Page 1

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 1 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Table of Contents p . 03

Letter from the Editor Xin Chào contact info


p . 05 p . 06 p . 08 p . 09 p . 10 p . 12 p . 13 p . 14 p . 18 p . 19 p . 20 p . 21 p . 22 p . 23 p . 24

Reflection from Dan Evans Amy Vân - “War Stories”

Kathy Hồ - “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Family” Poem - Trần Đại Trình

Jeff Birkenstein - “Boat People Dreaming behind the Orange Curtain” Tiffany Trương - “Of Lingering Silence” Poem - Kim Khuyên

Samantha Hoàng - “Vượt Biên”

Nam Nguyễn - “Footprints of Vietnam” Poem - Tiến Vũ

Where do the Vietnamese Reside Today? Hạnh Trần Lim - “Dear Unborn Son” Song - Phước Hữu Đặng Poem - Lâm Anh Tuấn Art - Eddie Lee

PRESENT p . 27 p . 31 p . 32 p . 34 p . 37 p . 39 p . 40 p . 44 p . 46 p . 47

Jesse Lee Robbins - “An Unexpected Friendship” Fashion Timeline of Vietnamese Clothing

Anh Phạm - “What Covers Everything but Hides Nothing”

Quang Colin Nguyễn - “Final Lessons from a Loving Mother” Yến Nhi Trần - “Thích Nhất Hạnh: A Tonic for Our Soul” Poem - Henry Huy Đoàn

Dustin Wong: First Impressions James Lovell - “How and Why?”

Kristen Lê - “Following My Dream”

Poem - Bianca (Bảo Hân) Hoàng Đặng


p . 49 p . 52 p . 54 p . 56 p . 60 p . 61 p . 62 p . 63

Jacklyn Trần - “Bánh Mì: Our Identity” Đức Nguyễn - “I’m Bisexual”

Michelle Đinh - “All Students Count”

Nhật Trần - “11 Notable Foods to Vietnam-ize your Tummy” Thạch Nguyễn - “The Secret to Success: Contribution” Special Thanks to Our Contributors Xin Chao Leadership Team - Future Edition -

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 2 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Contact US XIN CHAO Magazine Seattle, WA /XinChaoSeattle



Thanh- Bình

There was a time when I hated my dad with a passion. Formative pubescent years rampant with unwieldy hormones did not fare well against his “don’t ask, just do” disciplinary approach. My mom once exclaimed that my dad and I are so alike that we don’t get along. I suppose there is part truth to that statement. The other part was potentially due to his failure in seeing that his baby girl—the one who would cry on his lap when she didn’t have the honor of being the first to greet him, “Chao Ba!”—was quickly growing up. But I failed to see that both he and my mom did not have the luxury of witnessing changes in me, as they were preoccupied with menial jobs to keep our household afloat alongside other immigrant families.

My dad once made me fish out two sautéed shrimp that I nonchalantly disposed of from the bottom of the garbage pail and forced me to eat them. Something about my carelessness made him snap. I took out my seething anger on the rubbery flesh as he stood watch, ensuring that both pieces were diligently swallowed before dismissing me. This was a scenario, which took place two decades ago, that I long-carried to justify my loathing for the man, but I now sincerely thank him in retrospect. It wasn’t until my recent exposure to stories of peril during the finale of the Vietnam War that it fully hit me: I had been an onerous little miscreant to my dad, a man who once held the highest honor in his naval fleet second to that of the captain. A wizened intellect who spent his foremost months in America an exile, working as a cog in an assembly line: “Lift up, pull down. Lift up, pull down.” The monotonous repetition is enough to drive anyone mad. His life took a violent 180-degree turn, yet I expected him to be like other American-born dads I saw. This is where our two realities clashed; the sameness of our stubbornness held us in deadlock. Dad and I recently spoke of his tribulations from the 70s, using the theme of Past, Present, and Future for this edition of Xin Chao magazine as a catalyst. The bravery and resilience of the Vietnamese people of old didn’t register as the same ones who walk around bearing a demeanor of displacement until then. During these chats, the pangs of guilt, of frustration for the time we lost in between—from when I looked to him in childish adoration to when I went astray with misguided repugnance—is palpable; there is much more that I could have learned in my 20-year detachment. But luckily, he is still a spritely 77-year-old man who is ready to talk to his kids for hours, the difference being that I will no longer consider these sessions a droning lecture (although I may feign it so but with one eager ear perked [old habits die hard]). Now, I wish I had listened more during my years of teenage angst and beyond. His experiences are more of a gift, one that cannot be replicated or expressed in any other fashion outside of that which only my dad can ascribe: mannerisms, pauses, hand gesticulations and all.

Enrich the Vietnamese Community and Inspire Dialogue: that is the mission that the content preserved herein will hopefully accomplish for you, just like it did for me. Raw, poignant, humanizing—each piece takes on a different voice that collectively speaks to the whole of the Vietnamese-American Experience in the last 40 years. Perhaps you will find yourself revisiting your own history or engaging in more discussion with the elders before these relics of our heritage depart. To any end, we invite you to turn on your empathetic faculties and pull up a comfy chair (along with a box of tissues). Happy reading!

W elcome to the 2 nd Edition of X in C hao M agaz ine . T hanh- B ì nh T rysteen T rần, M .A.t. Editor-in-Chief

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 3 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Trysteen Tr ầ n, M . A . t.


Tâ m Đ inh, P h .D. Senior Editor H U Y CAO

Design Director E MIL GA RCíA

Design Director CHI HOà N G

Editor, Designer

P hong Thế ĐẶ N G


Media Manager

JU LIE T ĐẶ N G , P h. D, M . S . , R . D. H. Editor

Tính Vũ

Managing Contributor Contributors N hật Tr ầ n

P eter H. Tr ầ n

Savio P h ạ m , D. M . L ĩ nh T h á i

Y ến N hi Tr ầ n, M PA

DONATE Tax ID: 47-3421979


XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 4 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 5 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5


Memorial Day parade in 1996 with Amy, her dad and brothers.

Amy Vân is a 1.5-generation Vietnamese-American born in Vietnam and raised in Seattle, Washington. She attended the University of Washington and received her bachelor’s degree from the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies with a focus on development. Van is an advocate for grassroots efforts committed to community development, education reform and civic engagement. She is co-chair for the University of Washington’s Southeast Asian Advisory Committee.

My father has scars

scattered throughout his body.

They are deep indentations, and they fascinated me as a child. When he wasn’t paying attention, I’d poke them carefully with my little fingers, minding the pressure as I feared it would reopen old wounds. He’d chuckle when people would inquire about them, and his response was always a simple word, “Shrapnel.”

My mother developed scars, too, across her hands throughout my childhood. She’d often have me hold out my palms and point out the various lines that zig-zagged across them, convinced that they foretold

XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

of one’s quality of life. We’d compare fingertips to fingertips, and while I’d admire the thin gracefulness of her hands, she’d shake her head in pity that our hands bore similar shape and size. She prescribed herself a life of hardship due to the way the lines intersected on her palms, and she’d sadly shake her head, realizing her daughter’s inheritance of her unfortunate genes. Her superstition was silly to me but I would quietly nod and take her hands into mine, rubbing her tired knuckles.

These scars, however impressive or mundane, are hidden stories unique only to this generation of immigrants whose sufferings have been long muted by their desperation to simply survive.

At 23, my dad was forced into “re-education labor camps” after April of 1975. He shared cramped quarters with cellmates and endured intensive labor, starvation, unusual punishments and mistreatment. Somehow he survived, emerging six years later - 6 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

as a skeleton of himself and was given orders to go “home.” In an effort to find “home” amidst the tragedy of the Vietnam War, my parents, like many other families, found themselves seeking refuge abroad. With the bloodstain of warfare still fresh on their hands, many had scrambled atop boats, clung onto helicopters, feverishly fought for seats on planes, or pounded foot-to-pavement toward distant lands with vague hopes of starting anew. Twenty years after his release from the camps, my dad finally received his resettlement papers from the United States. He was only allowed to bring his spouse and children, leaving the remaining family members behind.

While one ugly war finally concluded, new battles dawned upon them.

With little to nothing in their pockets, no knowledge of the English vocabulary and an uncertain future, my parents, toting three young children in hand, resettled in the Pacific Northwest. They would devote the rest of their days attempting to master the difficult English language, route their way to find jobs to keep the lights on and mouths fed, all the while attempting to suppress the trauma of warfare and the pressing loneliness that comes with rebuilding new “homes.” Basic survival meant, first and foremost, prioritizing stress points. Daily battles of navigating the complex system of this new world forced many to put the ordeal of trauma on the backburner.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that my dad began to unveil some of the truths behind his scars. Most notably, the story behind the pink flesh of a lightening bolt that stretches across his entire abdomen that has fascinated me since childhood. As the story goes, he was leading his platoon deep into enemy territory when they were suddenly ambushed. Bullets penetrated his body and brought him down. With the opposition quickly approaching, he willed himself to reach for a hand grenade. His mind raced as he pulled the pin, tossing it by his wounded leg, bracing for the unknown.

It could be that in the effort to survive, our community has had a delayed response to reconciling with loss while assimilating into new homes abroad.

After 12 years of working as a manicurist, it had become clear that years of working in a nail salon had done a number to the condition of my mother’s once-youthful hands. Numerous small slits eventually covered her skin as its surface cracked open like a desert landscape from the constant exposure to harsh chemicals in the workplace. It was ironic to me, seeing the wretched aftermath that the beauty world had done to my own mother’s. Her once smooth hands were now rough and dry, latex gloves became part of her daily wear; she complained of chronic headaches and bodily pains. But her resilience remained intact.

Despite her choppy English and the unstable state of the business, she bravely ran her salon for 12 years to help our family make ends meet. Yet, till this day, her hands have never been the same. Winter time is when she would get terribly homesick.

She witnessed her first snowfall from the living room window of our family’s cramped one-bedroom apartment in the winter of 1991. While the scene of the falling flakes awed her, it was a moment painfully ridden with loneliness. The unfamiliar cold made her yearn for the warmth of her Vietnam: her parent’s farm, the familiar language, culture and people. Even decades later after living in this climate, she still struggles to fully adjust. When winter time rolls around, the roughness of her hands reminds me of the unsettling image of a young woman longing for her own mother as the snow quietly falls outside.

Perhaps the most painstaking process of our community’s journey is the healing aspect. And in the instance of that unsuspecting afternoon in which my father shared his story, I believe that is where the healing begins. And while these stories and moments of darkness and vulnerability may be discomforting to unravel, perhaps like my mother’s calloused hands, they will bleed less over time, a gradual indicator of healing and resilience.

We cannot forget that despite four decades having passed, there are countless war stories behind each individual scar that have yet to emerge.

Yet, he was met by long-stretched seconds.

Baffled by the stillness, his hands shook as he reached for his last hand grenade as voices of the opposition grew louder. He bit off the pin and rolled the explosive towards the blood pooling by the ground, watching it make contact with the first grenade. He braced for impact. He was only met again by long silent seconds. As the words came out, his eyes had glazed over, as if reliving this memory aloud had taken him directly back into that jungle. But his smirk interrupted that spell, suddenly reminded by the sheer unlikelihood that here he was after all, decades later, safe in this living room, speaking to his daughter.

XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

These few recollections are permanently embedded in my memory bank. They are but quiet instances in my family’s lifetime and in mine. And yet, since 1975, each scars’ permanence is a daily reminder of survival. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge these mere footnotes in the larger textbook of the Vietnamese-American history. Perhaps it is time for healing. - 7 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

LIF E, LIBE RT Y A ND T HE P U RS U I T OF FA M I LY Kathy Hồ was born in Amarillo, Texas, raised in Southern California, and now calls the Evergreen State home. She works for Seattle start-up, TINYhr, as a consultant and loves the fact that her job is to help companies build a positive work culture. She enjoys fishing, playing Clash of Clans, eating delicious food, traveling abroad, spending time with her friends and loved ones from around the country…and brainstorming creative excuses for when her family asks, “When are you getting married?”


nyone who has ever met my Uncle Thời would know that he loves socializing with his friends, eating Texas-size steaks and watching football. One of my dad’s closest cousins, my Uncle Thời is humorously sarcastic and has one of those intimidating stares that can turn a tiger whimpering into a cat. Earlier this year, he told me, “I’m rooting for your Seahawks, too… rooting for them to lose!”

But underneath the quips and all-traditional Vietnamese bantering, my uncle held onto a weary past. Like many others from the older generation, my uncle never knew a life without war. Also like many others, he never wanted to talk about the war. His pen captured his thoughts far better than he would ever convey in speech. “I bore an unhealing wound. I grew up with the thought of losing my seven brothers and sisters in the First Indochina War. In the unvoiced great sorrow of leaving behind my elderly parents and my good name.”

Uncle Thời volunteered for the South Vietnamese Army in 1967 after graduating from Bá Ninh High School in Nha Trang. His first daughter, Thủy, was born in January 1975. His life as a father and husband was short-lived, however. He fought the war all the way to Saigon, leaving behind his parents, siblings, young wife and infant child. Hundreds of thousands of people faced the same fateful dilemma on April 30, 1975. Staying in Vietnam after losing the war meant that they would either be executed or forced into the Communists’ “re-education camp.” Leaving meant they would have to abandon everyone and everything and risk their life for an unknown chance of survival elsewhere.

Uncle Thời escaped on the commercial ship Trường Xuân with nearly 4,000 other people. For three days, the ship treaded into the South China Sea with bad sanitary conditions, starvation and an overwhelming fear of dying at sea as the ship began taking on water. Hope and relief came as the Clara Maersk responded to the SOS distress signal. The refugees boarded the Clara Maersk over a sixhour operation, escaping death once again before the Trường Xuân sank. Upon arriving on Hong Kong shores on May 4th, refugees were treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kowloon. This would become the largest single rescue event of human lives in history. (Ironically, as I was interviewing him for this article, he said he was watching Titanic. For a brief second, I thought he was joking. He laughed and said, “It’s a good movie!”)

The safe haven provided by the world outside of Vietnam brewed mixed emotions. How does one deal with this new life alone when his family was thousands of miles away? He couldn’t go home, and

XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

they couldn’t leave Vietnam. He had to move on. Through Catholic Family Services, Uncle Thời was sponsored to Oxford, Mississippi, where he would later remarry and have his second daughter, Heather, in 1978. But this marriage was broken by the war of the heart and youthful mistakes. After a bitter divorce in the early 1980s, it was evident that Heather, like Thủy, was going to grow up without her father’s presence.

With two failed marriages, each ending by its own traumatic war, Uncle Thời moved to Amarillo, Texas. This proved to be a better fit for him, as he met other refugees like himself. Together, they formed a tightknit community and became heavily involved with their Catholic church. He had a job designing custom cabinets with my dad. By this time, he was already able to connect with his family back in Vietnam as well as other relatives in the States, including his older brother Nguyễn Tú Đại. He also married again…and this time, love finally worked out for him. He raised his three sons, Qúy, Bảo, and Vinh, who he often described as “the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” This was my uncle’s sense of humor.

Though life was becoming more stable for him, like many other Vietnamese men, he often sought comfort in socializing with friends over alcohol and cigarettes. His health has deteriorated considerably these past few years. Adding to injuries, heart attacks and chronic bronchitis, Uncle Thời was diagnosed with stage IV liver cancer last summer. But he kept this to himself for months before any of us found out, even when Thủy visited the US for the first time and reunited with him in September. Uncle Thời started chemotherapy in November. It was taking a toll on his body and the doctors said he had six months to a year. Each meal and movement hurt him. He opted to stop treatment altogether and signed a DNR. While visiting him during Thanksgiving week, I learned that my cousins were searching for their other half-sister, Heather. This was a tricky task, not only because we didn’t know how to even start looking for her, but we also worried about how receptive she would be. Heather had contacted him once ten years ago, but his anger towards his exwife got the best of him, and that was the last time they spoke. We didn’t even know her married last name or where she was living. Nonetheless, the search began. And each day that went by, my uncle would ask me, “Did you find her yet?” As we celebrated his 65th birthday on that Saturday, we decided to launch a social media campaign to look for Heather. Over 3,000 people “attended” the Facebook event. On Sunday morning, I checked my email to find: “BINGO!! Good Morning Kathy!” My

- 8 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

All of Uncle Thời’s kids

XIN ĐỪNG THỜ Ơ By: Trần Đại Trình

friend’s mother had stayed up all night scouring the internet and public records to find my cousin. “It just has to be your cousin, and if not, I will eat egg and start all over again,” she wrote. I’ve never been more grateful for so many strangers’ help, and one person’s unmatchable determination and sideways thinking.

