy goods, brought them home to sell, and used the proceeds to
raise her children to be useful people. Then I left for the North and did not return
home until the South was liberated and the country united. And then it was not
long before the situation changed and I had to leave her again to start a new life
abroad.
Her memory was good. She told her story clearly and in detail, though she
was easily affected by emotion. Sometimes her eyes filled with tears. Sometimes
she cried loudly, especially when she knew that I would soon be leaving for
England. She did not want to let go of me. I too was very moved. My heart ached
and I could not hold back my tears.
I asked her: “How do you feel now?” She answered: “Now my life is full. I
am very happy. I am very old. I belong with the people of ancient times. Soon I
shall rejoin your father. The only thing that saddens me is that I have many
grandchildren and great-grandchildren who live far away and I won’t be able to see
them before I die.”
Again she cried, and I cried too, but I had nothing more to say. I could only
comfort her and urge her not to be sad and to stay healthy so that her children,
grandchildren, and great-grandchildren could often come to visit her. She nodded
her head, but inside she was still very sad and reluctant to let me go.
My talks with my mother gave me a deep understanding of her. She had had
a hard life, both bitter and sweet, but she remained full of optimism and love of
life. She cared about the future of her children and her family as well as politics
and patriotic duty. That is why she willingly let me leave her for so very long.
Mother gave me much support and encouragement in my career. She was a
woman of rare kindness and benevolence. The love and labor of our parents were
as big as Thai Son Mountain and as pure as water flowing from the source. We had
to respect them and take care not to disappoint them. We had to try our best to take
care of mother so that she could live a few more years and share much happiness
with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

During my stay I was visited by many friends. My good friend Mr. Nguyen
Cuu Khon was overjoyed to hear that I had come home. He came three times but
each time he missed me. So the next time he decided to wait for me. We had not
seen one another for a very long time, so now we were very happy to meet again.
We told one another about our lives since we had last met. He understood why I
had left the country and still loved me. The day before I left he gave me a picture
of a boat with wind in its sails to wish me a smooth journey.
Another good friend named Mr. Nguyen Hanh, a retired army officer,
showed great concern for our family. He asked me for details about our life in
England. He was relieved to hear that all was well with us.
“Have you felt any inclination to return to Vietnam?” he asked.
“No, not yet!”
He laughed and continued: “To tell you the truth, if you are doing well
where you live now then stay there. The homeland has nothing to offer you. I used
to believe in the homeland and as a result I lost all I had and live a hard life.”
Mr. Au Quynh Phien came to visit me. He said: “I have seen the country
change so much. It is so different from before. It makes me sad. It breaks my heart.
All my life I have been loyal to the party and the revolution. For their sake I
sacrificed my life and my property. I have been in and out of prison. I have
endured suffering and struggle – all in the hope of a better life for the masses. But
now they live worse than ever. All I have left is disappointment. The revolution
was all for nothing.
“I told my friend: ‘The party and government have always said that we are
building a just and civilized society. Look around this world. Where is there a just
society? That has nothing to do with reality.’
“My friend advised me: ‘Whatever they say, just ignore them. You don’t
need to express any opinion.’”
I advised Mr. Phien: “Let go of all these issues from the past. No longer do
we have to occupy our minds with them. In the past we contributed a great deal to
the Vietnamese Revolution. We used to ask ourselves whether we were worthy in
the eyes of the Vietnamese party, government, and people, so that we could feel
proud. Now the situation has changed. We have been thrown out. Good or bad, the
situation in the country is now their business. We are no longer involved. There is
no need for us to think about it.”

While in Dap Da I rebuilt the graves of my maternal grandparents and of my
sister Thanh. I also repaired and repainted my house to make it look clean and
beautiful. Then I organized a banquet for my relatives and friends. All the people
whom I had invited showed up. Apart from neighbors, there were some retired
people who had returned from the North, now all reunited under one roof. The talk
was happy and intimate.
My plan was that on May 18 I would say goodbye to my mother, sisters,
nieces, and nephews and fly to Saigon with Trang, the wife of my nephew Minh,
who would be accompanying me to England. So I had to go a few days early to
handle the paperwork.
Before setting off I asked my two sisters to go to Saigon with us. Sister Bon
declined, saying that she was very busy with her family and did not like to leave
mother alone. Only sister Hanh came with us. We left for Saigon at 8.30 am on
May 18, but the weather was bad: it rained hard all day, the flight was delayed, and
we had to wait until 5 pm for the plane to take off. We arrived safe and sound at
Tan Son Nhat Airport at 6 pm. Sister Hanh had never flown on a plane before. This
was her first time and she was overwhelmed.
Elder Tu Chuong expected our plane to land at 9 am. He went in his car to
Tan Son Nhat Airport to meet us. As the flight was delayed, he had to wait at the
airport. When by 5 pm the plane had still not arrived he returned home. I was very
moved by his love and concern. It must have been tiring for him to wait so long. I
felt very uneasy.
The next day after my arrival in Saigon I went to see Elder Tu Chuong.
When he saw me he was overwhelmed. He hugged and kissed me for a long time.
He said: “I told you the truth. You are my best friend and your family is the one I
love the most. I am always thinking of you, your wife, and your children.”
Then he fetched beers and breakfast and invited me to eat and drink. Over
breakfast we had a very sincere talk. I thanked him for his love and concern for our
family and asked him to forgive me for making him wait so long at the airport.

