Nu Chung

grandma headshot 2.png


8/7/18, in her home, in Lynnwood, translated from the original Cantonese.

ME: Oh.

NU: There. The roots. Do you see it?

ME: Where are the roots going?

NU: There. Don't you see?

ME: The roots just stay in the water?

NU: Yeah, they're so fragrant.

ME: You're going to make soup?

NU: Yeah. Don't you see the roots, going all over the place? It's only been a few days. Lots of roots growing. There.

ME: You don't have to put them anywhere?

NU: Just there.

ME: How long until you can make soup?

NU: Whenever I want to make soup I can just cut the plant. Just cut the top. It'll just keep growing out of the top of the pot. Can't you see the smaller plants?

ME: Yeah.

NU: The smaller ones are already growing up. You can see them. (repeats.)

ME: How long have you grown it?

NU: It's been less than a week. It was just about this big when we picked it up. He cut it and brought it home. And when you just put it in the water, it grows roots. They're really cheap. But, here in U.S. they're really expensive. Vietnamese people really like making soup out of these. Make sour soup. People here too.

ME: Where did you get it?

NU: It wasn't me who got it. Someone else did. Do you want friends to grow it? If you do, you can take it to your friends.

ME: Oh, no, no, thank you.

NU: Your mom and dad won't grow them. It was your Uncle's friend who brought it back. ... If you don't have internet how can you use your computer?

ME: I don't have to use the Internet.

NU: If you want to ask anything, go ahead.

ME: Okay... I just want to ask... how was it like when you were a child?

NU: When I was a child, I was really poor. I had a grandma (dad's side), and my dad, before I was even born, when I was in your great grandma's stomach, my mother's stomach, he died. And my grandma raised me and took care of me. Raised me through the camps. The Dai-Lok, the camps were terrible, the raincoats were not even like raincoats - they were made out of straw. We wore those and then went to work. The shoes were made out of wheels - like the wheels you use on cars, they were made out of tire. They were homemade, most people made them, and you would have to shave them down and we would wear them. They just went on the bottom of our feet and went to work at the camps.

ME: You had to go, too?

NU: No, I hadn't been born yet.

ME: Your mom and grandma had to go?

NU: Yeah. I wasn't born yet and still in my mother's stomach. Then, when my dad had died, they had to go at the camps. My mom and my grandma went to go work. They had to work at the camps. You know what that means, right? There's war, and you have to go do work, and they worked there until I was born. They worked until my grandma... uh, my grandma would just take me with her. At the camps, they would make a little area for me out of straw, and I would sleep there. It's not like here - like paradise! Not like paradise at all. I would just sleep on the floor. I slept like that all the way until I was grown, and I would follow them and play. No one would play with you! You would play with yourself. I would play until my grandma was done working and we would go home to eat. We would have very little to eat. There wasn't ever that much to eat. Our ovens were like ovens - there were in the ground and made of dirt. Cook rice, boil water to shower. We had wood pots that would never leak, people could make those very well. They don't really have them here anymore. These weaved bowls would be able to hold water without spilling, I don't know if they have those here and if they work, but they do now. We would have skylights and wells, too. The wells would be really, really deep. A bucket and a rope - we would get water that way. I would even get water from the wells! I would pull, it would pull really, really well. Pull it up, and then we would pour the water into a bucket to carry back home. We would use that water for everything. Showering. Drinking. Laundry. If you did want to drink out of it, you would get a bucket that had a cover/lid. If you ever boiled water or cooked soup, you would get that good water and cover it. Showering and laundry would use those giant pails for water. In Dai-Lok, you would have to buy those big pails, we would use those to make sugar, too. You've never seen that kind of sugar, right? You have to see it.

ME: Oh, I've seen it before.

NU: This sugar. In Vietnam, wait, no, in China, you would make this sugar and then use those pails, you would buy those pails to store water. Those tubs would be so beautiful. When I was young, when I got married, when I got married to your grandfather. Your grandma's grandma, meaning, my grandma. My grandma, she was traditional and had to buy one of these tubs when I got married. They would separate these. Boys couldn't use them, but girls could use them. Traditionally, boys would use boys' tubs, and girls would use girls' tubs. Even now! When your dad's friend from Australia came, their wife was like that too. Nevertheless, you would have to separate boys and girls clothing. Traditionally, boy things were boy things and girl things were girl things and they needed to be separated. Your uncle, Linh's dad, also... even with incense, boys have to do the prayer, girls were not allowed to use incense. Your uncle believes that boys have to pray. That belief, it had to be that way. Sometimes when you go in there, there is this one place, our sect, there's this one temple where girls cannot enter. Only boys. Even in movies they show this. But you don't watch, don't watch the movies that your parents watch - they show this segregation. Even when I see movies, they still show this. They prohibit it. In this one temple, girls aren't allowed and only boys could. Now, it's not like that, but traditionally, it was. ...And, my grandma took me to these work camps. And sometimes - there wouldn't be work, like if you did yard work, like if it was all clean, then, sometimes, there was this towel factory, you know, towels that you use to shower. If there was no work at the work camps then I would follow my mom and grandma who worked there, and I would be left out on the street to play. You would just leave your children out on the street, not at home. Not like now, where you would leave your children at home or hire someone to take care of them. Back then, no would would want them. Back then, it wasn't dangerous to do that. No one would kidnap them or want them. It was fine, back then, people would steal things as much. That's why now, people are learning to be bad people. People are learning bad morals. Back then, nobody learned bad morals. But now, people are learning bad morals, and smoking, and whatever. Grandma's grandpa wasn't like that though. He had money. Like your Uncle, he had money. He raised his children poorly. He had money. His house sold marijuana. What is it called...

ME: I know.

