Tourist Guide

Cruises on offer

Halong Sceneries

Halong Bucht HaiLong Dschunke
Strecken Red Dragon, einzigartige Touren in Halong Bucht ...
hotel legend ninh binh
Hotel 4 étoiles au centre ville de Ninh Binh
vacances 10 jours au cambodge
Découverte de la beauté magnifique de l'Indochine avec la meilleure agence locale
Les chez l'habitant vietnam tours vous donnent des sensations agréables et confortables

We were exiles on a little boat 12

 Unfortunately, the radical self-interest that was necessary for survival among the refugees could not simply be switched off when it came time for them to band together. The richer passengers were unwilling to contribute to the $2,000 because they had lost the most during the robberies, while the poorer passengers refused to subsidise the rich. With the white beaches of liberty in sight, a general meeting of the KG-1170 was held on deck. Thiet was one of the first to speak. ‘Whoever has taken my $200, I urge you to hand it over so that we can land. I’ll give up all that I have for the sake of my wife and children. Who will do the same?’ On Son Rai Island, Thiet had taken off his pants to wash them and, fearing that his money would be soaked, took the two $100 bills from the front of his zipper. He placed the money in the lid of a drink container that he carried with him, but lost the container a day later. Thiet suspected that someone sitting nearby was the culprit, but could not be sure pirates hadn’t relieved his neighbour of the money. There was some disgruntled mumbling after Thiet’s statement, as it was clear that his pledge was insubstantial. For an infernally frustrating moment, it seemed that their pettiness would damn them.
The boat boss must have recognised this and decided to pay the entire sum from his secret reserve, hidden so carefully that even four gangs of pirates could not find it. In the face of all the setbacks, the boat boss always came through for them. So despite the overcrowding and the double-crossing at Thot Not, he was greatly respected by the passengers. Thiet had seen the boat boss only once, but knew a little about him. He had excelled as a merchant in Vietnam, organised their cavale, tamed the Vietnamese security police so that they too called him ‘boss’, fooled the pirates, and now he had pacified the Malaysians with his apparently boundless wealth. While they do not know where the boat boss resides today, Thiet and Van are certain that he prospers.
After the money had been paid, the KG-1170 was towed to a beach where its anchor was dropped for the final time. The passengers jumped down from the boat into the warm knee- high water and waded to the shore, where Malaysian soldiers were waiting. The soldiers offered to take any gold that the refugees had brought with them for ‘safe-keeping’. When very little was handed over, the boatpeople were searched, but what remained of their riches had been concealed well enough to fool such amateur crooks.
It was close to midnight when Thiet and Van carried their children to the broad white beach of that unnamed island. Tam was not far behind them, emerging famished and weak from the hold. They found a discarded pallet and collapsed upon it. It was only half the size of a bed but was their space alone; the Taj Mahal itself could not offer them any more. Thiet and Van embraced one another with their children in between them. ‘Do you know what today is?’ Van whispered to her husband. ‘It’s a very important day for the communists. It’s May Day, and yesterday was the fourth anniversary of the day that we lost the country.’
Some hours later, Van awoke to hear the waves lapping on the shore and see the moonlight bouncing off the white water. Something had set off her radar, or more precisely had gone missing from the screen. Kim had disappeared; he was separated from her for the first time since they had left Saigon. She looked down to the waves where the tide had risen, and her first frantic guess was that he had crawled away in the night and had been swallowed by the ocean. She scraped at the sand around the pallet and was about to scream when she saw him, curled up in a woollen jumper that they had pulled from the boat and left on the pallet’s edge. Kim was as safe and warm as a kitten in a blanket.
In the morning the family woke to find others leaving the beach for a derelict army barracks a few hundred metres away. Gathering their children, Thiet and Van scurried after them. A tittle later, they had claimed a thatch roof held up by four bamboo poles as their first house outside Vietnam. Once they had settled in, the refugees returned to the beach to collect their possessions from the boat. Young men waded out to the vessel and returned with bags and bundles, which were then piled on the sand. The passengers congregated at the end of this crude luggage carousel, where a crew member held up one item at a time and screamed, ‘Who owns this?’ Van saw her tote bag and pushed forward to grab what she had been certain would have been stolen. To her surprise, it still held their clothes and everything that she had brought from Saigon. Most importantly, the $100 was still woven into the handle. The remaining supplies from the KG-1170 were also retrieved and that morning they enjoyed a beachside breakfast of rice soup spiced with the prospect of liberty. As the refugees sat eating and admiring the vista, the KG-1170 was scuttled to safeguard against a Malaysian change of heart. The vessel that had delivered them from tyranny had to be destroyed, but in the minds of its final passengers it would never be forgotten.
While the family was pleased to have survived their ordeal, not everyone had made it. Besides the man who had died on board, an elderly Chinese woman, who had been robbed several times and who suffered from trauma, had passed away just before they had arrived on the island. Van was amazed that there had not been more losses. She wondered what wells of fortitude the other boatpeople had drawn upon to make it through their ordeals. When Thiet and Van had paid their money at the start of the year, they were informed that around 100 people would be going with them. At Rach Gia they were told that there would be 170, but that the boat could easily accommodate them. In the end, 507 boatpeople landed on that Malaysian island, with one body left behind in the ocean and another buried just beyond the sand.
On 3 May, a UNHCR boat came to distribute rations and tell the refugees that they would be transferred to a nearby camp. Four days later, an armada of long bark boats landed on the beach. As Van sat holding Kim, she admired for the first time the finely polished sea. With the purring of the outboard motor in the background and the midday sun warming her face, the young mother let her hand drift out of the boat and run through the water, and a wistful smile broke over her face.