Dậy đi anh, dường như nhiều người tới, Đi biểu tình, đi đòi lại Hoàng Sa Dậy đi anh, đi bảo vệ sơn hà Một tấc đất, cũng thịt da nước Việt Dậy chị ơi, tiếng ai kêu tha thiết, Họ đang gào, hãy giữ vững Trường Sa Bao thanh niên vì nợ nước tình nhà Đã phơi thây, cho VIỆT NAM toàn vẹn,

We immediately reached out to Heather, anxious, scared and excited at the same time. After connecting with her a few days later, we were already talking about a reunion. We all kicked ourselves for not making it happen sooner, then thanked God and lucky stars that everything had worked out smoothly. Heather took her family to meet her father the day after Christmas for the first time in over 30 years. This was the family’s Christmas miracle.

Dậy em ơi, để mai không hổ thẹn Thế hệ mình như thế hệ cha ông Mấy ngàn năm đã gìn giữ non sông Một tấc đất, cũng không nhường cho giặc

This past February, Thủy and Heather also met for the first time in Amarillo. My uncle finally had all his children under one roof and they bonded over cultural food and Lunar New Year traditions.

Sao bây giờ lòng dân đang quặn thắt Giặc Bắc phương, đang chiếm giữ Hoàng Sa Lũ Cọng Nô không một chút xót xa Khi đất nước, bị quân thù giày xéo

Although in hospice care now, Uncle Thời gets frequent calls from his children. Thủy’s family Skypes from Vietnam to check in, and Heather shares videos of her children learning to use chopsticks. Bảo takes cares of him while Qúy is completing his medical residency and Vinh is attending college in Arlington, both making regular trips home.

Bà con ơi! Có nghe chăng ai réo Ai đang gào, hãy toàn vẹn giang sơn Bao hờn căm, bao nhiêu nỗi căm hờn Quân cướp nước, hãy biến thành hành động

My uncle lost everything after the war, but faith and grit kept him alive enough to reunite with all of his children. Many aren’t as fortunate. Despite the illness, there is now a greater sense of peace in his heart and each of his children’s hearts. I’m thankful that he never gave up.

Hãy rót về, cho quê hương sức sống Hãy rót về ngọn lửa nóng Rồng Tiên Để cho lòng, mình được chút bình yên Khi toàn dân, đang sẵn sàng vào trận.

“It is as if I had been dead and suddenly awaken to new life. The sunset of an old life blended with the sunrise of a new day. Here in America.”

I asked my uncle how he felt now that his family are all connected. His response? “It’s ok…I guess I don’t know.” After a moment, he chuckles and says, “Ok. I’m happy…very happy.” That’s my Uncle Thời. More of his poems can be found on

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 9 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

boat people dreaming behind the orange curtain

Jeff Birkenstein grew up in Southern California but has also lived for stretches, long and short, in San Sebastian (Spain), Petrozavodsk (Russia), Lexington (Kentucky), and Kodiak (Alaska), before settling (for now) in Washington State. He is a literature professor at Saint Martin’s University (Lacey, WA) but likes to take his show on the road, because that’s where the good street food is. A tourist blocks the view of Cham ruins at Mỹ Sơn.

“You can win the cow. Yes, here on ‘The Price is Right’ you can spin the wheel and win the cow!” The bully would then try and grab our backpacks. “Win the cow. Win the cow. Win the cow…” Repeat, ad nauseam. We are ten, Uyên and I. We are in fourth grade. We are walking home from school. The same bullies are after us again.

They could never really do too much to us. We are all the same size, more or less. And they aren’t physically violent, my memory tells me.

But my memory is false. To tell the truth, I’ve been thinking about it for years, and—I’m trying to tell the truth here—the bullies, puny and pre-pubescent as the fourth graders we all were, tapped into my own prejudices. I didn’t understand it as I do now, and painfully so, but I knew something then even so. They were white and I was white and I kept my agnostic Jewishness to myself to promote my equality (i.e., superiority), but we could all tell that Uyên was different just by looking at him, or when he talked. The bullies, steeped in fourth grade-boy bile and ignorance and burgeoning hormones, were not after me. No. They were after Uyên. Because he was different. Because he was not white. Because he was even punier than the fourth grade puny we were.

You must understand one thing about the Vietnam language. We use tones to make our words. The sound you say is important, but just as important is what your voice does, if it goes up or down or stays the same or it curls around or it comes from your throat, very tight. XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

These all change the meaning of the word, sometimes very much, and if you say one tone and I hear a certain word, there is no reason for me to think that you mean some other tone and some other word. It was not until everything is too late and I am in America that I realize something is wrong in what I am hearing that day (Butler 46 ).

Yes. They were after Uyên. Because he had an accent. True, a slight accent, and nothing like his parents who were born in Vietnam like Uyên, but who had also lived there for 30 or 40 years until the helicopter on the building in Saigon signaled to all that it was time for some to leave. Or, until the boat people left after the borders closed and the last helicopter had left. The bullies were after my friend Uyên because he had a funny name. Because his first name was pronounced by our white puny mouths using the closest English equivalents we could come up with, and not with different tones. Because his last name, Cao, was pronounced as far as we knew, as “cow.” Bad enough, perhaps, but his middle name completed the trifecta for the bullies.

You see, Uyên Cao’s middle name was spelled “The” (it may be still, but not knowing where Uyên is now, or if he is anywhere, I can’t ask him). Uyên, of course, did not pronounce his middle name as we, we “Americans,” pronounce the word “the”—that is, “T͟Hə”, or “T͟Hē”, if you prefer—but instead pronounced it as his parents pronounced the word in Vietnamese when they named him, (Thế). A beautiful middle name.

But now in America, where our kind of fairy tales, the so-called American Dream, are more often white than not, and do not usually come with a foreign accent, well, that beautiful middle name had been stolen by these bullies, spit back with venom. For these bullies had learned his middle name, not by tones, but by sight. And to

- 10 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

them, to me, too, it looked like our word “the.” His last name was Cao. So, for those evil little ignorant shits, my friend was named “Win The Cow.” And I burned in shame when they called him this, both because

I felt powerless to stop it and because everything around me, from antiimmigrant bumper stickers on cars to comments from young and old, told me that to be different, to be newly arrived, was to be somehow...less.

I admit now, many years later, that those bullies made me feel embarrassed for having a friend whose name sounded like “Win the Cow.” We go up to my apartment again. It is a small place, like Saigon. I am comfortable there (Butler 54).

And yet we were friends. He came to my house; I went to his house. Empty houses by day, his parents both worked and my father worked and my mother lived in another city. Uyên always fed me with the exotic leftovers available in his kitchen, smells and flavors we never had in our own house. We played video games at 7-Eleven. We rode bikes everywhere and played basketball atop the reservoir at Cordata Park. Growing up in Fountain Valley, a place no one has heard of but which is adjacent to Huntington Beach, which is a place many people have heard of, we lived near a place few people outside the area have heard of in the diminutive: Little Saigon. Located firmly behind the Orange Curtain and straddling Garden Grove and Westminster (thus that vicious bumper sticker, above), Little Saigon is, of course, made up of people from Big Saigon, a place everyone has heard of even if it doesn’t technically exist anymore, and beyond.

Refugees. Those not from the 3,000,000 and more dead, those who are some of the countless millions displaced.

Little Saigon finally got a sign on the 405 San Diego freeway when I was in high school, I think. I remember that at some point businesses were forced to add English to their storefront signs, so, it was said, firetrucks could find the place that called them. Perhaps even fire was coded and nationalized and spoke English without an accent, perhaps grease fires in kitchens of the many restaurants in Little Saigon, all run by a people who came from a land of war and fire, needed to also use a language that seemed familiar to those in their new land but was loaded with myriad diacritical marks, thus indicating a lack of pronounceability to firefighters from outside the community. Still, I thought it was a good place to grow up, Orange County. I think that now. Houses had lawns and were perched tightly together on wide streets that we played on well into the night. We never went inside unless we had dinner or homework or until video games were invented. When I got a car, I drove to Little Saigon and discovered phở, that marvelous, wonderful, steaming, aromatic bowl of soup and cow parts, its flavored broth so complicated and

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

yet so simple. Ginger, star anise, cloves. Somehow, despite the many ingredients, the broth almost always tastes the same. It even tasted the same when I finally went to Vietnam. The only time that broth let me down was when I tried to make it. It came out like a dull, muddy brown sewage, devoid of the flavor I so craved. From that time on, I just stick to making gỏi cuốn, spring rolls, which always look messy and ill-formed but taste close enough to what I taste at restaurants. Nina McPherson, the translator of Dương Thu Hương’s book, Paradise of the Blind, explains that the majority of terms in the book’s glossary are food words. This is necessary, she says, because, “[t]he Vietnamese reverence for food, which is reflected in many proverbs and popular sayings, is a recurrent theme in” the book. “In predominately rural cultures like Vietnam, food is often a powerful form of human expression” (9). Growing up in Orange County, we had virulent racism, though I didn’t realize it then, or couldn’t name it as such. Maybe I thought it was just some bullies. But, in truth, I knew it was more insidious then that. And my friend Uyên suffered. And had I perhaps played my part in his suffering by not fighting back strongly enough? By doubting what I should not have. By believing omnipresent lies.

Now, living in Cascadia for a decade and teaching at Saint Martin’s University, I co-teach a course called “Chasing the American Dream.” The American Dream is common enough, I suppose, though over the course of the semester we naturally dig deeper than how it is used colloquially, that is, as a salve to every problem and a higher ideal to which we can all, somehow, strive. But to me the word “chasing” is the key word in this class title. It suggests a certain impossibility of attainment.

It is an old story in this country, immigration and some version of assimilation. We see it in the headlines now, with the socalled Dreamers. We have the same racism and fear of The Other that those little bullies unleashed on Uyên all those years ago. But I also know that this unwieldy, often ugly process of Americanization takes about three generations. I am not the same person as my grandparents, who escaped from Nazi Germany in 1935. All those years ago, too, Uyên already understood so many things about which his parents had no idea, believed in things they could only guess at. And if he has kids, their accents will be gone, even if they are bilingual, or if not his kids, then kids of the others who came here looking to escape repression and war and who, perhaps sometimes, even found it. Nina McPherson, the translator, says that the common Vietnamese saying, “‘A morsel of food is like a morsel of shame’ reflects the belief that to give or accept food reveals one’s status in the hierarchy of the social order. When the Vietnamese offer food to those outside the family circle…the gesture can be taken as an expression of generosity or pure contempt.” Reflecting on the countless delicious and strange leftover meals that Uyên fed me, after we had escaped the bullies for the day, I hope his offer was for the former reason and not the latter. Still, I feel shame. I think I’ll look for Uyên, see if the internet knows where he is.

- 11 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5


I sit in bed doing homework for the weeks of school I’m skipping to make this trip to Saigon with my parents for Nô-en (Christmas). The humidity thickens the air enough to make my shirt stick to my back and my bangs to my forehead. The air conditioner whirls dully as I flip through the pages of my book. Out of nowhere, my aunt swoops in, kissing my cheeks.

“Bé Ti của Cô Bảy yêu Cô nào nhất?”/ “Little girl of mine, who is your favorite aunt?”

on Google Translate before I left home because I knew everyone would ask me the same thing.

I drop my bags off in the guest room prepared just for me, the cháu gái (niece) of Thằng Út (youngest brother). I took a 360-degree spin in the room. Everything seems the same in the haphazard library filled with Vietnamese sách (books), Việt-Anh (English) and Việt-Phap (French) dictionaries, random packets of yellowed papers, dozens of volumes of fabric bound báos (newspapers), and hanger upon hanger of áo dàis. “How much has changed since I’ve been away?” I ask myself.

I giggle, knowing that this is a trick question.

“Cô Bảy! Con thương Cô Bảy nhất!”/“Auntie (my dad’s youngest sister)! I love you the most!” She laughs and hugs me, kissing me again.



The night before my flight home, Cô Ba and I sit in silence. The features of her ageless beauty fixed into an expression of sorrow with lines framing her eyes after years of acting as the I’ll-take-care-of-it sibling in Vietnam while her sisters and brothers left her, one by one, in the years following the Fall of Saigon in 1975. It was only Cô Bảy who had stayed behind. Her gaze meets mine. A tear slowly falls down my cheek. Her bony arm reaches around me, putting my head on her shoulder as we both cry.

Tiffany Trương is studying Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at the University of Washington. She currently serves as an advisor for the Vietnamese Student Association at UW and as co-volunteer director for Tet in Seattle.


I cried out of guilt for something I knew I couldn’t fix. No one could. I don’t know why my aunt cried; maybe she cried simply because I was leaving, maybe she cried because she understood why my shoulders trembled under her embrace. It was that trip where I confronted the reality that had been a part of my family for so long – Cô Bảy was in a fight with breast cancer and she was losing. Cô Bảy passed on during August of that year. I’ll always wonder what it would’ve been like to say goodbye.


“Dad, can I go to Vietnam this summer?”

(Undated) My dad (standing on the stool), his parents (right), and his sisters and brothers looking over the balcony of their house

He pauses. I worry that he won’t let me, knowing that both of my parents didn’t have the time to go this year. “Okay. Ba sẽ book vé vè cho con / “Okay. Daddy will book your tickets for you. Your aunties and Ba Noi (Grandma) will be so happy to see you.”

The green metal door to Cô Ba’s (one of my dad’s other sisters) house creaks open as Chị Qúi (one of my aunt’s live-in maids) swings it out to let me in. “Bé Ti! Sao lớn quá vạy? Sao mẹ ba không vè chung? Có nhớ Chị không?”/ “Tiffany! Why are you so big now? Why didn’t your parents come home with you? Do you remember me?”

I don’t remember her. I manage to stumble awkwardly through some Vietnamese phrases I had looked up XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 12 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Bốn Mươi Năm Nhìn Lại By: Kim Khuyên

Sinh ra nơi xứ Bắc Trưởng thành trong miền Nam Trải qua hai mươi năm Trên bản đồ chữ S Tên gọi là Việt Nam Quê hương ngập điêu tàn Vì chiến tranh Quốc, Cộng Người dân sống lầm than Khi hai bên buông súng Tưởng gia đình ấm cúng Tưởng đoàn viên hội tụ Tưởng cơm no áo ấm Nhưng không ngờ trái ngang Rồi cửa nát nhà tan Đời sống thật bi đát Cảnh biệt ly bàng hoàng Sống chết vì tương lai Cho một đàn con dại Vượt biên tìm tự do Vì hạnh phúc ấm no Ôi, cao qúy tình người Tuy không cùng mầu da Tuy không cùng tiếng nói Lòng nhân ái bao la Nơi quê hương xứ lạ Con người được cưu mang Trí tuệ được khai hoang Cuộc sống được bình an Giờ thành công dân Mỹ Lòng vẫn nhớ Việt Nam Nơi chôn nhau cắt rốn Dòng máu đỏ da vàng Bốn mươi năm nhìn lại Thời gian lưu vong dài Quê hương còn ngang trái Đất nước vẫn bi ai THƯƠNG NHỚ QUÁ VIET NAM !!!

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 13 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

vượt biên Samantha Hoàng is a kind and compassionate businesswoman by day, a philanthropist in between, and a proud mother always. Her two kindhearted and driven children, Bianca (17) and Nolan (15), help to maintain her zest for life. Born in Vietnam. Raised in Canada. Maturing in the United States. 1975: how it changed our lives and us.


t was a transformative year for all Vietnamese as we surrendered our freedoms of speech, of press, of religion. Multifarious media outlets spouted conflicting perspectives of Vietnam’s political change, but to a four-year-old, all the chaos was confusion to me. For the adults, it was of war, losing their country, their wealth, and their identity. For me, that year represented constant change, lies, fear, and tears.

Pleiku, 1975 BOOM! It was as if the explosion was a mere arm’s length away, echoing in the near distance.

“Hurry, down!” firmly commanded Ba, my father. “Down, now!” Ba had instructed the entire family that included my grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, siblings, and cousins into the underground hideout built under the dining room that generously measured 10 x 10 feet. I couldn’t recall anything between those days that blended together, filled with frantic and silent hiding from the sound of a bomb or gunshots.

With every boom of a bomb: “take cover!” The crack of a gun: “take cover!” It was a repetitive routine laced with danger, fear, and perplexity.

After many days like these, I found myself on a small plane designed for roughly 30 passengers. Looking around, there were lots of people and their luggage, certainly more people than there were seats. The plane’s wheels began to spin, yet the door was still ajar as voices of desperate pleas to be let on filled the small opening. For me, little Bé Hàng, I was confused: What was happening? Why are people crying? Why can’t we let them up? I held on tightly to

my nanny, Chị Nguyệt, who was assigned as my caretaker.

Slowly gaining speed, the plane continued to roll on relentlessly. The pleas multiplied and became a cacophony when my mother’s voice pierced through the noise:

“Throw all the luggage out of the plane. Make room for more people!”