NU: What is it called... around here, where you grow those plants. Yeah, but anyway, the sons followed suit, wrongly, they ate the drugs. They didn't want to do anything. That's why, even if you have money, you shouldn't just let your children do whatever they want, you still need to raise them. If you love them too much and let them do whatever... No matter what, no matter how impoverished you are, don't learn bad morals. If you're poor, you have to go out and work, eat out less. You have to learn how to be frugal. You have to learn how to have a family, take care of children. I mean, you won't have as many children as we had, you'll have 2, or 3, or 4 at most. But like that, your family will be prosperous. Your family will be happy. When you have sons, or have daughters. Even if you are suffering, you have to take care of your children. Your children, you have to teach them the right thing, push them towards doing good things, guide them away from bad people. That's why I'm always worrying about where you are, calling you, asking you where you are. I'm scared about these things! I know that you aren't doing these things, but this is what I'm most scared of. I'm most scared of you learning bad morals, doing the wrong thing. It would break my heart. The most important thing is that you don't learn the wrong things. Even if you're impoverished. The most important thing... Just be good-hearted, have a good family, you can take care of yourself. The best thing would be if you moved out and had your own families, took care of themselves. When I was younger, I didn't have a full family. I didn't have a father. I, throughout life, I would follow my grandmother and my mother. I didn't have my father. Even though you have a father now, you still have to watch out for your family. So, because I didn't have a father, I had to follow my grandmother, and I didn't get to go to school, and I didn't know anything, didn't get to learn. Had to follow, throughout my life, my mother and grandmother and work. And it turned out, I was just five. The Japanese came. The Japanese came because when were in war with Japan. So we left. We left in the middle of the night, we were too scared to leave in daylight - they would just shoot you. So, at night, we would just take a sack - yes, those sacks, I took them back to Vietnam, so, we would wear those sacks, and we would have to hold hands. It was so dark and there were so many people. We would have to grip each other very tightly. A lot of people got lost. A lot of children got lost trying to run away. A lot of families were separated, when I was that age. When I was 5. I'm about 80 something now. A lot of people had to leave. I was just one daughter! Families would have to bring ropes for their entire family to hold on to - there were a lot of crowds and families. And we couldn't even see the roads. And so, when we got to Vietnam, it was really hard for us. So when we finally got to Vietnam, we had to pretend I was 3. Like, if you were on a boat and needed a pass, you didn't have to buy one if you were only 3. So my mom just carried me on her back and just told the officials that I was sleeping and that I was 3. They just had to look, officials were stupid back then, they just wanted to see our faces and we could walk through. So, I was 5, back they just counted me as 3, so we didn't have to pay for the boat pass. If we didn't, we would have to buy it, but we didn't have enough money. So, when we got to Vietnam, we looked for work to do.

Grandma's mom was a lot... my grandma's mom got sick a lot, the same sickness that you had, worse than yours - it was like she didn't know anything. It was like she went crazy. So, my grandmother had to take care of me. My mother had to be thrown in those... sick people hospitals, you know, and then my grandmother took me to work and carry pails of water. Now, we have machines, but back then, my grandmother went to carry rocks and dirt to make houses. She would just leave me at corners. She would bring food and an umbrella, and I would just sit there and watch the work. My grandmother would be able to watch me. My grandmother would just carry those rocks. That's how she raised me. My mother, how long, it was three years she was sick like that. In the end, the hospital managed to help get her better. But for three years, I would just follow my grandmother and my grandmother's friend, who now lives in the same neighborhood, the same alley that I lived in - the one that you had gone to. Did you go to it, in Vietnam?

ME: I don't know.

NU: Yeah. You've been there. You've seen my house. You've seen grandpa's house. It was your grandpa's mother's house.

ME: When did you meet grandpa?

NU: He lived in the same alley as me. The same as your dad and me. It was just as close as your dad and your mom. That's how they knew each other. So that's how I met your grandfather. That neighborhood, in the same way like Shoreline, like Auggie, you're classmates. Back then, I didn't have school or whatever, so street-neighbors would get together often. Grandpa would sit, at those storefronts, like 7/11, they were cafés, they would sell some dim sum or cakes. Your grandpa would just sit outside there and see me go work. I would go sew towels. I was in my teens, 14, or 15, I would sew towels. My grandma would do the same thing in China, so when she moved to Vietnam, she thought she would to the same thing. My grandma thought it would be good for me to do it too, so she had to pay a fee for me to learn how to sew the towels. It's so children of the factory workers could work there as well, if the time ever came. Your grandpa, when he had free-time, he would only work in the afternoon, he saw me, and asked my grandma if it was okay. There wasn't time for people to get to know each other and talk! You would just ask their parents if they were okay with it. It wasn't like your mom's generation or later, when you would date. We didn't get to do that. So, then, when I got to know your grandpa...

ME: How old were you?

NU: I was only 20 years old! My grandma was worried that I would get into trouble, so she married me off when I was young.

ME: Married to grandpa?

NU: Yeah. Your grandpa! Your grandpa... my grandma was very gracious and wasn't frugal with her money for me. We made the wedding like the movies. We wore stuff like in the movies, traditional wear. Your grandpa needed to... we had... we had a flower cart with two dragons on the side. It was like a bus. On the head of the car, there was a colorfully braided thing. We couldn't take pictures back then. My grandma was very willing to spend money for me. Because I was an only child! We didn't have a restaurant, but we just had our reception at home. Friends would help cook the food. We had pork, country food, stuff we could cook at home. Vermicelli shrimp. That's what it's like when you have money.

When I went back to your grandpa's, there was someone to carry me all the way through the gates. With my wide, wide clothing. So, that's what I was talking about last time. Those wooden swords at your uncle's house. That time you weren't listening. You would hold the wooden sword.

