Linda Loan Thi Baer was born Nguyen Thi Loan in 1947, in the small village of Tao Xa, Thai Binh, North Vietnam.
Her father was killed during a Viet Minh attack in 1951. Her mother remarried, to a wealthy practitioner of Chinese medicine and a war widower himself. Their family relocated to South Vietnam during the mass exodus of 1954, where they were forced to move constantly due to economic, political, and military conditions. They eventually settled near Vung Tau, south of Saigon.
Loan left home at the early age of thirteen to seek work at various menial jobs in Saigon to help her family and to escape the physical abuse of her stepfather. After she turned sixteen, she became a club dancer and a black-market dealer. She met and married an American Air Force officer in 1968 and later followed him to the United States. She was naturalized and became American citizen in 1973. While raising two sons and a daughter, she obtained her GED and attended many college courses.
Linda graduated first in her class of cosmetology school in 1982. She received her cosmetology license from the State of South Carolina. In 1986, she opened her own business, Linda B. Hair and Nail Salon. In 2015, the salon was renamed Elegance by Linda B. She still owns and operates it at the time of this book’s publication.
Full of love, heartache, and humor, Linda’s unique storytelling wil have you laughing and crying, eager for more.
|Publisher:||Greenleaf Book Group, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)|
Read an Excerpt
IN THE MIDDLE of a quiet night, loud and terrified screams startled me from a sound sleep. "Help! Help! Somebody, please help me!" a male voice yelled. I jumped out of bed, turned on the light, and ran out to see what was going on. What I saw was the police chief, wearing only underwear, pointing his gun at Don, my fiancé, who stood at the entrance of the outside kitchen, wearing only boxer shorts, with a giant crab hanging from his right big toe.
Confused and afraid, I glanced at the six or seven people, including my mother, who were already at the scene. I looked down at Don's foot and realized he had stepped on one of the huge black mud crabs I had stored in a bucket; it must have crawled out. I ran to help him and motioned for everybody to calm down.
It seemed everyone was on edge, especially the police chief. Perhaps the intense war outside had something to do with it. They moved out of my way, making a larger circle, and talked among themselves. The police chief put his gun away and ran to help me loosen the crab's claw from Don's toe.
I took the giant crab back to the holding bucket and noticed most of the crabs stored there had disappeared. As I looked around, I saw them crawling in all directions, so I warned everyone to be careful not to get pinched. Don limped to the bathroom to clean off the blood and bind his wound.
"Please, everyone," I exclaimed, "help me gather all these crabs and put them back in the bucket." As we gathered the crabs, I explained to my mother and the friends who were staying in my house to help me prepare for my wedding the next day. "I planned to make crab eggrolls for the party tomorrow. But after I untied them, I was too tired, so I put them in a bucket and covered them up with a lid; they must have helped each other push off the lid and crawl out."
Mother joked, "One of them decided to have a piece of Don's meat before he got theirs." We all roared with laughter. Don finished in the bathroom and helped me secure the bucket lid with a heavy piece of cement, and then we all went back to bed.
ON FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 1969, Don and I went to the civil court in Saigon to get our marriage certificate signed. We stood in front of a man who might have been a magistrate, a judge, or just some person of authority; I wasn't sure. We just wanted to be sworn in and have our marriage papers signed, but before he signed them, he asked for two witnesses who knew us well.
"I'm sorry, I didn't know we had to have witnesses," I said. "I'll go home and come back with two of my family members." He nodded his head to excuse us. Just as we were about to leave, he said, "And don't forget to bring a gift with you." At first, his demand confused me, but I soon realized what he meant. He wanted me to bring him money for signing the paper, which was normal for someone in his position. The high authorities were the ones who could give or take away our right to marry, our livelihood, or even our lives.
I knew the drill and came prepared with a roll of money in my purse — we called it coffee money.
"Don't worry," I said with a smile and pointed to my purse to assure him I had the money.
We went outside, and I told Don what the man wanted and what my plan was. Don seemed concerned, but I just smiled at him.
"Don't worry; I'll take care of it," I said. "Since I don't have any family here, I'll get somebody else to stand in for us." Don looked at me in confusion.
