A Story of Struggle

Imagine a man and woman that have known each other less than a few hours when one of them suggests a hasty marriage. The proposal-- “save me”. No, it’s not another Britney Spears stunt on a Las Vegas strip, but a reeducation camp on the western edge of Hong Kong called Whitehead after the end of the Vietnam war.

“The Stories they Carried” is a glimpse into a world we’d rather not know about; a world that even Andrew Lam, a Vietnam native and ex-pat, is not sure about. Lam finds himself dancing the line between sympathizing with the prisoners and patronizing their desperation and non-western etiquette. With heartbreaking stories of the Vietnamese desperation to escape communist rule, Lam gives us a history lesson with flair. Through Lam’s eyes we see women who disembowel themselves to avoid returning to Vietnam, alongside a man sharpening an iron bedpost to a fine point willing to take his own life before being sent back.

Despite all the calls for commiseration, Lam discusses the “compassion fatigue” faced by the people who had been dedicating “months and if not years of their lives to helping the boat people” (84). No longer able to digest the pallid conditions they were surrounded by everyday, their smiles retreated into myth and laughing became a mere reference to historical conditions.

Simultaneously, Lam watches the prisoners in these camps fighting for their freedom while he fights an internal battle with his guilt for surviving when so many others were not as lucky. This unsettling story could elicit sympathy from a stone and leave anyone in admiration of Lam’s experiences and the raw honesty in his words. 



Above: While some celebrities in America have treated marriage as a game, prisoners in Reeducation Camps in Vietnam saw marriage as a way to escape to a better life.

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