ME: I remember.

NU: You would carry this wooden sword above your head. Grandpa carried ten red chopsticks, and would have to throw it at my head, and I had to block it with the wooden sword. Your grandma (on dad's side) also did that.

ME: You had to block it, like this?

NU: Yes! Like that. Your grandma (on dad's side) also did that. I held the sword, and your grandpa threw the chopsticks at me and I had to block it. Traditionally, you have to do it so the marriage was prosperous. If you block it, it signifies that the marriage will be happy and peaceful. Like, there won't be random shenanigans in the marriage. Back then, traditionally, that was what it was like. Back then, there were a lot of superstitions and beliefs. That's why, you had to block it. Your grandpa (on dad's side) had to do it too. We had to do that.

So, I got married. And I still had to go to work. I sewed towels, until I had your first aunt. Your aunt was very naughty.

ME: How old were you when you had Auntie?

NU: I was 21! I had her immediately. Back then, people didn't have planned parenthood or plans. So you just kept having children, and if you didn't want to have them, then you would have to have different bedrooms to sleep. Now, you don't have to, now we have contraception. Back them, if you didn't want children, you had to stay apart. So that's why I had so many children. Six children. Our neighbor had how many children? Eleven children!

ME: Eleven?!

NU: Eleven! She was the same age as us. But she had gotten married earlier than your father. Wait, no, married earlier than me and your grandpa. That's why your grandma gave birth to six children! Right? Six children! We had to keep separated so we didn't have more children. Now there's plenty of contraception and they teach you all sorts of things. Back then, when I was little, Grandma's grandma's generation wouldn't talk about it, they wouldn't let you talk about it at all. Now, schools teach children all sorts of things. Back then, you wouldn't be able to. Grandma's mother's generation wouldn't let their teachers teach them these things. Your teachers taught you these things, right?

ME: Yeah.

NU: You were, what, ten years old?

ME: Ten... ten... 14 or 15?

NU: 14 or 15! Families wouldn't let teachers teach children these things. So, older generations didn't have this information. You just had them, and then had another, and then another. So your grandma (on dad's side) had the same thing happen. You just had as many children as you were going to have. That's why you birthed so many children. So you have to take care of your children. Get to know them. If you don't want to have too many children, that's okay. Just have one or two, you can do that now. Back then, you couldn't. But you still have to have one or two children for yourself. When you're old, you'll have children to talk to. Like right now, I can talk to you. If you don't have family, no one will talk to you.

ME: Friends?

NU: Your friends won't talk to you like this! Just have fewer children. You still need to want children. Still want some children. So when you're old, you'll have people to talk to. If you just have one child, that's not as good. I was an only child, and when I wanted to talk to someone I didn't have anyone to talk to. Like you can talk to your brother if anything happened to your mom or something. But me, I didn't have anyone to talk to if anything were to happen to my mom. That's why it's better if you have two children, at least. Think about it, it's better that way. You need to have one or two, not none. If you weren't married, that's a different story. But if you were married, you need to have children. And, definitely don't get into trouble. If you have a family, or when you get a wife, or have a family, or when you're all living together, you have to all talk to each other and be open. You have to have conversation. If you need to do anything, you need to tell each other. Not like, if anything happens, just having a divorce. Don't think like that. Have a family and have a good heart. That's the best thing.

Like, Grandma... like, I have children like that. If your family has sons... if your family is good, then the mother will be comfortable. Like in my position, if everyone is doing well, I would be comfortable.

ME: You...

NU: Not like, if anything is uncomfortable, then you don't like it. You need to talk it out with your family. You have to talk about what you're thinking. Need to make things clear to each other. That's the best way. If everyone is comfortable and everyone in your family, the children, the brothers, everyone is comfortable. Like, when I look at your Uncle, he's miserable. Your Uncle Carman, the mom went to find another, the father went to find another, this is frustrating for the children to have to meet so many people and have to know so many people. It's better if the mom and dad are happy together. That's why I tell your brother sometimes, Stanley, he doesn't say anything, but I tell him to go on vacation with your mom and dad for a few days - wouldn't everyone be so happy? Everyone would be so happy if that happened. Because I didn't have that. That's why I want you to have that - go on vacation for a few days, take me too! Like, that one day we went to see the... what, the cherry blossoms, I was so happy to go with you!

ME: See what?

NU: The cherry blossoms, at your school! When we took a photo together. We were so happy! There were so many people. My grandsons are spending time with me. The old people are happy that way. We were one family, out to see things. Going out to eat. When you're older, you'll understand. You can only know when you're older. The most important thing is that your family has enough to eat, play, and be able to spend time together. Like when you were younger and went out with your mom and dad. And now, when you're older, no one wants to go anywhere. You don't even want to go out and eat anymore. The old people like it when we spend time together. When friends see, they're always "wow, your grandchildren are so wonderful, wanting to spend time with you." It makes me very happy to have grandchildren to hang out with me.

That's why when they're asking me to go to Vietnam and Taiwan, I don't have a place there. Why would I just want to go with a bunch of old people? The young people won't be able to spend time with me.

ME: They really want you to go. They're all asking me to ask you to go.

NU: That's what I'm saying. If none of my grandchildren are going, what's the point?

ME: Yeah, if you don't want to go, you don't want to go.

NU: Here, this is what I'm thinking, when you graduate, your grandma (dad's side) buys a ticket to come over to the U.S., and your brother wears his old graduation robes, and we take a picture. That would be great.

ME: I graduate this year. This June.

NU: Next year.

ME: It's August right now. When June comes around, I graduate.

NU: Yeah, next year. We'll have to see if your dad will ask your aunt to make papers for your grandma (dad's side) to come over.

