This a work trying to explain my individual plight and every adoptees by showing the fears and hopes that haunt us as we grow into adulthood.
Growing Up As A Vietnamese Adoptee In Contemporary Australian Society
by Kim Edgar
Kim Edgar in the Air Training Corps (AIRTC)
The Vietnam War, through it’s inception to it’s conclusion has been well documented and represented through media such as radio, television, tabloids, film and literature. The tragic legacy the war left was the countless orphans who were “shipped” out to new lives and families worldwide. Of course, we must never forget those who did not survive. But I was one of those children who was a “Product of the war”, and this a piece of work to try and explain my individual plight and every adoptees by showing the fears and hopes that haunt us as we grow into adulthood.
Mount Gambier, in the South East of South Australia was where Dominic Golding, Tran Van Heeswyk, Son Thompson, Nguyen Mathias, and myself – all Vietnamese orphans, found a new life away from the pain and suffering of the war. My origins are unknown to me as my “extraction” from my birth certificate has both mother and father listed as “unknown”.
My earlier life as an adopted child was somewhat sheltered and I had a fairly normal upbringing. Primary School went by with the blowing of the wind abut then I reached High School, I never thought of myself as being anything other than an “Aussie”. Then everything changed once the first day at I arrived and I will remember it for the rest of my life. I was with my friends and playing a game in the quadrangle when I got tripped by a year 10 boy named ‘J’ because I looked different and he obviously had some problem with the fact that I was “Asian”, or at least “Asian” looking! That was the first day of High School back in 1987 when I was only 12 years old, 16 years ago! That was my first taste of racism, and I will never forget it, as it tasted like concrete!
That same year, a few year 12 students picked on me for the same reason, making racist remarks and actions. One in particular I remember was called ‘B’ the reason will become evident later. The hypocritical part of it was that one of the guys was also “Asian”, or of “Asian” background, ‘D’, if I remember correctly, who really should have known better. At first I had no comprehension as to why those people were being like that, but I soon learnt the hard way and when I did, it made me mad and confused. Mad because there were doing this to me, but confused as to what their motives or reasons were. This is the small town mentality that remains with me, as part of me as an adult, and it is what has infuriated me constantly over the years. Back then I was only 12 years old and obviously couldn’t take on a group of year 12 guys, but that didn’t stop me from throwing stones at them and taunting them back! Shit!, they had me in a murderous frame of mind and I don’t think to this day that they will ever know what an impact they had upon me. It made me feel EXTREME PREJUDICE and HATE within my very soul towards them and others like them.
Later I got a job at Fiddler and Webb as a night filler and had the “pleasure” of meeting and working with the one and only ‘B’ again! Of course, everything he said usually ended with a “DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I’M SAYING?”, as if I were just a simple Fucking “Asian” that couldn’t understand the English language, or “SO WHAT’S THE STORY?”, as if asking for confirmation that this simpleton actually grasped the concepts of what he was saying! This really pissed me off something fierce, and to be honest, if someone had put a gun in my hand, then he would be DEAD. “DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I’M SAYING ????!!!!!”
In 1989 I thought that I would get a new start by going across the border to Victoria and study at Hamilton College, leaving the small town mentality behind me. Most of the students who boarded there were from far reaching places, some even as far as Tahiti and Hong Kong. I was very much mistaken and realised it when I was about to leave the boarding house to walk to school and there on the notice board, for everyone to see was a proclamation……..”ALL ASIANS EAT DOGS!” Well, this time this guy called ‘M’ from Melbourne had really outdone himself! What a F**king Cock Forrid. Both he and his friend, ‘J’ haunted me during my tenure at the College, which lasted only one semester as my father became ill and eventually died of cancer in July of the year.
As if I wasn’t screwed up both physically and emotionally as a young teenager going through a rebellious stage already. That topped it off and really fucked me up. I even felt jealous of the fact that he was able to come home for my 15th birthday for a few hours and all the visitors seemed to be his friends, not mine! It just didn’t occur to me that for some of his friends it would be the last time that they would get to see him alive and that it would be the last time he would venture out of the hospital before his life expired, or that he was there so I could spend some time with him, my loving father! What a f**king idiot I was!
