An American-Vietnamese girl staying in my building and I hung out a few times while she was here for an internship. Since she just returned to the States, she said I could post her interview.
Anh left Vietnam with her family – mom, dad and 2 brothers – in early 1984 when she was just eight. This internship gave her a chance to come stay in the city she hadn’t seen for 30 years.
me: How has Saigon changed since you were a kid?
Anh: It’s changed so drastically. It’s so much busier and noisier – so many mopeds, bikes and pedal taxis. I couldn’t recognize anything about my old neighborhood. Nothing. All the buildings, houses – everything’s totally changed. No one owned shops back then; the government owned everything. The buildings weren’t as tall and there were no billboards.
me: Can people tell you’re not a local?
Anh: Oh yeah. There’s a name for us – Viet Kieu. It’s basically “Vietnamese living abroad”. Even more than my clothes or accent or anything, they can tell because (at 5’9”) I’m taller than most of them.
me: I…thought height was genetic.
Anh: Sure, to an extent. But nutrition’s a big factor. Of course, both my parents are from here, but my brothers are also taller than both them and the guys we see around here. What you eat as a kid makes a difference.
me: How’d you get to the US?
Anh: We were boat people. You know “boat people”, right?
Anh: People trying to get out of Vietnam could pay someone – like a “coyote” in Mexico. For a few grand you’d leave at night on a basic fishing boat, with 30-40 other people crammed in there. The boat would head to the international shipping lane and wait/hope to be picked up. And you never knew when you’d get picked up – some people ran out of food and starved to death waiting. Some boats got attacked by pirates. Some capsized.
me: And if you were caught?
Anh: You’d get charged with treason and go to jail. Or worse. It was a huge risk.
me: Who picked you up?
Anh: A French ship picked us up. Whoever picked you up was responsible for you. We had a relative in the US who sponsored us. Otherwise, we would have ended up in France – eventually, that is. First, was the refugee camp for any number of weeks or months. My family stayed in a Singapore refugee camp for 2 months, which was one of the better ones.
me: Who’d you know in the US?
Anh: An uncle had served in the South Vietnamese Army along with the Americans and just left with them in the mid-70’s. It was either that, or get sent to a “re-education camp” where they’d have worked him to death. So he was in the US, which is how we all ended up there.
Anh: Hey Susan, wait till I’m back in the States before you post, ok? And don’t post any pics.
Anh: Kinda. I dunno. Just wait till I’m back in the US.
Recently I came across this pic on the internet and at first glance, thought it was Anh. When I showed her she said, “Please. That does not look like me. Ok, maybe the face, but not the arms!”
The arms… what?! They’re normal-person arms. Here’s a random internet person who looks like Anh: