Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Vietnamese Boat People and Lee's Nail Salon in Santa Monica, California

There was a long wait at the nail salon I've been going to, and I got grumpy so I went to another place on Lincoln, Lee's, near Ashland in Santa Monica.

Note that Lee's has a Monday special for their manicure and pedicure at $22. That's very cheap. The owner, Lee worked on my hands, while another woman did my feet. Lee's didn't have the razzle-dazzle of my other place, but neither did they have these aggressive women who were constantly pressuring you for massages, and Lee's did a good job for half the cost.

More importantly, I got a story from Lee, the owner of the salon!

Lee came from Vietnam, is a die-hard Catholic, and a chatterbox.

Lee asked me where I come from and when I told her that I originally came from the Philippines, she beamed and said she loves Filipinos. I've heard that before and I smiled, but Lee must have had a flood of memories because she could not stop talking. She has an accent and I had to work to get her story, but bit by bit it emerged.

Lee and her son were boat people, one of the 800,000 refugees who had left their country following the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese Army.

Lee said she had sold everything she owned in Saigon to leave in 1984. She wanted to join her father who was in the US. However, the people who took in the boat people were not honest, she said. According to her, they just wanted the passengers to die. There wasn't enough food nor water in the boat.  She said for one month they were at sea, slowly dying. Lee kept saying it was only because of God's help that they survived. When they were thirsty, they prayed, and it would rain. She said they ate nothing; she was breastfeeding her son and was dry. I believe she said her brother died in that boat, but I'm not sure. (Lee speaks rapidly and jumps from topic to topic.)

Their boat made it to Hong Kong where they stayed for three months. It turned out she was pregnant and she said the officials pressured her to have an abortion: Get rid of the baby. What will you do? You have nothing.  They talked to her daily, but Lee said she was a Catholic and said no, she would not get rid of her baby.

After three months, the refugees were moved to the Philippines. She talked of how differently they were treated there. Filipinos were nice to them; they housed and helped them. They gave her vitamins so her baby would be healthy. She lived in Bataan, which had a Philippine Refugee Processing Center. They had to walk  far to fetch water, and when she was seven or so months pregnant, she was carrying water and fell. She was afraid she'd lose the baby, but with God's help, didn't. The baby was born with half his face black (bruised, I assume). This eventually faded.

Philippine Refugee Processing Center in Morong, Bataan, Philippines

She named this son Philip, after the Philippines. She said he had a Philippine passport, and is handsome like a Filipino. She showed me a picture of her children, and Philip was taller than his older brother. Her children were all nice-looking. She pointed out Philip and kept saying this was the son that the people in Hong Kong had told her to abort.

Lee went on to tell me that she had no problems with her children. They went to school while she worked. In fact, the girl, the youngest, had to stay home without child care and she would even prepare dinner for them. (Lee said she would stand on a stool to reach the stove.) One son is an engineer, another is a professional as well, and the daughter is in medical school. They are all Americans now, but she reminds them of where they came from, and she tells them to pray. (Every three o'clock, they pray the Divine Mercy prayer at the salon, she said, every three o'clock.)

On Mother's day, she obliged her children to go to Mass with her, and they did. She said they had gifts for her and kept telling her, "Mom, you're very strong."

Lee said she may work for seven more years, until her daughter finishes med school, and then she'll retire. She has been travelling on pilgrimages with her church group.

Well ... before I knew it my nails were done!  I was almost sorry to leave the salon because I had more questions for Lynn, and I didn't even get to take pictures of her and her work place.

Next time, I'll do that.

Pictures of the boat people and PRPC are courtesy of Wikipedia

Read also
Manicure and Pedicure at Vietnamese American Nail Salons
The Pinata District of Los Angeles, California -- Ole!
Los Angeles, California: The Fairfax District and Canter's Deli

Tags: Vietnamese, Vietnamese American, nail salon, Leen's, boat people, Fall of Saigon, refugees
This is all for now,

No comments: