Diem lived in a corner room in one of the abandoned barracks. The room had burlap rice bags for a ceiling and Marlboro posters on the walls for decoration. A small battery-powered radio rested on a cardboard box that served as a bedside table. He said it was broken but thought maybe it only needed batteries, which he couldn’t afford. On one wall he had written in Vietnamese, “God, I don’t know what to do. Life has been too hard.” Unless Hoi Trinh could put together one of his miracles, there was no easy way out. With the U.S. Amerasian resettlement program now ended, chances were good Diem would never get his own copy of the let¬ter the Joint Voluntary Agency at the U.S. Embassy in Manila had sent to other children of unknown American servicemen. It read:
Congratulations. You soon will depart to the United States. If you have any problems upon arrival, please give this letter to a policeman and he or she will assist you.
The third page of this letter is a map of the United States to help you familiarize yourself with your new home. Have a safe trip and good luck.
Everyone knew Hoi Trinh in the camp, and people appeared out of nowhere to ask his counsel. They tugged at his sleeve. They showered him with questions and handed him files stuffed with papers document¬ing their attempts to immigrate.
They were desperate for someone who cared and listened. Trinh did both. He scribbled notes, translated letters, heard a score of stories. Sometimes he said, “To be blunt, you just don’t qualify for immigration.” And sometimes, “I’ll see what I can do.” By 10 P.M. I had grown weary and told Trinh I was going to take a taxi back to the hotel in Puerto Princesa. He said he’d be along in thirty minutes. When we met for breakfast the next morning I asked him what time he had returned to the hotel. He said he had spent the night at the camp.
We flew back to Manila together that afternoon. The pockets of Trinh’s Bermuda shorts were stuffed with notes and papers, and he fell asleep reading a document he had prepared for one of the refugees. We took a motorcycle taxi to his one-bedroom apartment, tucked in a teem¬ing alleyway. It had no air-conditioning, and the place dripped with a sauna’s heat. A pot of tea and a kettle of noodles simmered on the stove. I counted fifteen Vietnamese refugees. One of them was playing a ukulele at the kitchen table. Two children were asleep in Trinh’s bed. Trinh could never remember the flat being empty.
Trinh became a treasured friend. Several years after our trip he said something that helped explain the turn his life had taken. “I see these Vietnamese kids shining shoes on the streets or stuck in a refugee camp or whatever and you know what? I see me. That could have been me sell¬ing cigarettes and watermelons on Phu Quoc.” Trinh would e-mail me when he had managed to find a new home for people I had met in Palawan—“Mr. Tran Nhu Ban and his wife and seven families left for Australia three weeks ago,” he said in one message—and whenever I was in Manila, I’d take him to dinner at a restaurant called New Orleans. He always ordered seafood thermidor and chocolate cake with ice cream and ate as though he hadn’t seen food in a month. I drank whiskey. He drank Cokes. I talked about the places I’d been in Southeast Asia for the Times. He talked about mustering funds and support in the Viet Kieu communi¬ties for the stranded refugees. Back in Hanoi, I e-mailed Trinh, asking how many Vietnamese he had succeeded in resettling. Here is what he e-mailed in reply:
About two hundred. But it’s not just about the numbers or me. It’s about giving them legal advice, accurate, accessible, and free. It’s about “educat¬ing” our communities in the United States and Australia. It’s about work¬ing together, young and old. It’s about self-discovery.

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