Journey to the West as a refugee 西行難民記 [Updated]

We have updated a Chinese version of this story. Please sroll down to read this story in Chinese.

When Raymond Moc fled to China from Vietnam in 1977—two years after the fall of Saigon—the Chinese government identified him as an overseas Chinese and assigned him to work on a farm. But he didn't want to be labeled as overseas Chinese. His desire was to be legally recognized as a refugee, which would give him the chance to go to a western country. He had no idea that this goal would lead him to spend one month on a boat, and another six months living in a prison. 

Raymond was born to a Chinese family in Haininh, Vietnam in 1954. Moc was 21 when the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (also known as Viet Cong) captured the capital of South Vietnam. One year later, he started planning his escape from South Vietnam with his girlfriend Fanny Moc, who later became his wife. “We thought about every possibility to escape, taking a boat and even walking to Thailand,” said Raymond.

Moc sits behind the screen

They had indeed attempted to walk to Thailand with a group of people, but failed after a few days and decided to return due to the fear of being killed by the guerrilla forces, kidnapped by bandits or eaten up by tigers. “Only a few made it to Thailand, and some others, we never heard from them since then,” said Raymond.

When he and his wife returned to Vietnam, they stayed a few weeks for another chance to escape. In the spring of 1977, they heard about a conflict between the Vietnamese and Chinese governments, and that China had started to accept some Chinese-Vietnamese from North Vietnam. This time, he and his wife travelled up to North Vietnam and successfully passed through the Chinese border.

Since Raymond is Chinese-Vietnamese and disguised himself as a resident of North Vietnam, the local Chinese government recognized him as an overseas Chinese instead of a refugee from South Vietnam. While this afforded him the chance to stay legally in China, it wasn't what he wanted. “We don’t want to stay there,” said Raymond, “We escaped from Vietnam because of the Communist party, there is no reason we shall stay in a Communist country.” 

In the fall of 1978, Raymond started planning his escape from China. He and his wife gathered 43 people, bought water, food and a sailing boat, and set off from a port in Guangxi’s Beihai City. Their destination was Hong Kong. “It was a gambling of life. Everyone on that boat knew it, we were taking the biggest risk in our life and there were no options,” he said.

Moc stands in front of the Hai Ninh Community Association on Main StreetNone of the 45 people on board had sailing experience. The trip, which was supposed to take only two weeks at most, lasted an entire month.

When Raymond and his colleagues finally arrived in Hong Kong in December 1978, all the camps on the small island were packed with refugees from Vietnam. The local government had to house them in a prison, where he married his wife. “They didn’t treat us like prisoners, and the meals were actually not bad. But we were separated and not allowed to go out,” said Raymond. 

Six months later, they were relocated to a refugee camp in Kowloon. He filled applications to the embassies of United States, Canada and Australia in Hong Kong, and got approved to come to the States because they had a relative in Los Angeles who was able to sponsor them.

On September 1st, 1979, a plane carrying the Mocs and other Vietnamese refugees landed in Los Angeles. “$50 dollars, that's all we had,” said Raymond. They were literally broke and without shelter. Their guarantor in America didn’t welcome them in the airport but asked a pastor to pick them up and bring them to a church. “People scattered over the church, sleeping on the benches and floors. You can barely find a spot to stand,” said Fanny. “You can tell they are all refugees.”

Moc was elected as the Chairman of Hai Ninh Community Association

Raymond, after working briefly for $1.99 an hour in a shoe factory, landed a busboy job in a Taiwanese restaurant. "The owner of the restaurant was good to me, so was the chef. They taught me the basics of cooking after work,” said Raymond, “and I learnt it quickly, because I have to.” Fanny also took up a restaurant job, and the two started picking up English. Soon they found an apartment and had their first child in 1980, and their second child in 1983. 

Raymond worked his way up from busboy to chef in a few years in the restaurant business, and ended up starting his own restaurant on 7th street in Downtown L.A. in 1985. “I made $3,000 a month as a chef in 1985, and my wife was working in a jewelry store. We saved up some money and decided to have our own business,” he said.

