Someone said to me many, many years ago, “You look so happy! You must have been fortunate. You must have had an easy life.” I said to her, “I’d like to think that I did, but the truth is I didn’t.”
I didn’t have an easy life. My mother passed away when I was three years old and my father had to take care of eight children. He was a fisherman, so he went out to sea for a month and then came back home for one week. So I hardly saw my dad.
Our family was on the poverty end—not starving or anything like that, but on the poverty end in Vietnam. And the Government at the time was a Communist system, so my dad left the country with me and my brother as refugees, and then my sisters came later on a different trip.
We were in the refugee camp for a year before we came to Australia, with hardly a cent in our pocket. We didn’t know English.
My dad never walked me to school—I just walked to school myself. My school lunch was just two oranges most of the time. Later on, I cooked fried eggs and had it with white bread. Then I had that for lunch every single day! Eggs and white bread. Eggs and white bread.
And when we ran out of oranges, I’d ask my dad to drive me to buy a box of oranges, because it was cheaper by the box. But my dad said, “No, if you want oranges, you have to get the box yourself.”So I’d ride my BMX bike 20 minutes to the nearest fruit shop and buy a box for around $10 at the time, and I’d put the whole box on the frame of the BMX bike. I would ride home balancing the box on my legs and I was embarrassed, hoping no one from school saw me doing this. I tried to get home quickly, hoping that the box didn’t fall down all over the road.