“It must have tired you,” I said.

“Not at all,” he replied. “I knew that the weather would be bad yesterday.
Here too it rained hard all day. It was most inconvenient. But I felt sure that you
were blessed by Heaven and would have a safe journey.”

I asked him about his wife and family. His eyes filled with tears and he cried
for a while before replying.

“My wife, unfortunately, has been very sick for the last two or three years.
She is unable to talk, the poor dear! I built this house so that my wife and I could
enjoy our retirement together. But as soon as the house was ready she fell sick. It
was heartbreaking. Now she lives with our daughter, who cares for her from
morning to night.”

I was deeply moved by his story and could not hold back my tears. I could
say no more. I just prayed that she would soon recover.

Elder Tu Chuong showed great concern for us. He asked detailed questions
about the situation of each member of our family. “How is your wife? How are
your children? What are they doing? How is their life? Who has married and who
has not? How many grandchildren do you have?”

He asked me to write down the names of all our children and grandchildren.
He asked that each child should send him a photo as a keepsake. I wrote down the
names of our children and grandchildren for him. He was very happy. He saw that
Chien had not married. He expressed concern and said: “I would like to introduce
Chien to a suitable future wife so that he can have a happy and lasting marriage.”
He told me to ask Chien what kind of girl he wanted and to let him know that he
would find the right one for him.

Elder Tu Chuong continued: “This house has an empty floor upstairs. As I
am old and weak, it is hard for me to go up and down stairs, so the upper floor
remains unused. If Chien returns to Vietnam to marry or work, he can live there for
free.”

I sincerely thanked him for his love and concern for our family.

Then he invited me, sister Hanh, and her children to go on a tour of Thu Duc
and Vung Tau. Although he was old and weak and it rained hard all day, he was an
enthusiastic and indefatigable guide. After the tour he invited us to dine at a
famous restaurant. “If there is anything you want to eat or anywhere you want to
go,” he said, “don’t hesitate to tell me.”

The next day Elder Tu Chuong invited us to visit the Cu Chi tunnels and
Suoi Tien. I was worried that he would exhaust himself. Fortunately, my niece
Tuyet and her husband Ha had invited us to go with them on a visit to Dalat. This
gave me a good excuse to get away from Elder Tu Chuong.

So on May 20 Tuyet, her husband Ha, and their children took her mother,
her brother, and me on a three-day tour to Dalat. Dalat is a vacation spa in the
Central Highlands of South Vietnam. In reality, it does not have any beautiful
scenery like that acclaimed in Vietnamese newspapers. Accommodation there is
very expensive. We were looking for hotel rooms to sleep overnight. Some places
charged 300,000 dong per night for one room. Others charged 200,000 dong. After
driving around we found a newly built hotel, very clean with modern
conveniences, that charged 200,000 dong. Before we even had a chance to say
anything, the hotelier lowered the rate to 150,000 dong.

Eating out in Dalat is also very expensive. We went to an upscale restaurant
and were charged a fortune. Whatever they charged, we had to accept it. We were
four adults and four children. We had ordered a big dish of stewed fish, a dish of
stir-fried pork, a dish of stir-fried chicken pieces with bok choy [Chinese cabbage],
a dish of lettuce with slices of tomato and cucumber, a jug of beer, a small cup of
herbal wine, and three bottles of water. The bill came to 500,000 dong. We were
flabbergasted. Then after the main course we were served eight little perfumed
bananas the size of a person’s big toe. None of us liked bananas, we protested that
we did not want them, but they demanded that we pay an another 10,000 dong for
them.

