Deafness, Cerebral Palsy & Returning

Who’s Selling the Banana’s?

Dominic grew up on a farm in Mount Gambier, South Australia.  He moved to Adelaide to study an Advanced Diploma in Acting with the CPA in 1996.  He completed his Bachelor of Arts (Directing & Politics) with Honours in 1999 at Flinders University.

In November 1999 he was awarded the R.A Simpson International Travelling Scholarship to Vietnam, along with two other students to film and document the attempted search of his parents and relatives.

In May 2001 Dominic’s work was displayed as part of an Exhibition called “Lost & Found” organised by the Immigration Museum of Victoria and Koorie Heritage Trust Inc.

He also performed for the Festival Centre’s Memory Museum at the Defence barracks in Adelaide for the Centernary of Federation 2001.

Dominic overseed the process of Community Cultural Development and youth theatre in a production called Aussie Bia Om in which he enhanced his skills to write playscripts and screenplays for multicultural Australian issues.

DEAFNESS

There are over 100,000 deaf people in Vietnam as a result of the war and I must consider myself fortunate to have the most up to date hearing aid granted by the government’s Australian Hearing Centre.  Unlike in Vietnam where the technology of aids is very dated – at least twenty years old where the cord hangs out of the ear to a transmitter.

But being deaf has its bonuses as well – like switching off a flat battery when I don’t want to hear someone else’s bullshit or crappy music.  I have selective hearing of sorts. There are several hypotheses behind how I lost my hearing: one is through forced birth; lack of oxygen as a premature baby;  the result of mortar attack in Cho Lon; and the uncompressed military aircraft.

CEREBRAL PALSY

Physiotherapy was hell.  I had to hold a tennis ball under my chin.  Still suffer from tension and spasms.  Cerebral Palsy is the mixed messages send from the brain to the muscles to contract and release – resulting in erratic physical motions – so for me everything is in either tense or sweating focus.

I’ve come to appreciate western medicine having gone back and seen the state of Vietnamese health.  I can now appreciate the taxes we pay for public hospitals and Medicare.  Back in Vietnam I would be a beggar or selling gum or the Quiet American novel to foreign tourists.  People would give me Dong out of pity or I’d be a pest they want to shove off.

What would my world be like if the Vietnam war didn’t exist?  Where would I be now? How different would my life really be if I wasn’t abandoned by my biological Vietnamese parents?

If war didn’t occur who can say that I would be born.  To live in peace, peace will always last longer than war.  I’d be living in a nice little home with my nice little family, speaking my nice native language, working in my nice little job on the corner of Saigon selling my nice noodles to nice tourists – or raised with a Chinese family selling anything from baby shoes to tiger bones.

War is war.  It’s unavoidable and something most of us wish didn’t happen.  But the fact remains that it did happen.  Every night on the news some poor child becomes an orphan.  World Vision talks of sponsoring a starving child in Vietnam – the problem seems immense and we become desensitised.  Not me.  I embody the hope and fears of that nameless child.

The many questions that I constantly ask myself ever since I was 7.

As far as I’m concerned there is no real family, no perfect family, no just family, yet I’m always looking for my surrogate family – be it Viet or Aussie or even global.  I can wish for this or that or even marry to start my own family which can not be better or worse than my adopted family at present.  I asked them one day what would they think if my real parents walked through the door and asked me back – would my adoptive family let me go?  They said it was up to me – it was my choice.

There was also a time when I saw myself as different and I hated white people – even my parents.  They forced me away from my real parents, they took me away from my country, and my people.  You whitey came into my country and fought to murder my parents and my people.  And I used that difference against them and society.  I hated white power over Vietnamese and I still do.

At the age of 4 I realised that I couldn’t drink from the same bowl as my dog.

When people said that I was a Gook, killed their Uncle in Vietnam, killed babies, asked if I had green blood, wondered why I didn’t look like mum and dad, remarked that I could use chopsticks well, or stated that I wasn’t Australian by asking where I came from, called me yellow bastard … well hell – I don’t know my background!!  People think I’m Japanese, Phillippino, Malaysian, Chinese, Cambodian .. even the Viet’s don’t think I look Vietnamese.  I’m nobody.  A loner with a million other orphans wandering the planet looking for traces of our identity.

Why was I adopted?

I was “placed” in an impoverished orphanage in Cho Lon which no longer exists.  An Australian doctor then picked myself and five other ill babies to be transferred to the World Vision orphanage in the centre of Saigon.  From there I was airlifted along with hundreds of other children to the West under the joint Australian and US Operation Babylift in a Hercules Air Force cargo plane – to Bangkok, Thailand then onto the QF180 to Melbourne, Australia.  It was there that I was placed into intensive care at the Fairfield Hospital for four months.  Then released into the loving care of the Golding family in Mt Gambier and consequently adopted in 1977.

My parents placed their name for adoption of a Cambodian/Vietnamese child in 1974.  Why?  I still don’t really know.  From there the concern is adoption and the motives of prospective adoptive parents – was it ethical to “smuggle” me out of Vietnam?  Or should I have just died on my own soil?  I’m constantly in a state of limbo of not knowing my origins.  At times it pains me deeply and my mind wonders – searching for that missing jigsaw puzzle piece – most likely I’ll never find it.

