The Rice Line

We are born and then we die.  In the mean time, we want it to mean something.


Something meaningful is in this story for you or your money back.

I just ate breakfast with the most incredible man.  He told me this story and wept while telling it.  I wept while listening to it.  My friend wishes to remain anonymous, so I will refer to him as John.  He is Vietnamese, so there is no possible way his name is John.  I choose John because I am intimately familiar with just how common and anonymous this name is…  (Ha!  Name Joke!)

John is currently a successful engineer who lives and works in the greater Bay Area.  He designs things that people say are impossible, but they aren’t impossible:  Just really freaking awesome.

By any measure of human success, John has done well.  Married, happy with a child.  Financially retired, but doing what he loves to do.  Really talented – He is soft spoken, intelligent and powerful, in a humble sort of way.  You would never know that this blue jeans and polo shirt vietnamese guy is as accomplished as he is…  Even MORE incredible is that all of this success started as a college aged kid in a refugee camp.

John was attending university when the Communist part came to power in South Vietnam.  He was targeted as a threat “to the people” by the corrupt government and received a death sentence.  Not wanting to end his story just yet, he fled on a boat from South Vietnam to Thailand.

The Diner booth we sat in while he told me the story is almost 10 ft long if you include the padding…  And it seated two while we ate breakfast… 120 people were crammed into John’s 20 ft long vessel all the way from Vietnam to Tahiland.  Any way you slice it, that sucks.

There are many stories within this situation which I will skip for now.  I could write a book about John’s experience and I intend to.  It took his boat 30 days to reach the refugee camp in Thailand.  The boat encountered pirates, a woman was raped, a child was born and died, they ran nearly out of food after 15 days, water ran out as well not too long after…  By the time this boat reached the refugee camp, it’s passengers were what I will charitably call “starved”, but should more accurately call something else.  The fact that they made it across the sea is, in itself, a tribute to the human spirit.

After stumbling ashore, this motley crew of refugees were directed by the Red Cross towards the “rice line”.  Each person was to be given a small amount of water and rice per day.  The only rule with the rice line is that a person can only get in the line once per day…  Don’t drop your rice…

During the group’s first trip to the rice line, John was placed behind a young boy of maybe 8 years.  The boy was so weak from dehydration and starvation that he could barely hold the rice bowl empty, let alone full of rice…  As he was walking towards a place to sit, the boy dropped his rice.  Devastated and too dehydrated to cry, it was all the boy could do to stoop over and try to pull what was left of his rice out of the sand.

Without thinking, John bent over and held the boy: “Look.  It OK.  You have half.  I have half.  We come back tomorrow.”  The boy gratefully accepted the offer, scarfed down half of John’s rice and disappeared into the refugee camp.


John worked tirelessly to convince the US officials to grant him a Visa and give him a chance.   Fast-forward about 6 months of “rice line”.    It is FINALLY John’s opportunity to receive his last interview by an official with the US government for entry to America.  John has filled out all of the paperwork as best as he could and gone to many interviews.  It is now the moment of truth.  He sits tensely down across the table from the American.  John’s future is now in the balance and a bureaucrat that he has never met will make the decision.

John’s English was not so good, but it was good enough to understand this…

“Congratulations!  Your application is approved!  Please provide the $100 processing fee and welcome.  We are glad to have you.”

John’s heart was immediately jammed into his throat and his spirit crushed as he reached into his pocket.  John didn’t have $100.  He didn’t have $10.    John’s mind was racing.  John’s mouth speechless as he slumped down into the cheap plastic chair.  He survived a death sentence from the Communists, pirates, starvation, dehydration, all to continue a pathetic existence.  One does not get approved for America VISA twice from a Thailand refugee camp.  This is a once in a lifetime deal and John missed it.  The American looked compassionately, but sternly at John as John’s speech returned to him and he began to plead for more time to come up with the money.

At that moment a middle aged woman approached the desk and took a good hard (and awkward) look at John.  She then turned to the American and slowly counted out 100 crumpled, torn US dollars.  She asked the American if this would qualify for the processing of John’s application.  The American agreed.  The application was Stamped.  John’s life was now saved.

John couldn’t remember to say thank you with his words.  But I am pretty sure the woman could see it in his eyes when he asked:  “Why?”

She managed to smile as she explained that she was the mother of that 8 year old boy in the rice line.  “Remember”, she said,  “You have half.  I have half.  We come back tomorrow.”

About JB Foreman

Victory is Ours!
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5 Responses to The Rice Line

  1. vinod richard-webber says:

    Beautiful. What a blessing JB. Miss seeing you. Love to meet you one of these days pal.


    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Larry Toombs says:

    Jb: WHAT A HEART WRENCHING STORY, EXCELLENT job of reporting and writing.


  3. Tracy says:

    awesome story JB!

  4. Alford says:

    Wow, this story is touching & so motivating. Will do good & kind deeds to others. Thank you Yohane. & it is good to hear from you again, please don’t stop.

  5. Fraser Ratzlaff says:



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