Richard Silver, Vietnam adoptee who returns to Vietnam
Interviews by Dmae Roberts/Sara Kolbet
Dates: 3/28/05, 4/4/05, 7/7/05
2 Discs; Disc 1, 71:29, 9 Tracks; Disc 2, 41:05, 6 Tracks
TRACK 2 – 10:03
RICHARD: I’m Richard Silver and I just got back from Vietnam. It was an amazing trip. Our trip encompassed a day and a half in Vietnam. We went with world airways, from Peach City Georgia. The purpose of the trip was to commemorate the 30th anniversary of operation babylift. The reason why world airways took this trip on and sponsored it is because Ed Daly who took this ion in 1975 was the owner, founder, and was in Vietnam in April that year and saw the need for these children to get out of Vietnam. His intentions were to get 300 children out of Vietnam. The country put a stop to that, he was only able to get out 57 on April 2nd. And because of his heroism president ford said we need operation babylift. So world airways really paved the way for operation babylift. So they wanted to take as many of the adoptees of the 57 as they could. They were able to fill their guest list with 21 adoptees with their spouse or guest and a bunch of employees and corporate executives, along with a passel of media. It was a great trip but busy, you didn’t’ have time for yourself. You were moved along with the schedule,, either a banquet, a tour.
SARA: Was it what you expected?
RICHARD: I went into this whole trip with an open mind. I didn’t want to go there thinking I’m going to try to find my roots. Because there’s no way in a day and a half any of that could have been accomplished, especially with our timeframe. My intent was to see the country.
SARA: The trip was a week?
RICHARD: We were there in Vietnam for a day and a half, but we really only had about an hour or two hours of personal time to go shopping before our next event. It was very tight. The only time we had to ourselves is if we wanted to go out by ourselves to see nightlife.
SARA: Could you see it?
RICHARD: The first night we were there a bunch of us walked along Saigon River. To give you a picture, imagine having all these mopeds drive past you. And on top of the mopeds you have cars to worry about. And there aren’t really stoplights except for one major intersection. It was a six-lane road. If you’ve ever played the game Frogger, it was like this, you put your life into your own hands. We’re crossing this road at night, it’s not easy. We’re praying someone will see us so they slow down or go around us. It was fun and adventurous in the same way. Our tour guides from Vietnam said when you cross the road you want to walk slow. Because where in the US when we cross the road we’re either running or darting. So we walked really slowly and made our way across the street. And looked back and said we made it.
SARA: Did you have an interpreter?
RICHARD: If we went to an actual event, scheduled, we had interpreters because we were going to speak to Vietnamese delegates. So yes we had interpreters there. But for those of us who went out on the streets or shopping we were out on our own. But the cool thing was the area we were staying at they cater to the western business. So they, meaning the merchants, spoke fairly good English. You could communicate, they knew what you wanted.
SARA: Did anyone ask you directions in Vietnamese?
RICHARD: No. They knew we were tourists by the bags hanging off of us. The natives, all they have are the clothes on their backs or mopeds.
SARA: Did you know anyone before you went?
RICHARD: Yes. There was a particular gentleman very pivotal in my life. Back in 2001 he got me turned around and got a fire going in my life to pursue my adoption heritage he had been back to Vietnam multiple times, he goes every other month. So he knows the area we were at. We walked with him, his wife was with him. Twenty people went out and he was a local tour guide. So it was comforting to have him there. He took us down by the Saigon River and he could tell us about the area.
SARA: Did you make friends?
RICHARD: Of course. I keep in contact with some of the people in Vietnam and one of the reporters.
SARA: Do you have anything you thought about this trip? What it meant to you?
RICHARD: I’m still processing it. Even though it’s been three weeks, there’s just so much that has happened in such a short amount of time. It takes a while to sit there and process it. And because when I came back home I hit the ground running, I haven’t had time to reflect on the things that were crucial to me while I was there. If I had time to stop, what I got out of my visit in Vietnam is how proud I am of the country I came from. In 30 years the economy has grown. Though it’s still considered to be a third-world country, I was surprised how the metropolitan
TRACK 3 – 10:03
RICHARD: growth was. I was expecting to see barren land. And I saw a lot of rice fields, which was natural, but the images we have 30 years ago of this chaos and stricken land, you don’t see that. But there’s poverty there that we’re all used to seeing, but from an economic standpoint I’m really proud of where Vietnam has come from. The people there are very gracious. One would think because they’re under a communist leadership everything would be hush, hush, but I didn’t sense that. The people I talked with who knew I was back after 30 years asked what do you think of Vietnam now? I was truly honest to say I truly love this place, I’ll be back. But if I had to reflect on a special moment, one of my special moments that will stay with me forever was my stay in the orphanage. I could imagine while I was there what it would be like when I was in the orphanage. When we first got there we exchanged gifts with the orphanage we exchanged money and candy and my wife and I took a bag of clothes our boys had grown out of and that was exciting. But once the ceremony had ended we could break away and just visit. We visited Fumi orphanage, one of the biggest. I just started snooping around and I went into a room with a bunch of babies laying on the floor. When I got down on the floor with them, I found one baby on the floor, 3 or 4, just started rubbing his back, but it occurred to me they were on the floor because the floor was so cold, to keep them cool. I tried to talk to them, soothing them, and I wanted to go to another room and in this room I found five or six kids around a table and drawing. well, I love to draw so I found an open chair and sat in the middle of them and started drawing for them and I wish I had a…I’m showing you a picture from a clip from the Saigon times weekly, and this was taken of me with two of the boys. I was drawing simple pictures, what I drew for my boys, houses, motorcycles. Because they hadn’t seen anything like that, it was exciting for me to show them what I was drawing, explain to them what these drawings meant. For instance, I drew a happy face and explained this means you’re happy and I drew a heart, meaning love and I drew a house, meaning your home. It was simple, but it meant the world to them. So it was cool to see the next morning, flying out of Vietnam, that I’m on the front page. My time with those kids was precious, I could have stayed more hours with them. The other events we did in Vietnam was fun, but this stands out to be the pinnacle of my trip.
SARA: Did you feel like a US delegate?
RICHARD: We all felt, for me I went with the attitude that not only am I representing the US, I’m representing my heritage as Vietnamese. I wanted to go over to Vietnam and be proud of my nationality, the US, but I also wanted to show or be a testimony that though I am an American citizen, my heritage is still strong and I want to be able to relate to the culture I came from.
SARA: Did it help?
RICHARD: I didn’t feel different. I felt so comfortable being able to go to staff or merchants, pretty much anyone who looked like me, to put a fine point on it. I didn’t feel, for once I didn’t feel like I was the minority. The only time I felt like one was when I didn’t speak the language. That’s when I felt really hindered. But I didn’t let that stand between me because there’s more to relationship building than just language. We were able to communicate through the Basic English as well as handshakes and hugs. Yeah, I feel I was an ambassador for the US. This trip, to back up, this trip was very political. At the time we were over in Vietnam, the prime minister of Vietnam was over here talking to the president and I found out that after we got back that the prime minister learned we were in Vietnam and wanted to come meet us but he had landed in Vietnam the day we took off, so it couldn’t happen. but the most exciting thing I think this trip meant to all of us was the fact that while we were gone and while the prime minister and president were in conversation, the discussion of reopening adoption in Vietnam took place. So this was more than just let’s go back and show them we’re successful and your decision to let us come to America was a wise one. There was a whole chain of events leading up to this.
SARA: The reason for your trip was many things, one perhaps being they wanted to reopen adoption?
RICHARD: That didn’t come out in black and white. I suspect there was a subtle undertow of that issue. I say this because if you do look at the chains of events the relationship between Vietnam and the US has started to mend or strengthen. United airlines can fly directly into Vietnam now. It has now enjoyed with the WTO. They’re starting to look to
TRACK 4 – 10:03
RICHARD: international trade. And as well as the adoption. So there are many facets that have led up to how this is starting to take place. To me, that’s positive and encouraging. They’ve come a long way. 25 years ago this may not have come up in discussion, but I think there’s a point where we all have to set our differences aside and say what can we do to foster relationships?
SARA: The US has come a long way too.
RICHARD: I feel there’s so many different facets to this trip, I could spend a few more hours analyzing why this happened. One of the good things that came out of it is the adoptions.
SARA: What else did you do?
RICHARD: We, after the orphanage we went to a local authentic Vietnamese restaurant. It was a full-on Vietnamese restaurant and the food was phenomenal. My appetite took care of me. Not only did I finish my bowl of pho, noodle dish, but I finished my wife’s and my friend’s. We went back to the hotel, had an hour to walk the streets and do some shopping. My wife had ordered a tailor-made Vietnamese garb, oyei, for her, so one of the shops had tailor-made an outfit for her. Then, back on the bus, to the Saigon River for a boat tour. This boat is like an authentic dragon boat. It’s two levels, but it’s huge. It wasn’t a little boat, but it was huge. They had this band playing for us. People were milling around, they had a whole spread of hor d’ouvres. I was on the bow of the boat and I had my camera, videotaping, and also we just got swept right into a monsoon. The rain was coming down three times as much as what we get here. In three minutes we were drenched, or I was. The rains came down, the boat kept floating, the band kicked in. We all jumped in and started singing, dancing.
SARA: What songs did they sing?
RICHARD: Stevie wonder, we did Take me Home country road. Vietnamese band singing John Denver! they had good English. we did the La Bamba. and now we have a Vietnamese band doing Mexican music. only in Vietnam. after the boat tour, we cleaned up and had to get back on the bus to go to a gala banquet at the unification palace. the whole day was booked: a city tour, the orphanage, lunch, river tour, dinner. and we came home, packed our stuff up and the next morning we were on the way to the airport and took off. the day we landed in Vietnam we had a welcoming ceremony, got on our buses, went to the hotel, had a welcoming ceremony there as well, had about an hour and a half, went back to the hotel, had our evening banquet. so our trip there was very quick. half of our time was in the plane.
RICHARD: I suspect over half of the people on this trip came back and had system malfunction for a week. might be the food we ate, the schedule our bodies were on, lack of sleep, by the time we got home our system said we’re going to backfire on you.
SARA: Who did you call first when you got home?
RICHARD: Her parents because we had to pick up the boys. we picked them up, went to Applebee’s, ate, and came home.
SARA: Did they have questions?
RICHARD: They said did you get us anything? they were glad mom and dad were home, we don’t have to sleep in grandpa’s bed, what did you bring us from Vietnam?
SARA: Were there similarities between you and other adoptees?
RICHARD: One of the main similarities I had among the other adoptees was this was our first time back. I would say a good third of the adoptees had not been back, the others had. so for those, this was our first trip back, we had something in common. so being able to be with some of those as we’re landing, was exciting. what was really cool was as we started coming in, this lull, or silence, overcame the cabin. the only thing you could hear was the humming of the engines. 20 minutes ago you had the cameras, chit chat, and all of a sudden it’s just silence. kind of an ‘awe’ feeling. to be able to talk to these people on the way home and decompress a bit was exciting. we could share the knowledge this was our first time back, what did you think? as opposed to some one who is revisiting the country. to me, there was more of a bigger picture. it was still about the individuals who went and your personal experience.
SARA: Your wife got an outfit?
RICHARD: Yes. she found the material she wanted, a nice, dark blue. everything is silk. it’s got nice flowers along the whole front
TRACK 5 – 8:34
and white pants and looks good on her.. and I was able to find a traditional garb for me, maroon with a dragon. and they stitched up the coat for me, because it was made for a larger person, but in one day they had my and her outfit done.
SARA: What was her reaction?
RICHARD: It was really cool because at separate times, I purposely broke away from here. there were times I wanted to be with her but there were times I didn’t want to be in her shadow. I wanted her to interact with the guests on the plane as her. there were opportunities I wanted to be able to go and talk to other adoptees as just adoptees. her perspective was, when she was sharing her daily experiences she said I feel like I’m the minority now because she’s the Caucasian and she’s in a sea of Asian people. what’s cool for her is to watch me be home and walk the streets of my own country and interact with adoptees and other Vietnamese.
SARA: Any other stories?
RICHARD: Again, I know when we’re done I’m going to remember things. I think, there are many things that stick out in my mind but one of the many things that I’m going to hold onto is the relationships we established. I mentioned I had the opportunity to interview a couple of people myself. getting to know them on a different level versus knowing who they are or getting the surface conversations, it was exciting. when you interview people you learn a lot about them. feed off their personalities and get a good dialogue going. so the people I interact with on the trip were memorable, really neat people we’ll stay in contact with.
SARA: From all around the country?
RICHARD: Yeah. they picked people from New York, Montana, Seattle, the whole map of the US. so across the whole US only 20 adoptees went. so that is a privilege and I’m grateful for that.
SARA: People involved in a group?
RICHARD: No. the guests who went replied to some sort of invitation. it wasn’t because I’m part of this organization I have rights. however that took place at World Airways. I’m sure there are those who didn’t get to go and we wish everyone could have gone but that wasn’t’ going to happen.
SARA: Talking to adoptees who haven’t been to Vietnam?
RICHARD: The advice I give anyway, because many adoptees talk about wanting to go to Vietnam. and usually the general discussion is I would like to go back and find my biological family. my recommendation would be go back with the intention to look at the country, with no agenda of trying to find a family. the last thing you would want to do is go over there and have false hopes and be disappointed and have other feelings about their adoption heritage. being angry or having more questions. but if you have the opportunity to see the country, then come back, then have a better idea of where you want to go. your success will be better than doing it all in one day. since I’ve been back for a day in a half it was a teaser, I met some great people, and I have the flavor. when we do go back we will visit my orphanage and go up north, see the northern a part of the country and see how that country is.
RICHARD: We are, we just don’t know when.
SARA: Anything else?
RICHARD: I’m just grateful to world airways and the folks involved with the planning. if it wasn’t for CEO Randy Martin to believe in this journey for us to go to the board of directors and say we have the opportunity to do this trip and remember 21 adoptees. I think it’s well worth our time and investment to do this. two years later here we are. because of their vision and planners I’m deeply gratified by their efforts. so thank you world airways for doing this.
TRACK 6 – 1:03