One City, One Story 2015 “Tell Your Story” Contest

Category:  Grade 6-8

1st place

The Cost of Freedom

by Kaitlyn Chiu, Grade 6


He sat on the neatly tiled roof, his long hair blowing in the crisp, cold wind. Hao watched in horror as his older sister was questioned rudely by one of the Communist soldiers. His sister had taken her time, leaving the men pounding on the elegant door while Hao was sent up to the roof, his mother sobbing. She frantically packed him a sack of rice, a jug of water, and twelve gold coins. She stuffed a warm silk coat in his sack, and a jade band with the family name engraved. “Be safe my son,” she repeated over and over. She looked into her only son’s eyes with longing. Having four older sisters before him, Hao had been the family jewel, their pride. From when he was born, Hao had been pampered and valued above his older sisters.

Hao’s mother climbed up and poked her head through the trapdoor in the roof. “He is here, Hao,” she whispered, her eyes glistening with tears. “Be safe my son” Hao’s mother repeated for the last time. “Bye mama,” Hao quietly replied, giving his mother a hug. When his mother climbed back down, a strange man climbed up. He was a skinny and short man who had tousled hair. Unlike Hao’s long hair, this man had a short crew cut, which exposed his ears and forehead. He nodded at Hao, and gestured to the sunset. “My name is Sang. We leave when the sun sets,” the man said in a low voice. Hao jerked his head when he heard shouts from below. “ALL OF YOU! OUT!!!”

Hao heard the door slam, and footsteps trample up the stairs. Sang walked to the trapdoor, and gently lowered the door, locking it shut. “Time to go son.” Hao and Sang walked along the neatly tiled roof, and Hao glanced back one last time to the home he loved and had known all his life. From the roof, Hao could see soldiers marching down the streets, chanting insults to the onlookers. Hao watched as his parents and sisters, along with the servants march out the door in handcuffs. Filthy rags that provided little protection against the harsh wind replaced the precious silk that his mother and sisters wore. His father was stripped of his jade and linen robe, and whipped till his back shone with shining blood. Hao cried with rage, but Sang covered his mouth, stopping Hao from shouting.  Forcing himself to forget his family and his home, Hao reminded himself that his parents wanted him to carry on the family name. Continue the pride of his family. With a swift motion, Hao watched Sang leap from his home, to their neighbor’s roof. Hao copied Sang’s motion, and he too easily glided over the street.

Roof to roof, Sang and Hao leaped over the prosperous community. What seemed like days, Hao and Sang jumped from each roof, hiding from the troops, which surrounded the houses like weeds taking over a beautifully kept garden.


“Hao, one more, I promise.” Sang whispered. Hao sat leaning on a chimney. He was tired, sweating and afraid. “Tomorrow will be my fourteenth birthday.” Hao responded.” “You will have a new life to get used to.” Sang replied. Hao thought of the day he left his home with a strange man he had never known. “Take me home. Please.” Sang looked at Hao and said, “Your parents paid me to take you out of Vietnam. I will not fail, and I will make sure you are safe.” “Fine. One more.” Hao answered. Together they leaped off the roof, and when they landed, Hao felt all his problems lift off his shoulders. Hao watched birds fly over the crashing waves. His heart broke to see sailors escorted off their boats, Communist soldiers by their sides.

Sang lowered himself down to the shore. He spoke quickly to one of the sailors and hurried back to Hao. “There is your boat. You will leave with them. Careful not to be seen, they are looking for you.”

Hao carefully observed the boat. He glanced at the captain suspiciously and boarded the ship. Hao went below deck, and unpacked his sack. He sipped his water jug sparingly, and he watched other passengers eye him enviously.

The captain announced that they would be leaving the dock, and Hao took out his coat, and made himself comfortable. He didn’t realize how tired he was until he set his head on the table, and closed his eyes.


BAM! BANG! BOOM!! Hao jerked his head up. His head spun and his eyes blurred. “Son, son, get up,” a middle-aged woman said, nudging Hao. He looked into her eyes, and Hao felt hot tears roll down his face. The woman had the same caring face that his mother had. The warm eyes, and tender smile. He cried for his mother, his sisters, and for his father. He cried for home. He wanted to forget everything, for it to all go away. For it to be a dream. “Where are we?” Hao asked, his eyes focusing. “Pirates, pirates attacking,” she answered faintly.