“If you don’t want to eat them here,” said the waiter, “then take them home
with you to eat.”

“But we don’t like bananas.”

“We are sorry, but we have already made out the receipt and cannot pay you
a refund. Please understand.”

So we had to cough up another 10,000 dong. It was really unfair. I
concluded that eating in fancy restaurants was a waste of money and regretted that
we had gone there. I suggested to Tuyet that next time we should go to a mid-scale
restaurant. That is what we did, and we enjoyed a similar meal – indeed, an even
better one – for just 100,000 dong. On our way back to Saigon we ate at a roadside
food court and paid only 50,000—60,000 dong.

From Dalat my nephew Ha drove us deep into the jungle to view the
“Golden Waterfall” and the “Silver Waterfall.” This area is inhabited by the Churu
ethnic minority. The jungle there is so dense that people cannot see their shadows.
The road was tortuous. I was worried that if we ran out of luck the van might break
down or get stuck in the mud or run over a mine. If we broke down or got stuck in
the mud there would be no one around to help. If we ran over a mine we would all
be blown to smithereens. However, I dared not speak and kept my fears to myself.
I just followed Ha’s instructions. The trip lasted all day. Luckily everyone got back
to the hotel safe and sound.

On May 23 we left Dalat and returned to Saigon. The next day Tuyet and Ha
held a banquet. Besides me, they invited my nephew Ngo, Elder Tu Chuong, his
chauffeur Mr. Hung, and his good friend Mr. Giap, a veteran revolutionary who
had been in charge of the South Vietnamese Treasury. The food was sumptuous
and the talk happy and intimate.

On May 24 Ngo invited me, Hanh, and her children to dine with his family.
He told us: “I now work for three Taiwanese companies. My income has risen and
our standard of living has improved. I am only sorry that our children’s condition
is still the same. It is heartbreaking.

“Recently we had a visit from Uncle Muoi Tap. He said to me: ‘Now I
admire Mr. Han Hing Quang. He was very smart. He understood the situation and
left the country in good time. He didn’t want to stay and suffer hardship.’”

On May 25 my niece Huong and her husband held a family gathering and
invited us and Tuyet’s family. It was four years since I had seen our nieces and
nephews. They told me about their businesses and their children’s education. All
had gone well. I was very happy and felt at peace.

On May 26 my nephew’s wife and I prepared to depart for England. An hour
before we were due to leave Elder Tu Chuong showed up at my sister Hanh’s
house with his jeep and chauffeur to take us to Tan Son Nhat Airport and see us
off. Before he could say goodbye he choked with tears and could say no more. I
was very moved. I could only comfort him and tell him not to be sad and to take
care of his health. I promised to return frequently to visit him.

Although we were such good friends, Elder Tu Chuong had always been
senior to me in age and in revolutionary experience. I was moved by his deep love
and concern for my family and did not know how to return his feelings. I could
only sincerely wish him and his whole family good health and good luck and hope
that his wife would soon recover.

Chapter 44. My mother passes away

One day my sister Hanh telephoned from the homeland to let me know that our
mother had passed away. After my last visit she had fallen sick and despite the
many treatments she received had not recovered.

The sad news struck us like a bolt of lightning. I was panic-stricken in my
sorrow. It was a grievous loss to us all. We had lost a kind and benevolent mother,
grandmother, and great-grandmother.

When we heard that mother was sick we were very worried. I planned to
visit her again before very long, but I had only recently returned from Vietnam and
was suffering from stomach ache. Kim Anh was also sick and the children were
busy working. So I could not go to Vietnam at once to take care of her even though
I felt extremely uneasy. I could only ask my two sisters and my nephews and
nieces to help take care of her.

Now that mother was dead, once more I was unable to get to Vietnam in
time for her funeral to bid her farewell. That made me feel very sad and anxious. I
wanted to return home as soon as possible to pay my respects to her and place
offerings on her grave. When my stomach felt better I decided to set off right
away.

I departed on March 30, 1997 and arrived at Tan Son Nhat Airport the next
day. My sister Hanh and her children were at the airport to meet me. At seven
o’clock on the evening of April 2 I boarded the train to Dap Da together with sister
Hanh and my niece Phuc. We reached Dap Da at nine o’clock the next morning.
Sister Hanh and I immediately went to visit mother’s grave. The grave was solemn
and well built.

