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Refugee Week 2020 – Nga's journey

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My name is Nga and I was born and grew up in Binh Doung, Vietnam.

I fled Vietnam in 1981, from the war between the Americans and the Communists. I was 18 years old, having just completed school.

I first had to get to the Cambodian and Vietnamese border by foot and waited there for a couple of months before I was able to get on a boat that docked in Thailand.

I lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for two years.

At first, I could not even contact my family to let them know where I was. After some time, I was able to write a letter to my parents to tell them why I had to flee.

I came to Australia on 9 December 1983, after spending two years in the camp. My son was 7 months old at that time.

When I first came to Australia, we lived in a hostel in Springvale for the first six months. A few months after giving birth to my second child, I got my first job in a factory in Moorabbin, making kettles. I was only able to speak a few words in English, so I watched preschool TV shows with my first son in the mornings to learn English.

After working in a factory making spices and sauces for fast food restaurants and supermarkets, I decided to start a restaurant business in 2001. I used to own and manage restaurants, Thanh Dat and Restaurant 323 in Springvale.

I moved to Berwick in 2014 and built my own home. In 2015, I decided to open a new restaurant, Nga’s Kitchen in Hampton Park. It went well for a few years but unfortunately, I had to sell my restaurant in December 2019. I had some difficulties in managing it on my own since my back surgery, but I am still there to help the new owners.

The best thing about this country is the freedom.

Being able to say and do whatever you want. When I first came to Australia and lived in a hostel, I asked people whether I was allowed to go for a walk. Back in the camp, it was like a jail and I was not able to go for a walk freely. People laughed at me and told me I can go anywhere I wanted.

I also really enjoyed learning about the Australian culture, the ‘Aussie’ way. I think I mixed it well with my Vietnamese ways. I loved how you can learn things from many different people in Australia. I call Australia my second motherland.

More recently, when my dad died four years ago from cancer, doctors and nurses looked after him well while he was sick. The nurses and doctors were all from various backgrounds and they were so lovely. I was grateful that I was living in Australia.

I think the main difficulty was not being able to speak English well. Back in 1983, there were a lot of jobs. You were still able to get jobs despite your limited English skills.

I did not get a chance to learn English properly, having to look after my children. I remember that my husband used to look after all the bills because I was scared to go to a bank, post office etc. On my first time going to the bank, I was saying things wrong with broken English, but the staff taught me how to say things properly.

I always wanted to tell those who are new to this country to learn English if they get the chance to.

Some people might think that refugees give people and the government a hard time. Not everyone is the same. There are also great people from refugee backgrounds. They are good doctors, police, and great hard workers.

To me, welcome is when I get something unexpected and it makes me feel happy. For example, when I cook nice food and share it with my next-door neighbours and it makes them happy, that is welcoming to me.