(I told my father about the AMA process, and he was interested in getting his story out about his escape after the Vietnam War. I hope you all enjoy his story as much as I do, and please ask away! He loves to talk about it. He would like to keep his privacy, so if the mods could tell me how to get proof, that would be great!)

My name is Si and I'm a former Vietnamese refugee. The media referred to us as the boat people. I lived in Saigon (now called Ho Chi Minh City) for the majority of my life. During the war, I thought my life was over. The future that I had planned was shattered, as I was only 25 years of age. After Saigon fell, I thought seriously about escaping Vietnam. After one year, my wife, who was only 19, and I (31) decided to escape after midnight with a group of others on a small boat.

We decided to plot course south to Malaysia. After only one day, our motor died. We had very little water, and our rations of food only lasted us a few days. We ended up resorting to rowing. After only a week, we started to feel defeated, as we accepted our fate to die at that moment. One man jumped overboard during our travels. Despite this mentality, we kept on rowing. I told my wife to sit close to me, and to not move, as to not waste energy. There was a mirror in the lower deck, and when we looked at our faces, we could barely recognize ourselves after the second week. It was after 17 days did we finally see an offshore oil company off the coast of Malaysia. They took us in and we were stationed there for approximately 9 months before getting word that a sponsor were able to ship us over to the USA. When we arrived on US soil, we had nothing but our clothes and few belongings. We didn't even have a penny coming in.

We now live in a very comfortable suburban city in Michigan. We truly lived the American dream. In 2008, I wrote a book called "17 Days Across the Pacific Ocean." I would like to one day translate this to English for others to enjoy, however, the cost of translating from Vietnamese to English is too high!

EDIT: We will be here on and off until about 9 PM!

EDIT 2: Thank you everyone for the questions! My father is now going to bed. He will tackle the last three questions tomorrow morning. He is overjoyed to get his story out to others.

Comments: 77 • Responses: 25  • Date: 

iwanttofork12 karma

Are you able to visit Vietnam or are you permanently banned?

ShinyBlueUnicorn14 karma

I have gone back multiple times. I went back this past winter, and I plan to visit again for a 6-month trip in 2014 to visit family and take photographs of North and South Vietnam. My land is beautiful, and I want to make sure i get photographs of it.

cracka_azz_cracka7 karma

You have an amazing story.

  • How does the US compare to what you'd imagined before settling here?
  • What are your thoughts on Vietnam now?

ShinyBlueUnicorn14 karma

  1. In Vietnam, I actually worked for the US for three years. I worked for the US Army and government, which is a large reason why I was granted a chance here in the US. I worked the supply rooms to make sure everything was in place and stocked well. I had a chance to speak with some US government officials, and had access to their print, magazines, and books. I knew from that point on that the US was the best, and others thought the same. Initially, I believed the US represented absolute freedom, the American dream, and I still believe that now.

  2. The economy is still growing. However, the government steals money and bribes are still a huge problem, and human rights are still being debated to this day. At this point, there are only two levels of wealth; either you're very poor or very rich. We're progressing, but lots of work needs to be done to fix our country. Either way, I love my country, and like many other Vietnamese people, we are proud to be who we are.

boo_beary5 karma

Couple of questions:

1) After coming to the U.S., what was the most difficult part of your journey?

2) In your opinion what is the best thing about the U.S. that other Americans who haven't had experiences like yours might take for granted?

ShinyBlueUnicorn7 karma

1) It was very lonely. It took us a lot effort to get used to the new land. Freedom is key. It was a struggle up until 1984 did we land the first big step. There was an ad in the paper offering a designer/artist position at General Motors in Detroit, and I got the job. It was then did our dreams come true. I've worked there for 26 years, and I am now retired. I am very happy with the security pension I've received from GM.

2) If you work hard, you will get somewhere. People in Vietnam cannot say the same thing. It's easy to go through life without challenging yourself in this country.

bunnytrox4 karma

Did you know anyone who supported north Vietnam? Or did you know anyone who worked with the VC to turn south Vietnam communist?

ShinyBlueUnicorn6 karma

This is a very complicated question. It was a large war. Lots of people from the North sent people to the South to spy, and South to North. It was difficult to decide between either side, and was tough to trust even your friends at the time. People and my friends at the time did not know who to support or who to fight for. It was a mess. Personally, I do not lean on either side. I do not lean on the side of communism or freedom. I identify myself as a Vietnamese person.

AsianAnnie4 karma

Is your last name Nguyen? That's mine! My family came to the US in 1993, but we were able to travel by plane. My dad was in the Vietnamese military, got captured, and put in a concentration camp. He doesn't really talk about it though, so I'm glad you are so willing to talk about your experiences!

ShinyBlueUnicorn4 karma

Thank you! I have not experienced the war first-hand, so I do not know how it feels to be in combat. I know many people who were scared, confused, and uneducated on the war. Your father is very brave and I thank him for his service. My father was Chinese, so I actually have a Chinese last name. However, my wife and my daughters have Nguyen as middle names.

