Suppressing the Merchants (Part II)
Author: Ancy Lee
Translator: Pius Lee
Buried in Coal Ashes
Upon the confiscation of our family-cloth-business, there was an undercover policewoman stationed at our home for three weeks every day from 7:00 am till 6:00 pm. Our every move was scrutinized. We acted as if we were thieves of our own belongings at night to secretly transfer our sewing machine, textile and clothing products to our neighbors. Having sensed that we were on the government’s target list of capitalists, dad was wise to hide our savings of gold bars, American dollars, and jewelry in the coal ash heap of bamboo junks of the family’s earthen oven. Fortunately, the policewoman was unaware of the hidden treasure.
New Economic District
Those were stressful days of torment. Mom and dad were skittish on the slightest police presence days in and days out for weeks since our shop’s confiscation. Dad moved five of us – 2 brothers, 2 sisters, and me, a few kilometers away to live with our uncle. Mom and dad figured that the government would only arrest dad. Dad started his shop, “Abundant Gold Clothes” decades ago. Dad’s name was in the city registry. Only mom and Ang, my oldest brother, stayed behind to guard the shop. They were the most fluent in Vietnamese. Ang was employed by a state-run rubber tree plantation at that time. Behold, several days after the undercover policewoman stopped coming, a big military truck suddenly approached our shop during mid-night. There emerged two policemen armed with pistols. They led a team of movers to storm into our shop as if a SWAT team came to subdue insurgent kingpins.
The policemen announced loudly: “The order of transferring merchants to outlying areas of ‘New Economic Development’ is being enforced in your home. There merchants should start anew.” For years we had heard these repeated indoctrinations but did not understand what it meant. Now it unraveled in our home and augmented excruciating hardship. Mom cried hysterically and begged for execution on the spot where they had taken her home. That fateful night we were expelled from our home of thirty years without warning. We were dumped to a strange place miles and miles away with no address or any of our prior knowledge.
Dad and his five children waited anxiously for the news about mom and Ang. There were no means of communication. Dad was fidgety and restless, fearing for mom and Ang. Dad also worried about implicating our Uncle’s family. We were labeled as the “class of suppressing capitalists”. Nobody dared to befriend us in fear of implications.
Dad dared not to stay at Uncle’s home too often. Dad would leave Uncle’s home early every morning and take any bus wherever it took him to kill time. One day dad was again wandering on a bus ride and was totally unaware that a pickpocket stole his wallet and wrist watch. Dad was a soulless corpse suffering desperation and hopelessness.
Many days later news finally arrived from mom and Ang that they survived and were forced to relocate to a town called Thu Thua in the layback province of Long An (龍安省) 45 km away. The last stretch of the journey involved a half hour boat ride along a river. It was a remote and barren land with no house or any inhabitant. Upon my first arrival, I could only see empty primitive huts along the river banks. What an irony when reality was compared against the flamboyant title: “A New Economic Development”.
Guilt and Blame
Days passed…we obtained a special permission from the government to go back for the last time to our shop to collect whatever was left behind. Our whole family of eight returned. My oldest sister was so mad that she threw a hammer to break the roof, thinking that since we lost our home, the authorities should not own it either. Pitifully, what she was able to throw was too tiny to make neither a dent nor a hole on the roof. Another moving scene that etched into my memory was dad kneeling in front of the ancestral picture of grandfather and crying profusely. Dad desperately cried out: “What’s my fault that the heavens punished us with such decimating destruction?” This was my first time that I witnessed my devastated dad crying. Pangs of loss and self-blame consumed him. I cried with dad feeling overwhelmingly sad about not being able to help.
Self-righteousness and Imputed Righteous
Before dad became a Christian he was influenced by Confucianism. He knew that a self-righteous man should observe filial piety. Dad was proud of himself having been a man of clear conscience and self-righteousness. However, the New Testament of the Bible says: “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God…There is none righteous, no, not on.” (Romans 3:23; Romans 3:10). The Old Testament also echoes: “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man….They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalms 14:2-3).
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.