The deserted neighbourhood

My neighbourhood was made up of blocks of four-storey houses around An Dong market, in the Chinese quarter called “Cho Lon”, Saigon. (In picture, 13-year-old hiMe with her Mum and siblings on Chinese New Year Day 1975 in front of her house, next to the radio shop).

My neighbourhood was made up of blocks of four-storey houses around An Dong market, in the Chinese quarter called “Cho Lon”, Saigon. (In picture, 13-year-old hiMe with her Mum and siblings on Chinese New Year Day 1975 in front of her house, next to the radio shop).

<<Facts, pictures and video clips related to this story – the exodus of ethnic Chinese during 1978 and 1979>>

Comments about this post on ABC Open 500 words – Odd one out.

My neighbourhood was made up of blocks of four-storey houses around An Dong market, in the Chinese quarter called “Cho Lon”, Saigon. My neighbours used their ground floor to set up shops. There were varieties of retail shops that sold radios, electrical parts, coffee beans, wooden clogs, … as well as photography, glazier and tailor shops. The vast majority of my neighbours were pure ethnic Chinese. In my family, Mum is Chinese while Dad is Vietnamese.

In March 1978, to eliminate the bourgeoisie, the Communists raided all my neighbours’ houses and made an “asset inventory” of their possessions. Mum ceased her children’s wear business after Saigon Fall so we weren’t targeted. A team of twelve people made up of university students, factory workers and soldiers were allocated for each of my neighbours’ houses. The teams were rostered around three shifts to guard each of the house floors twenty-four hours a day for up to three months. The “inventory people” confiscated money and jewellery and tried to uncover hidden treasures. They knocked down walls, they dug the grounds, they shuffled furniture and belongings… where they thought there would be hidden valuables. They watched my neighbours and persuaded them to offer their “yet-to-be-discovered” property to the government and the “people”.

Some months later, I woke up to learn that some of my “bourgeoisie” neighbours had been forcefully moved to the desolate and barren land of the new economic zones (NEZ) during the night to start labouring and not relying on commercial exploitation of the “people”! Others were removed during the day.

The radio and the electrical parts shop owners weren’t moved to NEZ as they bribed the local government. The electrical parts shop became a state-run one.

As the war with China loomed large, the Communists wanted to get rid of ethnic Chinese who could become a Trojan horse inside Vietnam. One day at the end of 1978, the radio shop owner told Mum about a scheme only reserved for ethnic Chinese (people had to prove that they were Chinese with their own legal papers or with their ability to speak Chinese) to leave Vietnam “officially” by boats for 25 taels (937.5g) of gold per person. That was a lot of money for the Communists to “earn” and the Chinese to pay!

When Mum visited Dad in the communist prison and told him the news, Dad urged Mum to take us all and leave. Mum cried as she didn’t want to leave Dad behind. It also was hard for her to believe the Communists after all they did to the bourgeoisie and at that time there was no official announcement about the “racial discrimination” and “people smuggling” scheme of the Vietnamese communist government. Plus the Communists always shot at or imprisoned defectors who tried to leave Vietnam by boat.

The Communists packed thousands of Chinese into “iron-build” ships and wooden ones. There were many wooden and iron ships overturned and sank several hundreds of metres from shore as they were overloaded.

In 1979, my whole neighbourhood was nearly empty. The whole radio-shop household of six members left on one of the two-thousand-five-hundred-passenger iron ships and reached Malaysia. After being refused onshore for two months, the family entered a refugee camp and now live in Toronto, Canada. The electrical parts shop owner sent their two eldest on one of the “official” wooden boats and they later resettled in Sydney. The houses of my neighbours who had left by boats or were forced to go to NEZ were given to Northerner communist officials. Here we were, together with the state-owned electrical-shop house, the only two Southerner Chinese households to live amongst the neighbourhood of inquisitive and intimidating Northerner Vietnamese communist officials.

Robbed of most of what they had earned.
Then they were given their last chance,
To leave officially, they learned,
One kilo gold each, in advance.

Then they were given their last chance,
Packed like sardines in ships with fare,
One kilo gold each, in advance.
A deal the Communists deemed square!

Packed like sardines in ships with fare,
The ancient ships were overweight,
A deal the Communists deemed square!
To get rid of spies in the state.

The ancient ships were overweight,
The ethnic Chinese drowned on board.
To get rid of spies in the state,
They never could make it abroad!
(Pantoum-style poem)

<<Facts, pictures and video clips related to this story – the exodus of the ethnic Chinese during 1978 and 1979.>>

My neighbourhood was made up of blocks of four-storey houses around An Dong market, in the Chinese quarter called “Cho Lon”, Saigon. (In picture, 13-year-old hiMe with her Mum and siblings on Chinese New Year Day 1975 in front of her house, next to the radio shop).

My neighbourhood was made up of blocks of four-storey houses around An Dong market, in the Chinese quarter called “Cho Lon”, Saigon. (In picture, 13-year-old hiMe with her Mum and siblings on Chinese New Year Day 1975 in front of her house, next to the radio shop).

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3 thoughts on “The deserted neighbourhood

  1. I remember in 1979, the Vietnamese boat “Tung An” reached the Philippine shores. Looking at the faces of the refugees, you can feel the horrors of the war and its aftermath. For decades, your countrymen stayed here for processing. I am happy to see that the Refugee CAmp in Bataan is now empty and the Vietnamese have gone to their adopted countries.

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