Saturday, April 25, 2009

Knowing the story makes it mean so much more

Pho Hoa is one of the 24 finalists for the 8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine. It's located at 713 E. Fulton in Garden City and is open Monday-Saturday (closed Wednesday), 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-8:30 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.-3 p.m. 620.276.3393.

You can click on the picture for each finalist and go to an information page that tells you more background about each restaurant and shows pictures. But you'll only find the following story here...sometime immigrants are faceless and stories like these fill in the face and heart.

(the daughter of Khanh and Ha)

The most interesting story I have ever heard was told by my mother. The story she told me was not a regular fairy tale that all kids have heard. Instead it was a story of how she ended up here in America. Some may think that a parent’s life has no relevance to us. I, however, find that nay story relating to my parents is of great interest. By listening to my parents’ stories, I have learned that life usually changes for the better. I also learned that no matter how terrible the situation is, there is always an event that will be better. This event actually happened to my parents.

Life on the other side of the world is different from what we would experience here. Marriages in the United States are not pre-arranged like those in Viet Nam. Marriage in Viet Nam is usually up to the parents; well, most of them. When a girl has matured to the age of eighteen, it is the time in her life when other parents with sons will come visit her family to seek her hand in marriage. Like all young ladies, Ha, my mother, was in the same situation. Her parents chose carefully who would be the lucky guy to marry their daughter. They stressed that the young gentleman had to be from a good house where Ha would not be mistreated but would find respect from her in-laws. For that reason, Ha’s marriage was a slow process because her parents had not found the right man and family.

Years passed and Ha turned twenty. At that time, she panicked because she heard the fortune teller say that if she didn’t marry before she was twenty-one, then she wouldn’t be able to marry until she turned thirty or so. The next person to come and ask was Khanh’s, my father’s parents.

After days of talking, both families decided to have the wedding, and Ha had no choice but to agree. Ha was afraid of getting married for many reasons. She feared her fiancĂ©, wondering how he was going to treat her. She feared living with another family whom she had never in her life seen. She was afraid that she would do something wrong and get yelled at. She was afraid of how her brother-and-sisters-in-law would act towards her. To make it short, she was afraid of her new family and the idea of being married, but she had to live where her parents had sent her. A good girl never went against her parents’ wishes.

In April of 1979, Khanh and Ha were married even though they were strangers. “The day of our wedding was the first time I ever saw him in my life,” my mother explained.

Two weeks after they were married, they left unexpectedly. They left to escape the terror going on in the country. They wanted to leave and get as far away from the communists as possible. Nobody thought that they would go through life or death situations just two weeks after marriage!

At nine o’clock in the morning, they left their home and traveled on foot to the boat dock. It wasn’t until the next morning that they arrived at the dock. They traveled with strangers for four days and three nights. It was a miracle that they survived the waves of the ocean, water splashing in their faces, everybody on that boat got seasick.

They landed in Malaysia but that was not the end of their day. They stayed on the coastline because the Malaysians would not let them on the mainland for twenty-four hours. Eventually, they were allowed on the shore and were sent to the refugee camps to settle.

The couple’s new life together was unexpected, but they stayed together for the better. At first Ha was afraid of her new household, but now she worried about living with total strangers. All around them were refugees who were in as much shock as they were.

“We didn’t have any money at all. We were very poor. You couldn’t believe the horror that we went through. Do you know what we had to eat to live? We ate bats just to survive. We had to go steal potatoes from the farms because we were so hungry. Who would expect that I would leave my land for this? Luckily Khanh was given the gift of telling fortunes, like a soothsayer, and from that we earned a bit of money,” Ha explained.

When stealing potatoes, the couple got caught and were punished in a harsh way. Khanh was punched and kicked by the Malaysians while Ha was held by the ears and force to do squats one hundred times. “What kind of punishment was that?” I asked. She said she didn’t know but they were nice enough not to hit her because she was a woman. She also mentioned that she had eaten iguanas. Yes, she ate a reptile that some Americans would keep as pets. Although they had food, they were missing rice which should be a part of every meal. Only once in a while did they have enough money to buy rice.

The days got worse when Ha was pregnant. She didn’t have enough to eat, so the baby inside her didn’t get much either. She went through pain trying to keep her child growing. This child was also unexpected. Dat was born prematurely. One day Khanh was giving fortunes, a lady came and said, “You were right. I did find some money, and so I give you this to thank you.” The lady handed over a bowl of porridge, and Khanh, being the man that he was, gave it to his wife. Ha ate it hungrily but moments later she screamed at the top of her lungs; she was in labor. During the delivery, the Malaysian doctor asked Khanh, “Who do you want to save, your wife or your kid?” Of course Khanh answered to save both.

When giving birth, Ha lost much blood because it was a difficult delivery. The doctors had to get Khanh’s blood and transfer it to Ha, but it was not enough, so they took blood from the natives of Malaysia. That is how she survived.
After three days, Ha was out of the hospital and working. Just days after giving birth, she was doing laundry with her bare hands. That is how she explains the bulging veins in her arms.

The couple was lucky that Ha’s brother lived it the states, and he sponsored their trip to Texas. Three months after Dat was born, they were flown to California. Dat got malaria on the way and so the family had to stay in San Francisco, California for a few days until Dat got better. Khanh and Ha were afraid that their first born child would die of this terrible infection. They were, however, lucky that it was treatable, and afterwards, they flew to Houston, Texas and were reunited with Ha’s brother.

I was born the following year and five years later we moved to Garden City. Life was always hard for us until the family business blossomed. We can now enjoy life. My mother’s story was such a tragedy; it is hard to believe that my parents survived it. Because of this story, I have learned that life is not always a pleasant dream. Sometimes in a person’s life tragedy occurs. Our family is one in which unfortunate events happened first, and then we found happiness. Life sometimes starts ugly, but when we continue to try, we can find a better life.

Wow....what a story that is. Pho Hoa takes on a whole new meaning after you read this and the story on the contest information page. Oh, and by the way, the food is outstanding! See wonderful pictures of their entrees.

Thank you, Huyen, for sharing this story. Knowing your family helps us "Get Kansas!" in a way that we never imagined.

KE #2 Marci Penner

1 comment:

Kevin McGinty said...

One heck of a story.
And it re-enforces the point I've always tried to make to my own kids.

I've always wanted them to know that life can sometimes be unfair. But if they'll just hang in there long enough and give it enough time, most things will get better.

Huyen, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I'm proud to call you a fellow Kansan. And the next time my travels take to the Garden City area, you can bet I'll stop in...