Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Boat People

I went and had a pedicure the other day. Don't get the wrong idea, I have had exactly three pedicures in my whole life. I like them, it's just I don't care about my toes that much. I'm not very detailed orientated, so if I'm going to get "work" done, my eyebrows usually take priority. Our friend Cindee was visiting from California. We stopped by Industry Tattoo to see if Nick could throw a couple of Daisies on our necks. They were booked  so we ended up next door getting pedicures.....Cindee's treat. :)

 We were happy to find out that we were the VERY first customers. I was secretly envious Cindee was first. I love being the First at things. Instead I was third. Autumn was before me too. There was one lady working. We told her we were not in a hurry. I was just happy to sit there and chat. I realized I had parked in the ten minute parking spot so I hopped out of the chair, dried my feet and ran outside to move the van. When I came back in there was a guy waiting there to do my pedicure. His name was Dave.

We all had fun talking. Both of the employees were from Vietnam. Usually I sit in those places and I wonder what they are saying about me. I just know they are making fun of my outfit, or my eyebrows...haha. But Dave refused to leave us in the dark. Every time they would speak Vietnamese he would translate for us. I just knew she was telling him my laugh was loud and annoying, but what she really said was
"The new brushes were in the back room. "
We found out that she had come to America alone at age 12 and had married at 16. Dave looked at her and asked her if she was a Boat Person. She said "No." I asked what a "Boat Person" was. He looked at me sideways and said....

"Google it."

I asked him to please, please tell me what they were. My toes faded into the background as he began his story. I was leaning forward so I wouldn't miss a word of it. He told me that in the 80's Vietnam was not an easy place to live. He said people couldn't do business and were starving. He asked me if I knew what the word "Embargo" meant. I nodded slightly, hoping he wouldn't ask for an exact definition. I told him my Dad fought in the war and still struggled because of it. He looked me right in the eye. He told me to NEVER EVER ask my Dad about things. He told me to just let him be.

He said thousands of people tried to escape by boat to the United States. He said he lived in the city. He had never been near the water. But had tried and tried to escape. After twelve times he got caught and put in prison for one year at the tender age of fourteen. He had determination. On his thirteenth try, he made it out.

I wanted to grab his shoulders and yell, "Tell me more!" He looked at me very serious and said,

"My story would amaze you."

Well! That was too much. Cough it up, I told him. He joked and said I would have to come back to hear the rest. I told him I would get a whole set of fake nails if that is what it would take. Cindee explained to him that I liked to write and a good story was too much for me to bear. He put my right foot up on the towel and started on my left. I hate my toes. They aren't cute. I apologized for that fact. And for the fact that my legs were hairy. I didn't shave that morning. I didn't know I was going to get a pedicure. He waved me off. I guess he had seen a lot. And my ugly toes and hairy legs didn't phase him in the least.
This man had really lived......

He talked quietly.... When he got on the boat there was a mean man sitting there. He took every one's food and water before they stepped aboard. This boat wasn't made of steel. It was a canoe. A canoe built for 70. But there were 141 people in it. He was alone. No family. No friends. Just a fourteen year old boy, about the face the whole ocean by himself. That's how bad it was in Vietnam, he said. And thousands upon thousands perished trying to reach our shore. He told us about one woman who was a sole survivor in her boat. They found her barely alive, floating on a piece of wood with the leg of a man next to had sustained her long enough for them to rescue her....55 days.  But they sent her back, afraid she would want to continue to eat people....after all of that.

It took his boat six days to cross the ocean. He pointed out how lucky he was it didn't take longer. Or that they didn't get lost. He looked at Autumn and told her to imagine the scariest movie she has ever seen. Then take that feeling in her stomach and times it by 100. He said the water was BLACK it was so deep. Then his eyes widened and he asked her if she had ever seen a fish FLY??!! He said it was just wrong. Fish shouldn't fly!!! And when the sun went down it was terrible. It was so dark. It seemed like forever before the sun came back.

Throughout his story I kept asking him the same question over and over.


But he wouldn't answer me. He just wouldn't. I told him I was so angry they took his water bottle. Cindee reminded me there were no water bottles back then. I then asked him if it was TORTURE being surrounded by water and not able to drink. I asked him if he found water the second he hit land. I posed the question about his thirst in every possible way I could think of.
No answer. He wouldn't go there.

He finished my pedicure with my promise of two things.
1) I would read about the Boat People.
2) I would come again.

Yes and Yes! If Dave risked his life crossing that ocean, the least I could do is allow him to paint my nails. In fact, I felt honored.

 I now look down at my toes and do not lament their lack of cuteness. I don't admire the nice color of polish I chose.

I think of my son Beau. I imagine taking him to Bellingham Bay and putting him in a rugged canoe. I imagine taking all of his food and water and pushing him into the current. Praying he finds his way to the other side. What would the chances be that he would survive, and what would he have to face either way? How could things be that bad that someone would risk that? What kind of strength did it take to endure that?

I don't know...but I admire the Boat People. I am sad for those that didn't make it. I am thankful for those that did.

And as for flying fish....I hope I never have to witness that one.


  1. Amazing blog babe! You are an awesome writer...

  2. Wow! Amazing story....and you tell it so well!!!!

  3. Wow...thank you so much for sharing that man's story! You wrote it with such emotion I felt like I was sitting right there with you while he told it. I'm off to Google more info about 'the Boat People' (I'm a bit of a research freak lol).

  4. Yeah, I'll be googling, too. People are amazing.

  5. Hey there, I was your waitress last night. I got on my computer today and I just had to check out your blog (hoping to see Onion Rings from Jake's of course) and this story caught my attention. What a cool story. And I even learned about something I had no idea even happened. I have realized lately that there is a lot of American history, as well as history about many other countries that I do not know about and I wish I did. Thank you for sharing this story with everyone, and thank you for inviting me to view your blog. I will keep checking in... (:

  6. When I was in 4th grade, we had to boys come join our class, their names were "Too" and "Hi" and they were boat people. We were told about them before they joined us and I vividly remember the teacher explaining that these poor boys were cousins and their parents had given all their money to get them a place on an over crowded boat and sent them to america all by themselves! We were all stunned. They were the nicest boys. And they were incredible at jumprope! They could jump almost as high as were were tall, course we were short at the time! But we learned quite a bit about boat people that year. Your story brought back a lot of memories.