Thursday, 28 February 2013

New beginnings - a refugee story

This story was dictated by my mother. From staying with her these last 10 days I was able to sit down with her for hours and finally hear the whole of her story for the first time. It is not an easy story and not light reading. Come prepared with an open mind and heart. It has been wonderful to share this with her.
Mum when she was about 12 years old.
I was born and grew up in Vietnam. My life was very simple. I went to school and then university from hence I became a teacher at a high school and married a colleague in 1977. I was a Vietnamese teacher and he was a French teacher. That was two years after the North Vietnamese communist regime invaded South Vietnam. We could not live with the new regime and decided to flee the country. 

The plan was to boat across the pacific ocean to Malaysia where we could get immigration papers. In 1979 we commenced our journey with some relatives. We had no children at this point. This journey was both dangerous and illegal and there was the ever present fear of capture and imprisonment. We gathered what we could carry, I had some gold imbedded in my shoes. However, it ended in severe disappointment. Two days into the trip there was some very strong winds and we feared for our safety. At that point my sister in-law who was with us on the boat had given birth.

Once we berthed there were police on shore waiting for us. Those that were tired (or had just given birth) were captured. My husband and I ran off the boat, we didn't know where we were but we knew we had to run. A young man saw us and offered us a hiding place. He was a bee keeper. He hid us in a bush to await nightfall where he then lead us for hours to his home. It was a long distance and I could no longer go further, drained. My husband carried me on his back when I couldn't continue. The young man offered to hold my bag with my belongings and gold filled shoes. We were offered a meal and were soon off on a bus back home. My shoes were gone at this stage.

Our abandoned identification papers were found by the police and the high school that we worked for were informed that we had made an attempt to leave the country and were dead. I no longer was able to go back to my teaching job. We focused all our time, energy and money on leaving the country. We moved to a rural area where I sold a small amount of fabric in a stall. This work provided little money so I then set up an ice cream store. All this we did for money and we bought an old boat, that my husband fixed up so we could leave.

But luck was not on our side. On a trial run of the boat, police stumbled upon my husband and went to investigate. Why did the boat have such a large motor? Why was there a spare motor on the boat? Suspicions were high. Everything was denied. I gave him some gold to buy petrol for the engine which was very expensive at the time that was hidden in a cigarette packet. My husband was checked and nothing suspicious was found so they were to let him go. He asked for his cigarettes back and the policeman picked it up to give back to him. The packet was heavy. The gold was found. My husband was jailed but due to some friends and luck, he was released after 40 days.

I gave birth to my first daughter and a month afterwards another plan was made to go. However I became very sick and we could not go. My cousin's son and his wife had boarded that boat, there were many onboard. I was devastated that I couldn't board this boat but as fate turned out, it was a decision that saved my life . That boat was  attacked by Thai pirates. All the women were taken and presumed dead. My cousin's son who tried to save his wife was thrown overboard but he survived by clinging onto the anchor of the captured boat. Once the pirates left he climbed back onto the boat and the continued to Thailand, with only his two sons.

Many years past, and ten attempts were made and failed. In 1985 I had a second girl. The chances of a family of four leaving the country were slim as people were unwilling to take on children that would cry and hence attract attention. The trials were not over yet, by far. The worst was still to come, 1986 was a terrible time for me that would I would rather forget. Even remembering it now brings out the fear so very vivid in my mind.

We were placed on a boat that would take us out to the beach where we were to be transferred to the main boat that would take us to other country. The water was choppy and the two boats were only adjoined temporarily. We would have to make a leap of faith to the other boat. There were 120 people cramming to jump to the other boat. I had a 7 month old I was cradling in my arms. I was terrified. I screamed for people not to crush my child.

The boat was overloaded. The maximum capacity was for 30 people and it was holding four times that amount. The greed of the operators meant we were slow and going nowhere. We were then captured by the police. The men and women/children were separated and we were imprisoned. My children and I were locked in a cell with a hundred strangers. My children went no where without me. We moved as one unit. 

My oldest child's head had a massive abscess and her mouth was all swollen and she couldn't eat. After a few weeks she was permitted to leave but I was terrified to let her go as the officer did not tell me who had come to collect her but I had to let her go, because the conditions were so poor. Luckily it was a family friend who had come to collect her. I was ill from the poor hygiene standards myself and a week later I was free to go with my second child however it was the evening and no cars were driving by and we sat in the cold and dark til the morning until we could buy a bus ticket home. My husband was in jail for 9 months and I visited him weekly bringing food. 

Such misfortune, loss of health and faith meant that another year passed before we tried leaving again. At the end of 1987 we were finally successful.  We travelled for  three days, my children were constantly drenched by the ocean spray and it was difficult. We reached a beach and I listened closely for what language they were speaking on this land. I was hoping it wasn't Vietnamese and my hopes were fulfilled, it was a foreign tongue (Malaysian). I thought I was dreaming, I could not believe we had finally made it after so much.