ME: Can she make it?

NU: Yeah, she can come. Your aunt always comes.

ME: I'm just worried she's too old. How old is she?

NU: She's about 90...

[a long conversation about specific ages of people based on the zodiac]

ME: How was it like raising children in Vietnam?

NU: Well, I had a child a year, didn't you see!

ME: Yeah, you're right! (laughs)

NU: I was scared of having more! That's why, your 2nd Uncle, the one that died in Vietnam, we weren't able to take care of him. He didn't know how to eat, and we had to drip water into him. We didn't have enough money to see the doctor! With only grandpa bringing in money, how were we going to have money to go to the doctor! And we had three older adults to take care of - your grandpa's mom, my mom, my grandma. And with that many children - everyone just one year after the other. How could we have enough? So I had to take care of everyone at home - cook dinner, take them to school. In Vietnam, we had to pay to take them to school! It wasn't like here in the U.S. with public schools, we had to pay for them to go to school. Tuition, and school uniforms too. I would sew them their school uniforms. We would also sew the school's emblem onto the uniforms so they would know what school the children were from. I sewed all the clothes that they wore. Pajamas if they needed that. Everyone would wear shorts at home. I would sew them and then put a band in it and that was it, not like the nice shorts we have now. We would buy cloth ends and heads to cut. We didn't have it in us to waste... My grandma's blanket, I'm not going to throw it away until I die. It was quilted together. We scavenged for cloth squares to make our blankets. That's what I needed to do. We all slept together on the floor on roll-out beds. Your aunt would sleep at my feet, your uncle would sleep on my stomach, my other uncle would sleep at my side, and that's how four of us would sleep on the same bed! It was just like tiles, a puzzle putting us together. So when your grandpa had enough to spare, we bought a special bed, but we have given it away now to some friends. Your grandpa would sleep on the floor and then tiles weren't even flat, and we had a lot of termites that would creep out of the floorboards and bite them. I would have to be careful not to crush any of the children when I was sleeping. Four people to a bed! When they were older, and we had better prospects, and I had started working by carrying pails of water for people and I would make some bags for ice cream. Someone would help me count those for work in the morning. Grandpa's mom would also help package sausages with some ties. We don't see that much anymore, you might see it in Vancouver (BC)... you see it sometimes, but that's what she did. You would shave it with your feet... But we would get it, and we would shave it, and sell it. Sometimes, at night, I would help your grandpa's mom.

[a phone rings]

ME: Oh. That's your phone. It turned off.

NU: Who was it?

ME: There's no name.

NU: Probably an ad then. So, I would shave those, to sell to people. I would also carry pails of water in the morning. There were no faucets in houses. Not in the beginning. When you had money, you could spend how ever much money to get water installed in your house. When your aunt and uncle were young, we didn't have water. So, I had to carry water back home to use. The same as when I was in China. They were public wells. Like those hydrants that are here, for when there are fires, they were like those hydrants so we could get water. Some people had pipes. Later on, later on when we had some money there was enough for us to register for water in our home. 

Uncle Carman didn't want to go to school. He would rather do construction. It was miserable. Your Big Uncle liked going to school. Your fourth uncle liked going to school. Your aunt didn't like going to school either! That's why they ended up only going through elementary school. Your mom liked going to school. But she would always get sick all year! She got to graduate from elementary school, but she would get sick so much. She had an imbalance with her red and white blood cells. Do you understand?

ME: Yeah.

NU: Whenever she got sick, she would get cramps, and then she would have to go to the hospital. She spent a lot of time in the hospital. I was so scared of hospitals. I was scared of ghosts inside the hospitals. Back then, we were scared of things like that, ghosts in hospitals. I was so scared I would shake, I needed someone to come with me. It was so sad, I would have to always find grandpa's family, your grandpa's cousins. There was a hospital right outside the door of our house. We would always have to go to that hospital. We went so often the nurses knew us. They would always help us. We even knew the doctor, the doctor was really nice, often came to our house to take a look at your mom. He came into our house to see her. When the draft started, the doctor left, though. Took a boat and ran. There was the doctor's brother who then started seeing her. But then, after the draft, your mom just got better! Had to be after the draft. I still have a big stack of papers of her doctor's papers. She couldn't eat anything too salty. She would get cramps and then have to go to the hospital. They would get muscle relaxers and give her shots, and she would be better. But then, we would go back home, and I wouldn't know how to take care of her. The doctor's kept telling me to feed her bland food and eat no salt at all. I didn't know, and I wouldn't believe them. So I just let her eat some salty food after a while. She was sick for a couple years, in the end. Eventually, I cut salt our of her diet. She had to eat a lot of bland food, I tried to make a lot different food so it wouldn't be terrible, since there was no salt. Whenever she ate salt, she would get swollen, like a little, fat girl. If only we had pictures! Her face became very, very round. When she deflated, we knew she'd be better. So she couldn't eat salt. When the draft happened, she did get better. Before then, she got sick all the time. Taking care of your mom was miserable, she was always sick. In the end, the draft happened. We didn't have any money. [AJHHDSAOBDASHIDUSB] They would have to enlist if they were 18. You grandma (dad's side) only had your dad. She only had daughters, except for him. Girls didn't have to enlist. Only boys.

ME: Did my dad enlist?

NU: In the end, your grandpa (dad's side) only had one son, so he didn't want your dad to leave. Leaving on boats was really dangerous. When people starting leaving, a lot of people died. A lot of boats shipwrecked with boat fulls of people. If the boat didn't sink, a lot of boat pirates raped girls on these boats and throw them overboard. A lot of women were scared of becoming refugees because of this, and a lot of people only let boys leave the country. If you tried to protect your sisters, you would be thrown off the boats too. A lot of people got raped on these boats, or the whole thing would sink.

