A Vietnamese former general broke the Exxon service station record for tire sales; Nguyen Chi is San Clemente High School's valedictorian two years after arriving in the United States speaking no English; former Premier Nguyen Coa Ky is buying a liquor store.

All three are Californians, among the Indochinese refugees who have decided, like thousands of Americans before them, that the best of the United States is here.

More refugees arrive in sunny Orange County every week even now, the second anniversay of the collapse of Saigon. They are drawn by the climate (and repelied by last winter's and the word from the grapevine.

The word is that Southern California has jobs for many sand, for the rest, California welfare payments are among the nation's highest.

The refugees are settling in along the Southern California coast from San Diego to Los Angeles among the remaining orange groves, the surfboard stores, the concrete median strips painted grass green and the restaurants featuring lobster tails from Australia.

Already, there are almost two columns of Bguyens - the most common Vietnamese surname - in the Orange County telephone book.

Orange County solcial service officials can only guess at the numbers. There may be 11,000 or 15,000 in the county. There could be as many as 50,000 in Southern California, more than anywhere else in the country, although there are other large clusters in northern Virginia, Texas and Louisiana.

The Rev. Samir J. Habiby, who chairs the Orange County Southeast Asian Interagency Forum, predicts that 65 per cent of all refugees - about 94,000 people will eventually come here.

"Di Cali and wel," meaning "Go to California and go on welfare," is a new phrase heard in Vietnamese communities throughout the country.

About 20 per cent of he Indochinese here are on full welfare or receive cash supplements to their income. The figure is higher in other parts of the state where unemployment is higher than Orange County's 4.8 per cent.

This fiscal year the county spent $2.1 million of federal funds on Indochinese refugees. Because of the growing numbers here. Orange County is budgeting $5.5 million for the coming fiscal year.

California officials are mounting a compaign to extend the federal assistance programs for refugees, thereby sparing their budgets.

"After all, the state did not bring us here and did not go to Vietnam to make war," said Dang Van Sung, a former member of the Vietnamese senate who works for the Orange County Department of Social Welfare.

Sund, 62, speaks eloquently of the concerns of the older refugees.

"It is not a simple thing to decide to leave your country. For five or six months I was extremely depressed. I volunteered my services [at the Ft. Chafee camp] to escape my depression."

He lives far from his grown children because Sund thinks his perspective on life would not help them.

"A man like me is more subject to depression and I don't want to contaminate my children with such an attitude. They have to swim by themselves."

Sung grows elegent roses in the backyard of the pleasant Santa Ana house he shares with a Vietnamese family. He remarks wryly on the Communists' selection of the offices of his former newspaper for their Liberation Daily.

Vietnamese ways of living have changed, he notes, from bathroom habits to ancestor worship.

The family is still the vital unit for Vietnamese, but American pressures are making it harder for the elderly. Their wisdom is no longer applicable their English is oftern nonexistent and their ability to adapt negligible.

As a result of chaning attitudes to ward the old, ancestor worship is on its way out, Sung believes. "You can't send your father to an old-age home and then worhisp him after he dies," Sung said.

Another worry of many Vietnamese is that their children will pass beyond parental control and leave home in their teens as they see American children doing. "Children don't need their parents as much as they did in Saigon." he said.

Children, however, also provide the largest source of pride and hope for many refugees. In home after home, parents showed a visiting reporter certificates of achievement from elementary and high schools.

In mathematics and even in English, Vietnamese children are winning "golden shield awards" and "achievement honors" - in some cases while their parents remian unable to understand even simple English sentences.

Nguyen Thi Mai Thong lives with her seven children aged 6 to 17 on a quiet street in Huntington beach. The children walk to school and are winning certificates of merit; she stays alone without a car, without television.

Thong is part of the saddest group of refugees - women whose husbnads delayed too long, missed their chance and were trapped in Vietnam.

A Catholic parish supported her for 13 months, but now she lives on welfare. She gets $610 a month, buys $300 worth of food stamps for $117 and pays $400 for her three-bedroom house and utilities. That leaves $93.

She came near tears several times in discussing her new life in America and her husband, an army counter-intelligence officer. She has not heard from him since Saigon fell and she guesses that he is in a strict labor camp or fighting guerrilla actions against the Communist government and therefore can't write to her.he could be dead.

Her social life revolves around St. Bonaventure Catholic Church. In addition to attending Mass on Sundays, Thong is a member of a Vietnamese group that meets in members' houses on Saturday afternoons to pray and read the Bible. She rarely goes out during the week. Her English is very ppor.

Less than a mile away Nguyen Cao Ky talks about his plans to buy a liquor store in Hungtington Beach. He is aware of the irony of his purchase. coming as others mourn the second anniversay of the collapse of Saigon.

Ky is one of the few refugees who haven't gained weight on an Emerican diet, he and an acquaintance remark. He says he keeps busy advising Vietnamese businessmen stydying business conditions in the United States.

He plays tennis almost daily and says his game has improved from studying Jimmy Cannors and other professionals on TV. Just before being interviewed he played, and he is still wearing his elegant, brown warm-up suit. His only gray hairs are in his moustache. The man two became premier more than 10 years ago is now 47.

