Miss Saigon is a blockbuster musical in which a virginal underage prostitute falls in love with a white G.I., then shoots herself in the stomach so she can sing one last song with him with the hope that the white man will take their biracial child away from all the evil Vietnamese people to a better life in America. Jeff Yang challenged me to write a Zombie imagining of the characters 20 years after the end of the musical, wherein the Vietnamese woman, Kim, comes back as a zombie — and this short story is what I came up with.
The thing about beggars eating a bug to get a rash, I got that from something I read online by Linh Dinh.
Earlier this year, we formed an organization to speak out against Miss Saigon since the musical continues to be in production through out the nation. To learn more about the “Don’t Buy Miss Saigon” movement, please visit our official site at dontbuymiss-saigon.com and support us by spreading the word about our mission.
Miss Zaigon 2: Zombie Revenge at Cần Thơ
by Bao Phi
They don’t even make it to the graveyard.
The Vietnamese woman standing in front of them has her hair tied in a ponytail, matted and grungy. She’s wearing a Hugo Boss t-shirt, jeans and flip flops. She looks great, but smells terrible. In her right hand, the rusty machete she used to decapitate the zombie that was chasing this white man through the jungle north of Cần Thơ. The young man with him is taller, but slighter, with a messy mop of hair, and gently sloping eyes.
“Kim?” the white man asks, his mouth agape.
“You look good, Chris,” Kim says absently as she walks past him, not even looking at him, sheathing her machete, and walks straight to the slender young man with eyes like hers.
“You look… great,” Chris says, and he means it, hoping to make eye contact.
She puts her hands on the slender man’s shoulders and stares into his eyes. She says nothing. She trembles so slightly that Chris, standing behind her, can’t even see it.
“Mom?” the slender man asks. “Are you a zombie?”
Her eyes never leave her son’s. “I thought I asked you to take him to America, better life and all that,” she says.
“I tried to put him through military school,” Chris grunted.
“You call that a better life?” she asks, scowling, her shoulders now tense.
“Mom, it’s not his fault,” Tam drawls lazily. “It wasn’t his idea to come here.”
“Your idea?” she asks him sharply.
“I got deported,” Tam shrugged, smiling, then drops his eyes when his mother does not return the smile. “I was stealing Honda Accords. Also, dealt a little bit of ecstasy.”
Kim sighs, then drops her hands wearily. She glares at Chris. “Still your fault,” she states.
“Nice to see you too,” Chris says in disbelief. “Now can we talk about this… zombie thing?”
In the dark, there are scattered moans, and rustling. They all crouch. They can sense movement, and smell an oppressive decay. In the distance there are flickers of torchlight, and desperate mutterings in Vietnamese. Chris’s hand goes to the holster at his hip, but Kim slaps her hand on top of his.
“If they hear a loud noise or smell you, they will come,” she hissed. “You’ll get us all killed.”
Chris takes a moment to revel in the feel of her hand, a bit clammy, but she always was a bit cold in the palms. Cold hands, warm heart. In that moment of connection he wants it all back. The songs, the strange way she loved, the way the horizon seemed like a promise and not a goodbye.
He is about to draw her close when she pulls her hand away. “We have to go around them,” she explains, and begins to walk off.
“Where are you going?” Chris asks, and immediately regrets how loud it sounds in the dark.
Kim narrows her eyes. “There are some people who have fortified a village nearby. The zombies are probably moving towards them, but we have a better chance if we help them.”
“But you’re a zombie, they’ll kill you!” Chris stammers.
“They’re my people,” Kim says, beginning to creep away.
“Are all the zombies able to… talk and hold weapons?” Tam asks, looking at his mom.
She looks at him. “How do you know about zombies? You just got deported here.”
“Lots of videogames, mom,” he shrugs.
“We need to move away from the village and the zombies,” Chris begs. “This way. If we can get to our chopper…”
“You have a helicopter?” Kim asks incredulously.
Chris is silent for a moment. “I wrote a book about my story and sold the movie rights.”
“You mean, our story,” Kim says, then sighs when she sees the veil of white guilt enshroud him like a ghost. “Fine, let’s get to the chopper.”
The three of them creep as quietly as they can past foliage that dips at their shoulders. The whole jungle seems to sweat. It’s the monsoon season so rain cannot be far behind. They hear the sound of someone sobbing. They can see the silhouette of a person, sitting, leaning against a tree. Another person seems to be kneeling at their side, bandaging their arm.