We were sent to a refugee camp in Bidong Island where we stayed for a month. In these times, processing was quick and the whole family was able to be go to Australia. I am so grateful that the Australian Government had given us this opportunity to build ourselves a new life. Such a country it is to help not only its own but others in need. In Vietnam, it's own countrymen suffer from poverty and lack of healthcare, there is no help.
At Kuala Lumpar waiting for transport to Australia

Me - stylin' at 2 years old

Dad, mom and me and the refugee camp.

It was the 1st of September 1988 that we boarded a plane and entered the country we were now to call home. My oldest child was 5, my younger only 2 1/2 years old. And from all this, I know that my children's future is assured. They have an education, they have choices. They are confident in their future. My story ends happily.

At our first home in Australia, a sort of halfway house.

Our first Aussie outing to the Opera house.

Me and my mum. Chillaxing.

Me and my new brother born in 1994.

My older sister Lynda (left) and I (right) with our fav toys.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

One week til RTW trip

The countdown is truly on, the going away parties have been thrown and the the goodbyes continue to flow through.  As the title suggests we have exactly 7 days before we board a plane for Rio, Brazil and I know in my heart I should be excited and yet I'm too nervous at this point.  I must admit, I'm feeling a bit displaced. I am currently in limbo, neither here nor there. In the calm of last month I was daydreaming about leaving work, boarding that plane and not looking back. Now, all these things are ACTUALLY about  to happen, in quick succession and I appear unable to process it just yet.

Last week we had the onerous task of packing the remainder of our worldy goods in boxes, cleaning up the apartment ready for inspection and moving the whole lot across Sydney back to the hood ie. my parents place. Who knew that after 10 months of selling things (and making $8000 in the process) we would still be able to (over)fill a whole ute with stuff. I was appalled. Most of it my mum will inherit, she loves free stuff.

The de-cluttering.

I'm focusing on sorting this stuff out to try to calm down the unease in my belly. I'm worried about all the things I will forget to do before I board that plane. I've made a list of things to do and honestly, it's quite a small list of things that can be done quickly. My anxiety is based on nothing, yet it is present all the same. Maybe it's pre-nerve trips. Maybe Kevin should buy me a pair of socks for 'cold feet'.It's like taking a deep breath before you jump off the platform at the diving pool. I'll take seven deep breaths, one for every day and then...

Sunday, 17 February 2013

How To Throw a Hipster Party

So apparently I'm a wannabe hipster. I wasn't unemployed enough to warrant being an actual hipster but I think all that terrarium making fueled suspicions around my workplace. So in honour of my leaving last week I was thrown a hipsterific going away party. If you are wondering what being a hipster actually entails then I point you towards this very apt youtube video HERE.

So out came the bows, beanies, lenseless glasses, tight coloured jeans and nonchalant facial expressions. Here are some of the awesome costumes that were rocked that night (I was just wearing my normal clothes though, it was fitting).

And where do hipsters like to hang out in Sydney besides their friend's underground art space/music (mostly synth) studio? El Loco in Surry Hills of course. We had to get there at the unfashionably early time of 4pm just so we can nabs a table as it gets crazy busy around 7pm.  Afterwards we walked down to Darlinghurst to a little bar called 'Shady Pines' that's so cool its in a back alley with no signage yet always has a line of people dressed in patterned woolen jumpers and 'vintage' handbags. Go down a dark staircase to an almost equally dimly lit room and order yourself an apple martini. Likely made by a slim, tall guy with well slicked hair. They use a fresh juicer for their cocktails. Yum. Plus free peanuts. Did I mention the lack of sitting space and abundance of loitering hipsters? Yep we were in the right spot.

Bondi Hipsters doing their thang.
And how do you end a hiptacular outing. By finding out on facebook that Dom amd Adrian  (who make THIS hilarious youtube videos about, yep you guessed it, Bondi hipsters) were doing a DJ gig at Fringe bar in Paddington. They rapped, they DJ'd, they had facial hair and it was totes underground. It ended on a high note with us chanting 'You know me, I'm on the 333. Bondi to Circular Quay' (even though I catch the 339 from Clovelly). I guess I'm not a real hipster after all. But to make up for it, at least I'm blogging about it.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

My love

Love is a many splendored thing,
Love lifts us up where we belong,
All you need is love.

Behind the consumerism and expectations, Valentine's day has a lovely sentiment. To remind people to celebrate the love they have. The lucky ones already do that on a daily basis however. Whispered I love you's in the dark, heartwarming smiles in the morning and cheeky goodbye pats on the bum. Anyone who knows Kevin knows that he is an amazing person. Always kind and trying to bring out the best in others without expecting anyting in return. People and animals alike can't help but be drawn in by his open spirit.

