He vanished without a trace. His family, his wife and children including Sôn Tran, had no idea where he was. Friends or neighbors who had similarly disappeared were equally untraceable. In absence of the only earning member, the seven children scrambled to find jobs or errands to earn some money. Sôn Tran worked as a day laborer, doing odd jobs, till he found a job in an office. At night he ate a bowl of rice with vegetables; the family could not afford anything else. Week by week, they sold everything in the house to buy food and clothes.
After three months came a scribbled note telling them Tran Kim was in the ominously named Suôi Mau (“Stream of Blood”) camp near Bien Hoa, 20 miles north-east of Saigon. Sôn Tran took a bus, then biked seven miles of dirt road to reach the camp. There was no education or reeducation in the camp; only hard farm labor, to extract vegetables and corn from forest-cleared land. Tran Kim had reduced to a skeleton, but was luckier than others who had died of malnutrition or disease. There was no doctor.
Seven years later Tran Kim learned of the new US program offering refugee status to people who had suffered under the new administration in Vietnam. Helped by his children, he completed the application and was approved. In August 1993 the Tran Kim family arrived in Seattle, completed their paperwork, aided by Church World Service, and flew to Washington via Chicago. Sôn Tran’s brother-in-law, who had years earlier taken a boat out of Vietnam and landed in Malaysia and later moved to the US, lived in Washington and helped the family find a modest apartment.
Sôn Tran, now 60, is a successful business contractor in Washington who helped refurbish my house. The days when he biked wearily to the Stream of Blood camp with small packets of food for his skeletal father, however, remain his most vivid memory forever.