I regret feeling that way in retrospect, remembering that this is the only father I have known and provided me with food, shelter, education, love, compassion, and so on and so forth. I really wish I could turn back time, so that I could say “Thanks dad for coming out of hospital to see me on my 15th birthday, thanks for being a loving father” I think most of all, I would have liked to tell him that I loved him and that he would be my father for as long as I will live, no matter what, before it’s too late.
Anyway, soon after returning from Hamilton, I found that everything had changed and that I had a new arch nemesis in the making named ‘J’. On the night of ‘M’ ’s birthday he tried to start a fight with me, racism based, in the Pizza Hut car park. Since then, he had been dogging me both at home and school, ringing me up at home, taunting me at school, and trying to emulate his big brother who is known as a good fighter. I was a target because I looked different and I wondered what would’ve happened if I had been an Anglo Saxon Aussie?
I decided to join the Air Training Corps (AIRTC) and that is where I made some other discoveries. Firstly, that is where myself and and the other adopted Vietnamese I knew as a child, Dom (see Who is Selling Bananas) were “reintroduced”. I saw him, remembered that once when we were children, he had hit me over the head with a rubber mallet, so I walked up to him and hit him in the head! Hence forth, both he and I forged a bond that still is strong. A lot of my anger and frustrations just seemed to melt away as the AIRTC taught me invaluable skills to help me through not only my AIRTC career, but through life in general, and I really put my whole life into my training and my betterment as a person.
I transferred schools half way in between year 12 as ‘J’ was still picking on me, but by that stage, I had learnt to turn a blind eye to it, yet it was having a detrimental effect on my studies, so I decided to eliminate the bull shit and go to a school where I could put my mind to study, not having any other outside factors to distract me. When I transferred to Grant High, I had no problem adjusting and was able to continue my secondary and AIRTC study in peace. Whilst at Grant High, I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful teacher by the name of ‘C’, who allowed me to look into the Vietnam War as my major assignment for the subject. This allowed me to also do some soul searching, because I was curious as to what type of background I was from. I must admit that it effected me in a way I never thought it would. I found myself putting a lot of time into the project and trying to learn as much as I possibly could about this wonderful country that was ravaged by war time and time again. This was the country of my birth…….this was Vietnam.
Now, with a little more maturity and the knowledge and training instilled within from the AIRTC, I was able to evaluate the situation from both a civilian and military viewpoint, but by combining both trains of thought, I found myself getting emotional about the whole situation. Until I began the subject, I hadn’t really put a lot of thought into my origins. In fact, I hadn’t had any inclination to even look, feeling that I was Australian, and that was all there was to it.
However, during my research, I found myself being drawn into a vortex of feelings and emotions as if they had been lying dormant waiting for the right time to surface. Maybe I had to reach a stage in self evolution to enable me to deal with the issues coming to the fore without becoming a gibbering, emotional wreck? Perhaps, perhaps not, whatever – that point is open to conjecture. I found myself beginning to question my whole life until that point. Questions formed in my mind as if they just materialised out of nowhere:-
WHERE AM I FROM?
WHAT IS MY PURPOSE FOR BEING?
WHO AM I?
Many times I found myself going over scenario by scenario as to my specific origins. I became acutely aware of the struggle that my “Vietnamese” ancestors had endured to repel “foreign” invasion over the passing of time since the day dot. The Chinese, Thais, Cambodians, French, Americans and a number of other invaders had all been repelled by my ancestors resisting overwhelming odds. I began to feel a pride within myself. Naturally, the past is the past and will forever remain part of history, yet one cannot deny the spirit of a people such as the Vietnamese who have retained their homeland through centuries of warfare and at great human cost to them. Although I have never stepped on Vietnamese soil, I began to envision myself as being descendant from a race of warriors who fought for what they believed in and felt very proud, yet very sad and angry for the lives lost for that cause. Of course, no adoptee from a similar situation could ever forget that for the very fact that they were orphaned as a result and adopted in the first instance.
