introduction by u. reiterer
This is a biography about a girl I met
(really met) only once face to face. Parked on her quiet street. Check. Walked up her
quiet staircase. Check. Spoke quietly in her quiet apartment (it was so so late).
Check. Things seemed to be falling perfectly into place. I was already glad to have
met her. You see, this Miss Giang speaks English with a mild German accent though
she's neither English nor German. It's no lie. This Miss Giang spends dream days
sorting her photographs on hard-wood floors (outside the cars don't stop passing by).
This Miss Giang tells us her story like it's not hers at all...but make no mistake,
she doesn't miss a single beat.
If you're reading this, you likely know Miss Giang personally. Certainly, the odds
are that you know her much better than I do. Despite, you'll learn much more below.
After all, she wrote this for you. So eat your vegetables,
Darlings, and learn up.... I now re-introduce.... Miss.... Giang!!!!
Thank you, U. Reiterer, for such a grand intro. Too kind. Allow myself to
My name is Young (pronounced "Giang"). My "friends" call me "G", "Omi G" (because of
my conservative, nun-ish look), "you", or "hello!".
I was born on my birth-date in a far-away land, the home-country of my reluctant new
parents. They were Mom and Dad. I also have a brother, Vinh. My aunts' and uncles'
children call him cousin Vinny. We moved from our home-country to another country to
another country to another country to another country while mother stayed behind. I
will get to this later. And by "we", I meant my aunts, my brother and myself. Now my
brother is in the previous country while I am here in the current country.
The aunts with whom we left our home-country remained in the previous-previous
country. (Notice the pattern of people staying behind while sending us along.)
Let me go back and tell you a little bit about our family history and the events that
led up to the departing from our home-country:
My maternal grandfather was a
wealthy Chinese landlord. He married grandma and together, they had seven children.
The family lived comfortably and happily until the communists came and confiscated
his possessions and totured grandpa. Thereafter, he never regained his health and
died at an early age, when his children were still young. I never met grandpa.
Later, grandma re-married. My new grandfather owned the only morgue in the city and
was well-known. Together they had two more children.
On my dad's side, before the war started the family lived in poverty on the
countryside. They lived off whatever nature provided, like fish from the water and
animals in the wild. There was no electricity. Then the war came and sometimes the
communists invaded and at other times the Americans, disturbing their peaceful
existence. But my grandparents and their older children stuck around, while sending
the younger ones into the city to stay with wealthy relatives, almost as servants. My
family now had to start building trenches out of dirt. But then planes began to drop
bombs and too many things blew up, including our hut, so the whole family moved into
the city. Eventually, grandfather joined the communists and left grandma with seven
children to raise.
The war began in 1954 and ended in 1975, when the South also came under the Communist
Regime. 1975 was a pivotal year for me, both externally and internally. My dad fought
in the war and survived. He was 25 years old that year, I was three, and my little
brother was one. My parents ran a coffee shop and dad was our handy-man. One day in
1975, he was trying to fix a broken light in the shop, while mom was cooking dinner
in the house, which was next-door. Being daddy's little girl, I was on my little
tricycle, circling around my dad while he was on a ladder. Shortly after, dad got
electrocuted and fell to the ground. I went to the house and told mom (the little
smart girl that I used to be). She came out and picked him up. I don't remember if he
had already died by then or shortly after. But I do remember his Adam's apple being
black from the burn. I was too young to have been traumatized by this experience, but
then again, maybe I am just not aware of the "shock" this has done to my system.
After dad's death, we saw less of mom. My parents' teenage siblings took turns taking
care of my brother and me. As in most families, there was much tension between the
paternal side and the maternal side of the family. So, taking care of us was never
easy for any of my aunts and uncles. I don't remember much of what happened between
the years 1975 and 1978. But in 1978 my paternal grandmother decided to send her
children out of the country, perhaps to seek a better life in America, land of the
free, land of opportunities, the place where dreams come true.
