There were so many times in my multiple attempts at escape when I was very lucky. Although I don’t know if “luck” is the right word for it. Perhaps there was someone watching over for me in my youthful inexperience.
In one attempt, I was successful in making it to the ocean with many other escapees. We all climbed into a boat heading away from Vietnam. There were more than 200 people in that vessel. Way more than it could reasonably hold. But everyone was so desperate to flee the communists. Too many times, the so-called “Vietnamese boat people” came across the ocean on boats designed to carry far fewer people. In their desperation, too many Vietnamese died from exposure, malnutrition, or other afflictions in their attempt to reach a better life. It is very sad for me to think of all those people perishing and being tossed overboard in the middle of the ocean.
With over 200 people in my boat we could have capsized, but instead, the boat sprung a leak that put us in jeopardy of sinking. By that time, we were too far out to swim back so we made noise and waved our arms in the air to attract the attention of the authorities patrolling the water. They captured us and took us back to shore.
Once we were all back on land, the police took us to a building to be processed. We knew we were all headed for prison or a “re-education” camp for trying to escape. I was frightened and looking for a way to get away from there. We were in a 2-story building. They corralled everyone downstairs, but I was able to get up the stairs to a bathroom on the second floor. My clothes were oily and dirty from the boat, the water and the mud and sand. But whenever I left, I always took a change of clothes and a little food with me. I was able to change out of my dirty clothes, stuffing them in a trash can. There was no way for me to get outside from the second floor so I went back down and waited by the front door until the police were not paying attention and I ran out.
I was stopped by police outside the building who told me to go back in. I told then I didn’t come from inside, but they said, “No, we saw you come out of there.” I told them I lived close by and was just curious about what was going on here. The crowd of people drew my attention and I just wanted to see what was going on. It was a bad lie, but they believed me. They told me to get out and not to come back.
With thankfulness in my heart, I ran. As I was going down the road, I encountered two men on bicycles. They said they saw me leaving from there. I told them the same story I told the police. But they’d been watching and they knew I was part of the group that came off the boat. They were photographers who made their living by taking pictures of people on the beach and then selling them back. They claimed they didn’t want to give me trouble. They would help me, but I had to tell them the truth. Even though I was scared, I told them, “Yes, I was in there”. I asked them to please help me, I didn’t know where I was or how to get back home.”
One of the men put me on the back of his bicycle and they gave me a ride to a temple. They bought me a sandwich and asked a monk to watch over me. In a couple of hours, they came back with money. They drove me to the bus station and paid for my ticket to get back home. I was definitely fortunate to come across men who were so kind. They could have turned me back in. But instead, their kindness got me back home safely. To this day I thank God for those two men.