by Tam Tien Nguyen
In May 1977, at a young age of 14, I left Vietnam on the 20 meter vessel "Dong Khoi" together with my brother Trung Nguyen and 13 other companions (including an 8-month pregnant woman and I being the youngest in the group) on one of the first waves of "Vietnamese boat people" seeking political freedom.
After 7 days on the sea, despite sending many SOS signals we were ignored by more than 100 ships that passed by,we were finally rescued (click here) by the Greek cargo ship "Ptolemais" in the South China Sea, 483 km (300 miles) off Vietnam where we had drifted for more than 24 hours without food and fresh water after the engine of our vessel broke down.
Our sea journey on board the "Ptolemais" continued to Japan (click here) where the pregnant woman and her husband were allowed off the ship. The remaining 13 refugees continued on from Japan to Singapore, then passed the violent sea of Indian Ocean on the way to Cape Town, South Africa (click here), and finally docked in Cote D'Ivoire, West Africa. We were flown off to Greece and finally settled in California in 1978. My two older brothers (Dung and Cuong) arrived in California in 1980 after spending years in the Communist re-education camps for former South Vietnamese military officers, and my parents arrived in 1981. They all left Vietnam the same way I did, by sea on small overcrowded vessels but they were less fortunate than I was as they encountered rougher sea conditions and frequent attacks by sea pirates.
As I left at such a young age, I had not seen much the land and the beauties of Vietnam. Like many young Vietnamese who grew up abroad, I was so eager to return to explore my birth country , my roots, its culture and rich traditions.
I first returned to Vietnam in 1993 and have since made more than three dozens trips. I traveled to many small towns, remote villages and cities including Hanoi, Saigon, Sapa, Halong, Nhatrang, Hoian, Hue... as I explored the many exciting faces and beauties of Vietnam, as well as seeing its social hardships such as poverty, rampant drugs use among the city youth, prostitution, government corruption…….
I took as many photographs as I could, as Vietnam is changing so fast in catching up with the modern world. I like to share with you some of the favorite photos of my beloved country, and I hope you will enjoy viewing them as much as I did enjoy taking them. This project would have not been possible without the inspiration, love and support of many people including my parents, my brothers and families, and Mr. Thai Van Kim Uyen in Saigon.
since June 2000