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31 C HA P T E R ON E My Early Life The Boeing 747 airliner touched down at San Francisco International Airport. The plane had taken my ­ family and me away from the most impoverished and backward land in the world and brought us to a civilized country, complete with modern science and technology. The airport was magnificent and majestic. Bright light spread across the sky. Most ­ people would prob­ ably think that I had traveled from hell and had landed in heaven. However, I was in a unique position. This airport was not strange to me. Over twenty years earlier, I had had the opportunity to train in the United States with the South Viet­ nam­ ese Navy. When I had stepped out of the airplane so many years earlier and walked through this same hall, I had wished that my wife and my ­ children ­ were by my side. Now, my wish had come true. My wife and my­ children stood by my side, and yet my heart tightened. I was flooded with mixed feelings. I was about to confront many difficulties in this new land, and I would need strength to cope with the challenges I would face in the United States. All my energy and willpower had been taken by the communists in Vietnam. They had left me only this emaciated body. How would I manage in this new country?­ Those thoughts went round and round in my mind. When I turned around, I saw my beautiful ­ children following me. I thought about their ­ future; they ­ were innocent, but the communist world had dominated their youth for so many years. We had escaped from that bizarre world, where young ­ people did not know what to do or where their lives ­ were ­ going. ­ Today, we set foot in Amer­ i­ ca. In time, they would go far. Thinking along ­these lines, I was elated. I wanted to forget what had happened in the past. While we ­ were living at my ­ brother-­ in-­ law’s ­ house and completing the necessary paperwork, I had time to reminisce about the arc of my life and all the countless changes I had experienced, from childhood, to my ­ career, and then to the time that turned my life upside down. ­ Human beings can go from possessing nothing to possessing something and then return to having nothing again in a 32  Chapter One vicious circle with no escape. Thinking about the past made me recall so many emotions and memories. ­Whether ­bitter or sweet, all memories are worth remembering . I longed to relive my innocent years without the dust of life and remember the peaceful life, an honest life, led by rural ­ people who worked hard all year round. v When I was young, I lived in a village located right next to a river in the outlying district of Kim Sơn in Ninh Bình Province in northern Vietnam. The river was the main transportation artery linking our village with the neighboring districts throughout the province. The boats plied back and forth, carry­ ing merchandise, navigating the ­ water traffic, carry­ ing supplies for all the local residents, and enabling us to have a comfortable life, ­ free of hunger and material want. My ­ house was right next to the river. It was surrounded by a bamboo hedge, and we had a garden with betel nut trees, a fishpond, and many fruit trees, including guavas, longans , grapefruits, oranges, and plums. Almost all the villa­ gers had ­ houses like this, and each ­ house was separated from the next one by a bamboo hedge. We lived near the ­ water, both the river and the sea, and so the air was clear and healthy. Each year, we experienced the four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. The scenery was poetic, life was ­ simple, and the ­ people ­ were gentle. Eighty ­ percent of our community was Catholic, and the rest ­ were Buddhists or ancestor worshipers . Each village had churches, ­ temples, and shrines. The ­ people in our village­ were devout and had faith in God. They worked long, hard hours, and the rest of their time was spent in religious pursuits. They offered their souls to God, and they prayed to God ­ every day. They lived without competition, without jealousy, without concern about wealth and poverty; it was according to God’s wishes. The Phát Diệm Church was just three villages away from us. It was the biggest church in the district, and one of the greatest...


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