The Oppressed Merchants (1)

Author: Ancy Lee
Translator: Pius Lee

Mom and dad ran a textile and cloth business for thirty years. Their humble street hawker beginning was never remote. Only through thrift living and hard work did mom and dad gradually expand their business and eventually proudly owned a retail shop in the middle of the vegetable markets. They started their business as newly-weds and lived in a beaten up wooden hut. Later on as the family expanded with six[1] kids, they made the back of their shop a living abode for the family. We grew up in a shop-abode home.

In 1975 South Vietnam and North Vietnam unified. Dad and mom gradually felt that the children had outgrown the allotted spaces. They began to work to regain rooms from our long-term renters and renovated our shop-abode home to give space to the kids. Little did they know anxious day was just around the corner.

The government clamped down on private businesses. By hook or by crook, the government oppressed merchants of all walks and wealth. In 1977 the government recalled and replaced all monetary currencies. The exchange rate was at an outrageous $500 old money for every new dollar. Every family could at most have $200 new money. This policy absolutely devastated all who had savings. As under the new regime, it was a crime to have savings and all old currencies were effectively discarded. Fortunately, many rich merchants did not trust the paper money and had long since a practice to stock up gold and jewels.

The chaotic economy jeopardized the livelihood of many. Many Chinese merchants swiftly escaped Vietnam. Those who had saved much cash ran the risk of being imprisoned. Others secretly burned their hard-earned cash in overwhelming sadness. Some even melted the coins they saved to be sold as scrap metal. These were the horrific days with aggressive economic policies that overnight millionaires became broke.

Dad and mom knew that their retail shop and life-long savings were targeted by the government. They were anxious about their fate. Many shops lined our street, and one after the other they were closed by the government. It was at night when the government trucks came to move away the merchandise and the residents of the shops. Overnight, everything and everyone were moved away leaving only a large cordon yellow-tape sealed the shop noting: “trespasses forbidden”. Every night, mom and dad anxiously waited and jumped with fear whenever they heard trucks. It was unimaginable how they survived those dark days and nights.

Behold, the doomsday government-letter came ordering us to close shop. Simultaneous with the letter, an undercover police officer began to be stationed at our home every day from 7 in the morning till 6 at night for three weeks to monitor us. The undercover was a middle-aged woman. My two younger siblings and I were still attending school. Every morning the undercover policewoman thoroughly checked our school bags before letting us go. She said things rather politely and I wondered what thoughts were contemplated in her head. One day, I accidentally went up to our flat roof and saw our two big flower pots were spilled over and loose dirt and broken porcelain were laying around. I immediately understood that the undercover policewoman had been searching after hidden gold or jewels in our home. Fortunately her effort was in vain. Looking back, I praise God for keeping and consoling the oppressed that my parents did not lose sanity. We were too young to share their hardship. On the contrary during hardships, God mercifully allowed us to know that He was Creator and Savior. There was a precious verse in the Bible describing how we experienced the trying times: “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests the hearts” (Proverbs 17:3). Another precious verse tells mankind how much God treasures us: “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalms 8:4). May you also hasten up and come to know our caring and loving Creator.

Author: Mrs. Thuyen-Anh (Ancy) Lee was born in Vietnam. She immigrated and was educated in Sweden as a teenager. Her profession was social work until she married Pius in 1994. The couple responded to the calling to be ministers and relocated to NY in 2023.

[1] Mom gave birth to nine children, the three siblings born before me died in their childhood, making my parents extremely superstitious, thinking that they were cursed. They did not allow me and my younger siblings to call them mom and dad lest their curse spilled over to harm us. Until my parents became Christians, I was instructed to call mom “Aunt” and dad “Uncle”.

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