As for the second question, I had to do a lot of soul searching to even try and grasp the concept of what my whole purpose of being was, and the AIRTC played a large part in my earlier perceptions of what I was put on this Earth for. Regularly we would go on weekend camps. and. if we were proficient enough, we would get the chance to go on promotion courses. Most of the training was based around management principles, combined with a broad military education, learning basic field tactics and skills, weapons drill, which involved working theory and practical knowledge of the SLR L1A1 Rifle, which was the weapon used by the Australian soldiers in Vietnam.
I felt at home, as if I was born for the military life, as if I was born to be a warrior, to fight, and, possibly die for something I believe in. Nothing could make me happier than using stealth to sneak up on someone in another Flights base camp, even if it took a few hours to get a couple of hundred meters, then proceed to engage that person in conversation, whilst removing their weapon and taking it back to our own base camp without them realising we were even from the enemy base camp, only to realise it in the morning with a swift kick up the arse from their Section Commander! I felt as one with the bush and a rifle, as if it were my destiny, as if I was here to fight for everything that is right against everything that is wrong in this world.
The third question is an ever elusive one and, not unlike a good book, I seem to have twists and turns, plots and subplots, adventure, romance, sensitivity, basic animal instincts oozing in and out of my persona and thus makes it very hard to pin point a definitive answer as to who I actually am. I can only speculate, as everyone will perceive me differently, depending on their own individuality. However, I saw myself as being a young man trying to struggle with inner turmoil as I attempted to answer these questions. To this day, I still have not found a satisfactory answer.
After year 12, a peaceful era of my life began and I have been relatively fortunate enough to have had minimal racist issues to deal with, hence my adult life had begun and I embraced it with open arms. A lot of changes occurred within me. I relocated to Adelaide to study an Associate Diploma of Business and two major events occurred in the two years there.
Firstly, the move gave Dom and myself a chance to really get to know eachother, as adoptees, as friends, as brothers. We had some really great and in depth, intellectual conversations regarding Vietnam, the causes, effects, economics, politics, and so on and so forth. Eventually, however, we came to the same conclusion that the war, when joined by the Americans became a very costly and pointless war, due to the fact the very fear the Americans installed in their countrymen of the “Domino Theory” was not realised, even though the “Communists” won! What a FUCKING WASTE!!!! We also came to the conclusion that both of us were looking for the same thing, yet differing in perspective. That was someone to talk to who actually knew what it was like to be in our situation and going through a similar identity crisis as we were. Of course, we had the occasional disagreements, yet, through it all, came out better people for the experience.
Secondly, I was able to get the chance to visit America for about two weeks and a highlight of my trip was going to see the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington Cemetery in Virginia, with the changing of the guard, as well as the famous Vietnam Wall Memorial in Washington. Both of these locations are steeped in history, however, I couldn’t help feeling something…….?! Tragic as the reality is, and there seemed to be an unspoken silence, especially along the length of the wall from one end to another, I couldn’t help but think that for every name on that wall, there were 20 to 30 Vietnamese people dead. Not just soldiers, whose names appeared on that wall, but civilians.
My view was that, as soldiers, it was in their job description, by it’s very nature, that death may result in the course of duty, yet the civilians killed by these soldiers need to be considered too. They need to have a tomb for the UNKNOWN CIVILIANS OF VIETNAM! I was overwhelmed by an emotional force that almost sent me staggering to my knees as I mourned not the soldiers on the wall but instead felt for the mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers, children, and all other civilians that I would never get to meet as a result, be it direct or indirect, of the actions of these soldiers! It was not the civillians job to die or fight to survive pressure from both sides in an unconventional war that will remain in my heart forevermore………….
I am now in my 28th year of life, and have made some decisions regarding my future and present happiness. I have moved to the Blue Mountains in NSW and work in the CBD. I am content with life as it presents itself, and am finally getting past any past misgivings. Growing up in contemporary Australian society as an adoptee from a war torn country, and as a result of that very war, has been for me, quite an experience. I have made friends, foes, and acquaintances. I have got out of the small town that was keeping me stuck between a rock and a hard place and am now making a life for myself. Sometimes I still sit and wonder what the answers to those questions are, but do not dwell on it, for I know that one day I will find the answer. I was once brash and wanted the answers instantaneously, yet now I am wiser for I am older and know the answers will come to me and I will be waiting………………..