Tết (or the year of the cat) is the new year in Vietnam, it's also the first day of the lunar calendar. On Tet everyone eats sugary lotus seeds and glutinous rice cakes, and wear new clothes. In Tet everyone gains one year. But they also need to fallow the rules, a lot of them. One of their traditions are, on Tet only boys can tap their toes on the floor in the morning first for good luck to come to the family. But Ha didn't like it she didn't like any of their traditions and that women can't do anything, so she wakes up before anyone and taps her big toe to the floor first and no one knew.
Ha's mother visits the I Ching Teller of Fate every year, this year he said that their lives will twist inside out. And Ha is getting lots of thoughts that it will be good, but will it?
Brother Quang still remembers that Hà was red and fat as a baby hippopotamus wen he first saw Hà. Hà's name was inspired from Hà Mã, River Horse. Hà gets scared every time brother Vũ screams Hà Ya and breaks wood or bricks in imitation of Bruce Lee. Brother Khôi always calls Hà mother's tail because she is like a sticker on her mother. Hà can't make her brothers go live elsewhere but she can always hide their sandals.Which they each have but one pair, really needed during the dry season when earth is too hard to walk on. Hà's mother say's ignore your brothers "We named you Kim Hà, after the Golden (Kim) River (Hà), where father and I once strolled in the evenings. Hà's parents didn't think that Hà's brothers would make jokes out of her name. Hà's mother say's "They tease you because they adore you". Hà thinks she is wrong, but she still loves her mother so much even more than her papaya tree. she will offer her its first fruit.
Hà talks about how her papaya tree grew from a seed that she had flicked into the back garden, a seed that looked like a black, shiny, slippery fish eye. The tree's measurement now is as tall as Hà standing on her tippy toes. Brother Khôi was first to find the first white blossom four more years and he will find more, later brother Vũ found a baby papaya the size of a fist clinging to the trunk, when he is eighteen years he can see more because he is going to be higher than the tree. Brother is twenty-one years he is the oldest and he is studying engineering, who know what he will rallies before Hà about the tree. Hà always wakes up early so she can stare out the window the green fruit shaped like a light bulb, and be the first person to pick it from the tree.
TiTi Waves Good-bye
TiTi, Hà's best friend is leaving she was crying so hard, her two brothers were also sniffling sitting inside their car. They had so many suitcases that they were packed till the roof. Before TiTi went in the car she gave Hà the flower seeds that they gathered last fall. They hoped to plant them together. TiTi was waving from the back window of their rabbit-shaped car, her tears mix with long strands of hair, hair that Hà wished to have. Hà would've just stood there crying and waving to nothing if it wasn't for brother Khôi to come and take my hand, "They're heading to Vũng Tàu, he says, "where the riches go to flee Vietnam on cruise ships." , Hà is really glad that they've become poor so they can stay.
Missing in Action
Hà's father left on a navy mission on this day nine years ago when Hà was almost one, he was captured on rout 1 an hour south the city by moped, and that's all they knew every year on today Hà's mother prepares an altar to chant for his return, by offering fruit, incense, tuberoses, and glutinous rice too. She displays his portrait taken during Tết the year he disappeared, how peaceful he looked, smiling, with peacock tails at the corners of his eyes. They all bow, wish, hope, and pray. They leave everything on the altar to remain for the day except for the portrait. Their Mother locks it away rite after she finishes her chant. She's too weak to look at her husband's eyes.
Hà's mother works as a secretary at a navy office on weekdays, they trust her to count the salaries for each person at the end of each month, she stays up all night to design and cut baby clothes to give seamstresses, one time she made enough money to buy a car. On weekends she takes Hà with her to the market stalls to drop off the clothes she had sewed and trying to collect on last thing on the week's goods .
Brother khoi is upset with his mother because of taking his eggs, the hen gives one egg per day they take turns eating them but brother khoi doesn't eat his instead he puts each under a lamp hoping for a chick mother says if the price of eggs were not the price of rice ,and the price of rice were not the price of gasoline, and the price of gasoline were not the price of gold, brother khoi then can keep hatching eggs, she feels sorry.
Every Friday in miss Xinh's class(ha's teacher) the class assignment is about current news but when they keep talking about how close the communists have gotten to Saigon much prices have gone up,and American soldiers left many distans of hard props high finally says no more Fridays will be for happy news no one has nothing to say.
This Year Ha has afternoon classes plus Saturday so every student can fit in her school, mornings are free her mother trusts her to go shop at the market, she would give her fifty dong (vietnamese money) to buy one hundred grams of pork, water, and spinach Ha told no one that she was buying all these things because that is her mother's instructions, she had extra money left so she bought some sweets, now so no one knows what she also bought she took less pork and she feels smart.
two more papayas
Ha sees her first two green papayas that will grow into orange-yellow sweet papayas between a mango and a pear and also so soft.
