A scar I got as a baby in Vietnam.
A Scar to Remind Me
As Told By: Brian Hoang
I have a scar on the side of my left thigh. It’s a circular shape measuring about 2 inches across and the flesh there is noticeably harder. Though I can still feel it when something touches it, the nerves have certainly dulled. This is something I’ve had my entire life and I never really questioned it. I knew it was something unique to me but it was just always there and I rarely ever thought about it. My parents explained to me that when I was born, I had trouble breathing so the doctor had to quickly administer an injection. They aren’t sure if it was the injection itself or if it was that the syringe or my leg wasn’t properly sterilized but I got an infection which eventually led to the scarring. It has never bothered me but when I look at it, I know it is something that happened in Vietnam; a country that I was too young to remember.
In my mind, Canada has always been my home country. It’s the only place I consciously remember living in. But for the first 2 years of my life, I had ever been on Canadian soil. Sai Gon, was my home. I always knew the basic story of how my parents and I had to flee our home country to find a new one but as someone who has spent the last few years trying to find out who I am and where I came from, I wanted to ask my parents for the details of our journey.
My uncle helped build the boats that we eventually escaped Vietnam on and my dad was a crew member. Prior to our escape, my dad and a couple of other members would use these boats to travel from city to city posed as merchants selling goods to locals. This was to help alleviate any suspicions as to why they had boats in the first place. After months of planning, my family decided that a night in late 1981 would be the night we attempt an escape. My dad and the rest of the crew were already waiting at the boats in Vĩnh Long while my mom and I, along with other family members, had to make the almost 3 hour trip from Sai Gon down to meet them. I was given a sleeping medication to keep me from crying and alerting authorities. My dad told me his greatest fear was that he could not be sure if my mom and I would ever make it and if he would ever see us again. We did make it down to the boats but at some point, my uncle, the one who helped build the boats, was shot by the authorities and had to run from the site. With no idea of where he went, we had to continue on (he would eventually be reunited with my aunt and cousins in Ohio 10 years later).
The boats we were on would take us down the Cổ Chiên river out to the East Sea where we would board a bigger boat that would hopefully take us to a refugee camp. There was a total of 85 people crammed onto this boat which was built for much less. At this point, my parents attempted to wake me up from the medication but it wasn’t until 12 hours later that I finally came to and they knew I was okay.
When compared to the stories of so many others, our boat trip was relatively smooth. We only had to deal with one day of stormy weather where the sea was really rough. We never ran into any pirates, we didn’t lose anyone overboard and we got to our destination in a little less than a week. We landed on Kuku Island in Indonesia where we were greeted by the UNHCR. After two weeks, we were then moved to the main refugee camp at Galang where we would live for the next 6 months or so while waiting for sponsorship. A representative from Canada came to interview my parents and immediately accepted us. A few months after this, all the necessary papers were sent for our resettlement and we were on our way to our new home.
Though our destination would eventually be Winnipeg, our first time stepping foot on Canadian soil would be an overnight stop in Montreal in the spring of 1982. In the spring of 1986, I would officially become a Canadian citizen. In the fall of 2021, I voted in a Canadian federal election which is something I’ve done for the last 20 years. It makes me put political cynicism aside for just a moment and think about the fact that I’m someone who wasn’t born in Canada but it has welcomed me and I now have a small say in how it is governed. When I look at this scar now, I’m not only aware of what country I got it in, but I’m also aware of what country I’m in now and how I got here. It is the physical part of my connection to Vietnam that is with me everyday and it will forever remind me that I am one of the lucky ones.