BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 11:00 GMT
From Vietnam to Romford
Hai Tran in his Chinese take-away in Romford
With newly-compiled immigration figures for last year expected to show another increase in migrants to the UK, Hai Tran, a Vietnamese "boat person" who came to Britain aged 16 in 1979 recalls his escape to a new life.

Even now if I walk past a taxi and smell the diesel fuel it reminds me of my journey. That was the smell I smelt in the boat for a month. All you did was smell the diesel and not know if you would be dead or alive the next day.

When I was on the open sea I wished I could be arrested and taken back to the land. I was on the edge of dying so I didn't give a damn about living any more.

Vietnamese boat people braved typhoons, sharks and pirates
I was rescued by a British oil tanker. There was 53 people on board. If we hadn't been rescued on that day the boat would have sunk.

The tanker had seen us about three days before and was waiting to see if we could make it to an island. But there was a typhoon coming and on the last day they realised 'if these people are not rescued these people will be killed by nature'.

Most of my relatives served in the government of South Vietnam. My uncle was in the army at quite a high rank and my eldest uncle was professor at the university.


I was on the edge of dying so I didn't give a damn about living any more

When the communists took over in 1975 everyone who was in government or in education was told they would be sent to a re-education camp. All my family was being watched very carefully by the police.

When I reached 16 I was eligible to go into army to fight in Laos or Kampuchea. My father told me I would have to leave.

"It took me three years before I could start eating chips"
In England my first feeling was homesickness. Even now when I look back I still get that feeling.

When I arrived I was sent to an unaccompanied young minors' centre in Bishop's Stortford. I was there for three years. Lots of things I did then I look back on now and laugh. For instance one day me and some young girl were walking in the street wearing dressing gowns. We didn't know any better but people soon started telling us.

You come into a new culture and you are lost. It took me three years before I started eating chips and five years before I tasted a bit of cheese. I used to go to school and just drink water and then go home and eat food that was more normal for me.

But I was young so it was quite easy for me to adapt.


I live in British culture, but I can't tell people I am British because they won't accept me

I found it very hard to understand the English people because the culture is so different. Even now I have to be quite careful when asking questions not to offend people.

In my country it is quite normal to ask people 'How old are you? Who do you vote for? or How much money do you make? But people here are sensitive to those questions.

Here people are also quite open when they talk about sex, but in my country it is a taboo subject.

I encounter racism a lot, but sometimes you have to take people with a pinch of salt and laugh about it. If you take it too much to heart, it is difficult to live with.

"Sometimes I get angry with racism - but you can't take it to heart"
I live in British culture, but I can't tell people I am British because they won't accept me.

For instance: when England played football I put up the England flag in my take-away. Some kids came in and took it down. I ask 'Why?' and they say 'Because you are not British'.

I say, 'I have paid my taxes, I can be proud to fly the England flag.' So I tell them: 'You cannot come in here then, because you are not Chinese!'

I went back home three years ago but I couldn't cope with it. I was treated as a foreigner. It's because of the way I walk, act and sit. They pick it up straight away, it doesn't matter what I wear. They would not accept me as Vietnamese. After a month I couldn't wait to leave.

I don't know what I am in the end. But in one way or another, I am happy with who I am. My friends and neighbours accept me as British. I am foreign British, put it that way.


Real Time gives people a chance to tell their own stories in their own words. If you've got something to say, click here.



E-MAIL US
See also:

03 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
29 Jan 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
16 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes