Friday, September 4, 2015

Pioneer Girl in a Bowl Cut and Flip-Flops

This is part two of a story that starts here: Read part one.

Phi-Phi and her father
Phi-Phi’s dad had a distant relative who was Chinese, but spoke both Chinese and Vietnamese, and knew all the passages through Cambodia to safety in Thailand.  He was working as a coyote—a guide to aid escaping refugees from Vietnam to safety. They paid this coyote in gold bricks—a fortune then, and now. Her father and other family members paid for the safe passage of three groups before them—nieces and nephews departed first because teens and young adults were in the most danger under the communist rule.

Phi-Phi and her parents were in the fourth group to cross the border with the coyote. Her parents gave her an extra-short haircut so she’d look like a boy. They thought less danger could befall her that way. They dressed her in a reddish Cambodian-style boys’ shirt, white pants and flip-flops. Together, they walked for several days, covering hundreds of miles. When they arrived in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, they walked right into another communist invasion. There were bomb strikes, gunfire, and widespread chaos. They did not speak Cambodian, which only heightened the confusion and anxiety of arriving in a full-on war zone. 

At this key point in the journey, their coyote abandoned them, ignoring his promise of safe passage to Thailand, and they were left alone in this war-torn country with very little money, having given nearly everything they had to the guide to finance their escape. Homeless, friendless, and practically penniless, they spent two months in an abandoned building in Phnom Penh while they regrouped, and the grown-ups concocted Plan C. 

In the end, it came down to finances. After pooling their resources, they still did not have enough money to get everyone in their party to Thailand, so they decided that the women would return to Vietnam. The reason was nobler than it sounds—the men would be immediately executed or imprisoned for life if they went back; the women would be treated more mercifully. So the mothers sacrificed themselves and their freedom for the safety and progress of their husbands and children.

Phi-Phi and her mother, prior to 1974.

When Phi-Phi’s mother stood at the side of the Mekong River and told her, “I love you. Be good for your father,” then stepped onto a little fishing boat, Phi-Phi had no idea this was a long-term farewell, and a courageous goodbye. She didn’t see her mother again for 13 years. 

Read Part 3 here.


Suzy said...

Such PRECIOUS pictures of Phi-Phi with her mom and dad!!!!

Doreen Thomas said...

I am blown away by your inspirational life story Phi-Phi! It sheds light on your courage and strength! Thank you for sharing this with us!