Tossing one of our suitcases out and grabbing one grasping hand from below, passengers followed her example, and one by one, the small remains of our lives were discarded to make room to save the lives of others.

In midst of the chaos, my flip flops began to travel down my small feet. Panicked, I looked up to my nanny. “My flip flops are falling off,” I whispered urgently, unable to reach down to them.

“It’s okay. We’ll buy new ones, Bé,” Chị Nguyệt consoled, brushing my hair. She rocked me back and forth in the cramped seat that we shared with my older brother Huy and intently stared out the window in a grim silence. The plane continued to gain speed, humming ominously as people frantically piled in. One by one, they collapsed in relief as others gripped the opening, desperate to get on. We were packed like sardines in the clear sky with barely enough room to breathe or to change position. XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

- 14 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

1 - TOP

The very first picture taken by a Canadian family from a church group that signed on to help immigrant families. We were the second Vietnamese family to arrive in Halifax, Nova Scotia and were a rare sight to see, for sure! 2 - B OT TOM

Our first year in Canada, Halloween - 1979

BOOM! The noise echoed in our ears and in our hearts. The plane—BANG!—jolted us as we crashed. The metal cage that we thought would save our lives crashed.

I remember grabbing tight of Chị Nguyệt’s shirt on the plane in one moment, and in the next, I was being carried as she ran on the ground. The plane had been shot down.

There were hundreds of others running—some were young; some old; some by themselves; and others were children like me, grabbing onto adults for their lives.

I had a six-year-old brother, Huy, and a twoyear-old brother, Hiếu. Each of us were all assigned caretakers for the journey: Huy was assigned to Chị Lan while Hiếu was with Mom. We didn’t see anyone as I looked back from Chị Nguyệt’s arms as she ran away from the scene, and after a while, I ran with her when she needed a break. We had travelled a long way to board the plane, and now, we had to make up for all that lost time. I heard the booms of the bombs and the frantic yelling of others, but I didn’t hear my family’s voices in the mix. “Where is Mom?” I asked in a quiet voice.

“We’ll find her soon, Bé. I promise,” Chị Nguyệt strained through laborious breaths, panting as she carried me.

Panting, running, grabbing tight of my Nanny, I can see people falling to the ground as a result of bombs being dropped in the near distance and gun shots everywhere. “STOP!” I yelled suddenly to Chị Nguyệt, “I dropped a flip flop!” I naïvely cried.

“We can’t, not now.” Chị Nguyệt had barely paused to register my shriek, “We’ll buy you

new ones, Be. Just hold on tight please, sweetie.” There was an edge of urgency in her voice that I understood, even at four years old. Those were my favorite flip flops. How can we find those exact ones ever again? Mom is going to be so mad at Chị Nguyệt. I still did not understand the seriousness of the situation. It was about 4AM and the sunrise had begun to faintly streak the skies with colors of orange blossoms, rich red wine, and gold. Chị Nguyệt was still running with me clung on tightly.

Finally, we slowed down to a brisk pace in a quiet alley.

Walk, run, scurry—this is like a game of hide and seek, I thought to myself but with a deathly aura to it.

As we crossed alleyways, Chị Nguyệt muffled my mouth and we both squatted down behind a bush.

“Shhhh….” she whispered. We were hiding from North Vietnam militants, the Viet Cong. If it was a game, it was certainly a long one, and hours and hours later, the early morning sun shone brightly as we continued our escape through streets and alleyways. In the broad daylight, I saw a brief shadow ahead of us and spotted my mom.

“Chị Nguyệt, go faster!” I urged, oblivious to her obvious exhaustion. I swung my foot with the remaining flip flop, trying to emphasize my point. Despite her tiredness, we caught up. I was with family again. “Mom! Mom! Mom!!!” I squealed as we approached her. “I missed you! Guess what, I lost one flip flop!” I ended with faint sorrow. I had my family again, or at least, Mom and Hieu. “We’ll buy you a brand new pair soon!” said Mom with tears of happiness in

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 15 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

reuniting with me. I still didn’t fully grasp the grave danger of the situation we were in and what a miracle it was to be alive. At that precise moment, I only knew of the sheer joy I had of burying my face into the familiar scent of my mother’s hair. Saigon, 1975 Since that incident, weeks and months had passed as my family and I started anew in Vietnam’s southern metropolis, Saigon. My mom descended the stairs and announced, “Children, there will be people coming in to our home.

They will ask questions, and no matter what they ask, the answer is...‘I don’t know’. This was not a request. It was a statement with no leeway; no if’s, and’s, or but’s. “Is that clear?” she asked, scanning each of my brothers and me straight in the eye. We returned her gaze with a nod. “Yes, Mom,” we replied in unison.

Just as we answered, gruff and heavy footsteps with many strangers’ voices approached our door. They piled themselves in. I sat on my Grandmother’s lap quietly looking at the men questioning one person after another. “Do you have more valuables elsewhere? Do you have more jewels elsewhere?” asked in a commanding voice by one of the men in a uniform. “Okay then. That’s it!” said the man.

“Ummm… Sir…” I whispered. “Are you asking about jewels? My Grandma is wearing a beautiful jade bead necklace. Here, look!” I reached under Grandma’s layers of shirts to pull out the beaded jade necklace. With big wide eyes, I was in utter surprise to see that the man in uniform quickly walked off with it. “Why did he take your jade bead necklace, Grandma? I was just sharing how nice it is.”

“You just have to do what your parents tell you. You were supposed to say that you don’t know, remember?” Grandma reminded me sadly while touching the spot where her precious jade once sat. “I will next time, Grandma,” I answered mournfully.

For the following three years, the words that were most spoken of very discreetly were vượt biên, or “escape from Vietnam.” And again, Mom reminded my brothers and me, “They will ask questions, and no matter what they ask, the answer is... I don’t know.”

“Yes,” my brothers and I answered. We were very clear of this “I don’t know” concept by then.

After a few years and many more attempts of vượt biên, I was on my way to the first year of kindergarten school, the one place in the world that my family did not want me to be. At home, learning to read and write was not the main concern, vượt biên was.

Each attempt took days of my family and I completely vanishing. And each time we returned distraught and more determined to succeed the following time.

We attempted to escape the bonds of our country again and again. My brothers and I had memorized our scripted and rehearsed reply to anyone outside of our family regarding inquiries of our absences. By the time I approached six-and-half years old, I had mastered the art of our falsehood, including to my teachers. When concerning faces and inquiring minds alike asked, “Bé Hàng, where have you been?” I would promptly answer without missing a beat, “My family and I were on a short vacation.” Our escape attempts were anything but a vacation, but that was our cover-up.

“Kids, you’ll miss school again tomorrow. We’re going on a short vacation,” my mom announced. That was the first time we would make an attempt for vượt biên since I started kindergarten just a few weeks prior.

My brothers and I curtly nodded, answering quietly, “Yes, Mom.” As usual, we were woken up early by whispers. “Shh, get up. It’s 3AM. We need to leave,” my mother would say just barely louder than the breath of a breeze. Sleepy and uncoordinated, all three of us, Hiếu, Huy, and I, stumbled out of the bed we shared with our parents having worn our day clothes in preparation.

Knowing the routine all so well, my brothers and I got up wordlessly and followed our parent’s promptly with the golden rule in mind: follow directions silently and without the faintest sound. We would first walk quietly outside, then blindly through countless dark alleys. The only sensory layer we would connect with was the warmth of our parent’s hands pressed against ours. Then, we would all board a bike-pedaled carriage, a xíc lô that had been arranged and was waiting for us at the end of another dark alley. We would then quietly dismount at another alley and proceed to walk for a few miles until we arrived at yet another xíc lô in another dark alley. Board mutely, sit silently, get off and walk speedily. This routine happened over again until we reached the bushes near the bank of the water where we were instructed to hide quietly. Hours would pass as we were to wait for a small boat to come and pick us up to take us to a bigger boat that had been arranged and was supposed to be waiting for us. Alas, a boat appeared through the fresh morning fog.

“This is it, kids,” My dad whispered with hope. “This time, we will make it.” His voice was firm with conviction.

We will escape. The sixth time’s a charm.” “Please, I pray. Let us make it out of here to the land of freedom. Please, I pray for all of us.” I heard my mom as she whispered rapidly with eyes closed toward the heavens.

XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

- 16 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Because “full lips is not beautiful” per the Vietnamese culture, my mom always said, “Suck those lips in!”

“The boat is coming!” Ba whispered with excitement. “There it is,” he gestured grandly to yet another rickety old vessel gliding toward us. “Get ready to move when I say so.” My family and I began to adjust our feet discreetly, ever so slightly, until I heard a scream coming from the water. And gun shots.

Here we go again, I thought helplessly. The last time when this happened, our escape was cut short.

“Run!” Ba commanded. “Run, run…” he whispered over and over. Dad held Hiếu and Huy ran with Dad while holding his hand. My mom held me on her hips and we all ran. We ran away from the water, from the chance of vượt biên. We ran, ran, ran, just like when the bombs dropped not too long before. We kept running until we were certain of safety. We couldn’t afford to be caught; nobody trying to escape could be. The new political militants would have sent us to prison if we did. Back at school, I replied with a smile, “Teacher, sorry for missing a few days of school. My family and I went on a short vacation.”

Saigon, 1977 Attempt after attempt, our family was getting discouraged from vượt biên, but my parents were determined to get the family to the land of freedom, to the land of opportunity. I watched my parents pray one night and knew we would be going on a “short vacation” again soon. In the pitch black of the dark before dawn, we awoke yet again to whispers, “Shhh… wake up. We need to leave.”

But this time, it was different. We didn’t hide in small bushes like before. It was the very first time that I saw a gigantic boat waiting for my family and many hundreds of others. Vietnamese folk—young, old, men, women, and children—were lining up to board this boat.

Wow! This is it! We are escaping. We are on our way to the land of freedom! I thought. This is it! I repeated in my head, a smile crept upon my round cheeks. My dad grabbed me and held me tightly at the dock, stroking my head softly the way he did when I cried. “Good bye, Be Hàng,” he said softly into my ear, “Good bye for now, my love.”

Good bye? I was puzzled. I watched, numb from disbelief as my dad began to kiss the rest of us good bye. I watched wordlessly. The joyous farewells of the others on the dock were silenced into a blur. The hundreds of people all around vanished in my mind. Grabbing hold of my mom, I asked urgently, “Why is Dad not going with us?”

“This time, it’s different. He will stay behind. Once we arrive at the land of freedom, we will sponsor him over. Many families are doing this now,” she explained with tears rolling down her cheeks. “It’s okay. We’ll be okay,” she repeated, more to convince herself than to her puzzled daughter. The boat was huge, yet we were instructed that each of us would only have a foot-anda-half to ourselves. Though crammed in, an excited feeling filled the air. Lively and full of hope, we were all on a vượt biên to find the

land of freedom. Loud horns went off. We were getting ready to debark, to leave. Mom, my brothers and I hung onto the railing to wave goodbye to Dad. My father stood there, alone it seemed, waving. We’re leaving Dad behind. Dad isn’t coming with us. In my mind, the full dock only had one person: my dad.

Our tears could fill half the ocean; my father’s would fill the other half.

The loud horns went off again.

Abruptly, Mom held on to all three kids’ hands and scurried across the boat, pushing and shoving through people while yelling, “Stop! We want to get off the boat!” Tears, tears, and more tears poured from everyone as my mom ran towards my dad with three kids in tow.

“Freedom or not, our family will stay together.”

With our family reunited, Mom and Dad held us three tightly and started to walk away from the boat, which continued to drift away. BOOM!

We turned around to see what that commotion was. The boat we were planning to leave on, the one that we just stepped off of was now a litter of splinters, screams, and bodies.

The sun rose, dawn filled the sky with the hues of rust orange, blood red, and the yellow star of the Viet Cong flag. Horror replaced the hope that had filled the air just minutes prior. To this day, as I retell this story, I hear the boom of the bomb echo appallingly. To this day, my heart still thuds with panic

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 17 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

and an overwhelming rush of emotions. It was at that very moment when I learned what fate is. We were all supposed to be on that blown-up boat but managed to evade tragedy. After that horrifying experience, we continued to try vượt biên. We knew the dangers of escaping— imprisonment, death—yet we also knew the dangers of staying: the loss of our identity and everything that we are.

1978 Some say that the third time’s a charm, but for my family, it was the thirteenth. We finally escaped in 1978 to a refugee camp in Malaysia where we stayed until both feet were planted on the land of freedom in Canada in May of 1979.

There, in the Land of the Free, I was afforded the opportunity to grow up, physically and mentally, but I will never forget the struggle and the horror of our journey. My mother’s last move to reunite our family moments before the boat explosion and countless other acts have exemplified the power of family, unity, love, and fate.

It was through our hard work, our love for each other, and our persistence that got us here, and it is those factors that helped us succeed in a new place.

Vượt biên also taught me that with family, it doesn’t matter where I am, be it Vietnam, at a refugee camp, or in the land of freedom whose foreign tongue and culture are alien to that of my own, there is truly strength in numbers. Together with family, I can overcome anything.

Footprints of Vietnam After living in various states and abroad for the last 10 years, Nam Nguyễn has recently returned to his native Washington State. He is currently working in Olympia as an assistant attorney general.

“There are Vietnamese people in Yemen?”

“Yep, an entire community,” said an Englishman living in Yemen. “They’ve been here since 1976. I’ll introduce one of them to you.”

“And here I am, thinking I was the only Vietnamese in this country, ever.”

That’s how I came to meet a tall, thin man with the complexion and a mustache that is clearly Vietnamese in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. I have heard of Vietnamese communities in unexpected places—I have a Viet friend from Norway, for example— but I did not expect to find any living in a small dessert country of sand and walls. Everywhere I go, from the market, to my hotel, to an embassy party, thick walls secure me. Analogous to this is the local women’s fashion—black from head to toe with armlength gloves and only eyes showing (which are sometimes concealed behind meshed fabric). Only once have I ever gazed upon a Yemeni woman’s face. Nowhere in this country are there vibrant scenes of men and women sitting in cafés and bars laughing, drinking, and listening to music or such familiars that I associate with Vietnamese social life.

“My Vietnamese name is Tuấn.” He sounded pleased to meet me. “Ahmed is my Muslim name.”

Ahmed/Tuấn’s family moved to Yemen shortly after the Communist took over after the Vietnam War. In a gesture of Islamic brotherhood, two planes full of Vietnamese Muslims were allowed to immigrate to Sanaa

in 1976. Others followed until the Yemeni government restricted the flow soon after. “Hard,” Tuấn said of his life in Yemen. “You can see that I do not look like the people here. I guess Islam is not enough. Arab matters too, but tribe matters most. It’s funny, but it’s easier for women. When you are all covered, you can’t tell a Yemeni from a Vietnamese. It’s not just how you look. They’re protective of their women. I found that most Yemenis will let their sons marry Vietnamese women, but you will rarely hear of a Vietnamese man marrying a Yemeni woman. Risky if you even try.”

“And it has gotten worse, right?” “Yes. In the 70s things were different here. You would not recognize the place. You could buy beer, wine, and whisky in stores. I could sit down with a girl at an outdoor café, drinking a cold beer and she could smoke.  She didn’t have to be my wife or my sister. She could wear a short-sleeved shirt and a skirt that shows her knees.” He smiles. “Her knees,” I remarked. “Imagine that.” 

We laugh, but the conservation ends abruptly as I had to rush to the airport. On the plane, I look down upon Sanaa. It is nighttime and all I can see are specks of light spattering on the dark desert floor and it’s like floating in space with a night sky above and below. I think about how odd it is to find a Vietnamese community in such a desolate and troubled place. Later, I found myself having similar thoughts when I volunteered in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. This is another place where I had not expected to find a Vietnamese community. It is a rural Southern town 15 miles off the nearest interstate. The town’s best-known XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

- 18 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

resident is the fictional Forest Gump. Yet, supposedly 1/3 of the population around here are Southeast Asian. “Downtown” does have one Vietnamese market, one Vietnamese restaurant that serves passable Pho and awful every thing else, and one Vietnamese barber. That is about half the storefront businesses. The reason for the sizable Vietnamese population is because of Bayou La Batre’s seafood industry.  Bubba (in “Forest Gump”) mentioned that Vietnam has great shrimping waters.  Many of those shrimpers ended up here. The community is, however, dwindling. The BP Oil Spill had made things worse.

“We used to have a large Tết festival out of the community center,” Vinh, a coworker and a local, reminisced. “People from Mobile, kids from South Alabama University all around used to come down here. Every year they hired a singer from California.  Used to make a lot of money for the community, mostly from selling beer.”

“Heineken and Corona, I’m guessing,” I added.