There are a few obstacles to get to the other side, however. Being in a communist
country, the common person couldn't just up and leave. This must be done under the
cover of night and with much money to pay for the illegal and dangerous fare.
After the second try, my two aunts with me, made it out of the country, in a small
fisherman's boat, cramped with too many people to count.
Four days and four nights we were at sea, which was wretched and tumultuous. After
having been abused and robbed almost naked by pirates, whom I call opportunists, we
saw land. We all were sea-sick, beaten and exhausted, hungry and dehydrated. The land
we saw and arrived at was a little island. There were many others like us there,
refugees from the communist country, living there in much poverty. This was our
purgatory and one of the many refugee camps in Southeast Asia at the time. Here it
was where we awaited rescue, someone to come and offer us a better life. The only
thing we had left that the pirates missed was a one hundred U.S. dollar bill my aunt
had sewn into the collar of her shirt.
We remained in the camp for about six months. The only way for anyone to get out of
the camp was to be sponsored by an organization in a Western Country. Most of us,
naturally, wanted to be sponsored by the Americans. That's where paradise is supposed
to be. But the waiting list was too long, some stayed there for years before making
it. I was too young and my aunts feared I might get too weak and not make it at all,
and since an organization from Germany offered to sponsor us, my aunts accepted.
In 1979 we arrived in Germany, it was winter and I saw snow for the first time. How
amazingly indescribable that was, to experience a natural yet foreign phenomenon for
the very first time. Also, arriving in a new country of a completely different
culture was exciting yet intimidating at the same time.
My two aunts and I, along with a small group of other young refugees were put in an
orphanage in a very small town upon arrival. It was run by nuns, and there was strict
order. We got complete physical examinations, de-liced and whatever physical ailments
we had were all taken care of. For the first three months we had no contact with the
outside world. We had a private teacher for our daily German lessons. Besides the
language, we had to be taught everything from scratch. We also got lessons on table
manners. Even to this day, after having left Germany for 16 years, I still hold my
fork on the left and knife on the right throughout the entire meal. I never got
accustomed to eating the North American way: cutting with fork and knife, and then
setting the knife down and switching the fork to the right hand to eat. We were
taught which towel is used for what, which laundry item goes into which basket, and
how to make our beds, everyday things that Western people take for granted. I really
knew nothing. I thought that since I was in a wealthy country, those laundry baskets
were garbage baskets, and that people threw their clothes away after wearing them
About six months later some of us got moved to an orphanage in a much bigger city.
There were children from many other countries, but also some German children were
there. These were the ones whose parents were physically, emotionally, or mentally
incapable of taking care of them. The director of this place was also a nun. But
other caretakers worked there, including janitors, cooks, gardeners, people who
washed and ironed our clothes. This place was so big, there were slides besides the
stairs, so we could walk upstairs and slide down all five storeys. I have some fond
memories living there, but also some very unpleasant ones, the kind no child should
ever be subjected to. But we seemed to have survived them all.
the smile that would not
I went to elementary school from grade one to grade four here. The school was just
across the street from the orphanage. There was also a boy my age that I became
friends with. We did everything together, we were even in the same class. He was also
Vietnamese. During the early to mid 80's Kung Fu movies were very popular. And since
we were Asian, all our classmates thought we were Chinese and knew Kung Fu. We had a
good time playing along. We were much respected and feared, the leaders of the class.
Up until I was about seven or eight years old, would you believe, I did not know how
to smile. While in the orphanage, we were invited to go to Europa-Park, which is the
German equivalence of Disneyland. Once there they also filmed a television ad for, I
believe it was, creamsicles, with us in it! One would think that this would be a
paradise for a child, to be at a theme-park, eating ice-cream and that I would grin
from ear to ear. No, not me. I did not crack a smile the whole time I was there. I
remember trying very hard, but it would not and did not want to come out, the smile,
that is. I'm surprised they had a few frames of me in the commercial. This child, on
a theme-park ride, eating ice-cream, looking as serious as though it was being
punished. 'Smile, child, smile!', they all would say. 'I AM smiling!', I would reply
in my head. I wonder if the sales for those creamsicles went up that year. We all
were delighted to see ourselves on national television for a few seconds.
