I still remember Sang. He helped me set up sound equipment on the weekend (my attempt to crowd-source and create an open-air coffee-house for refugees), and attended my class on weekdays.
I was feeling sorry for him, an unaccompanied minor, who only knew the seas and spoke no other language besides Vietnamese.
Now he is in the happiest country on Earth perhaps with a fully paid house and a steady job.
You will never know.
I thought of Nordic countries as being very cold, isolated and their languages incomprehensible. While in Hong Kong, I was taken to New Territories, on my day off , for a peek at then inaccessible China. That same view, today, looks out to Shenzhen. Back then, it was the equivalence of standing at the Korean DMZ.
Back to Sang.
He got to Norway safely, I learned from a few letters, one of which had a picture of him with sun glasses and cigarette.
I was impressed with Norway then, because they took on Sang and others in their most unfortunate of circumstances.
Norway had nothing to do with the wave of Boat People, risking pirates and prolonged processing at camps.
Yet they pitched in because their ships picked up refugees at sea.
And now, it’s voted the happiest country on Earth.
A lot has changed since. Back then, I read the Boat People story on Newsweek. It struck me.
The ordeal and the odd (1 in 2 survived. Survivors might resort to cannibalism at worst,
or got raped along the way, at best).
Now, Newsweek itself got sold off for a token $1.00
And “Ladies and Gentlemen on both sides of the aisle” actually sat together, from senior level on down (Kerry and McCain).
Sang looked up to me, naturally. Now, it’s my turn to envy him.
I wish I were the happiest guy in an unfortunate place instead.
So he projected himself on me, and I, with a delayed reciprocate response years later.
Back then, CNN was a novelty. Today, the President takes his Q&A on YouTube.
My hope is for the last of those “boat people” to find their happiest place this New Year (another wave has ended up in Australia).
Many have posted sweet memoirs about Tet and places they once loved.
It’s a culture which holds high regards for the collective memory (sticky-rice cake, moon cake etc…).
Allegorically, those symbols resonate even and especially for those who now live comfortably in Nordic states.
It will be so strange, if one day, I ran into Sang here in the States, or Vietnam.
And we will exchange notes, how much (the price) we have paid for progress.
We know there is not much room at the top (the Mayan pyramid steps got smaller as you climb higher).
And the way down has always been much scarier, because it’s counter-intuitive for us to ever look down.
Who wants to go back to school like that laid-off textile lady at the age of 55. We were toilet-trained and mentally trained for a one-way race. No one seems to be able to recall more than three top winners in each sector. Hence, it’s more than necessary to attain and sustain the top place.
Just make sure, you have ownership of the climb. For Sang, then, it was a very sad journey he took to transit camp and onto NORWAY. As it turns out, he was an unfortunate guy in the happiest place on Earth years later.