Sunday, April 30, 2000

Vietnam: Precarious boat trip ended in freedom

Through school and into dentistry

        Four times, Lan Law tried to escape her native Vietnam. She was arrested when communist officials thwarted one attempt and put in jail for a week.

[photo] CDr. Lan Law
| ZOOM |
        She made it the fifth time, but she almost died trying.

        Dr. Law, today a 44-year-old Roselawn dentist, had to be rescued from drowning when she came ashore from a fishing boat in Malaysia in 1978.

        “I was one of the boat people,” she said.

        The second youngest of eight children, Dr. Law was living in Saigon in April 1975. “It was frightening,” she said. “It was the first time I saw someone be killed. There were a lot of gun shots all the time. A lot of the stores were being looted.”

        In late 1977, the new communist government said people had to turn in their money because different currency was being created. Each person in the country would get an equal amount of new money.

        Dr. Law's parents, who owned rental property, were told to go to the country and work the land. At the same time, the Vietnamese government was drafting young men to go fight in support of communist regimes in neighboring Cambodia and Laos.

        Her younger brother, Andy, was 17. Their mother told them to leave.

        They gave eight pieces of gold each to a neighbor, who connected them to a man in the port city of Vung Tau on the South China Sea.

        In July 1978, Dr. Law and her brother were two of 73 people aboard a 14-meter fishing boat. They spent six months at a refugee camp in Malaysia. She and Andy were sponsored by one of their older sisters, Christine Vu of Fairfield.

        Dr. Law and her brother, now a chemical engineer working in the Tristate, arrived in March 1979.

        “I wanted to get a job, but my sister told me I had to go to school,” she said.

        Still, she worked 12 hours a day in a doughnut shop through the summer and took English classes. By the fall, Mrs. Law was enrolled at Xavier University.

        She completed dental school at Ohio State University in 1988. In 1990, she took over her practice.

        Today, she has seven chairs and eight employees — six full-time — and sees patients from Senegal, Russia, Asia and Latin America, though most are white and black Americans.

        “I tell my patients who are newcomers that the streets are not paved with gold in the United States,” said Dr. Law, who has a husband, Patrick Law, and two sons, Kenny, 13, and Daniel, 10.

        “But you have the opportunity to do anything you want if you work hard, and no one will be there to stop you or take away what you have earned.”

— Mark Curnutte

Vietnam: 25 years after the fall
Chemist escaped to U.S. and P&G
-Precarious boat trip ended in freedom
Vietnam, U.S. mark anniversary Continuing coverage from Associated Press

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