Archival story: Remembering Vietnam's boat people, Part III
Tony Lofaro, The Ottawa CitizenPublished: Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Originally published Saturday, March 31, 2007
Like hundreds of thousands of others, An Song Hoang fled South Vietnam in the mid-1970s when the Communists seized power there. But they didn't all have to fight off pirates to make it to Canada. An Song Hoang did.
Mr. Hoang escaped in a boat jammed with 138 strangers to begin a long, uncertain journey to freedom.
An Song Hoang, with daughters, Cristina Hoang with Ana Hoang, fled Vietnam in a boat jammed with 138 strangers.
Bruno Schlumberger, The Ottawa Citizen
Months later, it landed him in a new country thousands of kilometres away.
But the taste of freedom came at a price for the then-33-year-old man.
Mr. Hoang came to be reunited with his younger sister, Rosemary, who had settled in Ottawa five years earlier.
But in his rush to freedom he had to leave behind his parents, other family members and Chu Thuy, his young fiancee.
In Ottawa, he worked hard at menial jobs to earn some money, but it would be 12 years before he could bring over his fiancee.
Finally, the couple were married and now have two young daughters.
"The trip to Canada changed my life 180 degrees," says a smiling and happy Mr. Hoang, now 60, sitting in the Vietnamese-Canadian Federation office on Rochester Street.
"I didn't know where I was going, I just paid the man to get on the boat. But we wanted to go because we valued freedom."
It cost Mr. Hoang about $3,000 for passage on the boat that took him as far as Thailand. It was a harrowing trip. On the open waters they encountered a band of pirates who attacked the boat and killed 30 of those aboard.
"When I came on the boat, I saw three dead bodies; it was scary," says Mr. Hoang.
He recounts how he threw boiling hot water on one of the pirates to escape an attack.
He says some of the bodies washed up on shore and he and others were faced with the gruesome task of burning the corpses.
He stayed at a refugee camp in Thailand for about two months before a Canadian delegation came to select refugees for transport to Canada.
"They asked me, when you were in the (South Vietnamese) army, why I didn't go to America. I said to them because I have a sister in Ottawa."
Mr. Hoang was overjoyed when he was told he would be allowed to travel to Ottawa.
"Before 1975, I knew what freedom means. And after, when the Communists come, I don't have freedom.
"So I come to Canada, a freedom country, and I'm very happy."
While he stayed in the refugee camp, Mr. Hoang wrote to his sister in Ottawa, folding scrap pieces of paper together to make an envelope in which to mail the letter. She was overjoyed to receive news that he was alive and she prayed for their reunion.
"She was very happy to see me because when she came here alone, she had to send money back to Vietnam to help the family. So I came to Canada to help her, too."
Mr. Hoang's early jobs included dishwashing and cleaning. He wanted to take an English course when he arrived, but the long hours prevented him from doing so. He had to pick up the language through co-workers -- and by watching television.
Now he works full-time for a silk screen company.
"It wasn't hard to adjust to life in Canada," he says.
"When the Communists took over in South Vietnam, that was very hard to adjust to. When I go to a rich country like this, it's very easy."© The Ottawa Citizen 2008