this is my story

written in 2004

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!!!!


the beginning


Thank you, U. Reiterer, for such a grand intro. Too kind. Allow myself to introduce...mmmyself:
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.)

grandparents

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.

parents

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.

leaving nam

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.

the orphanage

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 once.

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.

the brush-cut

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 brush-cut.

the nomadic teen years

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 was lost.

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 of this.

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.