“With the lime,” he nodded. “One year we invited Trường Vũ, I don’t know if you know him, and some of my friends slipped Ecstasy into his drink. I don’t like that type of music, but I will say he put on one hell of a show. He was really angry afterward though. I don’t think he’ll ever come back.” This is an isolated community with problems with drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, and gambling. We half-joked that BP’s compensation payments to fishermen for the oil spill are only subsidies for the nearby casinos. It is not surprising that most Vietnamese youth leave here and few ever look back.

“You came here to help. I haven’t seen my children in years,” a woman rambled at a community meeting, looking in the direction of volunteers. “They left the Bayou and never visit. They only want my house, probably for the money. I lived in that house for 15 years. I’m not leaving. I have two daughters and a son. I don’t ever see them.  They never talk to me anymore.  They just want me sell my place and then what am I going to do? Where will I go? I cannot leave this place.” At least Tuấn and the people in Bayou have a community. Haifa is a city with a population of 300,000, and as far as I can tell, only one Vietnamese.  She runs a restaurant that my traveling companions and I chose to eat at because, as far as Lonely Planet is concerned, it is the only Vietnamese restaurant in the Middle East.  As we eat, she, a thin woman in her early 50s but is youthful-looking, approaches and asks. “Are you Vietnamese?” “Yes.”

“Oh,” her face lit up.

“I thought you might be. You have a face that I thought might be Vietnamese, but I was not sure. I don’t see many Vietnamese visiting these parts.”

Her name is Hoa. We talk briefly as she comes back to our table every time she is not busy. Hoa left Vietnam after the war for Hong Kong. She married a Chinese man and then they move to Israel. “Vietnamese tourists tend to stick to Jerusalem. I have not met another Vietnamese for years.”   “What about your family?” I asked.  “I do not know if I have any family left in Vietnam or anywhere else.”  

She later brings us a plate of stir-fried Phở, which we did not order. “I’m sorry we do not have any other Vietnamese dishes,” she said.

The next night, as we walk past the restaurant on the way to the bus station, one of my traveling companions asks, “You want to say bye to her, don’t you?”

“We might be late.”

“No, we won’t be. Why don’t you go in and we’ll meet you at the station.”

I went inside and Hoa is happy to see me until she learns that I am not staying. I said that I just wanted to say goodbye. She said she is trying to get in touch with other Vietnamese living in Israel, friends from the past, for a get-together. “Some I couldn’t reach, but I think there are a few still living two or three hours from here.” I thank her and as I left, gave a slight nod acknowledging that we two strangers have a mutual bond.  “Bước Chân Việt Nam” is a song written to commemorate the Vietnamese diaspora. Literally translated, it means “Vietnamese Footsteps.” I’ve found that those steps have left footprints in obvious places like California, Paris, and my own Seattle. I’ve also found footprints in less expected places: a desert country, a rural fishing community, and a solitary footprint in the Holy Land. Every chance encounter is a surprising delight, but I now struggle to find connections between these disparate communities and people outside of the grim connection that is the War.  Maybe every member of the Vietnamese longs for an identity that they had lost. In large communities, they try to recreate the culture, the food, the smell with utmost precision, but they will always long for the power that they once had.  Someone like Tuấn, living far from other communities, longs for those same things. VietnameseYemeni children will hear stories of what it was like. In Bayou La Batre, they long for the close-knit family life that is hard to recreate in a struggling American city.  For Hoa, finding herself alone in the Holy Land, she longs for something that most Vietnamese take for granted—the sound of a familiar language, a stranger’s face that bears familiar color, lines, and edges, and a reminder of her own identity. **If you have similar stories of Vietnamese and Vietnamese communities living in unexpected places, I would like to hear from you. Please e-mail your story to me at

XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

- 19 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Ngoại Tôi                       By: Tiến Vũ

                                                                                                   Chiều nắng hạ tôi nhớ về quê ngoại Từ vườn cây đến mái nhà ngói đỏ

Hoa muôn sắc rực mầu nơi sân nhỏ

Nhà hai gian, nhưng chứa chồng kỷ niệm Cửa khung xanh, gầy gò bóng ngoại tội

Tình thương ngoại, in nằm trong tâm tưởng Ôi náng hạ, bóng ngoại như vàng úa

Tôi nhớ ngoại, tưởng nhớ cả cố hương...



ver the past 40 years, the Vietnamese population overseas has grown vastly due to many waves of migration from Vietnam. The majority of the migration occurred in three different stages:

. First Wave /

. Second Wave /

. Third Wave /

After 1975 at the close of the Vietnam War. This wave consisted mainly of South Vietnamese military personnel and professionals who were associated with the US military.

In the late 70s and early 80s. This wave, more commonly known as “boat people,” consisted of Vietnamese who were fleeing communist persecution to seek better futures overseas.

In the late 80s through the 90s. This group included families of South Vietnamese soldiers who were political prisoners as well as children of US servicemen and Vietnamese mothers.

Here’s a quick peek by the numbers of the current Vietnamese footprints around the world compared to the estimated 1,400,000 Vietnamese currently living in the US. Data collected in August 2014 from the Migration Policy Institute. Credit to Jeanne Batalova and Hataipreuk Rkasnuam.

XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

- 20 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Hạnh Trần Lim is a Registered Dental Hygienist who grew up in Olympia. Spending quality time outdoors with her husband is a must along with cooking and trying new restaurants. The new parents are excited to start a new chapter of their lives with their bundle of joy, Owen.

Hạnh with husband, Nolan.

Dear Unborn Child


our grandparents and I escaped Vietnam in 1990 with a few suitcases and some Vietnamese cash. My father was a former officer of the South Vietnamese government and he got us passage out of the country. I remember spending eight months in the Philippines, wondering what had just happened. All they said to me was that we lost a war and that’s why we were there.

I was sad and confused as a little girl, but I learned to go along with the family flow to not burden my parents.

spent on the musical ice cream truck that came to the apartment every afternoon. Sometimes, I would save my money to buy a pack of bubble gum at the gas station. Life was simple, but I was happy. I went to school and entered the 4th grade that fall and became the AsianAmerican kid. There were no Vietnamese kids in my class until I went to middle school. That’s how small the Vietnamese community was in Olympia at the time.

In school, kids were always curious about my culture and I liked to share my journey with them about the Philippines and Vietnam mainly through pictures because of my poor English skills. After a few years, I fit in so well with my American life that I had a lot of American-born and Asian friends alike.

My family and I adjusted rather quickly in the United States. My father became a part of the Vietnamese community and we gathered with other Vietnamese folks for various occasions. We celebrated Tết (Vietnamese New Year) mourned the loss of our homeland and the fate of being in exile. Because we shared a mutual history, we were very close with other families.

I never cried or complained, as I saw their struggle with adjusting to the new place.

The one thing that I felt that I struggled with was in communicating with your grandparents as I got older and became more Americanized. The Vietnamese do not share words of affection very easily.

My family was among the first few families who were sponsored out of the camp.

It’s more typical to demonstrate affection through gestures. For example, when I went home to visit my parents, my mother would make my favorite dishes, a bowl of Bun Bo Hue or Thit Kho. And to show her that I love her, I would have to eat whatever she made. When I graduated from college, my father was very proud but he couldn’t find the words in Vietnamese to say it, so finally he shook my hand, hugged me and said in English, “I’m proud of you.” It was the first time that I heard him saying something like this.

I remember drinking my first Coca Cola in the Philippines. It was the best drink I ever had in my life. We were in a refugee camp with tens of thousands of other Vietnamese. I had made a few friends there. I was confused and frightened in the new unknown, but I remember that I enjoyed school and playing with the new kids in the camp. My mother would cry sometimes because she missed home and her mom. I missed my grandma and my friends back home too.

We came to America in 1991 and for years, our family did domestic work as we started life anew, unprepared and with few resources: we picked strawberries and blueberries at dawn, cleaned the most beautiful homes in the afternoon, and cleaned dental offices at night. My weekends consisted of going to work with my parents, and I was very content with earning 50 cents a week. My money was usually XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

My mother who loves me dearly never says “I love you.”

Vietnamese culture puts a strong emphasis on being part of the “We.” Your individualism is below the need of the many. - 21 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

This is how Vietnamese families survived traditionally. Children are duty-bound to take care of their families. When I went to school at the University of Washington and the University of Pittsburgh, more than half of the Vietnamese student population majored in computer science and electrical engineering, pharmacy, dental or the medical field. Many told me that they didn’t want to. It was competitive and difficult. A few wanted to be artists or architects and so on, but their parents were poor or some were still in Vietnam. They needed to find a solid footing in America in order to help out the rest of the family, hence their intended major for the greater good.

Mùa Phượng Xưa   By: Phước Hữu Đặng           

    Gió hè lộng mát ngoài song

Nhìn lên thấy phượng trổ bông đỏ cành     Phượng hoa thắm đỏ tim hồng

America, on the other hand, tells you to follow your dream, to have individual ambition, and to take care of yourself first.

Thư sinh mầu áo tình nồng thiết tha     Ve sầu ảo não buồn xa

The Vietnamese-American conflict is one where you have to negotiate between your own needs and the dreams and hopes of your family.

Bóng hè rộn rã reo vang bãi trường     Xa nhau cách chín mươi ngày

Mong chờ thấy nhớ nghe dài làm sao     Biết còn em nhỏ bên sông

In some way, learning to negotiate between the “I” and the “We” is the most important lesson that you will have to learn growing up.

Ngồi chung lớp học tâm hồn hợp nhau     Tim lòng ai nhớ ngóng trông

I hope to give you life experiences that will help you learn about diversity, struggles, and your grandparent’s background and history. You will be automatically born into a more privileged life than that of my own because you won’t be waking up by dawn to pick berries and you will not have to worry about supporting your dad and me financially. But you can still be humble, have a kind heart and an open mind if you have compassion for those less fortunate. I want to expose you to different cultures at a very young age and teach you about diversity and human rights. I want you to travel and see the world and see people who are so happy with so little. Experience the beautiful things that life has to offer along with the struggles. My dream is that you will become a man with a bright vision, compassion, good intentions, and will be as proud of your background and heritage as I am.

Tin nghe biết được em đi lấy chồng     Sông Kiên bờ vắng em rồi

Trường xưa vắng bóng áo nàng học sinh     Sông Kiên lại vắng em rồi

Không gian mầu tím bềnh bồng áng mây     Phượng hồng mầu nhạt buồn chung Lá cành ủ rũ tháng ngày héo hon

    Chuyện tình thương lúc còn son

Mỗi khi hè đến lòng vương nỗi buồn.

XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

- 22 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

NIỀM NHỚ QUÊ HƯƠNG By: Lâm Anh Tuấn Sau bao năm mà lòng vẫn nhớ

Khi Xuân về cứ ngở chiêm bao

Nhớ xưa có ngọn trúc đào

Nhớ ngày Tết đến với bao tiếng cười Nhớ đình làng có ai đám cưới, Vạn câu thề trên dưới kết hoa Nhớ em bé, nhớ cụ già,

Nhớ câu đối liễn trước nhà đầu sân

Nhớ nước Nam nhớ non sông Việt Nhớ trống đồng oanh liệt dân ta

Nhớ xưa có trận Đống Đa Chiến công hiễn hách chính là Việt Nam Nhớ hoàng hôn con sông xanh biếc Nhớ biển nhà từng chiếc ra khơi Nhớ đồng lúa chín sáng ngời

Nhớ đàn cò trắng thảnh thơi an lành

Nhớ làng thôn nhà tranh ấm dịu Nhớ câu hò nhịp điệu dân gian

Nhớ xua có chuyến đò ngang

Nhớ bao lữ khách quá giang bến bờ.

Nhớ Đô thành nhớ khu phố thị

Nhớ hai hàng phượng vĩ truớc sân Nhớ bạn cũ, nhớ nguời thân

Nhớ truờng nhớ lớp, nhớ ân cô thầy. Nhớ cơm rau canh cà đạm bạc

Nhớ tình nguời mộc mạc thuỷ chung

Nhớ sao nhớ hết cho cùng Ai nào quên được

Nhớ nhung quê nhà Dù người có bôn ba lưu viễn

Cũng xin đừng quên chuyện quê hương

"Nhiễu điều phủ lấy giá gương Người chung một nước phải thương nhau cùng"

XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

- 23 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Title: Theory of Evolution | Medium: Woolly Mammoth Tusk from Alaska 10,000+ years old

Eddie Lee

is one of the Northwest’s most gifted artists. His love of nature, spirituality and art has given him the special ability to breathe life into his sculptures. Each work of art is painstakingly handcrafted by him and a select group of experienced artisans, using fossilized mammoth and walrus ivory unearthed along the Bering Sea and in Siberia. Born in 1960 in the Emerald City of Nha Trang, Việt-Nam, his passion for art and nature was nurtured at a very young age. Eddie left Sài Gòn, South Việt-Nam in 1978 as one of thousands of “Boat People.” After six months in a refugee camp in Malaysia, he arrived in the United States of America at the age of 18 – bringing with him a young heart determined to find a new place to thrive and freely express his creativity. Eddie soon found a permanent home in Seattle. He traveled extensively along the Northwest Coast and Alaska, observing the traditions of the native peoples and their art forms, learning about their spiritual relationship to the natural world. More info about his passion and philosophy can be found in the upcoming 3rd edition of Xin Chào Magazine. His artwork can be found on pages 23-25.

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 24 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 25 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5


Photo: Jonathan P. Beck

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 26 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

an une x pec ted friendship Jesse Lee Robbins has studied the Vietnamese language for three years and has had two extended visits to Vietnam. His most recent tenmonth stay in Vietnam and the people he met therein had a profound impact on his life, and he’s excited to talk about these experiences to any willing ear. He is an MBA graduate from UW Foster, a Krav Maga practitioner, a blogger (in Viet and English), and a resident in his hometown of Seattle.

“Be careful of motorbike taxi drivers” was one of the many warnings I received from Vietnamese friends back home, in Vietnam, and from online travel sites. Coupled with these warnings were horror stories of how these single-occupancy motorbike taxis, or xe ôm, would drive unsuspecting foreign passengers through dark alleys in order to gang-mug them.

Whether there was any truth to these stories would never be known, but it was enough to make many foreigners like myself keep their guard up and interact with xe ôm drivers with an air of suspicion and skepticism. Admittedly, it also negatively skewed how I interacted with them. I didn’t see these drivers as people, but rather potential threats with whom I needed to be leery of at all times. I suppose that that’s what made my friendship with Thuận, a xe ôm driver, all the more unique, all the more special.

I was a bit skeptical. The last time I tried to rely on one xe ôm driver for my commute, he flaked on me twice in a row. Furthermore, I wasn’t exactly sure if I could trust Thuận; I barely knew the guy. The warnings about xe ôm drivers was still in the back of my mind. In the few seconds I had to consider this opportunity to rely solely on Thuận for my commuting needs, a few things came to mind. Compared to my attempts to have conversations with his fellow colleagues, I could understand his Vietnamese far more easily. During the first few rides I had with him, he actually made an effort to engage me in a conversation and get to know me. It also didn’t hurt that he said that he’d cut me a discount on the fare if I rode with him exclusively. Since my experiences riding with him were generally positive, and in the spirit of being open to new adventures, I figured “why not?” and saved his number in my phone. This quick agreement would be the start of a truly memorable friendship. We would have some fun times together during the remaining four months I had left in Vietnam.

I vaguely remember how we first met.

Thuận and the rest of the xe ôm drivers were sitting at the entrance to the apartment complex, waiting for customers to solicit their services. Not excited to go by the slightly more expensive taxi when traveling alone, I approached this group to see who could drive me to my destination. Thuận was next in line to take passengers.

During the ride, Thuận and I had a small conversation in Vietnamese. Sensing that my skills in the language were still limited, he patiently enunciated his words and sympathetically repeated himself so that I could understand him, something that few others had the patience to do. In the days that followed, I would have a couple more instances where Thuận would be first in line to take my request. Around the third or fourth time, he told me that I could give him a call for pick up wherever and whenever I needed. That way, I would not have to waste time tracking down another driver on the street. Admittedly,

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 27 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

There were the times when Thuận and I called on each other for breakfast or lunch to hang out and so that I could practice speaking Vietnamese. He introduced me to a couple of his favorite places. Over the course of these meals, he expressed how he was surprised and impressed with my chopstick abilities, to which I jokingly replied, “I’ve been living in Vietnam for 10 months. How could I not know how to use chopsticks?!”

For dishes that were better suited for a spoon and fork, I noticed how his instincts as an older brother kicked in. Don’t cut the pork chop with your spoon. “Pinch it between your fork and spoon, bring it to your mouth, and eat it that way, he instructed

He had taken an active interest in helping me adapt to the customs of his people, and I could tell by the look on his face that he was happy to do it. We swapped many stories about our lives over these humble meals. He told me about what it was like growing up in Saigon, how big his family was, and about his sister who lives in California. And he insisted that I meet her to introduce myself.