Kayvinh4 karma

Hey, my dad escaped the Vietnam War on a boat too! My dad and his siblings, and his wife. They escaped on a large boat with a bunch of other people. A lot of people died of starvation and dehydration. Tons of dead bodies on the boats. My mom said they threw a bunch of people off. While my dad was passed out(everyone thought he was dead) they attempted to throw him off the boat too, but my mom pleaded so they kept him on. I wonder how many of those people they threw off that were actually dead.

ShinyBlueUnicorn2 karma

Thank you for your story. We feel fortunate that we did not lose anyone from starvation or thirst. I'm glad your family stayed together during these times.

sifulicious4 karma

And just to make your dad laugh: What are the benefits of me, a non-Vietnamese, dating a Vietnamese girl?

(I'm not racist, and I have many awesome Vietnamese friends. Just want to see his answer since he's obviously a proud man). Thanks!

ShinyBlueUnicorn6 karma

His answer was 'Fine!'

My father did laugh at your question :)!

My father initially wished for his two daughters to marry Vietnamese boys. They both ended up marrying white men. He prefers for me to marry a Vietnamese girl, but I know the chances of that happening are very slim! From what I've seen, Vietnamese girls don't often date Asian men, which is slightly depressing, but hey, more for you!

chicken_ear4 karma

What kind challenges did you face upon settling in the US, and what were some ways you were supported? I've often found that immigrants who are supported in a way to help them succeed in the US are some of the most patriotic Americans. My parents are Hmong refugees from Laos. I've been playing around with the idea of writing a graphic novel about their experiences. Thanks for sharing, and good ups to your son for engaging you in this conversation.

ShinyBlueUnicorn8 karma

Sponsors helped us a lot. The sponsors knew that I was a good artist, and helped me seek out a job doing that. The car industry in Michigan was still strong during this time, so I was able to get a job at General Motors as a designer. The sponsors also helped us with rent, utilities, and food for the first few months. It really helped.

I do not know any Hmong people, but I know they are very strong people. I'm glad many were successful. Thank you.

OnlyAtWork3 karma

Your story sounds like what my father and I did to come to the US. But we stopped in Singapore instead of Malaysia and settled in California after living in Connecticut.

ShinyBlueUnicorn3 karma

That is great to hear. I hope you and your family are doing well. I know many others who have similar stories.

mistaaT3 karma


I love Vietnamese food and want to expand beyond Pho, Bun, Banh Mi and Spring Rolls.

Any suggestions?

ShinyBlueUnicorn7 karma

What you named are the three most popular foods in Vietnam. If you like shrimp, Banh Xeo (called Happy Pancakes in the US) is very good. You usually dip it in fish sauce! Canh Chua is also a very popular bowl of soup. Sour, but very good! Thit Kho is my personal favorite. It has pork and hard-boiled eggs. It's great when served with white rice. If you haven't tried fish sauce, I recommend it. Everything tastes great with a little fish sauce. If you have a chance to go to Orange County, California, there is a large Vietnamese community called Little Saigon. There, you can find dishes that are very similar to what you find in Vietnam. There are also a few good places in San Jose.

Scriptkitties3 karma

Being in Vietnam, how did you feel about the government under Ngo Dinh Diem "hating" Buddhists and the Buddhist crisis? I found this the most intriguing thing about the war.

ShinyBlueUnicorn4 karma

Based on the history books, editors of writers, and myself. President Diem was Catholic. His brother, Ngo Dinh Thuc, was the Cathloic priest at the time. 90% of Vietnamese people were Buddhist. Diem wanted to promote Catholicism, and it was very limited in our country. Since he tried to change the beliefs of the Vietnamese, problems arose. I am Buddhist, although my wife is Catholic, but we are still living peacefully together despite the conflict that arose from it.

sifulicious3 karma

How did you manage to work your way around jobs and eventually make a living for yourself? Living in the US isn't cheap, and it takes a lot to start from nothing.

And as a follow-up question, what do you encourage others to have (whether it's a mindset, attitude, or way of networking) to live their own dream?

ShinyBlueUnicorn7 karma

Fortunately, I was an artist. I did not need a formal education to get a job. I just needed to showcase my skills. My wife worked as a seamstress for wedding gowns and dresses, and she still does! It took me a couple years to land a job that would help us live though. We didn't even have enough money to feed our cat proper cat food! I had to learn how to manage money as well.

It's very simple. Just keep working. Be active and always keep an open mind for new things. That's key.

crmh3 karma

Were you welcomed in Malaysia when you arrived? Did you have enough provisions while rowing there?

ShinyBlueUnicorn5 karma

Yes. Malaysia welcomed us with open arms. Not only did Malaysia sponsor refugees, but many other countries offered their services as well. We were without food and fresh water for 15 of the 17 days out at sea.

packetOFfries3 karma

Does your father speak English?

