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Prose

“Miền Trung Lụt Lội” – My Memoir


Hong Yao Ming (BP73)

The Flooding Central

Preface

Watching Katrina unfolding and its aftermath on the 60-inch plasma television in the comfort of your own home would touch you somewhat. Being there on the scene where the eyes of the storm stare at you intensely with its ugliest intention and determination to ravage your life and personal belongings is something else. Assuming that you would survive the heat of the moment caused by Mother of Nature’s furor inflicting damages onto you, her departure only marks the beginning of a long, arduous ordeal and a journey burdened with pain and sufferings, despair, anguish, anger, desolation, uncertainty, helplessness and the unknown. The road to recovery and rebuild one’s life in the aftermath can only be possible with determination, hope for sure and of course assistance and help from those who are more fortunate and privileged than the cursed ones…

From the perspective of a young teen-aged boy, the memoir of my first encounter with the flood of Mien Trung in the late 60s’ depicts the brutal and destructive force of nature displacing untold helpless lives in just matter of days…

-°-°-

Geographically speaking, Vietnam is divided in to three regions, North, Central and South. Each of the regions is very different from the other. If one were to ask about the characteristics of the regions, it would be (if I still remember my high-school geography lesson) :

North : conservative, civilized (pre-war time), land of mineral resources

South : abundance, prosperity, easy-going, land of agriculture (#1 or #2 rice producer in South East Asia in pre-war time)

Central : arid, poor soil (for agriculture), life-challenging, harsh, eternal struggle and of course, the notorious, perennial floods. Hence, it earned the nickname “Mien Trung Lut Loi” (The Flooding Central)

-°-°-

I grew up and lived in Danang through out my teen-age years until I left for college in another city. Danang is a small city more so a town, in my opinion. It is surrounded by many provinces and villages… I don’t remember the exact year. I’d guess that it was in the late 60s’ because I was in middle high school. That year, the storm must be a big one. I could tell because the local authority had to ask the high schools for a helping hand. They mobilized us volunteer-students to the rural countryside to deliver supply (foods, clothing, medicines, etc…) and provide manpower resources to the affected areas in the outskirts of the city.

I was thrilled that my parents let me sign up for volunteering. I was eager to go thinking that it would be fun and especially, I did not have to attend classes. Classrooms are for good students. Come to textbooks, I have never been a bookworm. Come to classroom, I try but I was never on the favorite student list of any teacher thru out my first twelve years of education (at least some consistency, no ?). I must have ADDS (Attention Deficit Disorder Syndrome) according to my own self-proclaimed diagnosis back then. Was I on any list in college later ? I can’t remember now ! By the way, do you know that my worse subject in high school was Physics and Chemistry ? I failed miserably thru out the last four years of high school. My P/C teacher must have giving up on me then. I remember that he always raised his arms, rolled his eyes every time he handed me my test papers back with the big red you-know-what year after year for four years. I asked the guy seated next to me in the back of the classroom (front rows are for girls and good students only) if the red circle on my test papers is French abbreviated way for “Ok” without the letter K. He said yes. I believed him…

Jean Claude Bressieux, Hong Yao Minh (Geneva 2003)
 

Lo and behold, I met my P/C teacher again for the first time in 2002, after 28 years, in Geneva, Switzerland where my wife and I attended my first ever high school reunion. He was at the airport welcoming us, his old and old students. When we saw one another, we embraced and I saw he had tears in his eyes. I said to myself - “Does he still feel sorry for me after all these years ?”… Seriously, he was one the few most caring and kindest teachers I have had then and even to this date, more than a third of a century later.

My parents signed the permission slip for me to go on the field trip. I don’t remember if the school had them signed the waiver form agreeing not to sue the school if anything would happen to me. The trip was just for the day. We didn’t have to stay overnight away from home. It would have been better and more fun because no cool teenagers would want to be home-bound. Many students from my class and from others were on the trip. Most of us are guys and a several gals who were most likely tomboys or brave or kind-hearted wanting to help or just simply did not want to attend class like me. The excursion was on a weekday, no class for the volunteer-students (yes !!!). We assembled on the school ground very early that day to help loading the trucks with supplies like bags of rice, bales of old clothing donated by people, medical supplies, drinking water containers, etc… Transportation was provided by the local authority in coordination with the military. Other schools in Danang also participated in the relief mission. There was a convoy of trucks, some with supplies and others transporting us students.