His restaurant business took off after a few months. However, they encountered a big challenge four years after opening. It was 1992, the year of the Los Angeles riots. “Our major clientele were African Americans, after the L.A. Riots, they stopped coming to my restaurant, because they thought I was Korean,” said Raymond. Business went down due to these racial tensions, and the Mocs were forced to shut down the restaurant in 1993.

"We came here as refugees, but, we didn’t even have time to think what does that mean." — Fanny Moc

Raymond and his wife later found work as chefs in casinos. During that period they also began volunteering for the American Haininh Community Association, a non-profit organization that serves the Chinese-Vietnamese community in San Gabriel Valley. “When I get older and finally have sometime for myself. I started thinking about giving back," said Raymond. "We have gained so much. We feel appreciated.” 

Now, Raymond and Fanny are retired and living in Alhambra. Raymond was even elected as chairman of Haininh Community Association. Nowadays his hope is that someone will tell the stories about them and Vietnamese refugees, but he feels that fewer young people are interested in their stories. “After we die, who will be the one to tell the stories?” Raymond wonders.

Fanny, however, takes a somewhat different mindset. She says she saw the news about Syrian refugees, which reminds her about her experience as a refugee and she thinks that living in the present is just as important as acknowledging the past."We came here as refugees, but we didn’t even have time to think what does that mean, we just strived to survive," said Fanny. "But it’s just life. We made it, that’s the point.”

The interview was translated from Chinese, edited and condensed. 

    莫華峰的逃亡生涯從繈褓之中便已開始。似乎直到他歷經試圖步行從越南到泰國,乘船海上飄行整月,暫住香港監獄半年和以難民身份前往美國後,他的生命裏才少去了“逃難”這個詞,並有了一個新詞“生活”。

    1954年,莫華峰出生在越南海寧省(今廣寧省)的一個華裔家庭。六個月大時,父親為躲避越南共產黨(又稱“越共”),抱著他拖家帶口逃到南越。此後,一家人便一直於南越生活。直到越共攻占南越總統府兩年後,21歲的他跟家人和女朋友開始籌劃逃離越共統治下的南越。莫華峰說:“我跟太太想盡辦法逃出來。我們試圖買船逃走,甚至嘗試過走路去泰國”。

    走了三,四天後,他們就放棄了。因為逃往泰國一路翻山越嶺,不僅可能遭遇老虎襲擊,當時的越南邊境更是亂象叢生。有不同的軍事力量和遊擊隊抓壯丁;更有山賊,土匪攔路搶劫,謀財害命。因為逃難的人都會把家當換成了黃金或美金帶在身邊。

    莫華峰回到南越蟄伏一段時間後,越南開始出現“排華”事件。中國以收容華僑的名義開始接收一些來自越北的華裔群體。因南北服飾裝扮不同,經過一番喬裝後,莫華峰和沈英儀經由越北,成功穿過邊防線,抵達中國雲南省。

    生長於華裔家庭,能講流利粵語和國語的莫華峰,順理成章地被當地政府認作了歸國華僑,並安排他們到農場工作。可他卻一直不斷地向當地政府爭取他的難民身份。他說:“我們不想留在中國,因為我們逃的原因就是逃離共產黨。”

    在農場做了一年工後。他和女友召集了其他43名老鄉,買了一條小船,水和食物,從中國廣西省北海市的一個港口出發,再一次開始逃亡。這一次的目的地是當時的難民集散地——香港。45個人擠在一艘沒有馬達裝置的小船上,且沒有任何一人有航海經驗。全程只能任由風吹,浪推。“大家覺得賭一把。同在一條船上,要就死,要就活下來到香港,”他說。

    1978年12月,沿岸停停走走,在海上漂泊一個月後。莫華峰一行終於抵達香港。可此時的香港已擠滿難民。無處容身,莫華峰一行人只得住進由香港政府安排的臨時安置點——一所用來關押非重罪犯人的監獄。

    “雖然,沒有把我們像犯人一樣對待,但他們關了我們六個月審查身份。”當時的香港政府為審查混跡在難民中的偷渡客。將許多由中國大陸前往香港的難民集中安置並逐個查驗其身份。為避免偷渡客逃走,查驗期間更不允許難民離開安置點。患難見真情,莫華峰與沈英儀在香港的監獄裏面結了婚。