I hope I get the chance to meet her and her family. She might have a hard time believing that some Indian-looking, Vietnamesespeaking American was hanging out with her brother.

He told me that he was going to buy xôi đậu for me on the way to the exam as a way of wishing me good luck. The night before my exam he reminded me not to eat anything, to save my appetite. True to his word, on the way to the university where I was to take the exam, he pulled up to a sidewalk vendor and bought me an order of sticky rice with soy beans, still warm and fresh out of the steamer.

There were the times when Thuận gave me pep talks as he drove me to and from my morning Vietnamese class. He knew that I was studying diligently in preparation for a Vietnamese-language proficiency exam. He could see how exhausted I was getting, studying non-stop from 10:00 AM to 11:00 PM for two weeks straight.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t eat his good luck charm before the exam because I was too stressed. Not wanting to waste my good luck breakfast, I hung on to it for the duration of the five-hour exam. After the exam was over, I felt tremendously disappointed. Despite three months of studying and two weeks of intense preparation, I was convinced that I completely and utterly failed. While waiting for Thuận to pick me up, I ate half of the xôi đậu and saved the rest for later.

At 9:00 PM, he would pick me up from Cafe Đã Từng Thấy, and every time he dropped me off he told me to shower and get some rest. “Don’t study too hard or else you’ll be too tired and get sick,” he would warn. It was apparent that he wasn’t telling me this as his customer. He was telling me this as his friend, almost like his younger brother.

A couple of days before my exam, he told me about how his parents or older siblings would buy each other xôi đậu, sticky rice with soy beans, prior to someone taking an exam. When I asked why, he explained that đậu had two meanings: soy bean, an ingredient in the xôi đậu itself; and the verb “pass,” as in “to pass an exam.” XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

He picked me up and asked how the exam went, but he could already see the answer on my face. I grumbled for a bit about how the exam was harder than expected. He tried to cheer me up with a few words of encouragement, to convince me that

- 28 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

This flipped the whole “watch out for xe ôm drivers” warning upside down. It turned out that xe ôm drivers had to be equally as cautious with foreigners, especially the drunk ones stumbling out of the bars and clubs in the backpacker area. Thuận said he was lucky to have me as his customer. I was speechless.

There was the time

when we had our last hangout together before I was to head back to the States. A month before my departure, I promised Thuận that we’d đi nhậu (go drinking, Viet style) at the nearby Quán Ut Ut, the American-style BBQ restaurant that opened up only a few months prior and quickly became the hot spot for expats and middle-class locals alike.

This was the first time he tried eating American-style BBQ, so I made sure to order plenty of new dishes for him to try. We shared a few beers, and I even partook in one of his cigarettes, an act that I told him I only do on rare and special occasions. Towards the end of our dinner, he lowered his brow, looked me right in the eye and said, “I don’t know when you’ll be back. Maybe three, four, even five years. The next time we meet, I promise you that my life is going to be better than it is now.” We toasted and drank what was left in our beer mugs.

the results didn’t matter because my Vietnamese skill was still good enough as is. He dropped me off and reminded me to take a nap and relax for the rest of the day. A week later, I received my test results. Much to my surprise, I passed! My wife was the first person I told. He was the second. Out of all of the friends I had in Vietnam—including my Vietnamese teacher and language exchange partners, all of whom knew just how much effort I put into to preparing for the exam—I felt compelled to send him a text message before others to tell him the good news. He called back immediately to congratulate me. The next time we met, he smiled and gave me a celebratory high five.

There was the time

when Thuận told me about a couple of bad experiences he and his fellow xe ôm colleagues had while driving other foreigners in the city. “Hey, if I tell you this, I don’t want you to feel sad,” he prefaced. He shared with me the ways some foreigners have mistreated xe ôm drivers; one foreigner actually attacked a xe ôm driver when the driver tried to collect his fare. XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

My last day eventually came. My head was spinning from the past few days of nonstop packing, last-minute preparations, and farewell festivities. Before I knew it, it was 7:00 PM. It was time for me to load my luggage in the taxi and head to the airport.

Thuận called me to make sure I was home, and then he came up to my place and insisted on bringing my boxes down for me. I came down a few minutes later to say goodbye to him and to catch my taxi. He asked if I was ready to leave, and I reluctantly nodded in the affirmative. I had in my hand a plastic bag; inside were my motorbike helmet and raincoat. Handing it to him with a hint of sadness in my voice and a lump in my throat, I muttered in Vietnamese, “Here’s my helmet and raincoat. When I come back, I want to use these again. In the meantime, keep them for me.”

What I really wanted to say was, “We had a lot of fun times together, and I can’t thank you enough for your support and friendship. Hang on to these for me, and feel free to use them if you ever need a reminder of those fun times.” Regrettably, the words didn’t come out that way. However, I think he could see how I felt by the crestfallen expression on my face. The taxi pulled up, and he told me to wait while he and the taxi driver loaded the boxes and my luggage in the car. Once everything was loaded, he came back over, extended his hand and said, “I don’t know what I should say. I wish you the best of luck and safe travels - 29 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

on your way home. I hope to see you again when you come back to Vietnam.”

He patted me on the shoulder and smiled. I descended the three short steps and boarded the taxi. I closed the door, smiled, and waved at him from inside. Many of us have had a moment in our lives when we were saddened by the parting of a friend: A sibling goes off to college, you and your family move to a new city, a close friend is deployed into the military. You know that you eventually will have to say goodbye, but that doesn’t stop you from feeling sad.

I waited until I’m situated at the airport. Once checked in, I sent him the following reply: “Cảm ơn anh rất nhiều. Em cũng sẽ nhớ anh. Em hy vọng cuộc sống anh sẽ phát triển rất nhiều trong mấy năm sắp tới. Anh là người tốt.” “Thank you very much. I’m going miss you as well. I hope that your life will improve a lot over these next few years. You’re a good person.”

The uncertainty of never seeing that other person again makes parting with a friend that much scarier. We’d like to believe that we’ll have the chance to reunite, but we truly never know. Even with technology, physical distance creates emotional absence. Things change. People change. Life goes on, and that friendship, that personal relationship you had with that person may ultimately fade.

What made our subsequent parting harder than that with other friends I made wasn’t just the absolutely unique nature of two completely different people befriending each other despite cultural barriers, language differences, and faulty biases, but that I also had no idea when we’d see each other again. Thuận has no intention of coming to the States, and I may not be visiting Vietnam for at least a few years, if not longer. Simply put, our friendship felt cut short.

As I made my way to the airport, I received a text from him. It read: “Điều anh mong muốn và hy vọng nhất về em. Về Mỹ trong 1 tháng phải có việc làm. Chúc em gặp nhiều may mắn và thành công. Gia đình hạnh phúc. Anh sẽ nhớ em nhiều lắm. “The thing I expect and wish the most for you. You return to America and have a job. I wish you lots of luck and success. Happiness for your family. I’m going to miss you very much.”

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

This wasn’t my most eloquent text, but it was the best I could think of at that moment. Soon after I responded, I boarded the plane and I headed back to Seattle.

Thuận shattered whatever preconceived notions I had about people of his occupation and about life in Vietnam in general. Had I heeded all of the warnings from friends and fellow travelers alike, I may never have had the chance to get to know this man.

In my last few months in Vietnam, Thuận wasn’t just my xe ôm driver, he was also my teacher, my confidant, and my lunch buddy. He was one of the few people who could help me internalize local life and provide honest and insightful feedback about what I was experiencing in Vietnam, usually all within the short fifteen minutes he’d drive me between school and home.

I deeply appreciate the personal interest he took in making sure that I enjoyed his country and culture. My time in Vietnam wouldn’t have been the same without his companionship.

- 30 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

fashion timeline of vietnamese clothing


N. Duong 2012

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 31 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5


What Covers Everything but Hides Nothing ?

go-to garment for special nitially, this may seem occasions while its simpler like a trick question, but counterpart was still popular with more knowledge as a uniform. and understanding of the Anh Phạm is a Saigon-born photographer and designer who Áo Dài we could see that specializes in fashion portraiture. His work brings him all over the For the following decade from the question is, in fact, world, but he calls Seattle home. 1939 through the 1940’s, referring to the Vietnamese the modernized Áo Dài was national costume. There forgotten as all focus averted is a misconception that the to World War II. In the 1950’s Áo Dài are dresses, when the Áo Dài once again evolved actually, they are long into an even more fitted version to become the garment that we shirts with slits on either side (Áo means shirt and Dài means know of today. This upgrade included long raglan sleeves cut at a long). The fit and style of this garment has consistently evolved diagonal seam from the collar to the armpits, and by 1958 Madam throughout Vietnam’s history to become the Áo Dài that we know Nhu, the first lady of South Vietnam, made popular a collarless of today. It is a uniquely identifiable national costume that has version (Áo Dài Tran Le Xuan). Throughout the span of 1960-1975, also grown to become one of the most functional, ready-to-wear the Áo Dài enjoyed its highest level of popularity and continued fashion statements internationally worn by Hollywood a-listers like to progress into many different fits and styles: The Áo Dài Hippy Rihanna, Tyra Banks, and Michelle Williams. introduced bright colors and prints; the Áo Dài Mini introduced side slits extended above the waist with panels that ended at the knee for The first Áo Dài uniform originated in 1744 in the city of Hue, the increased practicality and convenience. imperial capital of Vietnam at the time. The plain and loose-fitting long shirt was a required uniform for the citizens of Lord Nguyen Unfortunately, the Áo Dài found itself tucked away into a temporary Phuc Khoat’s court. This version of the Áo Dài was known to be hiatus during the 1980’s as Vietnam struggled with economic crisis, extremely unflattering to the female form. famine, and the repercussions of the Vietnam War. However, the resilient apparel did not disappear for long as it reemerged in the It was not until the beginning of the 20th late 1980’s as state enterprise and schools began adopting it as a century that the first modern Ao Dai appeared uniform, a tradition that has slowly vanished although some schools at a fashion show in Paris. are still fighting hard to hold on. It is apparent that the garment has transcended to a more universal purpose to compensate for By 1930, an artist from Hanoi by the name of Cat Tuong (Le Mur) this change. It is no longer saved just for school, weddings, or merged inspiration from Parisian Fashion with the Áo Dài to form special occasions. In 1995, Vietnamese pageant queen Trương a floor length version that was fitted with darts and was nipped in Quỳnh Mai won the “Best National Costume” award during the Miss at the waist. This new version of the Áo Dài was christened as Áo International Pageant in Tokyo, and as a result, catapulted the Áo Dài Dài Le Mur, otherwise known as the Trendy Áo Dài. This created into international notoriety. This exposure also inspired designers to quite a sensation when Vietnamese model Nguyen Thi Hau wore it transform this dress into much more than a novelty item—it became in January 1935 for a feature in the newspaper Today. From that ok to wear the Áo Dài for less formal reasons as well. point on, this formal version of the costume found itself to be the XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

- 32 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Its fit has changed many times throughout the years, but what has not changed is that it must give the woman wearing it an air of subdued sexiness and sensuality with a dash of sophistication.

Internationally renowned singer Rihanna wears a red Áo Dài with leather pants at the MTV Video Music Awards show in June 2012.

Actress Michelle Williams wears an Áo Dài with shorts at the movie premiere of “Oz: the Great & Powerful” in February 2013.

What is it about the Áo Dài that no matter how many times it goes off the radar, it consistently comes back with a bigger impact on the Vietnamese culture and society? It is the allure and the magic it creates for the women who wear it. The Áo Dài is traditionally constructed with silks and other thin fabrics so as to accentuate the woman’s curves like second skin while the front and back panels flutter delicately with every stride the wearer takes. It has recently crossed over into the high fashion sphere in which many designers and artists have re-imagined the garment into pieces of couture through use of various techniques and materials never before utilized in constructing the Áo Dài. Its fit has changed many times throughout the years, but what has not changed is that it must give the woman wearing it an air of subdued sexiness and sensuality with a dash of sophistication. Its popularity as an iconic fashion garment has helped to solidify it as the ultimate statement piece in every Vietnamese woman’s wardrobe.

What sets the Áo Dài apart from many other national costumes is how versatile and practical it is.

After hundreds of years, the Áo Dài has finally earned its status as a true national costume for its role in forming the identity of the Vietnamese woman. What sets the Áo Dài apart from many other national costumes is how versatile and practical it is. You can see simpler, more practical versions worn by women in all walks of life whether as a school uniform, a work uniform in hospitality industries, or attending religious ceremonies, whereas more elaborate versions are worn on special occasions such as weddings, funerals, or as stage costumes for beauty queens and singers. So you see, through the various reincarnations of the Áo Dài, we can finally answer the question “What covers everything and hides nothing?” Because the Áo Dài is constructed with thin fabrics fitted to every curve of a woman’s body, it hides nothing while also keeping true to its promise to properly cover everything from neck to toe. Only the Áo Dài can allow a woman to exude her sensuality without compromising her modesty to become a true lady. XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

Model: Jennifer Cao

- 33 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5


ometimes, the greatest gift in life is the opportunity to experience the peaks and valleys that it has to offer. And it is in those valleys that we often learn lifechanging lessons and a chance to become even better.

It all began in the spring of 2007, sitting in my glass-paneled office, overlooking the vast, gorgeous view of downtown Seattle’s skyline. Ecstatically, I got off the phone with a client who, up to that point, I had just closed the biggest real estate deal of my life: an $800,000 home loan, providing me with my first $10,000/month paycheck. A year prior to that, I had just graduated from the University of Washington and was hired on at Countrywide Home Loans to become a mortgage banker where I was promised the

final lessons from a loving vietnamese mother Quang Colin Nguyễn and his family immigrated from Vietnam in the early 90s and have been residents of Seattle since. He is currently working at John L. Scott Real Estate with a passion for helping clients achieve the American Dream of homeownership. Whether it’s for the Seattle Children’s Hospital or for the Gates Foundation, he loves giving back to his community during his spare time with the help of his family, friends, and clients.

dream of earning $100,000 a year. There I was, a 23-year-old punk kid, wet behind the ears, thinking to myself, “Now I’ve arrived. I’ve truly figured out the key to success...” In actuality, I was an Idiot to think that success came that easy. What a fantasy of lies.

Colin at age 2 with his mother.

In the following several months, the unraveling of the entire US economy snowballed into something that nobody in our generation has ever seen. Our company, the #1 mortgage bank in the US at the time that was responsible for funding one out of every five homes in North America, saw our stock plummet compounding 40 other world banks, which ultimately led to the biggest stock market crash since the Great Depression. There we were, one of America’s most well-respected financial institutions on the brink of bankruptcy. Reality started to sink in. I was soon going to XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 34 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

There I was, a 23-year-old punk kid, wet behind the ears, thinking to myself, “Now I’ve arrived. I’ve truly figured out the key to success...” be out of a job. My expenses piled up quickly and in just a matter of a few months—faced with no money coming in, student loans due, and an immature instant-gratification mindset—my credit cards racked up to over $30,000 in debt. Just like the company I was working for, I found myself emotionally drained, literally on the brink of financial collapse, facing insolvency and future bankruptcy. On the first Saturday morning after Christmas that year, I snuck into that same glass-paneled office to pack up my personal belongings only so no one could see me cry. I was literally broke, weeks away from financial ruin, and was too prideful to tell anyone, not even my own family. While packing up, I picked up the last and most sentimental ornament I owned, which laid in the corner of that office. It was a vision board that my mother and I made three years prior, and in it laid a gift that contained one of my dying mother’s last words before passing away from cancer. In the center was a picture of a woman who was to represent my future wife: a smart, beautiful woman, inside and out; two amazing future kids: a healthy little girl and boy; the house I wanted to live in; the future charities I promised to tithe with: a hospital and an orphanage; and all the things in life that I could envision for my family within the next 10 years. Her dying wish was for me to promise that this vision board is how I would pursue my life. As she lay dying, the only thing that gave her solace was the peace of mind in knowing that her then 19-year-old son would be alright as she departed this world. That Vision was her goodbye present to me, and buried deep within that picture frame were three words she had written down: Vision, Mindset, and Mentors. Having an unwavering Mindset.

The original Vision Board created with Colin’s mother a decade ago while she battled against cancer.

As I stood there with tears rolling down my eyes, my ego bruised but with a humble heart, my mindset began to refocus back to having a long-term vision and positive beliefs. Memories and lessons of my departed mom finally hit me:

I realized that it is out of our lowest and most desperate points when we truly discover who we are and what we are genuinely made of.

That is when we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and truly decide whether we are going to let temporary setbacks keep us down or continue to pursue our dreams with relentless passion and unwavering faith. It was at that moment when I set out to find the last missing link to my mom’s dying lesson: finding mentors. Following a Mentor who has already achieved what it is that I want to achieve.

A mentor is someone who we trust. They’re someone whose life experiences we value because of what they’ve already been able to achieve. Growing up, I’ve had the fortune of having my elder brother, Dr. Thi Đạng Nguyễn, guide me. Further along, I was blessed to meet two other mentors: Sol Avzaradel, the son of a Jewish immigrant family, owner and co-founder of the #1 real estate office in all of Washington, Oregon,

and Idaho; and Thuận Howard, the first Asian-American woman to have ever sold 100 homes within a year in the US. Mentors are the people who oftentimes have more faith in us even before we believe in ourselves. They serve as the factors of accountability to our goals and vision. They’re the ones who will hold us to our promises and keep us in line with our own integrity. One of the greatest lessons my mentors taught me was in finding my “Why.”

My mentor approached and asked me one day, “Colin, can you make $200,000 legally this year?” I replied, “With where I’m at in life, that’s a definite no!” I justified that I was barely starting my career and was now in the middle of the worst recession in history. Surely, there is no way. He then exclaimed, “Okay Colin, what if I took you back three years and you’re sitting there on the hospital bed next to your mom. And the doctors said that you can save her life and she can survive cancer only if you can come up with $200,000 in the next 364 days.” At that moment, my response changed, “Of course I can. There is no question whether I can do it or not. I know I can and I will!” He responded, “You see Colin, your answer to my question dramatically changed in less than 60 seconds. The question is not a matter of ‘How’ to do it; it’s a matter of ‘Why’ you want to do it. If your purpose and ‘why’ is strong enough, the ‘how to’ will simply show up in your life.” Ever since then, I’ve never doubted my ability to achieve massive results. XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 35 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Colin and his wife accompanied by his good friends, clients, and his Mentors at their wedding ceremony.

The question is not a matter of ‘How’ to do it; it’s a matter of ‘Why’ you want to do it. If your purpose and ‘why’ is strong enough, the ‘how to’ will simply show up in your life.”

By now you’re probably wondering, what happened to that idiot young kid in the beginning of the story? The one who was on the edge of facing financial ruin? Did he actually take any of these lessons from his dying mom to heart and apply them? Well, it has been nearly a decade later and I’m happy to report that he has found his passion in life, which is helping families accomplish their American Dream of homeownership. He’s now leading one of North America’s top-producing Real Estate Teams and was nationally recognized as part of Top 3% of all Realtors in the US by the age of 30. Not only was he lucky enough not go bankrupt, he also worked his butt

off to pay off all his student loans and credit card debt. Last Christmas, with the help of family, friends, and clients, he started an annual Toy Drive that raised over 500 toys for every child at Seattle Children’s Hospital. He’s recently been invited by the Gates Foundation to speak in front of hundreds of kids from low-income families about education, goals, and pursuing their dreams. He’s married to the woman of his dreams, and as you’re reading this, is actually about to become a father to a beautiful baby daughter just like he envisioned over seven years ago. Guess he’s about to find his new “Why” as he steps into a new chapter of his life.

Colin and his dream wife, the woman he envisioned a decade prior who is also the youngest corporate manager in Victoria’s Secret’s history and his greatest supporter.

With the help of friends, family, and clients, over 500 toys were donated to the Seattle Children’s hospital for Christmas 2014.

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 36 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Mom, thank you for those loving lessons that you’ve given me; they did not all extinguish in vain. I’ll always have them for this lifetime and will forever continue to pass them on to my children— your grandkids—and all those around me. I love you, Mom.

Thích Nhất Hạnh: A Tonic for our Soul A native Vietnamese, Yến Nhi Trần grew up in a tight-knit, loving Buddhist family and began to embrace Buddha’s teachings in her early 20s. She is one of the founding members of Xin Chao Seattle Magazine and currently works at the City of Seattle overseeing its New Citizen Program. Nhi is fluent in Vietnamese and can be reached at

“O ur c a p a c i t y t o m a k e pea ce with anot h e r p e rso n a nd w i t h the w orld d e p e n d s ver y m uch o n o ur c ap a c i t y t o m a k e pea ce w i t h o urse lv e s.” - Thích Nhấ t Hạ nh


ven though Thích Nhất Hạnh suffered a brain hemorrhage on November 11, 2014 and is currently receiving 24-hour intensive care, if he could talk right now he would tell his disciples and friends all around the world to continue to smile, practice mindfulness, and cherish every living moment. Their ability to maintain serenity by his bedside, spiritually, proves that they have attained great understanding of his teachings.

To Thích Nhất Hạnh, more affectionately known as “Thầy,” life and death is only a notion. There is no birth, no death, and no permanent self because everything is inextricably linked and everything we do has an impact on something else. Thầy once said, “Do you think Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Lambrakis, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are ‘dead people’? No they are still here. We are they. We carry them in each of our cell bodies.” By “them,” he is referring to their spirit, their wisdom, and their struggle for peace, for freedom, and for social justice. Thầy has spent the majority of his life devoted to teaching mindfulness because he understands the interrelationship of all lives and the positive or negative consequences of one’s actions. He encourages us to never underestimate the power of a kind word,

Thay interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in mid 2012. Photo Credit: LangMai.Org

a touch, or a smile. He reminds us that our actions are our only possessions, our actions cannot escape consequences, and meditation can help us be more aware of what is going on in our bodies, our feelings, our minds, and the world so we can make wiser decisions.

Thay and His Holiness the Dalai Lama with B.K. Modi, September 2006. Photo Credit: MindfulnessBell.Org

It has been said that Thầy is the second most famous Buddhist in the world today, after the Dalai Lama. When Thầy was nine years old, he saw a picture of Buddha seated in meditation on the cover of a magazine. He felt so inspired by the peacefulness and contentment radiating from the Buddha that that experience led to his desire for XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

- 37 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

monasticism. Today, over 200 monastics at Plum Village, Deer Park Monastery and Blue Cliff Monastery may say that they shared a similar experience that Thầy once had upon meeting Thầy for the first time. Thầy is known for his grace, soft voice, gentle smile, humbleness, awareness, and his ability to calm and quiet any crowd with his peaceful aura. He inspires people not because of his knowledge, poetry, activism, or his calligraphy, but because of the way he lives. He breathes, eats and walks while infusing every act of body, speech, and mind with mindfulness. Thầy once confessed that it takes him a bit longer than most people to do the dishes, but if he rushes through it, the time will be unpleasant and that would be pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. Because he lives fully in every moment, he is happy. In a world of material consumption and with countless diversions, rare is a leader who makes us want to be better people. Thầy is such a leader. His message of peace, his humanitarian efforts, and his stillness and oneness is an inspiration to one’s spiritual awareness and growth.

Below are the Five Mindfulness Trainings prescribed by Thầy, which are based on the first five Buddhist precepts, as guidelines to a peaceful and meaningful life.


Reverence for Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, nondiscrimination, and nonattachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.


True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

The University of Hong Kong awarding Thay an Honoary Doctorate in recognition of his contributions to world peace and humanity, March 2014. Photo Credit: Plum Village.

XIN CHAO m a ga zin e


True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

Thay’s disciple Phap Khai Chan and the “Cherry Blossom” family at the 2014 Wake Up North America Tour in Washington State. Photo Credit: Nhi Tran.


Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

- 38 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5


Mother’s Language

Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

by: henry huy Đoàn My mother speaks, like how most others yell She speaks as if overcoming the market clatter, She speaks as if the walls are made of concrete, and the air were dense and humid. She speaks with so much force, it scares my friends. She speaks as if everything she has to say, were the last thing she’d have to say. My mother speaks what most others think—in private She is comparative, unreasonable, and brash While others tongues dripped of honey and lotus seeds, My mother was fragrant of strong herbs and spices. So much so that it would cause tears to seep from my eyes at times. Her word choice like central floods, reckless and devastating When’s she’s right, she’s right. And when she’s wrong, for whatever reason...she’s still right! My mother speaks of opportunity.

About Thích Nhất Hạnh:

She speaks of doctors, and engineers. And for the longest time I did not, could not, understand it.

Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese monk, teacher, author, and peace activist who has lived and taught in the West since the 1960s. He has authored over 100 books; ordained over 200 monastics; founded the European Institute of Applied Buddhism, the Order of Interbeing, the Wake Up movement; and established six monasteries, dozens of mindfulness practice centers and over a thousand local mindfulness practice communities throughout the world.

My mother spoke with selfishness in her tone, A selfishness to protect her children, So they could have it best, not better. Doctors don’t matter, but the dollar does. She tells tales of poverty, and bloodshed.

Thầy lived through the Vietnam War and has spent over thirty years in exile. He currently lives in Plum Village, a retreat center in Southwest France where nearly 8,000 people visit each year.

Of family, and origin. You see, she lived what I call nightmares, And she lives what she calls dreams. Never once has she complained. She speaks only of pride, and joy. Yes, My mother speaks, like how most others yell. And she yelled, just loud enough, for me to listen.

XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

- 39 -

Photo: Thanh Bình Nguyễn S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

First Impressions: Việt nam Behind a P h oto g r a p h e r ’s L e n s

Dustin Wong is a full-time landscape and travel photographer born in Hawaii and currently based out of Seattle. His work primary focuses on displaying the wonder and beauty of nature. You can see his work here: Site: Instagram: natureformspirit Contact:

Việt Nam is a small country by landmass, but it is rich in diversity. In 2010, I traveled through several regions in Southern Việt Nam and experienced a wonderful contrast of cultures and geographical variety. From the busy, energetic city life in Sài Gòn, to the relaxing coastal areas of Vũng Tàu and Nha Trang, and the peaceful farming and forested regions of Cam Mỹ and Đà Lạt, Việt Nam was a treat to the five senses and the soul.

XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

- 40 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

I began the trip in the largest and most congested city in the country, Sà i Gòn. The traffic was mesmerizing. Skillful riders would navigate their motorbikes, often with passengers, through crowded streets coming within inches of hitting one another. For the most part, everybody remained calm through the chaos.

The intensity picks up during the evening commute where I found myself standing on the streets enjoying the view of the traffic going by. Through the hundreds of commuters, I spotted this determined and focused mother and her child. This wild ride through the city is just the way of life.

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 41 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Sài Gòn is a commerce center and it is common to find electronic, jewelry, & clothing stores. Although you rarely see the traditional dress worn around the city during the day, there are plenty of fabric stores catering to the creation of custom Áo Dài.

Special culinary experiences were the norm on this trip, and it was the flavors, textures, and beauty of sensational food that resonated with me for years to come. Waking up to noodle soup such as these was a delight and truly a unique experience.

Fresh seafood was easy to find and wonderfully prepared. I was in heaven with the variety of soups that I found myself devouring even through the extreme heat and humidity. Coastal markets have the daily catch available on the street. Outside of the city many do not have refrigerators, so buying fresh ingredients each day is essential.

XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

- 42 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Exotic fruits were common in street vendors across the city. Everything was delicious, except durian. I still don’t like durian.

Getting away from the hustle of the city I traveled to the coastal city of Nha Trang where I swam in clear aquamaraine water. And even far away from the city, a culture of great food thrives. You could buy spring rolls on the beach from this charming woman.

My experience traveling to Việt Nam for the first time left me with warm regards having been nourished by the land, people, and cuisine. A unique and colorful destination in the world, Việt Nam, will always have a special place in my heart.

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 43 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

James enjoying one of three marriage ceremonies on his wedding day.


ince I began learning Vietnamese 10 years ago, there are two common questions that are asked, typically in this order: How did you learn Vietnamese? and Why did you choose Vietnamese?

The answer to the first question (the “how”) is simple:

The University of Washington has a twoyear Vietnamese program that gave me literacy and a theoretical background, and serving the community provided real experience. Volunteering at Helping Link and then working at the Vietnamese Friendship Association from 2006 to 2012 provided practical opportunities to refine what I knew, define what I didn’t know, and fill in gaps through a partnership with newly arrived Vietnamese from all generations and regions. I combined that with a natural ability to pronounce sounds unusual to the typical American ear, and a few buds blossomed.

Now onto the “why.”

There are actually two questions that need answering: “Why did you choose Vietnamese?” and “Why does it matter why I speak Vietnamese?” Answering the second without the first is incomplete; answering the first without the second is pompous. Why does it matter? It matters because the Vietnamese-American experience is

How and W hy? James Lovell was born and raised in Seattle and is a product of Seattle Public Schools & the University of Washington (but don’t hold it against them). He and his family live in Seatac. He works in the Youth Development field and is also an em cee and auctioneer who enjoys public speaking (despite the public’s multiple written requests for him to stop). He enjoys camping in the Cascades or playing slightly outdated computer games with his wife (they are currently bouncing between “Age of Empires” and “Starcraft II”). James’ greatest joys are spending time with his family and serving others.

as valid as any other experience, though it is often overlooked and underappreciated unless the price of pho goes up or someone is looking for a joke about sitting next to Vietnamese students during math. I hope my story inspires conversation among my peers while connecting with the experience that some Vietnamese-Americans feel. One of the trappings of society is assuming that members of groups that are “different” from you might all feel the same way about a topic or have a shared experience – it’s a trap I unwilling fall into and try to avoid. So why choose Vietnamese? It’s difficult to get to this answer, but when someone asks why I’m interested in their language XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 44 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

or culture, it’s important to honor their experiences and curiosity with the dignity of a complete answer. So, I’ve done some thinking and organizing. I hope this short personal history helps people think of their own experiences with the VietnameseAmerican (and all peoples’) experiences in the US.

It’s oversimplification to say that the Vietnamese arrived in America in two major waves. It may be easy to absorb data this way, but it is just as important to recognize when folks left (or tried to leave) their homeland as it is to recognize when they arrived at their final country of destination. The major waves were immediately after the Fall of Saigon (1975) and about five years later (early ‘80s). However, most folks tried to leave after “The Fall.” Some took five, ten, even twenty years bouncing between Vietnam, the Philippines, and other countries in a hellacious refugee experience. For some, it took five years of single mothers raising babies and selling goods on the streets until fathers were fully “re-educated” and the family could depart. Some are still leaving Vietnam today as a part of a legacy of large families and a slow sponsorship process to reunite mothers with their daughters. However, in general, by the mid-‘80s there was a sizeable Vietnamese population in California and parts of Texas. By the time I was in elementary school (early ‘90s) the secondary resettlement had

begun, and Seattle has proven to be fertile ground for planting–or replanting–seeds.

All of this is to say that my life has been filled with rich relationships at every stage, including Ngọc, Tuấn, and Giang teaching me how to play “jacks” with pebbles at Schmitz Park. There is Quốc , who welcomed me to his home after school at Madison whose parents invited me to take off my shoes when I came in (then they saw my socks and reconsidered). Trường, Toàn, Sơn, and many other friends bridged the gap from middle school through high school. David stood beside me through college, my wedding, parenthood, and all the other joys and challenges that accompany life, alongside other friends from different cultures. Most importantly, my wife, who I met while I was working in the Vietnamese community and who helps me understand the nuances of Vietnamese language and culture. In short, it seemed natural to have friends that spoke Vietnamese as someone who grew up in Seattle. That’s half of why Vietnamese is interesting to me–it was in the bricks and morter of every building I occupied and in every path I walked.

but war and the bitter taste that followed them home. Some in my family coped with it well. Others have the kind of PTSD that you hear about in research studies. It’s a story of Vietnam that is beautiful and vicious with people that were heroes and villains more complex than novels can describe. This is the soil from where my roots grew.

So, how did I learn Vietnamese? Through college, good

friends, and family. Through patience and good humor, and more than a few ignorant and arrogant moments on my part.

Why did I learn Vietnamese?

Because my roots grew in soil that was common to the American, Vietnamese, and Vietnamese-American experience.

The second half of why I picked Vietnamese? Back to history we go. I try to represent my experience as honestly as possible. I have experienced most, if not all, of the unearned privileges inherent with being a voting-aged White male. However, I’ve also experienced the distinct, complex, and confusing history of being American-Indian. My mother is Ojibway from Turtle Mountain in a nearly forgotten corner of North Dakota. On our reservation, folks have a rich and complex experience in life and do well with what is available. One legacy which is visible on any reservation or urban Indian center is a generation of men who went to the Vietnam War and returned to a changed country. I won’t debate the validity or veracity of American heroism or atrocities in Vietnam– I’m only here to illuminate its impact on people in my life. Hollywood got started on the Vietnam War before public opinion was set, for better or for worse. There was no talk about the “Greatest Generation” or medals awarded for using our language. There was a continued pandemic of addiction, a dysfunctional Veteran’s Administration and no memory of anything

James, Wilson, and Theodore enjoying a camping trip in the summer of 2014. XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 45 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

James and Theodore cooking for the family

F ollowing M y Dream: A Vietnamese -A meric an Teac her’ s Journey Kristen Lê is a first-year kindergarten teacher at Van Asselt Elementary School in Beacon Hill. She is passionate about teaching, playing music, and being a life-long learner.


rowing up as a Vietnamese-American interested in the field of education was definitely a rollercoaster ride with great high moments and difficult low moments. My declaration to be a teacher was surprisingly not well received, as peers and community members looked with disapproval whenever I mentioned this dream. I was told that I should go into a profession that would make more money, and that teaching could be a back-up profession. This was surprising because in Vietnam, this field was a very noble profession. Teachers were looked upon as a second set of parents and were honored accordingly. But it seems like if you are a Vietnamese immigrant reaching for the “American Dream,” being a teacher somehow did not have the same respect as being a doctor, engineer, or pharmacist—professions that families push their children toward. Maybe it was because the “American Dream” equates to financial stability, especially for the Vietnamese community that is still struggling to find its financial footing.