My parents reminded me the other day that all the paper work that it took to get me cost a lot of money.  Gee – I wonder how much I’m worth?  When I was a troubled teenager this made me emotionally suicidal.  I was incredibly self-destructive.  My adoptive parents didn’t know how to handle my rages and silences.  One day they caught me self-mutilating myself with a hunting knife.  I laughed – stating that I just wanted to look like Bruce Lee.

To understand the Vietnam War beyond Western Textbooks.

Vietnam held a lot of fascination for me but the only texts that I could find were from the American point of view – their justification for engaging with the enemy to find Mr Charlie – otherwise known as the VC.  It was from these books and the Hollywood films that I learnt the terms like “doughnut dollies, bouncing betty, claymores, thumper, Shitnook Chinook chopper, mad minute, B52s, DMZ” etc.  This fascination into the Vietnam War history was from the desperate need to try to find some evidence of my biological parents.

Chaos and panic when the Americans withdrew.  Not everyone has forgiven them, even myself.  Then again, I wouldn’t be here would I.

Returning to Vietnam.

In the last year of University I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to Saigon – along with two other mates to do a travel shoot on the experiences of coming back to a country that I had left behind at the age of 4 months old.  To rediscover the real Vietnam not the one depicted in my childhood of war and wonderings of what my life would have more than likely turned out to be – to look at the orphanages operating now and to find out the culture of Vietnam today.

Many of the children of 1975 still live at the orphanages run by nuns or private aid care.  They are given food, shelter, education, medicine but I know many children do not have those luxuries – I could have been one of them.  Nobody it seems knows of the orphanage in Cho Lon let alone World Vision – only to say they no longer exist.  I went to three orphanages – the Christina Noble Sunshine orphanage for children under 7, the German orphanage outside Saigon, and the State orphanage on the other side of town.

I have found one thing … my parents could have been refugees from Da Nang in the 1950s – Chinese who fled the Communists to Saigon – or I could have been the son of any number of ARVN soldiers who slept around in the early 1970s.  Many a cyclo driver wondered where I came from, whether I was Chinese, Vietnamese, or Japanese.  They all knew I was a tourist and once they knew my story – they all knew of Operation Babylift in 1975 and the one aircraft that went down.  Everyone tells me that I’m lucky to have gotten out at the time I did.

I travelled by minibus tourist service run by the Police to Nha Trang – I needed a little beach holiday away from the smog of Saigon.  I met up with an artist Long Tan, a Black & White photographer.  I cruised the Cham towers seeking spiritual enlightenment  Almost got decapitated in a cyclo outside the Discotech nightclub – boy was that fun!!  Only to find out later that the same guys wanted 80,000 more Dong.  We ended up walking back to our hotel.  Took the train ride back to Saigon and boarded up at Miss Loi’s Guesthouse.  A lovely abode serviced by girls from the countryside learning English and nodding to the local police officer that came in to get paid by the madam.  Miss Loi’s also accommodated an American student, two other Vietnamese university students, and a whole host of European and Aussie backpackers.  Sure enough this was like the surrogate traditional Vietnamese family that I’d always dreamed of.  I went clubbing and eating dog meat with the boys and having massages from the ladies.

A few days later, took off to Dha Lat – the cooler highlands of South Vietnam.  The French retreat of Indo-China.  It was certainly cold.  Checked out a few waterfalls, a Buddhist retreat, then hooked up with a guide who was taking another adoptee (Leigh Bancroft) for a 3 day bike ride back to Saigon.  What a ripper – to see country life of Vietnam.  Not a sheep in sight.  Just buffalos and wild dogs.  Got busted for unknowingly filming the Ho Chi Minh Trail – hey man .. it looked like coffee plantations!  This was the closest I got to Communist power .. being sexually harassed by a green uniformed police officer on drugs!  Then off on the road again after being detained for 5 hours and chain smoking 555s with the local elderly police chief.  Aussies give aid to build roads over there.  Man .. I tell you  .. there’s nothing like being on a bike in pitch darkness screaming past lorry trucks and peasants at 100km/hr.

Got back into Saigon chasing girls on their Honda Om’s, seeing the Bia Oms like some seedy club in the 60s, the hand job parks, the poverty, the rich Chinese businesses selling medicine, the markets, the disabled and elderly beggars, the friendly police gambling on the streets, the girls in their ao-dai’s riding their pushbikes to and from school – there it all was – my people going about their daily business after 25 years – I felt at home yet a stranger.  I’d been away too long.  I didn’t want to leave on the flight back to the “world” – my mind was filled only with the images of Nam.

I know that Australia is my home but it isn’t .  I’ll be constantly reminded that I come from another place, another culture, another race, and indeed another world.  My world is somewhat complete, I’ve been back and I know who I am by the faces I see.  But there will always be that missing piece – that genealogy that most “normal” people have to identify themselves as being.

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