To The Beach, We Go
Chú Thưởng packed light and prepared for the trip. He wore his lucky necklace. It was a sentimental gift from his mom. He packed a small album with his personal Vietnamese coin collection and a few days of clothes. He gave away all of his toys and belongings to his younger siblings and friends. Not knowing the exact date of departure, Chú Thưởng came over to Anh Huy’s home a week in advance. As Chú Thưởng walked over to Anh Huy’s house, he looked back at his home one more time longing for the comfort of safety in his parents’ arms.
On the day of departure, Bác Hoàng gave Chú Thưởng and Anh Huy a stack of Vietnamese dollars for the travel. “Never leave on an empty stomach.” Bác Hoàng said.
Early 4 or 5 am mid-July 1978, Chú Thưởng and Anh Huy met up with my family at a roundabout intersection near Bác Hoàng’s house. It was within walking distance for them. We were all picked up by a large Soviet truck that could carry at least 40 people. Following it was a convoy of at least 4 trucks. Leading the truck convoy was a communist military Jeep. There were additional trucks in different parts of Saigon picking up more people and converging at Vũng Tàu.
There were only a few Vietnamese families among mostly Chinese people. All the Vietnamese had faked Chinese IDs. Anh Huy and Chú Thưởng Chinese last name was Huỳnh while my family Chinese last name was Lôi. We were asked to not speak because we were supposed to be Chinese. If we speak Vietnamese, we will be captured and put away in jail.
The trucks stopped at Long Thành which was halfway between Saigon and Vũng Tàu for a quick break. Chú Thưởng used the money from Bác Hoàng and bought all of his cousin’s breakfasts, lunch, and snacks and still had money left. Fully loaded with food, everyone was happy and excited to invoke into their new voyage at sea. The leftover Vietnamese money was given to our driver when we arrived at the beach.
As we approached the beach in the late afternoon, Chú Thưởng saw two ships from afar. “This is it.” Chú Thưởng thought. The ships were not huge. They were more like large fishing boats. He noticed the license plate “VT74”. Somehow, the license plate was etched in his memory. VT stood for Vũng Tàu. It was a Navy plate and not a regular license plate for a regular fishing boat like the one we were on. To ensure the boats’ clear passage through the Vietnamese border Navy security, the Việt Cộng assigned a Navy plate to our boats. The boats were not disturbed on their course out to sea.
We all waited for the evening at dusk when the beach had fewer people and traffic. There were small canoes bringing close to 600 people in multiple trips to the two fishing boats waiting for us in the distance. The trip was organized by two Chinese companies with the aid of the communist government. It was supposed to be for Chinese people only. To read more about the details of the trip, please click THE PLAN and THE JOURNEY BEGAN.
Chú Thưởng was aware that the fishing boats would not be able to take us fully to America because of the long distance. The plan was possible to land in Malaysia, Thailand, or another nearby island and then wait to be sponsored to America.