A Late, Rainy Night Escape By Canoe Through Communist-Controlled Laos: Springfield Restaurateur
Good morning, and welcome to “Around the World, Here at Home." I’m Jennifer Davidson. In today’s segment, we’ll hear the story of an Ozarks woman who once called the southeast country of Laos home. Her life as a teenager was turned upside down when war from neighboring Vietnam bled into her country, and into her family. Today, Sang Bealer owns a Thai restaurant on historic Walnut Street in downtown Springfield: Bangkok City. This is her story.
“I remember that we moved around a lot, because [my Dad] was in the service. He was in the Army. Life was real simple back then, until 1970 when the Vietnam War started. Dad was in the Laos Army, so he tried to protect the country from Vietnam,” she said.
“We lost our dad. My dad got killed in ’72. Our lives turned upside down then. We were losing the country to North Vietnam," Bealer recalls.
She said when communism took over, the schools switched from teaching French as a second language to teaching Russian or Vietnamese.
“I was a first-year [student] in college. And I told my mom, ‘There’s just no way I can change. It would be just like starting over again.' So I told her I would try to find a way to get out,” Bealer said.
She said communist forces watched the borders 24-7, and her mother eventually found a family to help smuggle Sang out. They had to pay a fee for their services.
“We had to wait at their house all night long…that day was kind of rainy, cloudy…Early morning, they finally came to us and said, ‘Okay, it’s time for us to go across,'” Bealer recalls.
She traveled with one friend and a woman who carried with her a five-week old baby, trapped snugly to her chest.
“We were on the canoe, with one man in the front, and one man in the back, in the water. And they were trying to get us across to Thailand,” Bealer said.
Eventually, Bealer made it to Thailand, where she was arrested for being an illegal immigrant. She was in a refugee camp there for two years, then found a home with a sponsor family in Branson, where her brother was also sponsored. She arrived in the Ozarks as a refugee.
The television company, Zenith, paid for her electronics training and hired her; when that plant closed down, she knew she needed to make a career shift. She invited her mother, who had made it to Texas, to start a restaurant with her.
“She’s the one that, pretty much, put all the food together. And I’m the one who tried to decide…what dish to do with what,” Bealer said.
Today, Laos is still communist, but Bealer said the economy and government are starting to open up and allow for some development.
Sang Bealer is owner of Bangkok City in downtown Springfield. She’s an American citizen now, and cast her ballot in last Tuesday’s election. This has been “Around the World, Here at Home” on KSMU. I’m Jennifer Davidson.
Related Links: CIA World Factbook on Laos