Ah, every child must have gone through this, our famous home-haircuts -- practical
yet trendy because all our friends' parents had the same idea for us. So the trend
was, spare at all expense and keep that hair out of their faces! 1987 was one of
those years. My aunt accidentally cut too much of my hair off that it became a
brush-cut. This year my first bicycle was also stolen. And since I was living in
Germany at the time, Ordnung must be, so I went to the police to report this
incident. With much embarassment the officer had to ask me whether I was a boy or a
girl. At that point I no longer cared if I got my bike back. 'I am a boy!', was the
only thought that was occupying my little head, which was now covered with a
the nomadic teen
I suppose my early teenage years were somewhat normal. From grade five to grade eight
I attended the Goethe Gymnasium in Emmendingen. We left the orphanage after I
finished grade four and moved there. I was the only Asian kid in the whole entire
school. All my friends were German and so I thought I was also one of them and could
not understand why the other kids teased me about being different. I only realized I
was different when I looked in the mirror.
My aunt taught me to be very studious at school and would only allow me to play after
I had finished my homework. In addition to catching up with the German kids in their
language, learning English and Latin, which I was poorly at until I reached
university, I also had to learn Vietnamese. It was no fun studying all the time, but
now I am grateful to my aunt that she made me learn my mother-tongue.
After finishing grade eight grandma decided my brother and I would have a better
future if we moved to California. So we did. We went there to visit my oldest aunt
and stayed there for two years. We continued highschool there. After two years, we
moved to Texas to stay with another aunt, on my mom's side, but after four days all
of us had to drive for about two days to get to Canada to attend the funeral of an
uncle that had died in a car crash, at the age of 35. My aunt was left with four
young children to raise. This is a tragic trend in our family, with the husband dying
and leaving the wife with many children to raise.
Being a bit older, I was 18 and my brother 16, we stayed in Canada to help out. We
had no proper documents to stay in the country. But we somehow managed to work in
restaurants and bars and continued highschool.
About a year later issues arose and my brother was sent back to the States, also
illegally, while I stayed with my aunt in Canada.
Another year went by and I finished grade 12. I decided that this little cold place
in the middle of nowhere was not the place I wanted to spend the rest of my life, so
I up and left. I wanted to go back to the States to be with my brother, but got
caught at the border and was sent back to Canada. So I went back to my aunt. After a
few months I decided to leave again and caught a ride with an acquaintance to the
other end of the province, an 18-hour ride. I really did not know what I was doing
there in a new city in a foreign country, illegally, away from family and friends. I
Having been brought up somewhat Catholic I have always believed in God. So I turned
to Him as the only friend and comfort I had. Then the acquaintance introduced me to a
very kind family and they took me in and treated me as their own. I lived with them
off and on for about eight years, finished grade 13 and on to university.
While in highschool I read a book that stuck with me for the rest of my life. The
book was East of Eden by Steinbeck. It made me think about life and its
purpose, society and people, God, and what all of it meant. Is life meant to be this
difficult? Are we only allowed to have sporadic moments of happiness while most of it
is filled with problems, pain, anxiety and emptiness? There must be an answer to all
Steinbeck turned my attention to the Bible and the difference it makes in the way
people interpret it. The question raised was: Are we doomed or do we have a choice?
So the word throughout the book was 'timshel', which means 'Thou mayest'. This
implies that if you may then you also may not, hence a choice.
To skip ahead for now, I decided that being Catholic was not for me even though my
believe in God was still strong. I saw too many hypocrisies. And neither did Buddhism
satisfy my thirst. So I went on a search for an answer, the Truth. And believe it or
not, but I found it.
*** note ***
Some crucial details have been omitted due to respect for privacy and in
discretion of past moral obliquity.