Sketches of Pulau Bidong
A collection of sketches by artist La Toàn Vinh. La Toàn Vinh arrived to Pulau Bidong from Vietnam in 1980. He produced over one hundred sketches and paintings from 1981 to 1982. At Pulau Bidong, he volunteered as the Chief of Fine Art for UNHCR in the Education Division. He left Pulau Bidong in 1982. He is now based in Montreal, Canada.
Journal entry, November 05, 1980
I arrived safely, to the end of my dangerous journey at sea, after 5 days facing the death. We were those boat people whose faith had been confined to destiny. In this small boat that carried 69 people, we burst to tears when noticing that we did overcome the risk and danger to finally be here, in Pulau Bidong. It was like in a dream, when I look back to see the immensity of the ocean comparing to the frailty of our small boat.
We departed from Cần Giờ(Vũng Tàu). The group was composed by different people categories based on age or location. However we started to act as family members who had the same concern of dealing with the Ocean. I saw infants who were still in their mother’s arms suffered desperately inside a tiny boat under a burning sunshine. We cared for each other regardless the size of the boat. I felt sad, disoriented and lonely even being a man, as it was my fist time away from home and when facing uncertainty in a new country that I would consider as a promised land, as my 3rd country. During this period of transition, we made a lot of friends who organized different activities to pass time. We knew that everything was temporary and a farewell was inevitable. However one should accept the destiny that will separate all relations newly established. We may see each other again in the next 10, 20 years or more. And it”s true, I met one close friend after 26 years.
I saw in my memory the island peacefully received almost every day from 2 to 5 landing ships that rapidly increased the number of refugees up to 30,000.
Ecology in the island was awesome. We had the C beach with its crystalline clear water that stretched smoothly in an arc shape to meet with the hill of Religion at one end and at the other with the longhouse newly build. Business refugees started their commerce by opening some coffee huts made by cardboards or plastic that rapidly became romantic spots under coconuts trees, for lovers to date.
I draw many sketches of Bidong as the island with its romantic appeal has provided me lots of inspiration. During my stay, I voluntary worked for the education unit by helping the responsible to prepare models for English teaching and got compensate with papers or ink, in sum with means that enabled me to keep my visual memory intact.
I can still see the island with its big waves that lashed non stop its cliffs at night or the endless pouring rain that lasted day after day. No one was able to forget about the numerous rats on the island.
During the whole year of my stay, I collected many unforgettable souvenirs until the time I had to leave the island like my predecessors, and the memory started to fade along with friends who left for ever. The Jetty quay had witnessed many separations and someone had also wrote a poem about his souvenirs from Bidong.
Your face and figure will remain in this island, From that quay you left for ever
Farewell to all memorable souvenirs during my refugee period ..
Boat SS 0937 IA – KT 756 (KT=Kuala Terenganu)
La Toàn Vinh
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