Tue Hong Baker
My parents are Chinese/ Vietnamese and they were both born and brought up in Vietnam. Around the time, the late nineteen seventies, there was a number of difficult diplomatic problems between China and Vietnam and people who were Chinese by national origin, if you like, despite, regardless of where they’d been born were being regarded with suspicion in Vietnam. And it became particularly difficult for my father because he had a job in what was effectively a news bureau, seen as politically sensitive, and having access to particular kinds of information. And one of his colleagues was put in jail or charged, implied he’d been passing information. And people were starting to get a bit nervous so my father decided that it would be better to, to think about leaving.
They were fairly well off; he had a secure professional job which was well regarded. They owned their, our home which was sort of like a flat, which was unusual in those days. Um, and to decide to sort of uproot from all of that, to sell everything, to leave the family and everything they’d ever known must have been extremely difficult. Because, of course, you know you couldn’t just buy a plane ticket or get out. They had to liquidate their assets and then find a means of persuading somebody to help them leave. I think it was particularly difficult for my mother. She had to leave her family. They bought passage on this boat for the four of us, having sold everything.
I don’t have memories of the boat. I think I’ve seen one picture. For a long time in my mind it was this big thing and then I’m surprised every time I see the picture of this little rickety wooden boat, and all of these people sort of squeezed on to it. From what I’ve been told it was an incredibly fraught journey which took months instead of days. There were issues about um the pilot deciding that uh, he hadn’t been paid enough and he was going to leave everybody. And there were storms and um they had to dock the boat and wait it out. Inevitably we get sort of pirates along the way who were watching out for these boats because they’d know that people are fleeing with their worldly possessions hidden about them...usually in gold rings. But we ended up in Hong Kong eventually as we came into a refugee camp at the beginning. But for whatever reason my parents chose to come to the UK. We ended up in uh a refugee camp on the South Coast. And then we were sort of relocated um. My parents ended up in Buckinghamshire and they’ve been there ever since.
I can imagine it for my grandmother it must have been strangest of all because she had been born and brought up and lived the majority of her life in an environment in which she was very comfortable, very familiar with. In which she could navigate herself independently and suddenly she couldn’t go out on her own, she couldn’t do anything independently not just because of her age but because she didn’t have the means to communicate with people, to ask for help. Before she died then she for a number of years she had not been well um. There were issues around dementia and one of the first things that goes is your, is your immediate short immediate short term memory. You know she was remembering being back in Vietnam and recognising sort of old acquaintances and people that she was seeing. She went in to supported housing for a while. Both my parents were working. My Uncle and Aunt who were working as well. She wanted to be able to have her space and what independence she could muster and some things that she wanted to do were just beyond the comprehension of some of the staff. Back in Vietnam if you want water, you go to the pump, you pump it, you carry it back. So it’s a really precious resource. And she used to have this system of basins in her kitchen about, you know the grading of water and this basin was the cleanest water which meant you could wash food and vegetables and things in it. And then it went down, there was another basin for washing hands and so on, until you just had water that was there for really dirty things and throwing down the sink, etc. And then normally four or five basins cluttered up the work counter and I can still remember how distressed, you know, she got when you know somebody came in and just you know threw everything away because it was cluttering up the side and they couldn’t sort out her lunch and she couldn’t communicate with them about why those things were there. What she was doing with them and the the fact that she still wanted them. That really bought home to me the difficulties of trying to access care for people whose cultural expectations and whose language difficulties are completely removed from the main stream.