"How can you do that?" he asked.
"I'll show you," I said with a mischievous wink.
We walked out to the street, and I waved down a couple of pedicab drivers. "Where do you want to go?" one of them asked. I motioned for them to get off their cabs and come closer.
"I don't want to go anywhere," I whispered when they came within earshot.
"Then why did you stop us?" the first man queried.
"Do you want to be paid to act as our witnesses?" I asked.
"What do we have to do?" the second one asked.
"I want you to go with me into that office," I said, pointing to the building behind me, "and tell the man in there that you two are my uncles."
They both agreed to help me; then one asked, "How much will you pay us?"
"Well, it depends on how good you are at convincing the man at the desk."
"Oh, I think we will be very good at that. Right, Tam?" The first one said.
"You're right, Cong!" he replied.
"Do you two know each other?" I asked.
"Yes, we're friends," they both answered.
Don looked back and forth at me and at the two strangers, confused. He had no idea what my plan was or what I was talking to the men about. He kept interrupting me with questions, and I kept telling him I would explain later. I turned to make an offer to the pedicab drivers.
"No! It is too low," Tam said, and then he countered with a higher amount.
"Ah, ah, too much," I said as I shook my head. We bargained back and forth until we finally agreed on a price.
Both men seemed happy with my offer and were excited to pretend they were my uncles on my mother's side of the family. I gave them a quick history of my family and repeated their roles to them several times, to make sure they remembered. When I felt confident, we went into the office. While we were waiting for the magistrate to return, I explained to Don what we were about to do and told him what to say.
"Whenever the man questions you, just nod your head and say, 'I do.' It doesn't matter what he says; just say, 'I do,' unless I jump in and stop you." Don rolled his eyes and shook his head in amazement.
When the man came back to his desk, he asked us many questions, but my two temporary uncles were very convincing, and the official seemed to have no doubts, especially when he saw the roll of money I had in my hand. He read the vows to Don and me in Vietnamese, and I translated them to English for Don. Don did what I asked him to do; poor Don, he had no idea what he was getting himself into. The man signed our marriage papers and handed them to me with a smile. I took the marriage license and gave him a stack of money. He grabbed it and stuffed it into his pants pocket. I thanked him, and we all went on our way.
THE NEXT MORNING was Saturday, September 6. My mother; my sister; the two maids, Ba and Tu; and our friends helped prepare food for our wedding. While mother made red sticky rice, which was one of our traditional wedding dishes, I helped kill and clean the crabs, and then we made the eggrolls. It took us a whole day to prepare food, but we had so much fun cooking.
Later, at five o'clock in the afternoon, I wore a light-pink traditional Vietnamese dress, and Don wore a light-brown suit and tie. Together, Don, my family and friends, and I took taxis and brought food to our wedding party on the rooftop of one of the nicest hotels in Saigon. When we walked into the well-decorated room, all the guests were cheering and the live band started playing. I looked around and saw so many guests and friends there. They all applauded and yelled when they saw us. A friend then announced our marriage and asked us to slow dance to the song "Unchained Melody." In the middle of the song, we stopped and asked our friends to join us. We exchanged partners often and had a lot of fun. We ate, drank, and danced until past midnight.
Later, I realized no one in my family showed up, except for my mother and sister. I guess they were too busy and didn't have time to attend my wedding. Or perhaps they lived too far away and couldn't afford the transportation. Some might have been unsure or embarrassed about our mixed marriage. I knew others felt that way, but I hoped it was not true for my family. I wouldn't have blamed them, nor would I have held a grudge, even if it were true; I just wished more people in our society had open minds and accepted us for who we were. I hoped we would be given a chance.
We had to postpone our honeymoon, because we couldn't afford it. Don worked for Lockheed in Saigon, and I was in the black-market business, selling foreign made goods in Saigon. We made ends meet and tried to save money for a vacation. We used Don's old Honda motorcycle for transportation and were often in accidents. One time, he was driving on the very busy Tran Hung Dao Street and was trying to avoid hitting a young student, who was about ten years old, carrying books, and walking across the street by himself. The boy walked right in front of us; Don had to weave back and forth to avoid him, and we crashed to the pavement. The Honda and both of us were spinning like tops. When I came to my senses, I saw my shoe in one place and my purse in another; a car almost ran over both of us, but we were okay, except for a few cuts and bruises.