We left the school ground rather early in the morning because it would take a couple of hours to get to the destination. I don’t recall where they were taking us to except for the fact that it was about two-hour drive to certain province in the outskirt of Danang. The ride was bumpy sitting in the back of the truck but it was not too bad because we were young and energetic. It was raining that day from the start, a typical misty rain with occasional down-pouring torrential rain which would cause flash floods in no time at all… We arrived at the destination two hours later. Even though it was called province, to me, it looked more like a typical village with single level thatched roof houses, patches of rice fields here and there, banana trees, coconut trees, green and yellow bamboo trees and bitternut trees reaching high above… The only noticeable difference between a normal typical village and this place was that it covered with flood water everywhere. So much water covering everything even the road we were on ! The landscape was quite depressing to look at. The scenery in front of me looking out from the back of the truck was basically three colors, brown, gray and black. The ground was a giant brown carpet of flood waters as far as my eyes can see and extending to the horizon. The sky was gray with a blanket of misty rain continuously coming down and patches of black clouds here and there threatening and promising a lot more torrential rain thru out the day… If one were to look for a perfect (not necessarily beautiful) drawing of sad, depressing and pessimistic scenery, what I saw that day was it…

Thôn Huỳnh Giản (Bình Định) trong mênh mang mùa nước lũ (11-2007)

The convoy stopped at the final destination. We had to get off to unload the supplies from the truck. I jumped off the truck and landed right onto ankle-deep flood water covering the road or pavement. I started cursing rather loud because my spanking white sport shoes were soaking wet and quickly changing to brown color. Also, my nicely pressed blue jean also got wet because of the splash from the jump. The nice image of a clean and cool young teen-aged boy especially of a city boy was ruined, I mumbled to myself. In some spots, I saw people were in knee-deep water. Most areas were in shin-deep water. I could easily go from ankle-deep water to knee-deep or shin-deep water in matters of a few steps because I could not see where and what I was walking to. I could easily heading to the edge of the river and accidentally fall off right into the flowing river bed. Water was everywhere.

Miền Trung lũ lụt (2007)
 

Tall trees were bent from the strong hurricane winds passing by the area a few days earlier. Several houses were being flooded half way to the roof. A few houses had water at roof level. The residents stored personal belongings on the top of the roofs hoping it could be spared if and only if the rain would stop. On the river, one could see clothing and personal belongings were parading by and heading to unknown destination… Some villagers were salvaging what was left of their stuffs and moved them to higher and dry ground if they could find it, hoping and, praying that the rain would stop and the water would soon recede … From the distance, my eyes caught a large object floating on the river. When it was close enough, I recognized that it was a drowned black water buffalo. It’s very common to use water buffalo for tilling the rice paddies after the harvest and before the seeding season starts. A farmer had just lost his precious and valuable tool of the trade in order to earn a living. It would cost him a fortune to buy another one, hopefully in time for the next growing season…

By noon, we finished unloading the trucks. We worked very hard. Physically, I had never worked that hard up until that time but in good spirit because of what went on around me that day. So did my classmates. We also built strong camaraderie out of this experience because we had witnessed the loss and sufferings of the unfortunate souls. We had a lunch break. After we ate, most of us sat around chatting or resting so we can resume the task of distributing the supplies to the villagers in the afternoon. I decided to take a walk and looking around. I heard someone was crying and lamenting behind me then a hand grabbed hold of my arm gently. I turned around and saw an old frail woman in her 70s’ or perhaps younger than her appearance but harsh life can make one aged prematurely. She was sobbing, wiping her tears and said…
“Ca^.u o+i, con cha’u ga’i ba ?y tuo^ ?i cu ?a tui di da^u ma^’t ro^`i. Tui kie^’m no’ hai ho^m ra`y ma` kho^ng ra. Ma’ no’ ma^’t hai na(m tru+o+’c, chi ? co`n hai ba` cha’u…” (“Young man, my 7-year old grand daughter is missing. I’ve been looking for her for two days. Her mother passed away two years ago, only two of us left…”.
I was caught by surprise and was stunned at what she told me. I just looked at her speechless for a few seconds and just mumbled “Da., Da.” (Yes… Yes). Then, gently I removed her hand from my arm and walked away, not knowing what to say or how to comfort her in such a moment of despair. When I was out of her sight and all alone by myself, I tried to hold myself back from crying and just wiped away a few teardrops… “Boys are not supposed to cry” I told myself.

Being a young city boy who had been living in my own nice and comfort cocoon of the city life up until that time, I had not had a chance to deal with tragedy at such a young age. I did not know how harsh life can be until that day…

Yes, when facing tragedy, the city boy ran away as fast as France’s La TGV (bullet-speed train) or not any slower than the Narita-Tokyo Express (Japan’s bullet-speed train)… Tragedy gave him a valuable about-life experience at a very early stage. It’s the fact that in the face of tragedy, he fled the scene. However, from it, he received a precious and priceless gift - Compassion.

It was then, some forty years ago. The present time - Whenever Mother of Nature brings her fist of fury to that corner of the world, the image of that old frail woman emerges.
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Hong Yao Ming
San Jose, December 2007
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Photos : Báo Bình Định Online