    六個月後,莫華峰與新婚妻子通過身份查驗後被轉移到位於九龍的一個難民營。並開始向澳大利亞、加拿大和美國等國家大使館和代表遞交庇護申請。因在洛杉磯有一個願意擔保他們的遠房親戚,最終他們獲得了前往美國的機會。

    1979年9月1日,莫華峰夫婦所乘坐的飛機降落在洛杉磯國際機場。“到了美國,我們身上就帶了50美金,”他說。初到美國,擔保人並沒有見他們,只找了當地教會安排了一個牧師接機。牧師將他們送到一所教堂,推開教堂大門看的場景,讓沈英儀難忘至今,“本以為會安排一個住處給我們。但他們只是把我們帶到了擔保人家對街的一個教堂裏。一進教堂,我就看見地上、椅子上睡滿了人。都是難民”。

    不久後,經由教會和一個救援國際難民的公益組織“國際救援委員會”(International Rescue Committee)幫助,夫妻倆在洛杉磯市中心的一個皮鞋工廠找到了第一份工作。“那時候老板付我們1.99塊美金一個小時。但做了兩三個月,他們開始裁員,我們也就失業了”。莫華峰說失去這份工作後,他們開始結交一些當地的朋友,並在朋友的幫助下找到一間出租屋,跟別人同住一個房間分攤房租。因為不識英文,他和妻子只找到一份在中餐館打雜的工作。

    打雜的工作做了一年,莫華峰開始尋思著得學門手藝養活自己和家人。因為他們有了自己的第一個孩子。“1980年出生第一個小孩,那時候很辛苦,”他說,幸得一位心腸較好的老板,閑暇時間老板和廚師就教他學手藝。沒多久他就在另一家餐館找到了新的工作,“我們到了另外一個餐館做了小廚師。然後一步步做到大廚。之後,陸續做了5家飯館的大廚。”

    1985年,做大廚的莫華峰已經可以拿到平均每月三千美元的工資。而他們的第二個孩子也於兩年前出生。一家人在美國安定後,決定創業開一間自己的餐館。“很多越南難民也陸陸續續開始創業。我們的小店生意也不錯”。直到1992年洛杉磯大暴動。

    莫家的小餐館開在洛杉磯市中心的第七大街(7th Street)。主要服務的客群是住在附近的非裔和拉丁裔居民。洛杉磯暴動發生後,由於非裔群體和韓裔群體的種族沖突。當地的非裔群體開始抵制亞裔商家,莫家餐館生意大不如前。“黑人認為我們是韓國人,就不太願意跟我們做生意了。沒有錢賺。1993年我們就把餐館賣掉了,”莫華峰說。

    九十年代中期,越來越多中國移民來到洛杉磯。許多沒有合法身份的新移民,願意接受很低的工資以尋找機會留在美國。中餐館廚師的工作也越發競爭激烈。“所以我們就不好找工作了。就換職業到了賭場,”莫華峰說。

    在賭場的工作比起中餐館的廚房輕松不少。莫華峰和妻子有了更多個人時間。千禧年後,經由朋友介紹,他們開始給位於阿罕布拉市主街的“美國海寧同鄉總會”做義工。以團聚和幫助同樣是當年從海寧和越南其他地方來美的難民同僚們。“同鄉會裏供有觀音像,初一,十五有人來進拜,我就幫忙炒炒齋菜。結果一待就待了好多年。”2014年,同鄉會的同僚選了莫華峰做監事長。“大家都很喜歡我,很多人就鼓勵我參選。”

    角色轉變後的莫華峰對於同鄉會的將來和存在的意義卻心生擔憂。因為出生在美國的年輕一代,疲於奔波和生活。對於他們,許多父輩的故事也漸漸只成了故事而已。“我們最近常常在一起開會。商量我們都老了或死了以後這個同鄉會怎麽辦?”莫華峰擔憂地說。

    可對於沈英儀來說,所謂傳承的意義似乎也只是生活的一部分和過程而已。“最近看到敘利亞難民的新聞,讓我聯想到當時逃難的經歷。但其實,當時作為難民,我們根本沒有心思和時間去想:我是不是難民,什麽是難民。我們只是想要更好的生活”。她說他們經歷的是和年輕一代不一樣的時代和生活,僅此而已。

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