Meanwhile, the war still blazed on around the country, and it was hard for those of us who were struggling to survive from day to day. But somehow, we managed to survive.
IN JANUARY OF 1970, five months after our wedding, Don surprised me with a two-week honeymoon to Japan. At twenty-two years old, I had never traveled to another country or been on an airplane. I didn't know what to expect, but I was excited.
We took a taxi to Tan Son Nhut airport and, after a long wait, boarded a large airplane; I didn't know what model it was. I thought our flight was exciting and so much fun. However, after we landed, I learned from Don that we almost didn't make it because of bad weather and turbulence. At one point, the airplane hit an air pocket and plunged over four thousand feet. I rose from my seat, but the seatbelt held me in place. I thought it was normal and was yelling and laughing from excitement. I looked at Don and saw him look at me with a smile. I thought he was having fun too, but he was just trying to hide his fear.
Being a gentleman, Don carried my two large suitcases, and I carried his two small ones. We found the information desk at the airport, and Don asked them about our travel agency's location. After the man at the desk gave us the information, we thanked him and dragged our heavy suitcases to the street, where a line of taxis waited.
Our driver loaded our luggage into the taxi, and we were on our way to the travel agency in Tokyo. Once there, we dragged our suitcases into the building and walked up to a long counter, where a line of four or five well-dressed men bowed to us. They were so polite, but we soon discovered none of them spoke English well. I heard Don ask for a romantic mountain cabin near the beach for our honeymoon, but I could tell by the expressions on their faces that they understood very little of what he was saying. One of them turned to me and started speaking in Japanese, but I just shook my head, smiled, and said nothing. They began talking louder and louder and were soon shouting at us. I believe they hoped that with their louder voices, we would understand them better. Poor people, it didn't matter how loud they spoke; we still couldn't understand them.
Meanwhile, I was so cold I began to shake like a leaf. Those men must have thought I was crazy. I was wearing a thin see-through mint-green silk tank top with dark-green shorts and a pair of brown sandals. The men all wore sweaters, under suits and ties, with scarves around their necks to keep them warm.
I glanced at Don and saw him drawing a picture of a mountain and a cabin, but he forgot to add the beach to it. I thought, It's okay. We'll find the beach when we get there. When Don finished, the men smiled and nodded their heads, indicating they understood. One man made a phone call — I guessed it was to make reservations for us — the other wrote down some information, and another called a taxi. Don picked up the reservation papers, nodded his head, and shook all of their hands. They bowed deeply while shaking Don's hand. When we started to leave, the two men behind the counter raced toward us, grabbed our suitcases, and took them outside; Don and I followed. They left the suitcases near the curbside, turned to us, and began bowing again. At first, Don and I just nodded our heads, but they didn't stop bowing. We looked at each other, feeling awkward, and bowed back. This seemed to satisfy the two men, because they finally walked away.
When our cab arrived, Don handed the driver the piece of paper the men at the travel agency had given us. After he read it, he bowed, put our luggage in the taxi, and drove us to a train station. He stopped in front of a ticket booth and motioned for us to get our tickets. After Don paid him, they bowed to each other, and he drove away. We bought two tickets, dragged our suitcases onto a train, and lunged into two empty seats.
I felt even colder now. My teeth were chattering, and I was shaking all over. I looked around at people on the train. They were all bundled up, from top to toes, with heavy coats, shoes, hats, and scarves.
"Where are we going?" I asked Don, after we sat down.
"I don't know," he said.
"If you don't know where we are going, then how do you expect us to get there?"
"Well," Don replied, "I'll show the papers to one of the passengers to see if they know where we should get off."
Don got up from his seat and showed our papers to one of the men standing nearby. He looked at the paper but spoke no English. He said something to me in Japanese, but I just smiled, shook my head, and told him in English that I didn't understand. He then turned to talk to another man, and the other man turned to another. A voice from the back yelled in broken English, "Go Minakami, train stop, you get out." Don bowed, thanked him, and sat back down. We took turns looking out for the Minakami sign.
