My Grandpa (Gong), Ho Vuong
22 years of age
Born in Vietnam 1930
My Grandma (Ma), Thanh Phuong
18 years of age
Born in China 1934
Toys and Games
My grandpa, Ho Vuong, has thirty grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. While growing up, I remember my grandpa peering over my shoulder, interested in the games I am playing with my siblings and cousins. Despite not knowing the language, he always laughs when one of us lands on Boardwalk on the Monopoly board or when someone finally wins first place in MarioKart.
My grandpa is fascinated by the toys and technology my generation has while growing up. When he is younger and growing up in Vietnam, his favorite activity to play is “soldiers” with his friends. They pretend to be the soldiers that are constantly at war–camouflaging in the mud and combating one another to “grow stronger.” He has so much fun playing this game with his friends and always believes his children and grandchildren would play this game too.
My grandpa chuckles to himself reflecting on this memory, while watching his grandchildren play their own versions of games.
Real Life Soldier
The loud roar of a plane zooming low through the air wakes up my grandpa. Everyday, the loud sounds of the war shake his home, jolting him awake. Today is different, however. Today, the planes are dropping bombs in the area.
Muffled shouts fill the air, but they are difficult to hear over the loud roar of the plane. My grandpa’s mother runs to his bed, dragging him half asleep by the arm. Outside, clouds of dust are kicked up as people run frantically for shelter. My grandfather coughs as he inhales a cloud of dust–his eyes burn and he can feel tears building up. The roar of the planes grows louder and louder, yet no one knows which direction they are coming from.
The first bomb is dropped around half a mile away, but the effect is felt immediately. Smoke fills the air as thatched-roof homes burst into flames when the bombs strike them. High pitched screams ring through the air–everything is a blur to my grandpa, as he is pulled underground to a bomb shelter, shivering in fear next to his family. Everyone sits in silence, waiting for the loud roars to disappear. Oftentimes, they sit in shelters for hours with no light, food, a place to use the restroom and limited water.
After awhile, the constant war becomes too difficult to bear. Life becomes
harder and harder in the countryside, so his family moves further south. At the time, South Vietnam was controlled by the capitalist republic government, supported by Americans. Life becomes significantly easier–my grandpa’s family is free and prosperous and they begin working agriculture and opening shops in local towns.
Home on a Canoe
My grandma, Thanh Phuong, was born in China. In the 1940s, her parents migrated to Vietnam when my grandma was four years old. The majority of her childhood is spent in the countryside–her family is poor.
They live on a small canoe that floats in the middle of the river. This means the constant slosh of water moves and fills up the bottom of the boat. Once in awhile, when the movement of the river is unbearable, my grandma's parents rent out a small space inside a hut by the river to sleep.
The canoe sticks with my grandma during the war as well. Her family paddles the canoe to the side of the river and quietly takes cover under the densely packed coconut trees to hide from gunshots fired from helicopters above.
Whether it is day or night, these soldiers show no mercy–at times, my grandma huddles on her knees in the same position for hours. She makes sure she does not stir even the slightest bit so as to not blow their cover.
The worst part for my grandma are the animals. Lizards, spiders, centipedes, and snakes crawl or slither over her body–she closes her eyes reminding
herself to not cause any sudden movements. Tears stream down her face each day she finds herself hiding. People around her shout as they are shot in the shoulder or leg.
Growing up Too Quickly
My grandma begins caring for her younger siblings at the age of eight. She has seven siblings, and she cares for them in the canoe, constantly cooking and soothing the younger ones. Every morning at dawn, my grandmother accompanies her father, where they pick sugar canes and walk to town to try and sell them for some wheat and rice.
Oftentimes, in the early evenings, once the bombings and firings have died down, my grandmother and her sisters swim alongside the dirty river until they reach the wheat fields. They retrieve the leftover wheat that people harvested and travel back quietly through the river, keeping their arms above their head to ensure the wheat does not get wet.
This is the life my grandma lives throughout her childhood and teenage years. She never goes to school past first grade and simply works to keep her family alive each and everyday.
When my grandma is nineteen, my grandpa courts her. It is an arranged marriage. My grandma leaves her canoe, and together, they settle in South Vietnam. My grandparents eventually have thirteen children–two who pass away at a young age. The rest of their children successfully immigrate to Los Angeles, where the majority continue to reside today.
My grandparents at their wedding in 1952.