Along with a panel, Ms. Lê advocates So for a long while, I felt very for the Seattle Teacher Residency insecure about my decision to program while in Washington DC. become a teacher. However, because I came from a long line of teachers, I continue to believe in the nobleness of the profession even when it seems like I was going against the Vietnamese community norms. My biggest inspiration and role model has always been my mother. She was a dedicated teacher in Vietnam for many years and was my first teacher. Along with my immediate family, she has always supported my dreams. In addition, my family taught me to never forget my Vietnamese heritage or to lose my Vietnamese language. XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

Yet despite their unwavering support and guidance, at times it was difficult to resist the lures of blending in with mainstream society, especially when standing out as a Vietnamese immigrant sometimes brought unwanted stereotypes and prejudices. I came to America at a young age and just wanted to fit in, be like everyone else. It was not until I graduated high school that I realized being a Vietnamese-American female makes me unique and strong. My family’s struggles made me more appreciative of where I came from and of what I have now. I am also able to have more appreciation of the importance that culture has on people, and as such, staunchly believe in the immeasurable value of having teachers who reflect and can relate to students’ culture and community.

For this reason, I followed my passion and entered the Seattle Teacher Residency Program (STR), a rigorous 14-month teacher preparation program. It was the perfect fit for me because like me, the program recognizes the importance of cultural diversity and its impact on a rapidly growing diverse student population, and therefore, actively seeks aspiring teachers of that same background. After completing the program, I now have my Masters in Teaching with an endorsement in English Language Learning. Although the program was extremely challenging, it prepared me to competently teach the Common Core, to create and maintain a welcoming and engaging learning environment, and most importantly, to be culturally responsive to my students and their families. In the end, I felt much more prepared than I thought I would ever feel in my first year of teaching. - 46 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Because of my success in the program, I was invited to advocate for STR in Washington D.C. It was a surreal experience for a firstyear kindergarten teacher trying to get through her first month of teaching! In DC, I met with staffers from the Senate and House of Representatives as well as the Department of Education. I knew that it might be one of the few chances I get to be heard by people who influence policy for our country, so I spoke of my struggles and successes and told them why STR was such a great program, especially for minority students such as myself. I hope that these policy makers did listen and understand that teachers are not just developing scholars in the classroom but are also nurturing, ethical, thoughtful, contributing human beings, and that they would use this knowledge to pass policies that truly support our teachers and students.

not the place with beds. not the place with food. where you know that you are LOVED, you are SAFE. no matter the people. no matter the place. no matter the circumstances.

Ms. Lê and her kindergartners at Van Asselt Elementary School.

It was definitely an honor to have the opportunity to represent the STR program, Seattle, Van Asselt Elementary, teachers of color, and most importantly, my students. The Seattle Teacher Residency program underscored the fact that there are not enough teachers of color, especially that of Vietnamese-Americans. The program has empowered me as a Vietnamese teacher and now it is my personal mission to encourage individuals from ethnic backgrounds to become teachers as well.

an eternity to find and to realize. Where you can announce

My journey has taught me the importance of trusting in myself. By fully committing to my passion and sticking through with it, I helped my peers and elders to recognize the importance of education in America, especially for our minority families. I hope that future Vietnamese-American generations live out their passion and will not let the doubts and criticisms of others hinder their progress in doing something truly great that they truly care about it.

at last – “I’m home.”

By Bianca (Bảo Hân) Hoàng Đặng

When you work hard, your voice will be heard and your work will yield great results—just like it did for me.

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 47 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

3 Future

XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

- 48 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Bánh M ì: Our I dentity Jacklyn Trần


here is nothing quite like the humid air of the city. Droves of cars and bikes maneuver hectically through the streets without any understandable organization while still being remarkably streamlined in action. Puffs of pollution waffle through the air and horns blast off every few seconds while pedestrians brave through the chaos, walking with determination between one street corner to another. Even with throngs of vehicles and motorbikes zooming by, one must not hesitate once stepped down from the safety of the sidewalks to cross. Hesitation and fear mess up the flow, the cause of confusion and crashes. Walk with decisive confidence and the current of traffic glides around in continued fluidity. Anyone experiencing the city of Saigon leaves with a vivid memory of this scene, this feeling. As one walks down the street, another captivating aspect of the culture beckons with its sights and smells: the food carts, a quintessential joy of what makes Vietnam so remarkable. The scene of folks settling themselves into tiny, child-size plastic chairs at makeshift dining tables to enjoy a fresh meal is downright priceless. Food vendors pour their hearts and days into expertly and quickly preparing their specialty for all to enjoy.

As with any other culture, Vietnam’s food stems from the geography and history of its country. And when throngs of refugees left after the Vietnam War in 1975 with the collapse of the South Vietnamese army, people took with them a tiny piece of their homeland: their family recipes. Forty years later, phở has become a recognizable meal in the nation and the world over and the bánh mì sandwich can be seen more and more in the hands and mouths of people everywhere. XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 49 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Carlene Deutscher Photography / Bob Deutscher Media /

has been a freelance writer since 2006, and since 2011 has been providing some of the area’s best bánh mì with her sisters by way of their restaurant, Bánh Mì Unwrapped. Born and raised in Seattle, she graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Communications.

Bánh Mì Vendor in Vietnam. Photograph by Tim Hall for National Geographic.

Biting into a bánh mì sandwich is like taking a little nibble into history. In the 1800s, early French colonials arrived in Vietnam and introduced a vast amount of new food and ingredients. Thus began the localization of coffee, pastries, cold cuts, creams, pate and baguettes, which still remain popular staples of Vietnamese cuisine today. Today’s bánh mì that evolved from its early introduction is a wonderfully light and crispy miniature baguette filled with homemade hams, fresh grilled pork, fried tofu and more. A thin layer of house-made mayonnaise, a smear of pâté, a dusting of salt and pepper, a dash of soy or fish sauce among slivers of cucumber, sprigs of cilantro, spicy chili pepper slices and pickled daikon and carrots result in a dreamy combination.

One’s culture is one’s roots. In times of change and hardship, sometimes it’s most nurturing, most comforting to come home to something familiar. Post-Vietnam War and



immigration to the United States was a time of trauma and heartbreak over the loss of one’s country, so the reminder of home from eating traditional meals was warming to the hearts of many. It allowed a connection to the past while helping to encourage a new future. Refugees created their own communities and shared their specialties in the same way they did back home, and in time, also connected future generations back to their roots.


Enter Yum! Brands—the company behind Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut—a fast food giant that in 2011, acquired what was once the largest hot pot chain in China, Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot (founded in 1999, in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, China) for $587M. Since the acquisition, the company has increased their prices across China as a way to reorganize itself as a high-end chain.

lo dB oo AF Am /I Le e ni ha ep St

In March 2011, “banh mi” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. In 2014, it also entered the American Heritage Dictionary. As Britt Peterson of the Boston Globe put it, “...the adoption of ethnic food words into English is an excellent proxy for the moment our culture embraces these foreign foodstuffs as our own. And their immigration story is, like any other, one of assimilation, with both the terms and the dishes often ending up far from where they began.”

Yum! Brands has also set their eyes on the increasingly popular bánh mì, and late last year, opened a concept test restaurant serving their version of Saigon street food in Dallas, Texas and soon after at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Without the heart that makes a Vietnamese sandwich the real deal, it may not deliver what it should. A true bánh mì is a miniature representation of a sweeping culture, where its subtle tastes and textures are the distinctions that make it authentic. The absence

of a direct connection to the experience of a culture is a drawback that cannot always be replaced by market research. When Yum! Brands’ Bánh Shop opened, there was an immediate backlash by the Vietnamese-American community. The debut of their flagship restaurant unveiled a logo that included a prominently large red star behind the restaurant name. The star’s symbolic reference to communism prompted an angry and quick response in the form of an online petition by offended local Vietnamese residents.

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 50 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

The official flag of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam displays a red background and a yellow star at its center. To Vietnamese immigrants in the U.S. and the world over, it signifies oppression, dictatorship, loss and sorrow as the flag of North Vietnam that pervaded the whole country after the war. Vietnamese-Americans recognize the former South Vietnamese flag, also known as the Heritage and Freedom Flag, with its yellow background and three horizontal red stripes symbolizing the three regions of the country. So common is the use of the striped flag in the U.S. that in 2006, when former President George W. Bush was making his way to Asia to improve foreign relations, a major misstep was made when the White House initially featured the South Vietnam flag to the delight of Vietnamese refugees everywhere.

Without having walked in the shoes of a VietnameseAmerican, one cannot completely understand the issue of such symbolism. The pain that resulted

from the end of the Vietnam War and the country’s takeover by the Communist Party of Vietnam and the renaming of their capital from Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City was a searing, lasting one. Heated opinions and emotional responses erupted online. One social media user stated, “Pop culture may forgive or forget, but those who lived through it and fought to give us the freedoms we enjoy today as Viet-Americans deserve more respect by Yum! and its brands.” Voices were heard and Yum! responded swiftly, removing not only the logo from the restaurant storefront but also removing it from menus, signage, and employee uniforms immediately. If cultural literacy was misinterpreted so glaringly, the question of whether culinary representation is able to be translated points only to one likely answer: No. In today’s world, in the supposed melting pot of America that we live, it’s assumed that adjustments must be made in order to fit in, to assimilate. But why be the

same if what makes one different, if where one comes from is so amazing? When a third party takes a piece of that amazingness, such as a food item, and changes it into a dull version of its authentic form, it makes it all the more important to properly represent within our own communities. However, if the impact of a minority culture inspires the greater community at large, the mainstream, so be it. The greatest form of flattery is imitation after all. So long as we hold on tightly to our roots, there’s no overlooking where the inspiration of associated concepts originated.

A mobile Banh Mi Vendor in Vietnam. Photograph by Tibor Barna

Forgetting the past may be a route that some try to take, but there’s never denying that the past is what builds the present which then creates a foundation for the future. Carrying on the traditions, the stories, the recipes, the cultural nuances, allows us all to remember a time that once was in order to better understand and celebrate what makes us who we are today.

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 51 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

I’m bise xual Đức Nguyễn was a student at Green River College. As fashionable as he is approachable, you will not catch him with a hair out of place and there isn’t a person with whom he couldn’t strike up a friendly conversation.

“I’m bisexual.” There, I said it. And for anyone who questions my sexuality, for anyone who asks why I am behaving this way, and for anyone who tells me that I am lying, I will say it again, and again, and again with my palm on my chest: I am Bisexual. Yet, I would have never imagined myself reciting those words a couple years ago while living in Vietnam.

Why? Because that’s what people around me had me believe: my parents, my relatives, my friends (mostly male), my teachers, and to some extent, the Vietnamese society in general.

However, I started to have a higher than usual affection toward some of my male friends. Something about the way they spoke, their individual personalities, or just the way they cracked me up struck a chord from within.

There was something inside telling me that every time I had my arm around a certain male friends’ shoulders, there was more to what I was feeling.

But I never had the courage to talk about this to anyone. I never had the courage to look for something outside of what I was told to be. The feeling of not being able to fit into the expectation of “male” while trying to fit into that

My parents, mostly my father, would be devastated if he ever finds out, so I remained silent. Inside this 19-year-old body of mine is years of confusion and a twisted, blurry picture of my gender and my sexuality. By “sexuality,” I refer to my physical/biological appearance, which is male; and by gender, I refer to the role/characteristic/behavior of either being feminine or masculine, of which I am both (it’s magical, I know).

If only I started out understanding this differentiation more easily... Getting to this point had been a real pain, physically and emotionally. I remember like it was yesterday, the first time I stopped and asked, “What the heck am I?” at the age of 14. I was walking with my male friends, trying to grab snacks to sneak into history class when one of them (a very masculine guy) striding along beside me accidentally swung his hand toward mine. And for some reason, I closed my fingers to hold his.

As you can imagine, things got weird afterward. An awkward silence lasting two to three seconds ensued and the look on my friends’ faces resembled that of someone squeezing lemon on their tongue. They proceeded to laugh like monkeys and jokingly told each other that people should not hang around me anymore. It wasn’t what they said or joked about that saddened me; it was the reaction of that one friend whose hand I held. For the rest of that day, there was a clear distance between us. My friends and I usually got together during all passing-period breaks, but that friend was clearly avoiding me. It went on for weeks this way between him and me until we barely spoke anymore.

Two years later, I found myself digging deeper, trying to find my true identity at a time when I believed I was male, by sexuality and by gender. XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 52 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5


mold troubled me. There were nights when I had my back against the wall of my room, trying to tell myself not to think of some guy or having to constantly remind myself that a thought of a male friend being with me should not make me smile.

It was different in Vietnam back then. If students knew of a gay or lesbian classmate, that classmate was dissected with a look, not one of disgust or hate (although some of their glances might have been). It is a very strange look, almost like people are scanning a foreign specimen behind their motionless glare while thoughts run rampant behind their eyes.

I knew that look because I was one of them; I was both the one who was scanning and the one who was being scanned. And the worst part about it all

this is that I did nothing, not a single thing to help other people understand either side of the closet. I was afraid, and I was not ready to tell people that I, too, am different. Yet, I felt no guilt in joining the scanning crew and even submitting myself into searching for these sexuality/gender “abnormalities.”

I arrived in Washington State in the fall of 2012 at the age of 17. During my first quarter at Green River College, I had a Chinese friend named E. We became close friends and talked quite a bit. Surprisingly enough, he’s bisexual as well. I never told him of the inner turmoil that I confronted because at that time, I had a girlfriend (and had settled in my mind that I am a “dude”). Then one day, he randomly came to me and asked, “Duck, are you Bi? And you better not lie to me because I know you are.” Boy, was I at a loss for words. That fact was something I had been fighting my whole life to deny, a fact that none of my loved ones knew yet this guy who I met two months prior who does not speak my language or know what my favorite food is, he knew.

E helped me a lot. We would meet at lunch and after class every day to talk with one other. He told me his stories and I told him mine. It is thanks to him that I was finally able to accept my true self. “I am Bisexual.”

I have been telling myself that every single day since December 2012.


I barely spoke with my parents or to any of my friends from Vietnam during the two years of studying abroad. So when I returned to my homeland in the summer of 2014 for a visit, it was an eye-opening experience. There were many websites supporting the LGBTQ community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queers). Movements ramped up since I left in 2012, and today, if you conduct an internet search for “LGBTQ Vietnam” or “Pride Vietnam,” multiple websites that host information regarding events and stories/blog forums exist for thousands of members to proudly admit that they are LGBTQ. One of the experiences that moved me the most was being able to tell my friends that I am bisexual.

I was prepared for the worse, but they came prepared for nothing.

It turns out that they didn’t mind one bit; they were just happy that the gang was back together again.

But the people who matter the most—my parents—still have no idea that I am bisexual. My sister knows, my aunt knows, my cousins know, but I still cannot tell my parents. I cannot bring myself to say the words. I don’t know why. It’s like that 16-year-old kid still lives in me. “Mom, Dad…your son is Bisexual.”

Someday?! XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 53 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

all students c ount Michelle Đinh

is currently a student at the University of Washington who intends to double-major in Communications & Community and Environmental Planning along with a minor in English. Her extracurricular involvement includes being a Southeast Asian Education (SEAeD) Coalition Intern, volunteer at the Fremont Abbey Arts Center and Ballard Homestead, Social Media Specialist for Youth Advancing Youth, Youth Leader at Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement.


n the 2nd grade, I was placed in the English as a Second Language program, not because I needed extra help with English, but simply because I was Asian-American. Because I didn’t have a voice then and because my parents didn’t know how to navigate the educational system. I was in the program up until the 5th grade. Being designated an “ESL learner” automatically set me apart from the other students, and that negatively impacted my elementary school experience. I hated being in the program because that was when kids started picking on me. When I was separated from the rest of the class, I was seen as different, which led to being viewed as “weird” or the “freak.”