I noticed the scenery was turning white, and the farther we went, the whiter it became.
"Don, why is everything white?" I asked.
"Oh, that's snow," he replied. "I hope there's no snow where we're going," he said with a worried expression. I was puzzled.
"What is snow?" I asked.
"It's like powdered ice, and it is very cold," he said, "and we are not prepared for the cold or the snowy weather."
I was used to the hot climate of Vietnam, so everything I packed was light and sexy. My suitcases were full of silk blouses, short skirts, bathing suits, sandals, and a few thin bell-bottom pants. Don's suitcases were full of summer clothes as well. He and I expected to be on an island, with a beautiful beach and sandbars.
I stopped asking questions and looked outside.
Meanwhile, all of the men and the women nearby were staring at me; people had been staring at me since I arrived at the airport. I could tell some of the men were talking about me as well. I thought that maybe it was because my stylish clothes were too revealing. Most of the other women wore kimonos and covered themselves up, unlike me in my skimpy garb. Although I felt the cold the second I stepped out of the airplane, I thought nothing more about it until I sat in the train. I was sure if I could see myself in the mirror, I would see that my lips were purple and my face had turned a ghostly pale-white from the cold.
We had been in the train for a while, but because of the excitement and distractions, I couldn't remember how far we had gone or how many times we had stopped or even how long we had been on the train. It could have been two or three hours or even five or six hours. But I didn't really care, because it was our honeymoon.
As the train slowed down, I saw a sign for Minakami, and I woke Don from his nap. We waited for the train to come to a complete stop, grabbed our suitcases, and bolted out of the door. I stepped on the icy cold ground — everything was covered in snow. I'd thought we were going to a hot sandy beach — neither of us were prepared for the cold.
It was difficult for me to walk in my sandals and drag my suitcases on the slippery surface. As we approached a line of waiting taxis, a driver came toward us, but he stopped for a few seconds to look me up and down before taking the luggage from my hands. Don showed him our reservations for the log cabin. He looked at the paper, then at me, and frowned a little. No! Actually, he frowned a lot. He said nothing; he just put our suitcases in the trunk and then motioned for us to get in the cab. It took us a long time to reach our destination at the base of a high mountain because of all the snow. After the driver stopped, he motioned for us to get out, and then he went back to the trunk. He took the suitcases out and laid them on the snow. Don tried to pay him but didn't know how much, so he just opened his wallet and showed the driver a stack of yen, as he did with the other taxi drivers, and motioned for him to take what we owed. He took the money, counted it, took what he needed, and put the rest back into Don's wallet. Before the driver returned to his cab, he pointed to the top of the mountain and motioned for us to go up there. He took one last look at me and shook his head before driving away.
Excerpted from "Red Blood, Yellow Skin: Endless Journey"
Copyright © 2017 Linda L.T. Baer.
Excerpted by permission of River Grove Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 WHITE HONEYMOON, 3,
Chapter 2 SAIGON TEARS, 30,
Chapter 3 DREAMLAND, 39,
Chapter 4 HEAVY LOAD, 65,
Chapter 5 LIFE ON EDGE, 90,
Chapter 6 HIGH EXPECTATIONS, 121,
Chapter 7 MIDDLE EAST TRAUMA, 126,
Chapter 8 CYPRESS KNEES, 153,
Chapter 9 WESTBOUND, 167,
Chapter 10 TWO-FACED COIN, 174,
Chapter 11 SOUTHERN CHARM, 190,
Chapter 12 CLOUDY SUMMER, 206,
Chapter 13 BOAT PEOPLE, 223,
Chapter 14 LONELY FROG, 234,
Chapter 15 LIFE HAPPENS, 244,
Chapter 16 LEGAL DILEMMA, 258,
Chapter 17 HURRICANE HUGO, 267,
Chapter 18 WELCOME HOME, DAUGHTER, 285,
Chapter 19 SALON HUMOR, 305,
Chapter 20 MOTHER'S DEPTH, 314,
Chapter 21 MY LIFE'S JOURNEY, 321,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, 350,