Thanh is ready to retire. 5 more years – 55 – here they are 1 at birth (“How can you be here and be zero”, he asks?)
Thanh was born in 1964 in Saigon, the 7th of ultimately 15 children born to a captain in the South Vietnamese army – a helicopter pilot. Thanh’s country, having been divided by strangers in Geneva, was free and free of foreign domination after decades or centuries. Life was good and opportunities abundant. But as is often the case, shadows lurked.
Old friends and countrymen from the North were infiltrating and threatening freedom. Strangers from America were coming to help repel the communists and preserve the new freedoms. Why did the North not just stay home?
Father was gone a lot, but not always, and the war in Saigon was exciting and fruitful for the son of an officer. But in 1972 America left, and on 30 April 1975 North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam.
Thanh is buddhist…..maybe karma. White became black, good became bad, the family was punished. Father became not a prisoner of war, but a prisoner of peace.
Father was imprisoned for nine years of hard labor and “re-education”, to purge Western ideas and foster the tenets of Lenin. After nine years, he was sent to the forest for 5 years to clear jungle and forest for coffee tree planting. Finally cured, America was ready with visa and ticket to fly Mother and Father to Amarillo, Texas and a new life… thanks for his effort and sacrifice on behalf of freedom.
But what of young Thanh?
At age 11 (10) when the world ended and school in nice uniforms stopped, Thanh was sent 150 miles south of Saigon to labor. There was no food or money at home (in fact, there was no home).
Later, when Father was sent to the forest, the new government told Mother that if she left the house in Saigon to go to the forest, she could live with Father and his sentence would be lessened. She left but could not live with Father and the communist officials in Saigon appropriated a new home. To the victors go the spoils.
Thanh became a herder for a water buffalo – a valuable beast of burden. He pulled grass to feed it, he rode it, slept on it and guarded it with his new scary young life. He really knew no one in the Mekong Delta – but maybe some old relatives.
The days and nights ran together for years. There were no roads, no motos, no buses, no post, no electricity, no television. Thanh received no money. He was periodically paid in rice. He kept enough for two hands full a day and the rest was taken back to Mother and siblings to live on in
Saigon, by an older brother and sister who walked/rode/boated down from Saigon to pick it up.
Thanh was scared and confused. He slept on boats and woke up in the water. He slept on the buffalo and woke up on the trail or in the water.
Thanh was under 5 feet tall and weighed less than 8o pounds. But the communists put him
in a work party.
Near him, there had been a lot of fighting in the war and there were graves to honor the South Vietnamese who died. There had been many battles and the victors had records of their hundreds of soldiers who had perished there.
Thanh became part of a years long work party who had to obliterate all signs of a South Vietnamese cemetery and construct a huge monument and fake grave stones to honor the North Vietnamese.
Thus, the collective memory will recall the somewhat revisionist history, but to the victor goes the spoils. Thanh hauled dirt for 5 more long years at the monument.
So what has happened to Thanh? The communist society does not care for him. He cannot work for the government (which is about 80% of decent jobs) because he is tainted by his father, He could go to America, but not his wife and children, since they did not help America… so he stays. Thanh is married and has three children – boys 26 and 14 and a daughter 22
Thanh paid for school as an adult to learn english. He drives a cab 84 hours a week (12×7) during the day, and his son does the same thing (12×7) in the cab at night. They rent the cab. Gas is $4.00
a gallon, so they always query whether they should park or drive around to look for fares.
They may have a few days off every year, but not all at once. Thanh’s wife is sick and cannot work. Thanh pays for medical and dental bills, school and uniforms for all three, food and all utilities – no free lunch in a communist world – unless you are in the party.
So, Thanh gets tears when he talks of his dream – after 10 years of luxury, and 45 years of absolute
toil – he wants to live on one or two acres, in a simple house and grow ducks, chickens, fish, frogs,
fruits vegetables, rice-and a water buffalo!
After all that – he loves the land, the crickets and the birds.
BTW – he reads multiple newspapers every day and and keenly aware of current world affairs.