“Here it is,” said Kim, handing me the wooden sandal.
The sandal is as small as my palm. The color is blue and faded a little bit. It has a flower on its strap in the right side.
“Which one did your parents bring?” I asked.
Kim is humming and holding one of the sandals in each hand and flipping it back and forth.
“I think the one in good condition,” Kim said.
This is not a common conversation for people who barely know each other. I planned my trip to Buffalo aiming to watch Niagara Falls. One of my friends recommended her good friend, Kim and asked her if I can stay for two nights. The first day I arrived at the airport, I saw a middle-aged man holding a sign “Selamat Datang Lenny”. Not only that. Once I came to their house, Kim’s family was ready to serve me with fried rice and noodles. I feel home in a minute.
Maybe because we are the same Asian, we were able to talk like we are a family. Kim’s dad continued the sandal’s story. When Kim’s dad was in college, Vietnam went to war to fight with their own people. It was mandatory for everyone to go to war, including women. Even though they don’t serve in the front line, they helped cook or perform administrative jobs. Kim’s dad joined military school for two years and became a first lieutenant.
“It is just like the North Korean and South Korean war,” he exclaimed.
The North won because they got help from China, the biggest communist country in the world.
After they lost, Kim’s dad was put in a concentration camp. They moved to several places and had to do hard labor work. After three years in the concentration camp, Kim’s dad was released but under one condition, he can’t go outside the country.
Kim’s dad was determined that his life would not be based on what Government said. Along with his friend, they paid someone to build a boat to escape. On September 19, 1979, in the very early morning, the mission was executed. Kim’s parents took three years old Kims’s sister and left the house to pursue a better life and future. They trust no other about their plan. They don’t want to leave the country, but this is the only option they have.
Unfortunately, Kim’s grandmother caught them running away.
“Please don’t take my grandchild,” she begged.
But, the decision was made and there’s no way they can undo the action. Kim’s mom ran away and Kim’s sister dropped one of the sandal.
Everything was so rushed so they can’t pick up the sandal and let the crying grandmother take it as her memory of her first grandchild that probably she wouldn’t ever had the chance to see anymore. She believed by taking a boat there is a greater possibility to drown than escaping alive. It was a gamble.
They were robbed by pirates twice and faced storm along the way. But because of Kim’s dad friend that used to be Maritime Navy, they managed to escape to Malaysia. But, the Vietnam’s government was not happy knowing he ran away. He became wanted person in their homeland. Feeling not on guard, once again Kim’s Dad took the family moved further away. They went to Germany, but still not feel safe enough.
Finally, Kim’s family choose to settled in America, a place they can be a proud citizen. Kim was born here and truly fortunate to embraced American Dream. Part of his Vietnam heritage are limited only to the way she looks. She drank Dr.Pepper while we drank tea. She swore “Shit” once in five minutes when The GPS was broke and we lost. The only Vietnamese language she taught me is “Kamang” means thank you.
Back in the house, I sit quietly watching Kim’s Dad narrow eyes hoping him to tell the rest of the story. I was wondering how he feels nowadays after years and years away.
“They can arrest me psychologically, but will never brainwash me” he pointed to his head that was starting to lose hair. In the meantime, his eyes looked on the old Vietnam flag he used to salute.
“This is the flag we used before Communists took over the country,” he said
The flag is all yellow with a red line in the middle of the flag. The flag will remain hanging on the wall as well as in his heart.
“I love Vietnam, but I just hate the people that run the country.” Kim’s dad ends the story.
In 2010, Kim’s dad build up the courage to visit Vietnam. That was when finally the sandal – and family – reunited.