Year 10 Student Bohden Walker-Love wrote this wonderful piece in response to a History activity on a migrant’s life story. For his story Bohden chose Hung Eddywing. Hung is the husband of his cousin, Dr Rachael Eddywing. Before completing the activity Bohden had only known some parts of Hung’s story and reported feeling very proud to his teacher to write Hung’s story.
Hung Eddywing, a successful Vietnamese refugee.
Hung was born as Hung Viet Nguyen in December,1959 in a village in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. As a kid his family called him Phong which meant ‘the wind’ in Vietnamese. He grew up in a large family of fourteen children. His father had two wives. Hung was the second eldest of the five children of his Dad’s second wife. He had one older brother, one younger brother and two younger sisters. One sister died when she was three from an illness.
When he was still young his mother moved the family from their village to Saigon. His mother worked at the US Army Base near the city. Hung and his other siblings stayed with his father while his mother went out to work.
In early April, 1975, at fifteen years of age, Hung was working as a bell boy at the Caravelle Hotel, Saigon. His uncle was the General Manager of the hotel. Across from the Caravelle hotel was the Continental Hotel and the Vietnam Congress House so the hotel was a favourite central location for local offices of international press agencies like the ABC, PBS, etc. At that time the Vietnam War fighting got more intense. The North Vietnamese Army was on its march from North Vietnam to South Vietnam. There were many battles surrounding the city. Curfew in Saigon was 5pm.
On that hot April night, while working at the hotel, his uncle and cousin, Dung (16 years old at that time) arrived at the hotel lobby. In another part of the lobby there was a group of people Hung had not seen before. Hung said,’ much later I discovered that these people were friends and relatives of high-ranking South Vietnamese government officials. There were friends and family of US Embassy staff members, a few nuns and a group of younger orphan children age 6-12 years.’
At about 8pm the group started to walk outside and they entered several 8 seater buses parked outside the hotel. Hung said,’ My uncle asked my cousin, Dung, to follow the group and I for some curious reason or personal instinct perhaps, followed the group and jumped on that particular bus.’ I was intrigued about Hung just deciding to follow the group so I asked him what made him do that. This was his reply, ‘My intuition told me why the group was there. Prior to that night I’ve no idea what was going to happen that night. No warning either from my uncle or anyone else. I don’t think my uncle knew anything about the evacuation plan. If he did know my cousin would have had some money with him and other important paper work. Just like me we both did not have anything valuable when we boarded the plane. On the other hand there were sons and daughters of some important officials who had plenty of money when they arrived in California. One of the older boys in the group had a brand new sports car bought for him when they got to California and they opened a nice grocery store within months after arriving in California. For me I do believe that someone up there guided me to make that bold decision ie to jump into that bus without knowing what would happen next.’
The bus promptly departed and headed towards the airport, escorted by US military vehicles leading the way. Hung said that they were all very anxious and nervous and realised it was dangerous to be on the airport after curfew. They were stopped several times by Vietnamese army soldiers because thr roads were blocked and because of the curfew. They knew they could be shot at by Vietnamese soldiers or by the Vietcong. They were let go after the US military escort members explained ‘whatever they explained, or paid a bribe. I’m not quite sure to this day,’ says Hung.
The group was hushed and hurried to a waiting plane. We were told to close all window blinds before we took off from Tan Son Nhat Airport (Saigon). This was to ensure the plane could not be seen from the air and shot down as the Communist North Vietnam army had already surrounded locations near the airport.
The plane stopped briefly on a Japanese island to refuel before finally landing at Oakland international Airport, California. Later Hung discovered that the owner of the airplane was Mr Daly who was the owner of World Airways. He sat a few seats away from Hung on the flight. On the plane Hung discovered that half of the passengers were orphaned children who had been evacuated from different orphanages because the war was getting worse. Mr Daly had helped to evacuate those orphans and other Vietnamese people working for the US government. About two weeks after Hung was able to escape, a mass exodus from Vietnam began. People left by whatever means they could, some by boats, some by land and many went to jail as they tried to escape.
Hung had problems when he landed in US. He and his cousin could not get through customs. Hung was 15 and his cousin was 16. They were without a passport or visa or paperwork or belongings of any kind. All Hung had was the bell boy uniform he was wearing. Hung and his cousin created a problem for US. US officials told the airline the boys were their responsibility. They were initially kept in a church and then an empty motel while the US Government adopted the Vietnamese refugee program. When that was done the boys were assigned to foster families and some legal paperwork established. Hung believes that he and the others in the group were the luckiest Vietnamese refugees. They were safely away from the war in their home country by the end of 1975. He said they left Vietnam the easiest way possible ie by air and not on leaking boats preyed on by pirates or by land through the thick jungle and the landmines areas of south east Asia.
