I just spent the last 48 hours conducting interviews and my first recordings. I'm like a digital nomad with my podcast mic and laptop, on the train coming from Northern Virginia where I spent two days just listening to stories. What a great job I have! Granted unpaid for now, but who cares! I get to hear fascinating stories of courage and survival and walk away after every recording with a new perspective on life.
One of my interviews was with my third brother Chris, which by the way is not his birth name. Just like Tracey is not mine. We changed our names once we realized it would reduce the teasing in school and others around us would feel more comfortable. Chris is 11 years older than me and while our entire family is very close, we don't openly share all the dark and sad feelings we hold inside. It's not how we were raised and it's typically not part of the Vietnamese culture. We tend to bury the painful past to 'save face'.
Behind closed doors and for two hours, Chris opened up to me. Not with tears or strong emotions, but with a straight face as if we were in a deposition. While he stared straight ahead, not looking at me once, he shared his story.
Chris was only 10 years old at the fall of Saigon in 1975. He and my three other brothers are the only ones among my siblings that remember what life was like when my family was prominent and wealthy in Vietnam. And the drastic change overnight of going from riches to rags, from pampered baby to slumdog.
He shared with me in great detail the story of a 10 year old, doing whatever it took to survive in a economically depressed, war-torn country. Days spent learning how to fish, farm and sneaking on backs of trains to catch a ride from city to city, to sell goods in the black market. How he came home everyday at dusk, brought home whatever food he could get for the younger sisters and gave the little money that he made for my mother to save.
He was 13 when he made his first attempt to escape. He took the chance, not quite knowing what it meant. He is the star behind one of the podcast episodes "Slumdog brothers" coming soon. His story is one of the nine different stories I will share in my family's documentary.
The is our family in Louisiana, in 1982. Photo was taken less than a year after we reunited in America.
This second photo was taken at my sister JoAnh's wedding tea ceremony in Virginia in 2007. I'm the one on the far right. Chris is standing behind me.