Friday, March 20, 2009


Vietnamese Boat People

The movie Bolinao 52, , a documentary about 52 refugee survivors made it to Philippines after 37 days drifting in the sea and cannibalizing boatmates, reminded me that I was a boat person myself, just that my boat was luckier, because only one woman died. Therefore, this album is dedicated to an estimated half million Vietnamese boat people who vanished in the highseas to escape communism in the 1975-1990 period.

Death came in different stages of the trip. Many boats sank after they had been seen but ignored by passing-by ships. Many boats had already reached the shores of Thailand or Malaysia, but were forced to leave again at gun point, then sank after that. Aside from death, gang rape by Thai and Malaysian pirates was another suffering. Statistics by UNHCR for the 3 years 1981 to 1983 showed that on average, 66% of the boats were attacked by pirates. On the other hand, Thailand and Malaysia also hosted many refugee camps.

The tragedy has been 2-decade old, but like the Pol Pot regime's genocide in Cambodia, it should not be forgotten.

On behalf of 47 boat people of the boat SG152, I deeply thank the captain of the Polish ship PADAWREVSKI who gave us food and drinking water at the night of April 16, 1985 and the captain of the Korean ship HAE WOO NUMBER 3 who picked us up and brought us to the shore of Indonesian island Pulau Laut on April 17, 1985. You saved our lives.

Most photos are from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The legacy of this boat saga is now there are 3 million Vietnamese living in 126 countries outside Vietnam, including boat refugees and their offsprings and reunited family members (source: Radio Free Asia U.S.A. has the most(1.5 million). They have become an asset for their adoptive countries by contributing a labour/tax-paying base, including hundreds of thousands of western-educated professionals. Many have achieved important positions in their adoptive countries like Advisor to the President, Lieutenant Governor, Deputy Minister, Member of State Parliament, Foreign Affairs Department Spokesman, Astronaut, Court Judge, etc. Unfortunately, a small number of them involve in the infamous marijuana growing operations which tarnish the image of the whole community, due to the inherent one-sided reporting nature of the media (bad guys are reported, good guys are taken for granted).

The relationship between overseas Vietnamese and Vietnamese communist government is somewhat like the one between overseas Indian Sikhs and Indian government: it's not a good one. Running away from their native governments is the main reason for Vietnamese and Indian Sikhs left their native countries in the first place. Therefore, more than 30 years after the fall of South Vietnam, you still can see the South Vietnamese flag (3 red stripes on yellow background) in most Vietnamese community's events. But it's also a source of division in the community, between those who still hate communism and harbour the animosity from war time and those who accept the reality of history. Not displaying the South Vietnamese flag in a community event is enough a reason for a political attack and smearing campaign.

Nonetheless, every year, they send billions of dollars to relatives back home and some hundred thousands spend vacation in Vietnam.
To young generation, those who grew up or were born outside Vietnam, of course it's a different story. They have mostly Westernized and Vietnam is just a very special foreign country that their parents fondly tell them about quite often.

Link to the movie Journey From The Fall: , another informative movie about Vietnamese boat people.
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A refugee boat
The first wave
Inside a boat

Inside a boat 2
Made it to the land

Pulau Bidong
On board the rescue ship

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