Two weeks until our grand trip starts and I couldn't imagine doing this with anyone else. In fact, I'm looking forward to being able to spend so much more time with him without the usual interruptions of work and chores. When you think about it, this is a massive commitment. We will be together pretty much 24/7 and its not going to be all rainbows and unicorns but I know from the past 9 years together that adversity only makes us stronger.

The open road lies ahead. I feel like Dorothy in the wizard of Oz (does that make Kevin Toto?). There's a wonderful, winding path that leads to all our dreams and we just have to take that first step.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Dear Friends


Dear Friends,
Sorry I'm leaving you all. It won't be for long and I'll think of you at least daily. On a rotational basis. But seriously, life will be hard without you. So let me address you all so I have a place to remember each one of you:

Connie - our Laos lunches will be sorely missed. Ox tongue, paw paw salad and a sticky rice for $20, may it never change. It feels like we've known each other for so long (thats probably because we have!) and there's never an awkward silence between us. Only funny jokes about work and sharing plans for the future. I hope you work less in the future and that no one defiles your poor car further. I hope you dress the future Connie junior in bear and sushi costumes and I will be cooing at him/her from afar. I'm sure he/she will be adorable.

Phil - I'm so sorry for us to be leaving when you're just starting the hardest part of your journey but we're only a skype call away. You're always telling me something new about life and how things work, one of the most intelligent people I know. There's never a dull moment when you're around, there's a spark that's in you always. Kevin and I have so much love for you and I hope you remember that when things are tough.

Chris - I'll miss your awesome frisbee - Aerobe. And your jokes. And hanging out at your new pad. I wished we spent more time there. Life got that much better when you joined us in the city and you know that our door is always open to you, day or night because you're such a calming, joyful presence.

Tina - Always a source of artitistic inspiration, everytime I get a chance to hang out with you, I always leave with a smile on my face and a head full of ideas. You were the one to suggest I think about making terrarium necklaces out of small vials so I thank you a million times over. Also, having a meal with you is never bad because you always know the yummiest places to go. Please keep me up to date with your new creations. 

Mikki and Nancy, since you're off on your own adventures then there's not much to say except au revoir! We will reconvene shortly somewhere in Europe. 

And all my other lovely friends here, I wish you nothing but joy and please keep me updated with all of your own adventures!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Work Aint So Bad With People Like These

I've been lucky in that I've met so many lovely people through my past and present workplaces. Sure every place has their resident douche bag but if you have some really awesome people as well then it's worth staying for. This  post can be considerd a 'flashback' episode of our hypothetical show 'Scruffs' (like Scrubs but with animals).The top ten most memorable moments are:
1. Michael getting squirted right in the mouth  with anal gland juice.
2. Me climbing into the cat max, getting stuck, so instead of helping me the nurses proceeded to spray my crotch with water until I figured out you can open the catmax from the inside too.
3. Make your own fascinator competition on Melbourne cup day where Neshette was judging and wrote the name of the winner in black marker on the thinnest bit of paper then trying to make it suspenseful even though we could all see the winner.

4. Us hiding all out in front of the reception desk and turning off the lights so when Sarah comes back from her holiday she'd get all confused. Ten minutes of hiding and we realised she didn't have her keys and we'd have to let her in.
5. Pretending to give birth to Amelie by tucking her under my long green drape and having her leap out under it.
6. Michael driving so badly that he knocked over the large garbage bin at the end of the laneway at work then saying he did it because he was speeding up to beat an oncoming car.
7. Sarah dropping a pen down Neshette's bum crack and Neshette got so mad she locked Sarah in the laundry and everyone was too scared to let her out for awhile. 
8. Neshette giving me her old roller skates where I proceeded to roller skate all around the clinic for the whole day til Michael to me to stop.
9. When EVERYONE fell of that crappy office work chair.
10. Sarah: 'I make make triple less than my boyfriend'
Toni: 'You mean one third?' 
Sarah: 'Some people might say that'.

And just the joy of every day things - our random dance off's, breaking into song in the middle of surgery, the awesome jokes we crack, the yummy trips for passionfruit meringue tarts, thai and japanese. I've laughed til I've cried and you guys have taught me to be a stronger person which I thank you for. I love you guys and I know that even though we're such different people we're great friends outside of work as well.

P.S. More stories have now come out of the woodwork:
11. A client thinking I was Sarah on the phone, after I booked an appointment I then said 'Love you' (meaning to actually say 'lovely')... 'Did you just say you loved me?'. Awkward pause...'Ignore that, it's been a long day'.
12. Pranking Michael by placing clear sticky tape across the door so when he'd walk through he'd get stuck. We over did it and it didn't work. Boo.
13. Calling up other clinics to check out their heartworm protocol but putting on fake accents and trying to be as real (and hence annoying) as possible.
14. When we FINALLY got a second phone line, unfortunately it was the old number of a charming place in Redfern called 'Girls Galore'. There were a couple of suspicious hang ups from that line after that.
It's the pussy peephole, yep, I went there.