Ha doesn't really know anything about her father just the things her mother says, what she knows is that her father used to love stewed eels, Pâté chaud pastries, and of course he loves his children the most he used to cry when he's watching them sleep, but he didn't like cold rice, the color brown, or the afternoon sun, her mother would laugh whenever her husband followed her in the kitchen saying "I'm starved for stewed ell, sometimes Ha whispers to herself pretending to be her father but she or her brothers would never say at loud noun of them would want to upset her more than she is already.
Brother Quang comes dashing home on his bike then throws it down and runs to the TV and screams "Unbelievable" then turns on the TV, a spy for South Vietnam has succeeded bombing the presidential palace, the news says he works for the communists. The communists captured father so why would any pilot choose their side?, Ha is questioning, brother Quang answers" One cannot justify war unless each side flaunts its own blind conviction", trying to show off with his difficult words Ha gets mad but her mother pats her hand to keep her calm.
Even though Ha already had gained one year on Tet they still celebrate her real birthday by making her special meals and giving her candy, sometimes she asks her mother to tell her about her childhood which is really hard to do she learns a lot about her mother's past and how she didn't have any duties but to write poetry and look pretty, she was arranged for Ha's father when she was five and they got married at sixteen. They went to the south away from communism but Ha's mother gave birth of Quang in a bad time. Ha always wishes for her mother's eyes but her mother say no her life will turn into sadness, Ha wants to hear more but her mother wouldn't open her mouth and say a word.
In this poem Ha reveals her secrets and wishes like to play like boys, to stay calm when her brothers tease her, if her mother would let her grow her hair long, and if her father would show up and make her mother happy again.
a day downtown
Every year there is a ceremony to honor the wives of veterans, and there is also food handed out. Ha and her mother go to the ceremony and buy good food in town, but as soon as the speaker talks about how the nation appreciates the wives Ha and her mother leave.
they realize that they don't have enough rice to last until payday, ha sees her mother's eyebrows scrunch together trying to figure out how to feed all of her children, after thinking her mother told them to mix yams with rice, but Ha thinks that's what the poor do.
closed too soon
Ha is disappointed that school is over a month earlier, because she is mad she pinches the girl next to her and wishes if she was her teacher's pet so that she could win the potato plant that her teacher is giving away.
The papaya tree now has five fruits that are still green but Ha knows what they will be later.
bridge to the sea
Uncle Son visits the family. He was Hà's father's best friend and still kind of watches out for them; he tells her mother that they need to escape and that there are navy ships that will take them away.
They have a big decision to make, and Hà's mother turns to the brothers for opinions about whether they should flee their home; but they each think differently. Hà's mother is afraid of what will happen to them if they stay under the Communist rule, since she saw what happened when she used to live in the north.
In the middle of the night, Brother Khoi wakes up Hà and makes her promise that they will not leave because he has secretly hatched a little chick and she needs to care for her papaya tree. Hà swears.
Hà helps her mother peel sweet potatoes to mix with rice and when her mom sees her about to chop of a chunk at the bottom, then think again and only slice of a tiny bit, she begins to cry and tells her that she deserves to live a life where she is unconcerned with half a bite of potato.
Ha and her family pretend there is a monsoon, in the distance the bombs sound like thunder slashes lightning the sky gunfire falls like rain rest the like thunder yet within ears not that far away after all.
the president resigns
The president says he cannot do his job anymore but he will never retreat over his country, Ha's mother is skeptical.
Watch over us
Uncle Son tells Hà's mother to keep the navy ship a secret, otherwise everyone will storm the ship and they won't get on board; the ship is only for navy families. Ha's mother tells her that their father is always watching them and that they have a plan if war seperates them, so their father will be able to find them.
Hà's mother sews backpacks for them to carry the essentials with them when they leave, Brother Khoi hints that he isn't coming, so Hà's mother tricks him into reconsidering by telling him they will stick together—so if he doesn't go, none of them will, but brother Khoi cannot stand letting people down, so he agrees to go.
The packs are small and can only fit in the most important clothes, a little rice, and one thing they choose to bring, Hà chooses her doll.
They must leave most of what they own, and Hà looks around at all these things, remembering the significance of them: glasses, a hammock where she naps, report cards, and photos. Her mother picks ten photos to take and burns the rest so there isn't evidence that could get them into trouble.
wet and crying
A papaya is nearly ripe but they don't want to let Communists eat it, so Hà's brother cuts it early for them all to eat.
