The Best We Could Do

by Thi Bui

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Chapters 8–10 Summary

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Chapter 8

Hang was still in the hospital three days later. She had not had the baby and wanted to be with her family in the camp. Bo and the children were desperate to see her, too. Going against her doctor’s advice, Hang left the hospital. Thi writes that

Once Hang returned, order and comfort returned. She got us a place in a bigger tent, supplies for cooking our own food, our names registered, and identification pictures taken for processing.

Thi includes reprints of their identification photographs and says that she and her family were identified as “boat people.” There were already 3,000 people living at the Pulau Besar camp, and delegates from other countries arrived each week to interview people for resettlement. Hang and Bo discussed the possibilities of moving to France or the United States: France because they both spoke the language, and the United States because Hang had two sisters who lived there.

Although for the children the camp seemed fun, it wasn’t an easy life, and when Hang gave birth to Tam, she and Bo decided they would move to the United States as soon as they could. Hang’s older sister, Dao, and her husband acted as their US sponsors, and the Red Cross helped them with their plane tickets. The family also had to undergo health checks, which everyone passed except for Bo, whose x-ray showed he had tuberculosis scars on his lung. Bo was forced to stay behind in Malaysia to undergo further medical checks.

At the airport, as she was the only refugee who spoke English, Hang was asked to assist the other refugees in filling out their paperwork and boarding their planes safely. There were almost a hundred refugees, but finally Hang rejoined her family, and they set off for the United States. The family arrived in Chicago on June 28, 1978. Hang’s elder sister, Dao, was waiting for them at O’Hare. When Bo was found to have no infection, he was medically cleared to join his family.

Dao lived in a two-bedroom house with her husband, five children, and a dog, in Hammond, Indiana. They had been living in the United States for three years, and Thi says that she and her siblings embarrassed their “Americanized” cousins with their “fresh-off-the-boat appearance.” Hang and Bo joined an education program, taking classes in math, history, computer programming, and business law. While Bich attended elementary school, Lan went to a local junior high, Thi went to daycare, and Tam was cared for at home by Dao. In November of that year, when Hang’s younger brother also moved in with his family, there were seventeen people living in the small house. When winter came, Thi was excited to see the snow, but Hang and Bo hated the cold weather and decided to move to California, where Hang’s other sister lived. Dao told Hang that California was dangerous and accused her of being ungrateful, but Hang said they needed to “make their own way.”

Chapter 9

The family arrived in California, and Hang found an apartment for them. They received welfare until Hang got a job in a factory working for $3.35 per hour. Hang and Bo created a bubble of safety for their children and taught them "to be respectful, to take care of one another, and to do well in school.”.They also taught them which things were necessary for survival. Their most important possession was a brown folder marked “Important Documents,” where all their official papers were kept. The children also had their own folder, which contained all their important school documentation.

When Thi...

(This entire section contains 1149 words.)

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was nine years old, Hang and Bo both received US citizenship. Because their degrees were not acknowledged in the United States, Hang went to night school to retrain. As she was such a good student, she was asked to stay on and work at the college as a teaching assistant. She convinced Bo that he should take extra classes as well, and he signed up to study graphic design.

Thi loved it when her parents were at college, as Lan and Bich would babysit her and Tam. She enjoyed the spaghetti her sisters made them, their bedtime stories, and the “curious FREEDOM of being home without our parents.”

When Thi was fourteen years old, there was a loud disturbance outside their apartment. It was during Tet, and thinking somebody had come for them, the family hid in the bedroom. When there was a loud explosion, Thi realized that the building was on fire and that they needed to evacuate. Before running from the apartment, she grabbed the folder of important documents. In her narration, she reflects,

This is the night I learned what my parents had been preparing me for my whole life.

When the fire was extinguished later that night, the family was able to return to their apartment and go to bed.

Chapter 10

The narrative returns to Berkeley, California, in 2005. Thi has given birth to her son and is lying in a hospital bed feeling anxious. She is worried that she is not prepared for being a parent and that there are so many simple things she hadn’t known, such as how often a baby needed to be fed.

When her son is diagnosed with jaundice, Thi is discharged, but he must stay in the hospital. Afraid that her son may die, Thi asks her mother about when her first child, Quyen, was in the hospital. Hang tells Thi about their final moments and how Quyen, who had slept for most of the time, woke and smiled at her before she died. Thi hugs her mother, knowing that they now share a new bond.

Thi and Travis rent a room across the street from the hospital and visit their son every ninety minutes. Thi recalls that that first week of her son’s life was the toughest week of her entire life. But Thi is determined to do everything she can to keep her son alive, and when he recovers and they are due to leave the hospital, she is finally able to breastfeed successfully. Contemplating her new role as a mother, Thi realizes that she is no longer a child herself and can now see her own mother as an individual. As she thinks about people’s finite time on earth, she wonders what happens after they die:

Do we live on in what we leave to our children?

On the next page, Thi illustrates her family tree and asks how much of her identity is her own and whether it was predetermined. She worries that, being her parents’ child, she will pass on a “gene for sorrow” to her son. But in the final panels, she looks at her son, now ten years old, and doesn’t see “war and loss.” Instead, she looks at him and sees his chance to be free.


Chapters 4–7 Summary