Jenny is a Vietnamese immigrant who came to Australia in 1987 following a daring attempt to leave her country by boat. She’s outwitted Communist agents, tough-talked conniving boat captains, and has taught English professionally since she lived in Saigon. We’ll hear all about that – and more – in this multi-part interview.
ON HER ESCAPE ATTEMPT (CONT.)
J: He was coming towards us. My cousin said “Run! Run, Jenny!”
I said: “Don’t run. If you run he’ll know.”
We had muck everywhere. We looked like boat people. But I saw a very kind looking old man, and shouted “Uncle Five! Why didn’t you come and pick us up?”
I gambled. I had nothing to lose. I’d be captured if he didn’t go along with it. But he came through for us.
“Oh yes! We came out and looked for you! Where have you been? You must be starving.”
He took us back to his home and gave us lunch, and let us wash our clothes. He pointed me towards the highway. We went to the group and walked to the road.
The bus conductor noticed us. He was a wicked man.
“You are boat people. Give me all the money you have in your possession or I’ll denounce you. I’ll stop the bus.”
Hold on a minute.
“Do you have a sister? A brother? A grandmother? Look at my auntie! Eighty years old! Do you have somebody like that? Why would you want to do this to us?
I turned to the passengers: “You have family at home. Would you like this man to torture them?”
And they stood up for us and paid for our passage. They said to him: “We will throw you off the bus if you torture this group.”
We got back to the big city and I knocked at the door of one of my students. She fed us and gave us clean clothes. She’s in Seattle now. I visited her twice last month. We had to wait until 1987 to get here.
That time we flew Qantas.
ON LIFE IN SAIGON
J: I came from quite a well-off family. We had many properties. My father ran a lot of different businesses. One of the restaurants he ran is still open in Saigon. But the government took it over, and made the top floor a hotel. It was one of the biggest restaurants in one of the busiest, most up-market streets in Saigon.
He had bakeries … import/export … even night clubs, and bars. A jack of all trades. There was a branch of the import/export company in Hong Kong; my parents were always flying back and forth. I was born in Hong Kong when my mother was checking on the business.
When the country was partitioned in 1954, my father moved his whole factory – all the machines – by ship into the south. When the Communists arrived in Saigon, they took everything that was left behind.
justify;”>L: So you lived in Saigon during the War?
J: What war?
L: The second.
J: Yes. But we didn’t feel the war at all. It was very peaceful. We had a good income. My father sent all my siblings overseas. I was the only one – aside from my younger brothers – who was left behind when the Communists took over in ‘75. I studied teaching. I taught English as a second language. And I helped my parents run the business, keeping an eye out. I had no qualifications, but they trusted my honesty. All the income was by cash…
My younger brother was a Baptist reverend. He looked after a church and an orphanage. That orphanage was bombed by mistake. By Americans. My brother in Hong Kong sponsored my mother, father, and youngest sister. It was very hard for me. My husband had a large family in Vietnam. He didn’t want to go. I divorced him. We had different ambitions – a different plan for our lives.
L: Do you want to see all this before it’s published?
J: No. I’m a person already dressed; I don’t want to look in the mirror.