Thursday, December 23, 2021

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM A CANADIAN SUCCESS


 Every Christmas this card of thanks arrives, even as the numbers of cards I get dwindle because of e-mail, COVID and the circle of friends,  family and former colleagues shrinks because of the relentless calendar.

M. Luong it says in neat letters, and I wonder again if this is how Manh learned to print in engineering school back in South Vietnam before he fled with his family as Canada welcomed the boat people in 1979.

It is not merely a Christmas card but a magic carpet ride to a time that Canada and Sun readers should celebrate because we put aside the bickering of life to reach across the seas to rescue tens of thousands in a jungle ruined by war.

Luong is 80 now, his wife is 75, and the daughter who talks for them from their Scarborough home and drives 10 minutes each week to do their shopping was only nine when I found them along with her brother in an old military camp in Hong Kong that had been abandoned by the army.

The 43 boat people that I found on a crowded island far out from Malaysia in the South China Sea and in Hong Kong are scattered through the country that was one of the world's leaders in response to their plight. Contacts with each other have faded with years, and also with the Edmonton and Toronto Sun readers who contributed $300,000 to my columns to support them for a year

I took the Luong children and seven other kids to Bowmore Rd. school and the principal pooh-poohed the fact that they had not even a scrap of credentials and said he and the teachers would cope. It was not necessary for me to arm myself with the presence of the school board's vice chairman, Mary Fraser.

The school introduced them to the magical stories of Christmas. When I arrived to their battered home to tell them of Santa, there already was a tree.

It didn't all go in storybook fashion. The city inspectors said I had jammed too many people into the home. I phoned Art Eggleton, my friend who was the mayor, to yell at him, but nothing happened. Then Sun publisher Doug Creighton, with kindness that matched his smarts, said the readers had sent in enough money, and if they hadn't, the business office could scrounge. So I rented another house.

I purposely kept a very loose vigil on their doings. They had left behind death so columnists should give them some slack, even though there were squabbles to be fought when bureaucracy overflowed.

So now the cards is my only memento of the country being nice, along with the staff of the Edmonton and Toronto Sun. Our good will was fuelled by our readers and their dollars.

There was one wonderful moment years ago when a lovely lady now cared for by the Edmonton Sun asked me to her wedding. I met her on the island of Pulau Bidong, reached by a UN-chartered fishing boat that had to run the gauntlet of Malaysian gun boats. She had been a very sick 16-year-old propped up in the corner of a hut made from branches and used plastic wrapping paper. I plodded through questions while the humid heat over 100F made me dizzy. Sun photographer Norm Betts, so tough he.usually chewed nails instead of gum, said he had to leave so he could rest on the beach and not faint. I promised the father I would take them to Canada but they had to let her lie down.

I was too busy to go to her wedding, damn it. But I have the gracious memory to go along with that card from M. Luong which comes each December even as my mail bag shrinks.


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