ShinyBlueUnicorn3 karma

Yes, he does! He speaks English like a well-versed foreigner.

Chitown-232 karma

Did you fight in the war? You mentioned a man jumping out to sea, did you personally know this man? Cool AMA though. Interesting to see the point of view of a Vietnamese native.

ShinyBlueUnicorn6 karma

No, I did not fight in the war. The man who jumped into the sea; I knew him as a 17 year old fisherman. He was uneducated. He wasn't a friend or anything, just a person who happened to be on the boat with us.

fatassmotherfucker2 karma

Any disastrous weather situations?

By the way, I respect your courage greatly. I just watched the movie Life of Pi last night, and now I'm terrified of being bound to the middle of the ocean in any way.

ShinyBlueUnicorn2 karma

I have always told people that if I were to die, it would be from a big wave. Seeing waves crashing down over the sunset is beautiful. It is terrifying and magnificent at the same time. Other than a few encounters with some large waves and very hot weather, there weren't any huge storms.

kites472 karma

What do you do now?

ShinyBlueUnicorn3 karma

I have traveled back and forth to Vietnam several times since my retirement. When I am in US, I stay at home. I am currently working on building a room for my wife and I in Vietnam to live in after my last child graduates from the university. My wife does not like the idea. I am also an artist, so I draw and do photography in my free time.

Smiley_Pete2 karma

Do you keep in touch with any family in Vietnam? How did they fare in the years following the end of the war?

ShinyBlueUnicorn3 karma

I was the first of my family to come to the US. My family has done very well since the war. My sister and brother came over 8 years after I came. Some of my wife's side also came in the early 90s, and have established themselves. Those who stayed in Vietnam have been very well! It is customary in Vietnam to put family first, and it's common to live very close to your family. I believe it's this that kept our family together during and after the war.

pikasof2 karma

Hi there! Your father's story is amazing! 1) Traveling (and having to row) without fresh water for 17 days.. How was it? What was used to row the boat? 2) How did you end up in Michigan?

Thank you!

ShinyBlueUnicorn5 karma

hi! very tough, unbearable at times. We were without water for 15 days under a very hot sun. For those who were rowing, we made sure to pour sea water on them. The water is absorbed by the skin. Miraculously, nobody died from being thirsty.

North Hills Church, which was a sponsor in Bloomfield Hills, sponsored us to come directly to Michigan. They supported us with rent, clothes, utilities (tv, microwave, etc).

IsolationMode1 karma

Thank you for this interesting AMA!

What were your views on Anti-Vietnam War protests in the US? Did you hear much of them while in Vietnam? If so, did you agree with the movement then?

After your eventual arrival to the US, have your views about protests changed, stayed the same?

ShinyBlueUnicorn3 karma

Nobody knew of the protests happening in the US during the war. I'm not even sure the troops were entirely aware of it happening. In fact, we did not know about them until a few years after we came to the US. When we arrived on US soil, a lot of tension died down. Americans welcomed us, and no one seemed to look down on us. We represented freedom, and it was humbling to see people looking out for us. It is always sad to hear stories about troops who were spit on after the war. They were very kind men when I interacted with them.

the_onanist1 karma

Did the man really jump overboard or did you eat him? Ever think about eating another person on the boat? Ever drink your own urine?

ShinyBlueUnicorn6 karma

No. I always had a very strong mind. Personally, I had no thoughts about doing it, nor did anyone else did. We had hope, despite already accepting that our hopes of surviving were low.

spitfire91071 karma

  1. What are your feelings towards ho chi minh and america? 2. If vietnam and china were to go to war over the spratly islands who would iwn?

ShinyBlueUnicorn5 karma

1) I really have no positive or negative feelings toward him. He did what he did, and now it's over. I love America. Many of my people really believed the American Dream, and I still do so today. I would not be here today if it weren't the many opportunities given to me by the US.

2) I do not know much of these islands.

sicapat1 karma

Ho Chi Minh or Vo Nguyen Giap, who was more feared and why?

ShinyBlueUnicorn3 karma

History will tell you. I cannot answer this question.

jefebrown1 karma

Did you interact with American troops much during the war? And if so, what were they like? Do any names and faces stand out still?

ShinyBlueUnicorn1 karma

I did meet and interact with some American troops while I was working for the US government. However, I did not meet anyone who had died or seen combat. Everyone I saw worked inside of Saigon, and were never sent to the front-lines. I remember Americans being kind and professional. They were always willing to help, and I noticed they were patient. I do not remember any names, but I do remember some of the faces who greeted me.

greatestmofo1 karma

How was your stay in Malaysia like?

ShinyBlueUnicorn3 karma

My stay in Malaysia was very nice. My wife would always talk about how it was peaceful. We stayed near the ocean, and my wife always said how beautiful it was. They provided us basic amenities to live off of, and we actually met a few of our friends there who also eventually came to the US. We still know them to this day. We hope to visit Malaysia again one day.