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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 April, 2005, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Vietnam exile recalls boat exodus
North Vietnamese communist tank driving through the main gate of the presidential palace of the  US-backed South Vietnam regime, 30 April 1975
Mr Tram was 11 when he saw bodies and tanks on the streets of Saigon
A man who as a boy became one of the "boat people" escaping from communist Vietnam has spoken of his memories of war and fleeing to a new life.

Hung Tram, 43, has lived in Cardiff since his family were invited to the UK in 1978, when he was 16.

He was 11 when, on 30 April, the last Americans troops withdrew from the South Vietnamese capital, Saigon.

Vietnam is hosting celebrations to mark the 30th anniversary of reunification after three decades of conflict.

Mr Tram and his family were members of Saigon's ethnic Chinese community when communist tanks rolled through the gates of the city's Presidential Palace, signalling the end of the bloody conflict.

Being Chinese in Vietnam was not a very good idea at that time
Hung Tram

An estimated three million Vietnamese had been killed, as were 58,000 of the American troops sent to prop up the anti-communist South Vietnam regime.

Mr Tram remembered the chaos of the last days and hours of South Vietnam and how his family realised that, as traders, they were no longer welcome.

He said: "I remember many incidents, going out on to the streets and seeing tanks and dead people, because there was still fighting in the last day or two.

"We were brought up seeing death so it wasn't really anything new. We saw that before 30 April."

"It took us about two to three years to realise that we could not carry on living in Vietnam.

Forced labour

"It started with the persecution of the business people. They wanted the idea of equalising all the wealth in the country, so they would not let people carry on with their business.

"And secondly, the Vietnamese had a big quarrel with the Chinese, so being Chinese in Vietnam was not a very good idea at that time."

Worse still, when Mr Tram was 13, he was forced to labour in the countryside trying to clean up the war munitions and chemicals which had devastated much of the environment.

"I went on behalf of my dad. We didn't have a say in it.

"My father's name came up and he couldn't go because he needed to keep the family going. So I went in his place and I was only about 13.

"So I was really too young but I had to do it. It was quite an experience."

By 1978, Mr Tram's father was planning the family's escape from Vietnam by sea.

Cargo ship

It would see the Trams become part of the flotilla of "boat people" driven from the country to seek a better life.

"We left on a boat and we got rescued by a cargo ship and it took us about a month to get to Hong Kong.

"Once we got to Hong Kong, we couldn't land because (the authorities) thought that we had been smuggled into Hong Kong, even though we were legitimate refugees.

"It took another six months before we went on land. We lived on the cargo ship."

Once they were allowed to land, a British representative met the family and gave them the invitation which finally brought them 6,500 miles from Vietnam to the UK.



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