HOF132: Nguyen Thi Kim Loan

Nguyen Thi Kim Loan was nine years old when the war ended and the Communists took over South Vietnam. The second youngest of eight children, she watched her family fall on hard times. Her father was sent to a re-education camp and her mother succumbed to a chronic illness. While the family depended on an older son’s teacher’s salary and income from the eldest daughter’s coffee stand, Nguyen’s other siblings began making plans to leave the country.

Nguyen was able to flee Vietnam in 1989. Her benefactor, a veteran of the Vietnam-Cambodia war, took advantage of the post-war chaos to use his networks in Cambodia to plan an escape to Thailand by land and sea. The first night at sea, the boat was battered in a storm. Nguyen saw water rising in the boat’s hull and feared that she would drown. Later, when the boat reached the shores of Thailand, the captain dumped the passengers on a sandbar and disappeared. Lost and abandoned, Nguyen and the others desperately started a fire with their clothing in their attempts to get help.

Nguyen’s life in a refugee camp was very perilous. She arrived months after it was declared closed, and was traumatized during the four years that she spent there. She was finally granted asylum in Canada and settled in Ottawa, Ontario. She felt compelled to write her memoir and share her memories of the violence and desperation she lived through and witnessed all around her.