ME: Where would people go?

NU: People would go everywhere, the U.S., the Philippines, Australia, France, any country that would accept people. That's how your 4th uncle ended up at Australia. Uncle Carman just went wherever would let him go. He registered to go to the U.S. in Laos. Even I have spent about ten days living in Thailand.

ME: This is when Vietnam was in war?

NU: Yeah, that's why people went all over the place, Thailand, Laos, etc.  Your 4th Uncle, he went on a boat that went to Hong Kong. But it wouldn't receive a boat from Laos. Your 4th Uncle and Uncle Carman missed something by ten days. Big Uncle just spent his time at Hong Kong. He had to enlist because he hit 18 years old before people started leaving. But he sought asylum in Hong Kong. He found some friends and left for Hong Kong. You had to pay a lot of money. He left with his classmate. That's why your Uncle Carman wasn't very smart, he didn't change his plans, he was in Laos, and still registered to go to Hong Kong, but they didn't accept any people from Laos.

Napkins - there. Over there. Look. Over there!

ME: Don't worry about it.

NU: Sought asylum in Laos, but since there was Big Uncle in Hong Kong, but didn't let him get into the U.S. because they told him he needed to be with his family. That's why your 4th Uncle didn't register during that time. Your Uncle Carman was stupid, didn't change his plans, so he ended up staying in Malaysia, Laos, and Thailand area for a year. Your 4th Uncle got to Australia really fast.

ME: How old were they? They were all in the teens?

NU: In their teens, they had all left. At the time of the draft, they all left. Enlisting was a lot of money. You had to get tens of thousands to get your spot, and they wouldn't guarantee where you went. The Americans would get the money and you might get put anywhere by the government.

So a lot of people were nice and lent money to your grandpa, like a circle of friends, and it could be any amount from about ten people, and so every month, you would pay back one person. Your grandpa would pay people back. Your Big Uncle would work in Hong Kong and send money back. And later, more of your uncles left. Was it 1975? When it was time for your dad to enlist, your grandpa (dad's side) was worried about that. Your grandpa knew some people, so he bought a spot in the military for your dad where he just got to work as a mechanic.

ME: A mechanic?

NU: A mechanic. Your grandpa just had to buy one spot for your dad, since he only had one son, and he didn't have to worry about his daughters. But Grandma had a lot of sons! So I couldn't buy these spots, so I let them leave the country instead. 4th Uncle was in Hong Kong, Uncle Carman was in Malaysia. Malaysia was the worst - he had to help people do what? Work with beansprouts. Had to work with people who had money to start businesses, but since we were poor, he had to work for others. Your 4th Uncle was in a better place. Wasn't like your Uncle Carman's inflexibility, so he got to get to Australia really fast. Big Uncle was in Hong Kong, and then it was his turn to leave Hong Kong. He was undocumented in Hong Kong. He listed that he was from Dai Lok, but he just didn't have any papers. He was an undocumented worker in hong Kong, hiding from place to place. He had to work for people who wanted cheap workers and would help people hide. People do that here too, like Filipino people, or uh...

ME: Mexicans?

NU: Yeah, like Mexicans who are seeking asylum in the U.S., finding work as undocumented workers. If they catch you, you have to be sent back. If you're Vietnamese and you were caught without papers, they would send you back to Vietnam. So Big Uncle was scared of this, and asked 4th Uncle to sponsor him into Australia. He couldn't do that in Hong Kong though. He had to go to France. He worked as a barber in France, like the Mexican people... he worked as an undocumented refugee in France until 4th Uncle was able to sponsor him. You needed birth certificates... now, you know, grandpa's little brother, is still in France. He never got his papers together so he stayed in France. He didn't have his birth certificate. I kept all of the papers because I didn't want to throw anything away, but I did have his birth certificate, and got to help Big Uncle get his papers. So there's a little brother who is Uncle Carman's or you dad's age, who is still in France. He has citizenship there now.

ME: Big Uncle?

NU: No, grandpa's little brother. The same age as your dad and Uncle Carman. I know because we have birth at the same time. We all lived in the same house. Not like now, where we all bought other houses to live elsewhere. That's why, there are siblings, and there are about tens of people living in the same house. Not like now, where you and your cousins, who grew up together, don't even talk together anymore! Not in Vietnam, everyone played and talked together. Because we all lived in the same house and were similar ages.

ME: When did you come to the U.S.?

NU: 1990.

ME: With mom and dad?

NU: Yeah, your mom and dad were dating. So... your 4th Uncle and Uncle Carman knew your dad and they played basketball together, with other classmates. They played ball all day! They played until 4th Uncle's nail got torn off. Your dad would come over to our house all the time, with some other friends. When your 4th Uncle left, his friends would still come over to hang out, so your dad would come over and hang out still too. So he had known your mom, so they started dating. He asked if it was okay, and I said yes. So, your mom and dad came to the U.S. Your grandpa wanted him to be able to leave the country but was scared that his son would drown in the boat. But I wasn't scared, and I let my sons leave. So your two uncles could leave. 4th Uncle could leave, and Uncle Carman could leave. But your grandpa (dad's side) only had one side so he was scared, and wanted to protect him. So, your dad wasn't able to leave. Your grandpa wouldn't let him because he was scared, and we waited until we could all go. But we bargained and argued with our lives to have them leave.