Sister Hanh told me that mother had taken sick at the beginning of April
1996 because she missed me and her grandchildren so much. After my last visit,
when I returned to England at the end of May, she was so sad all day that she could
not eat or drink and she fell sick again. At the beginning of September her
condition deteriorated further. She received many treatments and her two
daughters, her granddaughter Thu, and other relatives and friends came to take care
of her. But she was already old and weak and was unable to recover. So she said
her last goodbyes at one o’clock on the morning of November 24, 1996 (by the
lunar calendar – October 13 of the Year of the Rat). So much sorrow!

Although mother had been sick for a very long time, her mind remained
clear and alert. For example, she had saved a bottle of foreign wine. She asked Thu
to fetch it for her to drink. “I don’t want to leave it until after I die,” she explained.
“Such a waste!”

She also removed all the clothes from her closet, folded them, and sorted
them into two heaps – one of old clothes, the other of new. My sisters asked her
why she didn’t lock them in the closet. She replied: “I am leaving them out so that
whoever wants them can take them. If I lock them in the closet, it may be forced
open and damaged. That would be a waste!”

Before mother fell sick she had watched the funeral of Mrs. Thong De in
front of our house in Dap Da. She had been very excited. She told Thu: “I like this
kind of solemn funeral. I want to have a funeral like that when I die.”

“Do you really want your funeral to be like that, Grandma?”

“I am just wishing. Our family is poor. How can we do it?”

“Don’t worry, Grandma. Uncle Hai and my mother will arrange it for you.”

At that mother laughed in delight.

Mother instructed my sisters: “When I die you must buy me a good coffin.
The funeral should be solemn and simple. Then I shall feel comfortable. Don’t be
too sad. All my children and grandchildren should mourn me and follow the
funeral procession.”

When mother learned of the death of Mrs. Hoa, her daughter Bon’s mother-
in-law, she handed 100,000 dong to my sister Hanh, asked her to pay Mrs. Hoa a
visit, and told her to say clearly that it was an offering from Mrs. Tran Thi Quang.
When mother heard that Mrs. Hoa’s funeral would soon be starting, she told her
daughter Bon and her grandchildren: “Go home for Mrs. Hoa’s funeral, then
quickly return for mine. Don’t delay!”

True enough, as soon as Mrs. Hoa’s funeral had ended my mother peacefully
passed away. She was 87 years old. She waved goodbye to the children and
grandchildren gathered around her and very gently passed away.

To honor our mother’s wishes, my sisters complied with her instructions.
They bought her a good coffin and everyone went into mourning and followed the
funeral procession. Her nephew Mr. Tran Ke Nghi and his family also helped with
the funeral. So thanks to the wholehearted help of relatives and friends the funeral
was well planned.

For several days before and after mother’s death some Buddhist monks came
at my sisters’ invitation to chant prayers for her. The funeral started at two o’clock
on the afternoon of November 26, 1996 (October 15 by the lunar calendar). It was
very solemn. More than two hundred people – relatives, friends, and neighbors –
came to view her body and follow her coffin to her last resting place at the burial
ground. Hundreds more stood along both sides of the street to watch the
procession.

Sister Hanh told me: “Mother’s funeral was the biggest ever in the district
for an ordinary citizen.”

By attending the funeral local people showed their love and respect for our
mother and for our whole family and how much they missed her. We felt greatly
honored and comforted.

Now mother had parted from us forever and left this world. From far away
across mountains and jungles we could only stand before her image to express our
infinite sorrow at her passing and pray that she would soon be free of all suffering
and grant us her blessing, so that our whole family should always remain in good
health and at peace.

Although mother has left this life, her kind and benevolent image will
always remain in our hearts and never fade.

It so happened that my trip to Vietnam to visit my mother’s grave coincided
with the Festival for Tending Graves. I tended my father’s grave and placed
offerings on it. I also held a gathering for relatives, friends, and others who had
helped prepare my mother’s funeral to convey my sincere thanks to them all. I first
paid a personal visit to each family, greeted them, and invited them to come to the
gathering. Everyone whom I had invited came – over two hundred people. It was a
very warm and friendly occasion.

The guests were full of praise for me. “Never,” they said, “have we known
the likes of Mr. Quang – always so grateful, respectful, loyal, and sympathetic. A
rare treasure indeed.”

I thanked all our relatives and friends and felt at peace. I consider that I have
performed at least a part of my sacred duty to my mother.

On April 11, after a few more days at home, sister Hanh and I took the
overnight train to Saigon to prepare for my return to England. Mr. Nguyen Cuu
Khoi and his son came to Dieu Tri Station to see me off. We were attached to one
another and did not want to part.