There were sounds of guns firing. A man fell down the stairs, and his face was covered in blood. The woman screamed and ran. Hao watched in horror as the captain was thrown down like the man before him. A rugged man in ripped robes kicked the two men out of his way, and pointed the gun at Hao. Not knowing what to do, Hao ran. He ran as fast as he could. Hao came to a stop when gruesome men pointing weapons at him surrounded him. Just as one of the pirates was about to shoot, the woman screamed and began throwing cargo, at the pirates. Momentarily they forgot Hao. Hao ran into the cargo compartments and hid behind a massive crate. He held his breath as two men searched through boxes. When he was sure they were gone, Hao carefully walked out of the room. BAM!!

Hao fell to the floor, his arm surging with pain. He cried for help, but all that came were sounds of harsh laughter. He grabbed his arm in pain and he saw the sticky red substance which stained his shirt. Pleased with their work, the pirates looted the ship of its valuables and returned to their own ship. Hao lay on the deck, holding his breath. They had not made sure everyone was dead, he realized. Hao slowly stood up and wrapped his coat around his injured arm. Cautiously, Hao walked around the ship, searching for survivors. He walked below deck and saw piles of men wounded and dying. “NO!” Hao found the woman who had distracted the pirates from him, a look of fear and terror etched in her face. Hao had no words to describe his feelings. He was alone and helpless, and no one could cure him of his pain.


Exhausted and tired, Hao slumped on the deck and fell asleep. He woke up to the sound of sirens and voices. Pirates! Hao thought. He got up and realized that it wasn’t pirates, but a local fishing boat. How far am I? Hao watched the boats come together. In a daze, Hao explained his situation in Chinese. Being one of the prosperous families, his parents paid for him to attend Chinese school so Hao could learn a language that dominated Asia. Hao explained running on the roofs, and he showed the fisherman his gash. Seeing the gash, the fisherman immediately brought Hao onto his boat. The fisherman cleaned his wound and wrapped it with torn cloth. For the first time in months, Hao felt loved and cared for.


“Boy, how old are you?” Hao woke up in a strange place. He was surrounded by pillows and bags. An older man stood over Hao concerned. He handed Hao a jug of water and said, “You are young to be out on your own. How is your arm?” Hao nodded and said, “I am fourteen. And thank you, my arm is much better.” The two stared at each other for a few moments. The older man took a deep breath. “Son, you have sponsors. You are very lucky to only stay at the camp for a few days. Others stay much longer.” Hao felt a rush of emotions. “What are sponsors?” “They sponsor you to help get out of this place. You are leaving tomorrow morning. Come with me, you look very hungry.” The older man introduced himself as Quang-Han. Quang-Han had also escaped from Vietnam.

Quang-Han led Hao to the food table, and Hao felt his stomach rumble and his mouth water as he watched a man empty a pot of rice into bowls for his family. Hao stuffed himself, like he had never before. Hao had never experienced hunger, and he hated it.


That night, Hao fell asleep nervously, worried about what would happen on the way to America. There will never be a place safe for me, Hao thought as he drifted off to sleep.


Hao woke up, cramped. He looked to his left and right, and saw men and children, fitted tightly together, like sardines in a can. Carefully, Hao got up, and washed his face in the murky water outside. He walked to the food area, and Hao picked up a bunch of rambutan, a Vietnamese fruit that Hao used to eat when he was little. He sat in the shelter of a tent, and watched as cars lined up in rows, not far from the living quarters.

“HAO CHUNG!” someone called. Hao lifted his head, confused. “Are you Hao Chung?” Quang-Han asked. Hao nodded. Quang-Han went back to their tent and returned with all of Hao’s belongings. “It is time for you to start a new life.” Hao walked to the open fields, and he saw something he had begged his parents for when he was only seven. A plane. Just as Hao was enjoying watching the vehicle land, swarms of people rushed by him, all fighting to get onto the plane. “Hao go!” Quang-Han yelled, over the cries of babies. Hao pushed through, and he was shocked to see the United States soldiers blocking the many, many people who were trying to get onto the plane. “Only if you have a sponsor!!” a soldier yelled. For a moment, Hao was stopped too, but Quang-Han helped him get past the soldiers. Quang-Han helped Hao onto the plane, and he handed him a sack of food that he could eat during the long trip to freedom.

Only three other people boarded the plane before it took off. Hao was exhausted, and he stretched out to take a needed nap.


“Hao Chung!” the speaker called. Hao stood up, and walked to the counter. Hao and many others waited for their name to be called, so that they could go to a place that they could call home. A family stood behind the desk and smiled at Hao when he approached. “You must be Hao! I am Sage White, we’ll be taking care of you.” she said happily. Hao looked at her blankly and blinked. What are these strange noise this woman is making? Realizing that Hao didn’t understand, Sage took out a piece of paper, and drew four people. She gestured to her family. Then she drew a home, and finally, a heart. Those three symbols were instantly received by Hao. He nodded, and followed them home. His new home in the new land.



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