In the end, when Uncle Carman finally made it to the U.S., made papers and sponsored our emigration into the U.S. In the beginning when your dad knew your mom and were dating, he had written letters to Uncle Carman, and I wrote letters to him too, to see if he could sponsor your dad as well. And it was surprising, they could add him onto the sponsoring papers! So we got the papers with your dad on them too. So, when we were leaving and got the papers together, both your great grandmother and your grandpa had gotten sick and 2nd Uncle wasn't doing well so we couldn't leave. We wasted a lot of people's efforts and money to get the papers, but we had to put them away, even though the officials were letting us go, but our health wasn't helping our case.

ME: Who?

NU: 2nd Uncle, your grandpa (dad's side), and your great grandmother. Your Uncle Carman hadn't come back to Vietnam since until recently. The person who came back to Vietnam the most was your Big Aunt. They sent money back to Vietnam mostly, until 1990, and then when our papers were finally put together, we could go. The prospects were better, and a lot of people didn't want to go to the U.S. because they weren't scared of staying in Vietnam anymore. Anyone who had money would be fine. Anybody who knew how to make money could stay and prosper. Like, your uncle (dad's side), Dinh's dad, who helped exchange currency. He made a living that way, with your aunt (dad's side).

So we finally made it. And your grandpa was so happy that we could come to the U.S. He thought that even dying in the U.S. would be great! So when he got here, he did die. Your grandpa (dad's side) still didn't want your dad to go. But don't ask your dad about it. If you did, he will get angry. He doesn't like remembering. He didn't like that his dad told him and your mom not to come to the U.S. In the end, it was good to stay in Vietnam. Your aunt (dad's sister) found a lot of money in the egg trade. Your... aunt. Your aunt in Hawaii. She found a lot of money. So your grandpa, when they were dating, didn't want your mom and dad to go to Vietnam. Grandpa (mom's side) talked to me, and told your mom that even if your dad couldn't go to the U.S. and stayed with his dad, she must leave anyway, and follow her own dad and mom to go to the U.S. He didn't want to leave one child in Vietnam. Your grandpa (dad's side) still didn't want that to happen. He still couldn't spare his son to leave his side. He always wanted his son to be by his side. Do you understand?

ME: Yes.

NU: So, your grandpa (mom's side) couldn't let just one daughter stay in the U.S. He reiterated: even if your dad couldn't go, you would just have to leave him and go to the U.S. In the end, your dad just came with us. It was just up to him, since we had the papers ready. We weren't just leaving the country as refugees.

[phones ring]

NU: Hi! Oh, [name] how are you? Today I don't have time to talk to you. No, my grandson is here to talk to me. Yeah, bye, we'll talk another day. Bye!

ME: When we're done talking, you can call her back.

NU: We can just talk another day. She always calls and looks for me to talk. Every day. So, your grandpa (dad's side) didn't want his one son to leave his side and separate his family. So, I had to talk to your mom. It doesn't matter how miserable you might end up, you have to follow your family and come to the U.S. In the end, your dad just came with us, on the airplane. We didn't have to come on a boat. Your dad defied his dad and came with your mom to the U.S. That was 1990.

ME: When you came to the U.S., how did you like it?

NU: When I came, of course I didn't like it. I couldn't speak the language, I couldn't work, and it was so cold.

ME: (Laughs) Cold!

NU: Just the cold was enough. I was scared to leave the house. It was so cold. And I couldn't work. So we had to rely on Uncle Carman. His house had enough room to fit all of us. But your aunt (divorced) didn't want us to live with them. But we didn't have any money. So your grandpa (mom's side) and great grandmother had social security. Your great grandmother was sick, and your grandpa was too old. So we got that couple hundred dollars a month. But, your mom had to go work. Back then, your Uncle Carman and Jessica were really close, and Jessica would help your Uncle Carman, your mom, your dad, your aunt to find work. Your dad had to use a lot of money! He spent a lot of years studying English. He studied for a long time, but he just didn't have the heart. Your mom too.

ME: They know how to speak English.

NU: Not very well! Especially not at first, when they went out to work. Your mom didn't even know how to say towel. Your dad was a little bit better. It wasn't the same. Your Aunt Phong also studied for a long time, but she never got the tone right, it just wasn't the same an American accent, you can't really listen to it. She was a little better. So Jessica would help and recommend places for them to work. They would work at the fish market, it was miserable. They would work there in the middle of the night, and then study in the morning and afternoon. Whenever there was work at the fish market, they would be able to send for you to work. It was cold. Of course, it was in the freezers. But they worked like that. Your dad, your mom worked like that. They worked like that.

ME: Grandma was at home?

NU: I didn't want to. Your grandpa and great grandmother couldn't work either. I had to take care of your grandpa, who was sick. I made food. A year after we made it, your cousin Carwin was born and I took care of them. And then, not long after that, your mom got a job at a hotel. If there was work at the fish market, then you could work, if there wasn't, then you just went home. Whenever they sent them back due to no fish being there, they would call, and they didn't have cellphones, and they would have to get a ride back, despite it being in the middle of the night, 2 or 3 am, Uncle Carman would have to pick them up, even though he had to wake up in the morning to work. He worked at Korry. In the end, they worked at a hotel. Later, Jessica had recommended them to work at the hotel. She helped them learn what "towel" and "soap" and "cup" were in English. She taught your mom and dad. Your dad worked nights. Your aunt ended up working there as well. She went with your mom.

Your mom though! Didn't watch out for things. So when she was crossing the street one day, got into a car crash. And your aunt, if you aunt had money to spare, then she would just ignore me. She wanted to move out, and live in old apartments. Back then, if we're counting money and rent, your dad had a part, your mom had a part, I also had to pay rent. Grandpa and great grandmother had some social security so they had some income. In the end, I had got some welfare. Jessica had to take me all over the place to register over and over for welfare. It was miserable. They had to test all sorts of things for me to be able to get welfare. It was much later until I was able to.

