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Destiny Needles Story

 
The Story of Lantern Moon Destiny Needles

Every life has a story. Whether we believe in destiny, or define the story of our lives as fate or kismet, things do happen in life to make each of our journeys unique. The special Vietnamese family who makes Lantern Moon knitting needles believes in the power of destiny. This is the story of how their lives became intertwined with yours.

A few years ago I wrote to my Vietnamese friend Quang asking for his help in setting up a factory to make wooden knitting needles in Vietnam . He is the eldest of four children in a very closely knit family in Vietnam . After much discussion about the importance of quality and consistency, he suggested that his father’s small factory could be adapted to make knitting needles. I had worked with Quang for many years and knew his father Thuan and family quite well. We had celebrated many birthdays and New Year holidays together and because relationships are important to any business, the idea made good sense. It was a place to start but not where this story begins.

In Vietnam , if you have lived long enough, your life has two stories. Your first story ends in 1975, and your second story begins thereafter. 1975 was the year when the long struggle of the Vietnam conflict ended, yet new hardships lay ahead for its people. They suffered from continued wars, floods, food shortages, re-education camps or prison.

After the war, Thuan, the father of the family who now makes Lantern Moon knitting needles, just wanted to get on with life and make the best of what lay ahead. The family struggled along like every one else but without political connections and being just regular folks, their struggle was just to survive. Losing hope that their lives in Vietnam would soon improve, they and many of their countrymen set about making plans to leave and begin life anew in another country. In the West we heard about them as Boat People, and they soon began to arrive all over the world. By the late 1970’s and into the early 1980’s, millions of Vietnamese citizens had immigrated to many countries around the world.

After much searching Thuan and his brother Huyet finally found a boat on which they would attempt their escape. The family took off into the night waters of the Mekong Delta where a boat awaited them, filled with other desperate families willing to risk everything for a new life. I can only imagine the mixed emotions they must have felt as they left the shore and headed out into the darkness of the open sea.

Their goal was to make it into the shipping lanes of international waters. If they made it past the pirates and the police, and if the leaky overloaded boat stayed upright, they might have a chance. Once they made it to international waters, the plan was to disable the motor and wait for a passing freighter, with the hope it would see their tiny craft before ramming into it. If they were lucky, they might be picked up and taken to a refugee camp, then resettled in a new country which they would call home.

The desperate but determined families boarded their small boat with their sights set on a better life in a new homeland.  Believing they had reached international waters, one of the men stood on the deck and screamed, “We have made it out of Vietnam !” Soon after, one of the boat’s two engines sputtered and died. Unable to see well enough to repair the engine, they decided to attempt sleep and deal with the problem in the morning.

They awoke to the sound of boats approaching them … pirates, police, navy, they weren’t certain. They fired up the boat’s one engine and tried to outrun them but they were far too slow. The navy was catching up to them, guns blazing and bullets flying. Uncle Huyet was at the helm, and everyone else was on the floor praying, praying for their lives. Finally, Thuan took off his white shirt and waved it in surrender.

Huyet spent two years in jail after their capture, but prison didn’t keep the brothers from scheming and dreaming about future attempts to escape Vietnam . Twice more the brothers tried but failed to escape by boat, each time losing all they had to pirates or police, and each time serving prison sentences to receive more “re-education.” Although splitting up the family would increase their chance for success, there would be no guarantee they would be reunited. Either they would escape together, or not at all, the brothers believed, the most important goal was to remain an intact family.

After the last failed attempt, Thuan sat in prison imagining his oldest son Quang, who was only eight years old at the time, wandering the streets looking for food while his wife took care of the baby. It was at this moment, sitting alone in prison, that Thuan realized it was his destiny to stay in Vietnam .

As Thuan reflects back on that time he recalls, “Each time we tried to leave we had less and less for the pirates and the police to steal, but things were also getting a little better in the country so I thought there must be something we are supposed to be doing here.” And, according to Thuan, that something turned out to be the needle factory. “After 1975 it seems like I spent all my waking hours trying to keep the family together and get out of the country so that I could take care of them but for some reason it never worked. I never understood why until the opportunity to make the needles came along. Now it is what we do. It is why we are here. It is how we stay together. It is how I take care of my family and it was our destiny.”

Is it important to know who makes your needles and to know that they believe in destiny? We think so. Uncle Huyet asked me recently, “I spent two years in prison trying to gain my freedom. If my attempts to get out of Vietnam had been successful, who would make your needles?”