Ky also tries to help Vietnamese living nearby and he recently want to the shabby Villa Park Apartments for a dinner given by Nguyen Van Thanh.

Thanh's English is bad, but with enormous energy and good will he has taken charge of 13 families - the ast 13 left at the Camp Pendleton refugee center, all of them undersirable in the eyes of U.S. sponsors because of their size and their number of elderly.

His families include 114 people and dominate the garden-apartment project. With the help of the Holy Spirit Church of Garden Grove, those capable of working have jobs making skateboards, motorcycle accessories and wood products. Thahn said they earn between $3 and $3.50 an hour.

The Villa Park charges $200 a month plus utilities for two-bedroom apartments. Not long ago. Vietnamese occupied 95 of the 140 units.

When the management changed hands early this year. Thanh was threatened with eviction because of complaints from American tenants that the Vietnamese were dirty and their children nosiy. Thanh was the target because he is the group's leader.

The eviction attempt was bought to the major's attention and Thanh has won an apology from the manager. The hatchet was buried at a dinner two weeks ago in Thanh's apartment crowded with cast-off sofas, lamps and a huge, ancient TV console. The mayor, Ky and other dignitaries attended.

Thanh was wounded at age 18 fighting with the French at Dienbiemphu he was a civil servant in Vungtau before fleeing with about 70 people on a fishing boat.

A rand McNally map of the world that now covers a living room wall was the only navigation chart they had in their voyage, which landed them in the Philippines.

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Employers have had trouble communicating with Indochiese refugees but they have generally high praise for their energy and skill.

At several factories trouble arose when Vietnamese took a week's leave without permission to celebrate the new year (Tet), as they had in Vietnam. Another emplyer had to bring an interpreter to his plant to explain to his Lao worker what a lunch break is.

At the Opportunities Industrialization Center where free instruction is welding, machine tools and other skills is available, instructors said the Indochinese were the beat students the center has seen. Sons of former premer Ky are among the students.

Tom Barnes, who made a study of refugee resettlemetn in March for the senior seminar of the State Department, concluded that refugees have done best where they were thrown into jobs immediately rather than being offered welfare or special training not available to other minorities.

Once on welfare, some find it hard to get off.

Barnes cites the example of a given 10 months of intensive English training at Las Cruces, N.M., with all expenses paid. When they finished, they moved to Sacramento and went on welfare, having come to expect to be taken care of.

The primary target of the Department of health, Education and Welfare's manpower training efforts are the welfare recipients. One group that particulary frustrates welfare workers here is former military officers who lack skills but don't lack pride. Many resist taking menial jobs.

Sometimes it seems everybody was a colonel over there," one HEW official said.

Tran Duy Binh was a colonel, but he has never been on welfare.

"In Vietnam, I had a house, a maid and everything. Now my wife is a maid," Binh said in the living room of the house he rents in EI Toro.

Binh was the chief of counterintelligence in the Mekong Delta for 12 years. He is now a maintenance man and his wife is a chamgermaid at the Laguna Beach Surf and Sand beach resort. His two teenage sons, his daugter, his son-in-law and his niece work,bringing in seven paychecks for the household.

The only family member not working is Binh's youngest daughter, who is in the seventh grade.

"What's important now is the children," Binh said. His sons will go to college fulltime next year. Binh is also proud that he never accepted welfare. he started with $1,000 borrowed from his brother and a $660 gift from the International Rescue Committee.

Now he has two cars in the garage, pays $350 in rent and hopes to buy a house next year.

Happiness doesn't enter into his thinking. "Now, we are like machines." Binh said of the family's schedule under which they leave the house at 6 a.m. for their scattered jobs and reassemble around 5 p.m. before heading for English classes.

Binh does not see much point in talking about possible resistance movements in Vietnam or engaging in politics in the refugee community. "We had a big army and we lost," he said.

Other refugees "have politics in their blood," former Premier Ky said.

The Rev. Do Thanh Ha has founded the Movement for Human Rights in Vietnam in Costa Mesa.

The group has printed bumperstickers in the gold and red colors of the former Saigon govenrment reading: "Human Rights for Political Prisoners in Vietnam."

It held its first major rally Saturday on the second anniverdary of the fall of Saigon, "our saddest day," one of the organizers, former Sen. Pham Nam Sach, said.

Although the Vietnamese are almost as factionalized in exile as they were in South Vietnam. Father Ha said that his movement has wide-spread support.

At a meeting last week to plan the rally, several organizers said they are taking advantage of the human rights statements of President Carter to launch their movement. Sach said the group will oppose normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam until human rights are guaranteed in Vietnam.

The human rights movement, like many of the associations that have sprung up in the refugee comminity, answers a need for refugees - to think about family and friends still in Vietnam.

"It is a moral obligation," former Sen. Sung said. "There's nothing political in it."

"Our way of life has changed," former Sen. Nguyen VanNhue said, "but the rally needs our presence to attract the attention of Americans to those Vietnames who remained."

Not quite everyway has changed. The meeting to plan the rally was scheduled for 3 p.m., but Sung counseled. "They may be in America, but they are still Vietnamese. It will start at 4 p.m." He was right.

Washington Post library assistant Vu Tiang Houng, who worked for The Post in Saigon from 1966 until 1973, Assisted in reporting this article.