Then, I had to take care of your brother, and I would cook dinner. Your dad, your grandpa, your great grandmother. I made dinner like that. Your grandpa made cakes, and made some money that way.

ME: Grandpa?

NU: Yeah. Korry, and some friends made some orders for these cakes, the law firm, the place that your aunt (divorced) worked at, a lot of people there ordered these cakes. Sometimes, when grandpa was in the International District, his friends would order cakes to hold meetings. Your aunt bought them too. The cakes that you grandpa made, for his friends, he would make several every week. He made birthday cakes, at Korry Electronics and the law firm ordered a lot. So we had enough to eat. I would help your grandpa at home. So your aunt (divorced) would call back whenever any one wanted these cakes to get these cakes made. At Korry, your Uncle Carman's friends, your dad's friends, would order these. Your grandpa would make them. I would help your grandpa. I would help buy the ingredients. Next door was a grocery store. Your grandpa couldn't carry much, so I would have to go out and buy the ingredients, whatever cans or creams, I would go out and buy them and help make them. So they would deliver them to these workplaces. A lot of people liked eating them! A lot of people liked the cakes your grandpa made, they ate a lot. I would help make those, help make dinner, and help take care of your grandpa and great grandmother. In the morning, your mom and dad would go to school. When our aunt had some of her money, she didn't want to live with us anymore, so she moved out and found her own place. The rent was about $500 or whatever, but we all had to pool our money. When we lived back at that apartment, that I had shown you before. We didn't have to pay for water or trash, but we had to pay for rent and electricity. We tricked the landlord though. We told them that we only had 4 people living in it, but we had 5. But when your aunt had enough money, she moved out.

So left only your mom working. And she was just very unaware, and got herself into a car crash. It was a lot of years of rest before she got better. It was really intense and severe, we thought she would die. Your grandpa thought she would die too. She had to get a lot of surgery, in her head, in her foot, in a few other places. It's good that American doctors are so good, if it happened in Vietnam, she would've just died. She has gotten into a lot of trouble. She always got sick, and then she got into this car crash. Isn't that just the worst? In the end, they just kept working, your dad worked two jobs, and I stayed at home and cooked dinner, and took care of your mom. Your grandpa was sick, but made cakes, and we had enough money to eat. Prospects slowly got better. Then, finally you came. Then, your dad when back to Vietnam to go see his family. Then when your dad was more stable, your Aunt Phong wanted to come to the U.S., so we had to make sponsoring papers. We had to make fake papers for her. They made fake marriage papers to get her here. It was at his workplace, a friend, oh, you knew him too, you always went to see him, it was Michael. Michael helped him out. But don't ask them! They don't like talking about it. But I will tell you, so you can know what it was like. But they don't like it because it's already in the past. When we didn't have it as good, they don't like talking about it. But when your Aunt Phong came over to the U.S., she met that white man and married him, and had a daughter. That naughty daughter. That likes you.

Grandpa (dad's side) didn't like that she came over either. But your Aunt Phong wanted to come anyway. It was because your aunt in Hawaii found a lot of money dealing in the egg trade. She had so much work that she didn't have enough to people to delegate too! But your grandpa (dad's side) still didn't like that they wanted to come, his sons and daughters. So she asked your dad to help her find her way to the U.S. And Michael was good, and was open to helping, because Michael was gay, and Michael was willing to help, so your Aunt Phong was able to come.

And your aunt in Hawaii, your uncle in Hawaii, before the refugee wave, he had known your aunt. But your uncle's sisters, your uncle's family, was scared of not being able to get papers done. Was scared that it wasn't good to have your aunt and uncle to know each other. They had never dated or anything. But your uncle had a crush on your aunt. Your aunt... I wasn't sure if your aunt had reciprocal feelings, but that's what people said. That grandpa had died... which grandpa... Choong-Sook told me. They knew each other and that's what he had told me, that your uncle in Hawaii had really like your aunt. In the end, they had finished making those papers and they didn't want to be separated, but got to the U.S. Later, when he had went back to visit, your aunt was still unmarried, and then when he went back to visit Vietnam again, she was still unmarried, so your uncle finally confessed his feelings. But your grandma (dad's side) didn't like them, but your aunt felt like she had liked him, so they both went back to Hawaii. But when she finally got married, your aunt was too old, and couldn't have babies. Your aunt in Hawaii really likes babies and really wants babies. She always tells me, even having one would be great, but I couldn't even have one. But she's too old, so she can't now. So if you want something, commit to it. If that's what you want, that's what you should commit to. Don't think about divorce, you have to be committed to happiness, be focused and take care of your children.

ME: Back then, you used to have friends in the International District with the old people's home right? Who were they?

NU: They were... They were just [Mo Gu], the ones that told me about your aunt.

ME: Oh, those?

NU: Yeah, those people. Yeah, the people that knew your aunt, and your uncle, and his sisters. At the old people's home I don't know anybody. At the old people's association I do.

ME: Oh, yeah, the old people's associations.

NU: Yeah, I know a couple.

ME: You don't go anymore.

NU: That grandpa that always lent you movies. He passed away.

ME: Yeah.

NU: There's a grandma there, who's still there, who's deaf, but I can't go anymore. The grandpa is dead, and I don't know if she's still there, or if she's still alive. I have a lot of friends from Vietnam who were there too. There was someone who I sewed towels with, who I knew since I was ten.

ME: From Vietnam?

NU: Yeah, from Vietnam, she also came to the same State. Her husband passed away, and she's like 80 or 90 years old. She's old, so she doesn't go out much, but every once in a while we talk on the phone. There's another, who knows your mom and dad, whose daughter works with them, and she also lived in the same alleyway as us. At around 10 years old, she was married off. I wasn't married though, she got married. She was 16 or 17. She is still around. I played with her as we grew up.