Hung had no contact with any of his family for the first ten years in America. When he was able to make contact with his family he found out that his older brother had tried to escape into Thailand by land. While he was trying to cross the border he was captured by the communist soldiers and was kept in a re-education camp for three years. He suffered a dreadful ordeal and when he was released his family said he was never the same person. Hung’s younger brother, Minh, tried to escape by boat. He was never seen or heard from again. His family assumed Minh and the 50 other people on the boat were attacked and killed by pirates somewhere in the South China Sea or were drowned as a result of the boat capsizing.
For their first two to three years in US hung and his cousin were with different foster families until they were old enough to live by themselves. After Hung graduated from High School in 1977, he studied at the local Community College for the next two years. Hung changed his name to Hung Wing (his foster family’s surname). Hung was very grateful to this family. He said, ‘My foster parents, Margo and Bob Wing, provided me with incredible support and a good family environment so I could get a head start in life. Bob and Margo lived at Menlo Park, just a short bicycle ride to Stanford University. Bob was a researcher at Stanford Research Institute (SRI), so I had many opportunities to meet and hang around with very smart and good American role models and citizens. I still remember Bob bringing home a small computer from his lab which got me interested in the art of computer programming (Fortran and Basic). Through these contacts and a good environment I determined that my goal in life was to get a good education for myself.’
Hung still has contact with friends from that era. He very much values his own friendship with Bob Wing’s post-doctoral friend, Paul Gloess, now a retired professor from Bordeaux University in France. Hung continued his studies at Canada College in the bay area. He was awarded a scholarship to study at the University of California in San Diego and graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor degree in Computer Science. After graduation, Hung worked as a software engineer at an aerospace company in Los Angeles. While working he finished his master’s degree and started his own consulting company. While in California he picked up surfing and developed an interest in visiting Australia.
In 1991, Hung migrated to Australia. He travelled for two years before enrolling to complete his PhD in Computer Science at the University of Queensland. This he did in 1997. It was at UQ that he met Rachael Eddy who was completing a science degree. They were on a surfing and camping trip to US with a small group of friends and married at Santa Cruz, California on July, 3rd 2000.
While Hung was a PhD student at UQ he was able to return to Vietnam. He went in 1993 on a mountain biking trip with a few university friends. He saw his father for the first time in 18 years. His mother had passed away when he was a student in the US. After he finished his PhD he moved to Singapore and worked for two years before moving back to Silicon Valley for several years. Through his work as a computer architect he has moved and lived in several places in Asia including Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. Hung’s work was mainly in the design of stock exchange and treasury computer systems.
While Hung was based in the US in 1997, he sponsored his older brother and sister to migrate to US where they both now live.
Hung and Rachael returned to Australia. They both wanted to bring up their children in Australia. Rachael had been accepted into the Medical Course at Sydney University and Hung wanted to support her in her career change even though there were not the same opportunities in Australia for his more complex computer science skills. Hung now works as the manager of the IT Department of the Gold Coast City Council and is a marvellous husband to Rachael and a devoted and loving father to his four children, Aiden, Kai, Leon and Lani.
Hung is a very successful Vietnamese refugee and a great citizen of Australia even though he got here in a roundabout way. He gave valuable help to students in his role as tutor at UQ. He participates in the school, sport and hobbies of his children and adds so much to the bigger family gatherings.
Hung finished with the following words, ‘As the name reflects, in a short 50+ years, Hung Eddywing represents a journey of one LUCKY REFUGEE whose life has gone through many ups and downs, especially during early teen years and yet has come out a happy person through the help of great people and friends I met along the way. My name, Hung represents my native land. Wing is from my American foster family who I always loved and adored. They taught me what you can really achieve in a land of opportunity. Bob passed away many years back when I was studying in Australia. My son, Aiden, and I recently visited Margo (Oct 2014) in San Francisco. She was 93 years old. Eddy was added when I married. This is to represent my new country and my wife’s heritage. Now my children are the lucky new members of the Eddywing family. They are so lucky to be born in Australia. Recently I heard a comment that was something like this, ‘You are a first time lottery winner if you are born in Australia. And you are a second time lottery winner if you are born in a good Australian family.’ I do believe that all those Eddy and Eddywing family people are all 2nd time lottery winners! So treasure what you have and search for a happy life for yourself and your family; and along the way extend your arms to help others whenever you can.”
Hung Eddywing is a very successful Vietnamese refugee. He is a very valuable citizen of this country. I am proud to be part of his family.