Bye Bye Vietnam- Longest 17 days of my life
30th of April 1975 marked the fall of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) to the Communist North. As a part of the ‘transition’ they seized what property my father had. In 1978, wanting a better future for our family, my parents decided to leave Vietnam. At the time, our family consisted of my parents, two younger brothers, myself and three elder half-brothers. Fortunate for us, my father had a dual Vietnamese-Taiwanese passport due to previously studying in Taiwan and subsequently having business dealings there. It was only for that reason that the Taiwanese government granted us a visa. This would be en important episode in the Wong and Yeow Family history.
Going to Taiwan was only the first step towards the vision that my parents had for us all. The intended final destination was always going to be Australia. As such, we only stayed in Taiwan for a short period, having arrived from Vietnam in July 1978 and departing on a rickety 18 metre boat in February of 1979. Apparently, my Dad ‘knew’ a guy.
It was a scary journey. There were many nights, when the seas were particularly rough, where we thought we weren’t going to make it. On those nights, we would be inside the ‘cabin’, with many of the other 180 people on board. My mother would be carrying my youngest brother, Sean, with me and Tristan on either side of her. Unsurprising, during the boat ride, I threw up a lot.
Facilities on the boat were as functional as one could expect under the circumstances. The most utilised ‘feature’ was the long drop toilet at the back of the boat, just a hole leading straight into the sea.
We were very fortunate having food for all of our journey. However, there was not a lot of variety. In fact none. The order of every meal every day was what we call ‘Chok’ in Cantonese (also known as Congee) with bits of Chinese sausage. Similar to chicken soup, congee is the traditional Chinese go-to comfort food. For those who are not familiar with it, it’s simply rice cooked in excess liquid, be it water or some type of broth. Nowadays, I make this for my kids whenever they are unwell but often I would also make it for dinner and something else for myself. My mind still links this meal to memories of the trip. Memorable meal for the Yeow Family.
After spending a very long 17 days floating around in the ocean, we eventually arrived on the shores of Darwin on April 9 1979. For months after our arrival, we experienced life in a detention centre. From my recollection, we were treated reasonably well. I don’t quite remember how but even under detention, we were able to experience a variety of food was in stark contrast to what we’d experienced on the boat. Mudcrab and all manner of other seafood available at our doorstep. In our minds, we’d truly arrived in Paradise. This would be en important episode in the Wong and Yeow Family history also.
Header image – A boat similar to the boat that brought us to Australia
Top left – Our family in Vietnam
Bottom right – Our family soon after we arrived in Adelaide