It was tragic growing up. When I was 6 or 7, I would carry pails of water for people. I would walk blocks and whole streets to deliver water, since there was only the well. My mom went crazy, and my grandma was out working, so I had to work for people as well. I carried pails of water back to people so they had water. I was only so little, but I had to work. While I was working, there was this little mirror that I liked, this hand mirror, and I had to not eat breakfast for an entire week before I saved enough to buy it. My grandma would take the money I got from working, but I used the money I got to eat breakfast to but the mirror. I had to not eat breakfast for a week before I could buy it. Because I liked it. Back then, everyone was frugal, and everyone was really disciplined, not like people now, who are undisciplined. Now, even when families save up money, children use it up instead of saving it up. Just don't follow bad people, when you do, you go down that path for life. When you have children, you have to teach them slowly, and always listen to them, and make sure that they don't follow bad people. That's why I always call you - because I'm scared you'll get immoral. So no matter what, just don't learn to be immoral. It doesn't matter how impoverished you are, just be willing to work, and be willing to save money, and you'll be okay. When you finally have children, you'll also have to be this way. Slowly teach them, make sure they don't learn poor morals. Make sure they don't just follow random people and waste money, and go random places or whatever. So, I don't really want you to learn how to go to bars, or listen, or follow random people. I'm scared that you'll learn to be bad people. Bars have the most bad people. Just look, isn't it true? Especially bars, they have the most bad people. They have all kinds of people. Learning to be a bad person is fast. Learning how to be a good person takes time. So, I don't want you to learn how to be bad people. So, if you ever go out to drink, I just tell you not to drink too much. Right?

ME: (Laughs.)

NU: That's all I can do is to just drink less, if I tell you not to drink, then the response is "why?" If you drink too much, you can say anything. If you just drink a little bit, you still have control, but if you drink too much, anything will come out of your mouth. Casinos too. If you play a little, that's fine. But if you keep playing it gets to be too much. "Ah, I'll just play a little. I want to win more." You can just play a little, but as you keep playing, it just gets deeper and deeper. That's why I don't know how to gamble. I don't even know how to do the slot machines. That's why you shouldn't gamble. It's good to know a little bit of everything, but don't learn too much of gambling. You can learn a little to play. You don't have to not play at all. If you don't play at all, if you're poor, poor due to the heavens... the heavens made me that poor. If you learn how to gamble well, it doesn't mean anything. It just attracts the worst people. If you look, you'll see that it's like this. If you look at how to be a bad person, you can just look at who gambles. Who drinks. If you look at alcoholics, how many of them are good people? Not many. When you get children, you should tell them the same thing. You can always play a little, learn a little, play a little for fun. Don't follow the people that tell you to always go. Just drink a little. Just drink one drink. Don't be careless and just drink a lot. Don't listen to the people who keep telling you to drink. The people who live in poverty, who just keep working and are poor, in which the heavens just have made them poor, then they have no way.

ME: Can I ask you something else?

NU: What?

ME: Having lived here for so long, have you seen anything change?

NU: Yeah, it has changed.

ME: What has changed?

NU: Even if the city has changed, you still have to do what you have to do. I'm old. I don't think about that. I just think about myself, and how I can save up some money until I'm old and my children are good people, and until my children are old, and they have loved ones that are good people. I don't desire anything at all, only that now, I am old, and that my children are good people, and that my grandchildren are good people, then that is all I want. Then, when I am old, and however I die, I'm not counting that. As long as you have money, when I finally die, just let me die in a good way. Get a thing that's nice to put me in, and I'll be happy. Just that. The best would be that you... I'm old, I don't desire much. I'm old, and I have to die eventually. When you're so old that you can't walk, I'll just look around my grandchildren, and my things, and my children make food for me, and when my children know that I am dead, and will let me rest, and now that I can rest, that is all I desire, I don't need anything else. That's what I want. When I came to the U.S., that's what I wanted. The government had taken care of me, and I didn't need to go to an old people's home. I am living like this, and eating like this, and it's the best when I have children that want to check up on me. I can't say when I will die. Of course I want to not get too old. I have children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, then I will be happy. That's what I want. I don't think about much, that's all. Like right now, Grandma doesn't have to worry about much. Grandpa is dead. My mom is dead. My grandchildren is dead. I'm going to have great grandchildren. So that's good. So it's just when I finally get to rest, and you all will get to make sure I'm pretty when it's time. That's all I want and I don't think about anything else. I'm old. When one has money, and I get to save some, and I have some money, my grandchildren have money, and prospects are good, and everyone can work, and I don't have to worry about anyone. As long as I don't become a burden to the next generation. I don't want to have to be a burden all the way until I'm dead. Like that one time I had to get surgery, everyone had to take care of me. That's what I'm scared of. If I get sick, if I could just die off, that would be good. All the children who have to worry about me, and have to worry about themselves, and have to work. I'm worried about that.

ME: That doesn't matter - we want to worry about you.

NU: Ehh, you don't have to worry about me. I want you to... I don't want to be a burden to other people. I don't want people to think "ahhh she's taking too long to die." I just want to die earlier, so I don't live too long and get all kinds of cancers, that's what I'm scared of. Well, that's good. I don't think about anything. The most important thing is that you don't go off and do random stuff, as long as you stay disciplined and are morally good, that's good.

ME: You don't have to worry about that. You are not a burden.

NU: I'm scared that your youngsters are like that.

ME: You don't have to be scared!

NU: I want my children and grandchildren to not be bad people, help people. That's the best thing. Help as much as they can. Just those things. You don't have anything else to ask me?

ME: Okay. My laptop is about to die.