Sister Hanh and I had tickets for a sleeping compartment with triple-layer
bunk beds. My bed was in the middle layer. It was narrow and cramped. As I am
tall, I could neither sit nor lie properly. After fourteen hours of discomfort – the
journey lasted from 5 pm to 7 am – my whole body was wracked with aches and
pains. Poor me!

I had time in Saigon to visit my nephew Ngo and his family as well as a few
other relatives and friends. Niece Tuyet and her husband Ha took me, sister Hanh,
and her child to eat at the Saigon City Restaurant four times.

I also visited Elder Tu Chuong. As on previous visits, he was overwhelmed
to see me and hugged and kissed me for a long time. Then he took me and sister
Hanh and her child to the Ho Binh An Hotel at Thu Duc for dinner. He offered to
take me to see Cu Chi, Vung Tau, and Ca Mau. However, I was still in mourning
for my mother and did not feel like going. Time was also short, and I was worried
that it might be too tiring for him, so I sincerely thanked him and made some
excuse to decline his offer.

Elder Tu Chuong showed great concern for us. He always asked about the
health and work situation of each member of our family. He was especially
concerned about Chien.

Elder Tu Chuong often told his friends and relatives that I was his best and
lifelong friend and sole benefactor. It made me feel honored. Once more I sincerely
thanked him for his love and concern for our family.

On April 14, after two days in Saigon, I took leave of my relatives and
friends and set off for England. Elder Tu Chuong came to the airport with his good
friend Mr. Giap to see me off. He gave me some bottles of beer to drink while I
waited at Bangkok Airport for my connecting flight. Before we parted, he hugged
and kissed me for a long time. His eyes were streaming with tears and he could not
let go. I too was moved and unable to hold back my tears. I urged both Elder Tu
Chuong and Mr. Giap to keep well and wished them and their families the best of
health and luck. I promised that we would see one another again soon.

Chapter 45. End of my road

It was only with great reluctance that our family took the decision to leave
Vietnam. We abandoned not only all the credit we had earned for our contribution
to the Vietnamese revolution but also our house and other possessions won by our
sweat and tears. Now we were refugees with empty hands in a foreign land and had
to start our life all over again. Of course, we had to face many difficulties. But if
we all, old and young, stuck together and worked hard, we could overcome the
difficulties and build a new life – better and happier than the life we had left
behind in Vietnam.

It is now over ten years since we settled in England and all this has indeed
come to pass. All our older children now have their own lives. They all have jobs.
Chien has finished university and embarked on graduate study to advance his
career. Kim Anh and I are also secure. We do not have as much to worry about as
we had in Vietnam. After everything that has happened, we finally have the peace
and happiness that are our due.

For this we owe thanks, first of all, to the leaders of the Vietnamese party
and government. Without their anti-China and anti-Chinese campaign we would
never have thought of leaving the country. In particular, we owe sincere thanks to
certain leaders and friends in Nghia Binh Province who helped us overcome all
obstacles to our departure, so that we could reach England safe and sound and
build a new life here. We shall always remember with gratitude the help they gave
us. We also enjoyed the blessings of Heaven and the protection of our kind-hearted
and virtuous ancestors. We shall never forget them either.

As I look back over past events, I cannot but feel deep grief and distress. But
sometimes I cannot help laughing. In 1979, during their anti-China and anti-
Chinese campaign, Vietnamese party and government leaders used to say that
those Overseas Chinese cadres who had been loyal to the Vietnamese revolution
and were trusted on that account had now become the most dangerous element of
all. Those leaders were ungrateful, betrayed their friendship with us, repaid our
generosity with rancor, and forced us to leave our relatives and our homeland and
seek refuge on foreign shores.

Now, however, circumstances have changed. Suddenly these same party and
government leaders completely changed their tune. Now they call us “patriotic
Overseas Vietnamese” and constantly urge us to forget the past, erase all the
hatred, and return home with our children and grandchildren, or at least send
money home, so that together we and they can rebuild Vietnam. As the proverb
says, “the tongue has no bone, it twists and turns to say whatever it likes.”

Now I look back down the long road I have traveled all these decades – a
road of sweetness and bitterness. Along this road I learned to endure hardships,
face challenges, overcome difficulties, and sustain the self-confidence to keep
pressing forward. The hardships, challenges, and difficulties enriched my life and
gave it greater meaning.

Now I have reached my goal and realized my wishes. This is a happy thing
and I feel proud of myself. The long road that I have traveled is finally at an end. I
have written these lines for my amusement. I like to recall these old stories.

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