When they show up at the shipyard to escape, they realize really quickly that someone spilled the beans, Thousands of Vietnamese families rush the boat; Hà's bro and Uncle Son push forward, too.
one mat each
The ship is very crowded so every family gets one mat but Ha's brathers claim two for the family , but it's really small they can barely lie down. And the ship is so full that it could sink but no one wants to get off the ship, even men they are afraid to leave their families alone.
in the dark
Uncle Son hears a rumor about the next ship over being better, so they leave their ship to go check it out. So many people went on the new ship, though, that they quickly rush back to their spot on two mats this time, finding that the ship is now emptier thanks to that rumor
Saigon is gone
On the ship, everyone must stay below deck; all of the people on the ship are scared and Hà's mother is seasick. A commander comes in and says what no one wanted to hear ''Saigon is gone''. Because of that a women and a man tried to kill themselves
Their ship moves along the river with no lights, bathrooms, or cooking. They are told to sip water only when really needed so they don't get thirsty, Ha's body doesn't listen, her mother is embarrassed but Ha thinks it's worth it sence they are allowed to use the commander's bathroom, because the bathroom is really clean.
Everyone on the ship is starving, Hà chews on her last little moldy rice cake slowly, it doesn't smell good but not a single person wants to share.
Three days later, the refugees are allowed to have a little fresh rice and a cup of water because it's safe to cook, Ha really likes the rice, because she was starving, that she was imagining herself eating papaya. And the commander says that many ships are looking for them to rescue them.
To deal with the boredom of sitting on a ship, Hà's mother makes her children study or exercise. Brother Quang teaches himself English and confides in Hà, when no one is around, that he's been thinking about how awful it feels to abandon his country and now drop down in class in his new home. Ha's mother gives Ha her writing pad and tells her to write small but was bored from writing so she drew instead.
Regular life is now a distant memory for Hà, and makes her think living was just a dream.
brother khoi's secret
Ha was wondering why her brother Khoi smells bad and he won't takeoff his jacket, and he keeps putting something in his left pocket, everyone was complaining about his smell. Then brother Vu forced him to take his jacket off then chick fell out but it was dead brother Khoi was screaming and crying for his chick, but brother Quang took him above deck and told him to be quite.
The captain lowers the yellow with three red stripes( South Vietnam no longer exists) flag, two people try to kill them selves because of that, for Ha their pain is nothing compared to brother Khoi's. Ha takes her brother Khoi to the other side of the boat and takes his chick with her doll and puts them in her mother's handkerchief and throws them into the sea.
One of the ship's engines goes out, Hà's mother is afraid because their punishment will be horrifying for trying to escape if the Communists find them. The ship goes forward, but rations are cut dangerously low because the boat moves so slowly, and now they get half of what they used to get from food and water.
Out on the deck at night, Hà and her mother look up at the moon while others wash and pee, thinking that maybe her father is looking at the moon too, Ha feels guilty for not thinking about him for a long while.
One day, another ship pulls up close to the refugee ship Hà is aboard, and while the ships "kiss," they transfer food and water from the American ship; everyone's spirit's liftday, another ship pulls up close to the refugee ship Hà is aboard, and while the ships "kiss," (as Ha says) they receave food and water from the American ship; everyone's happy, and they are safe.
Finally Ha and her family get to ride on a motorboat that will take them to the '' black dot '', a white sailor helps them get into the boat, and when Hà sees his blonde arm hair that looks like gold, she pulls one hair from his arm, which gets her into trouble with her family, but the man just laughs it off.
The island they stay on is called Guam no one is able to say that name but brother Quang, who is a translator for everyone, there are other refugees that already live there, everyone gets canned food but it's disgusting for Ha and her family so they only eat the canned fruit.
life in waiting
Just like anywhere, people need a routine to cope with difficulty, so on the island, everyone practices English and watches Western movies. Brother Vu is got all the girls's attention by watching him break wood.
Fish sauce( and brother Vu) save the day—because it is a staple (like ketchup in the U. S.), for the people on the island, they put it in and on everything. Ha's breath smelled bad for days, but she didn't care it was very delicious to her.
In order to buy things they need, Hà's mother wants to sell her ring that her husband bought from America. Hà's brothers all say no, though, and that the stuff they'd get in return for it isn't as valuable as love
Big decision time: Hà's mother hasto choose where they are going to go, she turns down Uncle Son when he told her to come with them to Canada, because she thinks his wife would be upset thet for some reason. But when a man behind her tells her that there are more chances for a better life in the U.S.A., she makes up her mind.
another tent city
In Florida, Hà's family camps out for a long time. They cannot leave until an American family volunteers to take care of them, and their family is too big to be easily taken in, Hà doesn't mind, though, because she enjoys swimming and running around in Florida. Finally they learn that they should have written down that they are Christian on their application form, so they did.
Right away, a man comes looking for a boy to help him in his car shop. He only wants to take one young man with him, but Hà's mother cries and stubbornly won't let Brother Quang go without all of them.
The sponsor they get looks just like an American cowboy, Hà likes him right away, imagining what his personality will look like.