On our journey to America, two cousins also came along with my family. They both were teenagers when we left Vietnam. Last week’s article was about my cousin Anh Huy. This article will be about my cousin, Chú Thưởng.
My cousins played a huge part in our journey. They are like older brothers to me. I look up to them for guidance and encouragement. I am so glad to have had an opportunity to get to know them and lived with them during our journey to America. It was priceless.
Similar to Anh Huy, Thưởng Nguyễn knew a month ahead of time before our journey to America. I called him Chú Thưởng. Chú Thưởng’s father was my grandfather’s younger brother.
In a similar situation as Bác Hoàng’s family, Chú Thưởng’s family had enough money for 1 ticket to freedom. At first, the plan was to allow the oldest sibling to go. The oldest child was Chú Thư. However, he was in France at the time. Cô Thu, Chú Thưởng’s sister, was the second oldest and in her 20s. She was approved to go. On the other hand, Chú Thư advised against it. He heard the news about pirates who raped young women. Cô Thu was a perfect victim of being raped.
Chú Thái was another older brother who was 18 years old. Being older created more issues. Getting a fake Chinese ID for adults costs ten to twenty gold pieces. It was cheaper to buy children’s IDs. Chú Thưởng’s family decided that a boy should go. Chú Thưởng was chosen.
Going to America or the attempt of going to America gave Chú Thưởng hope. It was a new adventure that Chú Thưởng was prepared to embark on. At the same time, he was sad to leave his family behind. The last few nights, Chú Thưởng slept on the same bed with his parents. Cuddling up against his mom, he was comforted. Chú Thưởng did not know when he will be able to see them again. He was torn with mixed feelings and emotions of fear, sadness, and excitement. Nonetheless, he must be brave. It was up to him to seek freedom and rescue his family from turmoil.
Chú Thưởng was old enough to be aware of the possible danger looming with escaped attempts. He heard of many failed and missing Vietnamese through word of mouth such as relatives or survivors of failed attempts. The possibilities of being captured by the Việt Cộng or pirates were very high. Nevertheless, the thought of possible freedom outweighed the risk of threats and dangers. Anything was better than how his family was being treated at that time.
The Việt Cộng soldiers occasionally showed up unannounced and physically inspected Chú Thưởng’s family food supplies or any rooms that may seem suspicious. The soldiers confiscated any extra and/or hidden food supplies. There was no moment of peace or privacy. There was a time when the Việt Cộng stormed right through Chú Thưởng’s home in the middle of dinner to find nothing. The frivolous inspections were wasteful efforts. It only created anxiety and frustration within Chú Thưởng’s family.
A year before, Chú Thưởng’s father suffered a stroke and was paralyzed. Chú Thư, his oldest brother was living in Paris, France on a college scholarship. Chú Thái was the second oldest boy but he was hardly home. On certain days, Chú Thai hid at the nearby cemetery to avoid being drafted to war. By default, Chú Thưởng became the man of the family. Being a 14-year-old boy, he felt helpless. There was nothing Chú Thưởng could do to stop the Việt Cộng from entering their home on a whim of suspicions. The citizens had very few rights. They were constantly monitored by the Việt Cộng.