Kim, Tam, and Chris get closer, and realize the kneeling person is a zombie chewing on the arm of the weeping man, who has apparently given up on this world and its suffering. The zombie turns as they approach, gore dripping from its white teeth. Kim swings the machete, cutting through the zombie’s skull, the blade cleaving through and sticking into the tree.
The man with half his arm chewed off is saying something. Chris asks Kim to translate but she shakes her head, annoyed. The man has a red rash all over his face.
“Is that from zombies too?” Chris asks.
“This man is a beggar,” Kim explains. “Sometimes they eat a centipede that makes them break out in a rash. This makes them look diseased to foreigners who feel sorry for them and more likely to give them money.”
“Sweet,” Tam says admiringly, nodding his head.
“Let’s go,” Kim says, “We can’t help him.”
The rice paddy looks like the landing pad for gods in the dark. Flat, stretching out, the water reflecting the starlight. In the middle, the chopper sits like a great black bird, the chopper pilot smart enough to turn off the rotors.
At the edge of the jungle, Kim, Tam, and Chris stare at it.
“Almost too easy!” Chris smiles. Both Kim and Tam know he thinks of himself as Han Solo, when he’s a little more like The Emperor sometimes.
“Tam,” Kim says softly. “Can you give me and your father a moment?”
Tam nods his head, and shuffles away, putting his headphones back on. Kim watches him walk, every lazy bend of his knees and swing of his arms.
“I thought you’d never ask,” Chris says from behind her.
“For what?” she asks, turning to him.
“A moment alone,” he says.
The rain begins to fall, the monsoon a wall of rain so dense that through it, they look like broken pieces of themselves.
Chris looks to her, wanting to win her with a smile he hopes is still a combination of shy but confident, the bowing lips of a reluctant winner. But he falters as he sees she’s not looking at him, she’s staring into the dark, back into the forest. There is rustling there. They can’t see but they both know danger is tucked into all corners of this country. Chris wants to sweep her in his arms, drag her from this place, with its rice paddies made from bomb craters and cyclo driver pimps. He wants to tell her that Ellen left him years ago. He now knows to call her white, not American.
Finally Kim throws herself into Chris’s arms, and he closes his eyes, burying his nose into her matted hair. Beneath the grime and the sludge, he wants to remember her smell, that night they were together, when he finally met a woman who loved him completely and without reservation.
Then, a loud gunshot, and he tenses and opens his eyes.
He pulls back from her slowly, and sees that she has taken his gun from its holster.
“I won’t lose you again!” he yells. But then he notices that there is no blood on her stomach, no smoking hole.
And he realizes, once the rain has fallen, that she suddenly smells a lot better. And that he held her so long that she felt a little bit warm.
Then, not least of all, that his handgun, which she has taken from him, is pointing directly at him. Smoking barrel and all.
He looks behind his shoulder, and sees zombies beginning to shuffle towards him, drawn by her gunshot, if not their awful silent duet.
“Kim?” he asks.
“Sorry Chris,” she says. “I rubbed zombie funk on myself so I could sneak past them and get into the village. I wasn’t counting on you showing up with my son.”
“I don’t get it,” Chris said, his jaw agape.
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Tam chortled.
“Tam and I, we’re taking the chopper and rescuing the villagers,” Kim explained.
“What about me?” Chris asks, his eyes as wide as a bomb crater.
“Run south, back through the jungle,” she says.
“The zombies will chase me!” he cries, then stiffens as she aims the pistol more carefully at him.
“That wasn’t a suggestion,” she says, kindly but firmly. “Plus, you can easily outrun them. South is the river. There are a ton of boats there. Take one to the other side, the zombies can’t follow.”
“Wow mom, that’s cold,” Tam says, not quite believing what he’s seeing.
Kim takes Tam’s hand and backs away, smiling apologetically at Chris as they walk backwards towards the chopper. “Chris, baby,” she says. “You better run.”
As Chris steels himself to run back through the jungle, he turns and asks one last question. “Twenty years ago,” he says, his face a cloud of confusion. “When you… you shot yourself and died in my arms…”
“Oh, back then — squibs and songs,” she explained. “Smoke and mirrors. I never shot myself Chris. That was all theater. You white people aren’t the only ones who know how to put on a good show.”