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Vietnamese chicken glass noodle soup, and a family story

April 30, 1975 marked the end of the prolonged Vietnam War. Here's how one father remembered finding his way to the United States – and a new life – fueled by a sweet family reunion and miến gà, a chicken glass noodle soup.

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We reached a larger fishing boat in the open waters of in the Gulf of Thailand and despite being only a 30-foot fishing boat, we were among 120 other families crammed together in every nook and cranny of that rickety boat. It didn’t matter that people were packed like sardines, elbow to elbow, we were all silent, scared to death, praying not to get caught and to reach our destination alive. For three days and two nights we didn’t budge from our spot on the boat and didn’t have a single bite to eat or drink. We were truly at God’s mercy.  Tam cried of thirst, but no one had any water to give except drops of rain water I could catch in my palms.  At dusk on the third night, we arrived in a small fishing village of Klong Yai, at the border of Thailand and Cambodia. Strangers in a strange land, no one disturbed us and we just slept on the boat until the following morning. The next day, the Thai police arrived and took everyone up the coast about 80 miles to Laem Sing Refugee Camp along the eastern boarder of Thailand, which became our new home.

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Ravenous Couple

A couple that cooks together stays together, says Hong and Kim Pham. They love to cook and believe good food not only brings people together, but also strengthens bonds and forges wonderful memories. Hong and Kim specialize in Asian, specifically Vietnamese cuisine, and love to share not only our food but also their culture.

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Laem Sing Refugee Camp was a camp only by name. There were no housing or barracks, it was a barren peninsula where thousands of Vietnamese stayed for refuge from 1976 to 1981. Essentially a shanty town built of makeshift shelters of tin scraps and wood, life there was extremely difficult. We were fortunate as we found shelter underneath a crematorium, away from the elements. There was a food ration every day of rice and fish, and water, but aside from that everyone had to fend for themselves. Sometimes there might be small pieces of chicken or a single egg to share among the three of us.

We were grateful for the Thai people and at least we had food and shelter but most importantly we were alive and safe. Back in Vietnam, my wife only knew that we made it safely to Thailand through a telegram message I sent when we arrived. My initial days and weeks at the camp was just focused on taking care of my children and surviving in the camp. I didn’t have time to worry about the future and when or how our family will be united again. The goal was to make it to America and then sponsor my wife, third daughter, and our unborn child. I no idea if that would take five, 10, or 15 years – but that was my goal.

There were at least 5,000 refugees at the camp by my count and more were coming each week. Each time new refugees came, there was much excitement and people would run to greet them in the hopes of finding a familiar face, a family member, or friend who might have escaped safely. I had a young cousin who would always go and occasionally tease me, saying my wife had arrived. But I knew he was teasing and never participated in this ritual because I knew we did not have the means for her to escape. About one month later, on a lazy afternoon of April 30, he came running and screaming, “Chị Phú đến! Chị Phú đến!” ("She has come!")

This time it was different. He was screaming emphatically and caught up in the emotion and excitement I ran to to the entrance of the camp, scanning the crowd of about 100 new refugees and saw her: my pregnant wife and youngest daughter, Ngoc. I ran to embrace them. We were a family again.

Unbeknown to me, my mother-in-law had secured enough loans to send my pregnant wife and youngest daughter about a month after I left, on April 15, 1980. She went from Can Tho on the eastern border of Vietnam and arrived safely in Sattahip Naval base where she stayed until she was also transferred to Laem Sing Refugee camp.

That is why I will always remember April 30. It was the day my country fell, but five years later it was also the day my family was reunited. I will always be grateful to God and everyone that brought us safely from Vietnam and eventually to America. We spent another six months at Laem Sing, during which my youngest daughter, Freedom, was born before being sponsored to America.  

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