07 January 2017


Around January 7, 1980, I made the following preparation for my plane trip to America from Singapore:
  • made sure I brought along a pair of running shoe, as I love exploring the new area on foot
  • Googled local running clubs, maybe I’ll have time to join them for a run
  • also Googled local races, also a great way to see the new neighborhood
  • charged my cell phone and laptop, brought all chargers and extra batteries
Huh? Yeah, other than the fact that yes around that time I did take a plane trip from Singapore to the U.S., indirectly, none of those so-called preparation happened. Not because the technology etc was not yet available, but because I was a mere teen who literally came to the U.S. with nothing but the clothes on his body. Plus a pair of sneakers unworthy of New York City winter. OK, maybe I did have a few other sets of clothes, perhaps some life essentials like toothbrush, but none of these other creature comfort things.
After a few months spent on different islands in Indonesia, we spent two (?) weeks in Singapore to catch a plane to the U.S. The “home” we stayed at was just a shaded parking spot. Wide open on four sides, perhaps with a tarp and some sheets as “floor”, all our meager possession in one neat pile. By the time we arrived, the nearby buildings were allocated to other refugees so our group had to stay on the outside. I suppose we used the lavatory inside the buildings but I cannot recall how we prepared food. We probably just ate right there in the little spot.
It’s been almost 37 years so I cannot remember much but two events are still clear in my mind. In the first event, I recall going to my father’s workplace, a construction site, the new airport, I think, to let him know we had a visitor. Back in Viet Nam, we had a neighbor who had a relative living in Singapore. Somehow we notified the relative about our arrival in Singapore so she came to visit, with her husband, bringing much needed supplies. I don’t remember if someone asked me to go notify my father but off I went. I think I even ran. It started to rain, not heavily, but just enough to make it uncomfortable, poorer vision and being wet. Somehow I asked a man on motorcycle for help in locating my father and he gave me a ride. I don’t know how I expressed myself, I know I knew some Cantonese back then, but isn’t Mandarin the main language in Singapore? Maybe I was lucky to bump into a Cantonese-speaking person who happened to know my father, because he did bring me to my father. Of course my father was working and couldn’t just leave. I still remember he told me later to be careful not to get my toes caught in the motorcycle’s spokes. Singapore is a warm-climate country and we wore flip-flop everywhere, open toes and all.
The other memory is a just a hand away. While I don’t recall what I did in Singapore for two weeks, I know I played a lot of chess. Chinese chess, that is, with the elephants, the guards, the kings who cannot face each other directly, etc. The chessboard may have been a real one, printed on foldable plastic sheet, or handmade on cardboard. The pieces were somehow bought, usually made out of plastic or wood. (Some other time I’ll tell you about how I participated in making pieces for a set of Chinese chess.) Whatever flimsy cardboard box that came with the chess set usually break down over time so we usually keep the pieces in tin cans, re-purposed after we finished with our rationed food. One day during a game of chess I had my hand on the can, fingers inside the ragged, metal edge, while my opponent had his hand around the can. I think we jokingly fought over the can, for whatever reason, and he yanked it hard. The index finger on my left hand was cut and blood splashed. I bled a lot and I still remember one of the adults say I should eat more vegetable so that my blood wouldn’t flow so easily. Maybe I was bandaged or maybe the blood clotted after a while, but I still have the white scar to look at years later. I also know that my chess opponent was a nice kid, someone I got along well, so it was just a silly accident.

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