What was even more frustrating was that I was as fluent in English as the next kid. I knew how to read, write, and speak English, so why was I placed in this program? Not only was the ESL label detrimental to my confidence, it also made me question my intelligence. Sometimes, I wondered if I had a learning disability when teachers expected me to only learn the most basic of words, such as “it, the, and, you, me, how” etc. So in essence, the very program that was intended to help me catch up with my peers and get me on the same learning field actually pulled me back both personally and academically. XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

It was no surprise that, as a child, I wanted to be anything other than Vietnamese or Asian. I wanted to be Caucasian because I felt that was what “normal” was. It didn’t help that I never had a teacher of color. I wonder if I would have felt more “normal” if I had teachers who looked like me, if I would have felt better with having these teachers around. Perhaps being a minority would have been okay, a positive attribute. However, because of my experience, I definitely did not appreciate my culture growing up. I was ashamed of my Vietnamese heritage and did not embrace or partake in traditional activities as much as I should have. It was not until much later when I realized how wonderful it is to be Vietnamese-American, to come from a long, rich culture of traditions and experiences and to be bilingual, to read, write, and speak in a different language, which is definitely awesome. Although it is extremely important for students, especially at the early formative years, to have teachers of color to validate the “normalcy” of different cultures, languages, and looks and to be role models to help navigate the race/cultural dynamics within a school environment, there is much work to be done in this area. Our education system needs to proactively accommodate students and their backgrounds and cultures rather than the other way around.

- 54 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Instead of making generalized assumptions (that all Asian-American students have language difficulties) and putting them into boxes (ESL classes), it would be better to focus on the individual students by taking their cultural strengths and needs in context as a whole. Our educational system needs to have a better understanding of how one’s cultural background and experience plays out in school. On all levels (teachers, administrators, and policy makers), people should recognized, appreciate, and competently work with the students’ cultural background. Now, as a student at the University of Washington, I am an intern for the SE Asian Education (SEAeD) Coalition advocating for House Bill 1541, which closes the educational opportunity gap. I do this because I have a younger brother, cousins, nieces, and nephews in grade school, all of whom could be impacted. I do not want them to grow up feeling ashamed of being different or for being AsianAmerican. I want them to grow up being proud of their culture. A huge part of my identity was stolen from me for being in ESL, and I can only hope that House Bill 1541 will pass so that students of color are recognized, appreciated for their uniqueness, and will not feel “different” in the way same way that I had felt.

The most important points of House Bill 1541 are: • Reduce expulsions & suspensions & provide greater reengagement programs • Require development of cultural competency training of all educators • English Language Learner Accountability: Require that teachers assigned to the Transitional Bilingual Instructional Program be endorsed in Bilingual Education or ELL • Analyze the opportunity gap through deeper disaggregated data of grades K-12 student demographics by sub-racial and sub-ethnic categories • Recruit & retain more educators of color • Create the Washington Integrated Student Services program to support a school-based approach to promote student success by coordinating academic and nonacademic supports

A huge part of my identity was stolen from me for being in ESL, and I can only hope that House Bill 1541 will pass so that students of color are recognized, appreciated for their uniqueness, and will not feel “different” in the way same that I had felt. of their own culture and others.” Data disaggregation is important because it creates culture awareness and accurate data for Southeast Asian-Americans within education systems rather than just categorizing all Asian cultures into one. This bill effects more than just the Asian Pacific Islander community because this is the start of being culturally aware that we should not be categorized as just one large ethnic group, but rather for what we identify ourselves as. My name is Michelle Dinh. I am American. I am Asian. I am Vietnamese. I count.

Overall, this bill would help reduce the overgeneralization that all Asians are the same. University of Washington student Sam Le said, “Disaggregating data would not only have immediate change on the papers, but also be a start to much more broad and subtle changes in our everyday society, which would in turn allow the youths in each ethnic culture to have pride in themselves and being a part of the unique culture. This is important for them to develop their identity and pay homage not to just their parents and relatives, but to those

So in essence, the very program that was intended to help me catch up with my peers and get me on the same learning field actually pulled me back both personally and academically.

XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

- 55 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

1 1 Notable F oods to Vietnam-iz e your T ummy Nhật Trần is an accomplished actor, novelist, astrophysicist, Master Chef, chess Grandmaster, and a compulsive liar. He also thinks that Beast Mode is a perfectly legitimate name for a child.


hen I was asked if I could channel my inner food critic and give my take on 10 Vietnamese foods, I thought to myself, “I’m no Anthony Bourdain, but...I am Vietnamese, I like eating Vietnamese food, and there are so, so many tasty Vietnamese dishes to wax poetics about.” So I said, “That’s easy. Hold my beer” and went to work. A month and a lot of brain cramps, writer’s block, and frustrated sighs later, here we are. A list, in no particular order, of the 11 most memorable and influential dishes in my entire career as a professional Vietnamese man who eats Vietnamese food. “Why 11?” you ask. Well, I’m no math wiz, but I’m pretty sure that 11 is better than 10. Actually, I am a math wiz and am certain that 11 is one better than 10, so here we are.


Vietnamese Noodle soup

Rau Câu Dừa Coconut Gelatin

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

Vietnamese cuisine’s number one draft pick, the Seahawks of Vietnamese entrees, the total package. It’s tasty and filling, is great on warm days and even better on cold days. And it’s your trusted go-to when the waiter hovers over your table and you have to make a quick decision or risk receiving the look of disappointment from him. Pho can make you feel good about yourself before the first bite because it is always customized to your taste buds, or as a pun-lover would say, “it’s customized just pho you.” You can pick a variety of meat and vegetable options to join the white rice noodles in the deliciously slurp-worthy broth. Bonus tip for readers out there who wake up with a killer headache from having too much fun the night before: the pho broth is a magical elixir. It is better than Aspirin, Gatorade, and Bloody Mary’s combined, because in my professional experience, it cures your “ailment” faster and it tastes so much better. God bless the person who came up with this wonderful dessert that is created by cutting a hole in a coconut and filling its innards with gelatin. The sweet juice of the coconut blends together with the gelatin to create tasty, scoopable chunks of goodness. The first bite tastes like heaven, and with each bite thereafter, an angel plays a cord on her harp. The only bad thing about this dessert is that when you realize you’ve taken the last bite, open your eyes, and your girlfriend says, “Ok, you look really weird when you eat this coconut gelatin, and everyone in the restaurant has been looking at us this whole time.”

- 56 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

The first cousin of Pho originated in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam, hence its namesake. It’s made with rice vermicelli and also comes with a variety of choices in meat and vegetable. Compared to its more popular cousin, BBH is colorful, very pleasing to the eye, and is exotic with an extra spiciness that seemingly punches you in the mouth for daring to try it. For a few seconds there, I had doubts about whether I was describing a Hue woman or one of the best dishes Vietnamese cuisine has to offer. Either way, I would think that is a win-win situation.

Bún Bò Huế Spicy Beef Noodle soup

Hột Vịt Lộn Balut

It’s a duck egg that is fertilized and aged to a point where it can almost hatch and start to enjoy life as a cute little duckling, that is, until the harvester puts that train to a screeching halt a few days early. It is then boiled and served in its shell with salt, pepper, and basil on the side to help balance out its smell and taste. This dish is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. Can you imagine cracking open the eggshell and seeing a duckling with a fully formed head, eyes, beak, and feathers staring back at you? That’s an image that will haunt your dreams. One has to wonder what went on in the mind of the first guy who thought of this as an edible dish. As I write this description, I struggle to find anything that is attractive about balut. Yet, I cannot remember a time when I have seen anyone, myself included, turn down an offer to eat one, two, or six. There is an appeal that I can’t fully understand or describe that lures me. A lure not unlike the Sirens in the Odyssey. I guess that’s why balut is considered one of Vietnam’s delicacy. An all-time classic in the annals of Vietnamese cuisine. Known internationally as the Vietnamese Crepe, this delectable dish is made on a hot skillet and makes a sizzling sound, hence its name “xeo.” It is stuffed with slivers of shrimp, pork, green onions, and bean sprouts and can be eaten by itself, wrapped in lettuce leaves, or rice paper. Whichever way you choose to consume it, it’s going to go quick.

Bánh Xèo Vietnamese Crepe

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 57 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Bánh Chưng Vietnamese Rice Cake

In Vietnam, there are many restaurants that specialize in snake dishes, and they are often well-frequented for good reason. Everything is delicious once you get past the thought that you’re eating a formerly slithering, venomous reptile. Aside from the snake head, which contains all the venom, everything else can be concocted into a mouth-watering dish. For example, after using the meat to make the entree you want, the skin is used as the main ingredient in a salad, the bones are deep-fried and consumed like French fries, and the blood is mixed into rice wine to inject natural energy into your system like a can of bloody Red Bull, if you will. And the piece de resistance is the still-beating snake heart served raw. After consuming it, your blood will boil, run up and down your body like it was in a 100-meter sprint in the Olympics. The immediate boost of mental and physical energy is amazing to the point where you could feel like you’re capable of scaling tall buildings or running through a brick wall. Personally, consuming snake was, by far, the most memorable eating experience of my life, which is a much more awesome story to tell than that one time I ate spaghetti and meatballs at the local Olive Garden.

Rắn Snake

A traditional Vietnamese rice cake commonly seen during the Lunar New Year celebration. It is an Atkin’s dieter’s nightmare and a gluten-free enthusiast’s bane of existence, because it is carbs on carbs on gluten on gluten with a little bit of mung bean, pork, and flavoring in the center. Legend has it that King Hung Vuong held a cooking competition for the throne among his 18 sons (18 sons!!! He could definitely have a reality show in 2015). The youngest prince, Lang Lieu, dreamt of this recipe and proceeded to make the banh chung, won the contest, and took the throne as King of Vietnam. Thus began the tradition of Vietnamese families gathering around to make banh chung together when the Lunar New Year draws near. This dish is special to Vietnamese people because its presence in Asian markets is a reminder to all that our biggest annual celebration is near. In a way, it is similar to Costco putting out Christmas decorations in October.

Little dumplings made from tapioca flour and filled with Vietnamese goodness, otherwise known as shrimp, pork, cilantro. The translucent outer layer has an extra chewy texture that serves as its calling card. It’s like eating a big wad of bubblegum except, instead of Very Berry Strawberry, you’re getting a mouthful of a savory pork and shrimp combination. Dip these into the classic fish sauce, chew, swallow, and repeat. Your jaws will get the exercise it needs to be more defined, and your stomach will thank you for it.

Bánh Bột Lọc Tapioca Dumplings

XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

- 58 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Chôm Chôm Rambutan

Tiết Canh Vịt Duck Blood Pizza

Cơm Tấm Đặc Biệt Special Broken Rice Dish

This is a prime example of why you don’t judge a book by its cover. Called the rambutan, this is a tropical fruit that has a reddish skin covered with soft spikes. It’s not very attractive. I once offered it to a friend and was given a disgusted look as if I had asked her to pay my taxes or something. But once she cracked open the outer layer, like everyone else who had misjudged the chom chom, she found a sweet and slightly acidic translucent flesh that has to be in the upper echelon of the fruit department. There is a good reason why Vietnamese people from the Pacific Northwest will hunt this fruit down whenever they’re on vacation in tropical lands and take proud, gleeful selfies with it, later posting them onto the Book of Faces to be the envy of their friends. Loosely translated as “duck blood pizza,” which is misleading because you don’t usually flinch when discussing the ingredients of a pizza. It’s made from freshly drawn duck blood and finely chopped duck meat (side bar: I don’t think the ducks are very fond of Vietnamese people). It is garnished with crushed peanuts and chopped herbs, so when the blood sets, it somewhat resembles a pizza. I don’t want to lie to you, so I won’t: this dish is an acquired taste. There are many people who enjoy it thoroughly and there are just as many who don’t, almost like a bloody, duck-flavored iPhone with roasted peanuts sprinkled on top. I recommend that you order the duck blood pizza the next time you’re at a Vietnamese restaurant and find out which camp you belong to. This rice place is a staple in all Vietnamese restaurants. One can legitimately question the authenticity of a Vietnamese restaurant if they don’t carry the Cơm Tấm Đặt Biệt. This entree is for you if you’re one who can’t decide what you want to eat, because it covers all the bases. You want grilled meat? Got it. Need a fried egg? Check. Vegetables? Included. Oh, are you a fried tofu person? Well, there’s a piece right there, smack dab in the middle of the plate. Do you ever wish that you could have some grilled shrimp paste wrapped around a stick of sugarcane in your life? The Cơm Tấm genie has you covered. All of these delicious treats are spread over a plate of broken rice to become the best bang for your buck meal around. Rumor has it that McDonald’s almost gave up the naming rights to their Value Meal to the Vietnamese people because they felt Com Tam was more deserving of this title.

Whether it was by necessity or through pure creativity over the years, Vietnamese cuisine has offered our taste buds a huge variety of options. You may be missing out on many of them if you think about what they are and how they look. As the great American author and humorist Mark Twain once said, “the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.” So go out there with an open mind and try anything once. Unless you knowingly have a severe allergy to something, in which case, do not try it.

XIN CHAO m a ga zin e

- 59 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

T he Sec ret to Suc c ess: Contribution Thạch Nguyễn is the CEO & Founder of Thach Real Estate Group, a Seattle-based real estate company, a seasoned investor and developer. During his 25 years in the real estate industry, Thach and his team have assisted over 1,200 families to create their own American Dream. He is also ranked Top 1% of all real estate professionals nationwide. As an inspirational leader, Thach is a sought-after speaker, philanthropist and author and co-founder of “The Gift.”


s the poster boy for the American Dream, people often ask me “what is your secret?” I would tell them that I live my life by this rule: The Law of Contribution. The level of your happiness and success is directly proportional to the number of people you serve selflessly. It is covered in four simple but personal and impactful steps: *Connect deeply *Discover and understand a person’s needs or situation *Contribute to them *Follow up The real and sometimes most difficult work is to connect with others on a deep and authentic level. When you meet someone, always make sure to spend time to find out who they are as a person first. Listen to them to learn about their dreams, what makes them happy or feel good. Authentic connection and true understanding of the person will naturally inform and drive the type of services I would offer, the type of house I would recommend, or the type of groups/communities that can connect them through my networking events.

When you really listen, you understand things at a deeper level and ultimately find out things that may have never been shared before. That is the key secret to future success. The contribution then is the ability to provide unique, relevant service to the other person. This contribution, driven by the needs and wants of the client or customer, is priceless because it is truly what the other person wants and needs and XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

not what you think they want or need. As a result, the karma of providing authentic, selfless service in turn brings positive “miracles” to you. Oftentimes, the “miracles” may not come from that exact person who you help. So similar to the notion of paying it forward, help people and do not expect anything in return. Be happy and satisfied that you have helped them for a moment in time. One day, when you least expect it, good people will show up in your life to help make your goals and dreams a reality. A few years ago I was invited to co-author a book called “The Gift” (available on Amazon). The book provides in-depth information on the Law of Contribution and how to put its four steps into practice to change your life today.

In the beginning of my career as a real estate agent, you would not have liked me. I was pushy and focused completely on myself. My main goal was to make you buy or sell whatever I wanted you to buy or sell. Frankly, I didn’t even like who I was at that time. With mentors like Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey and many more, I began to understand myself better and found my purpose in life. After I had an epiphany regarding the Law of Contribution, everything changed and shortly afterward, I made my first million.

As soon as I began to care for others, my business skyrocketed. My business is still growing today as I continue to put the same dedication to building a positive relationship with my clients each day. Because of this, most people come to my business now because other clients who believe in and trust me deeply refer them. - 60 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

When you are a contribution to others, your life will change. Your dreams will become reality. Believe this!


As I reflect on how my family started with nothing at all, it is truly a blessing to see how much I have achieved. I remember leaving Vietnam. We were a big family, and I was only five years old at the time. Those early years of struggles in America were difficult years. Growing up poor left its mark on me. I remember being teased about my clothes because they had fake designer logos bought at the Asian markets for cheap.

t o O ur C o nt r i b ut o r s

However, there were also invaluable life lessons regarding the kindness and generous human spirit. Back in the 1970s, a wealthy American name Charles Zetler sponsored my family. He gave us a place to stay and a start in this country. He even signed for a car loan with my father. With his help, we were able to move into a home within about two years of being in America.

Stephen Pong Miss Vietnam Washington Nhật Trần Peter H. Trần

I also learned the value of hard work at an early age. My parents instilled a strong dedication-to-hard-work ethic. As such, I would do whatever necessary to succeed: picking strawberries, parking cars, and bagging groceries. No job was too big or too small. I had a drive to win like I still have today. After college, I became a real estate agent, the youngest to get my license in Washington State at that time. By 1997, I had become a millionaire. Fast forward a few years, and I found myself standing on a stage in bright lights, delivering a TedX talk before a large audience about the Law of Contribution, how to take the spirit of contribution and build it into fabulous success in all areas of your life.

Eddie Lee Savio Phạm, D.M. Thạch Nguyễn Lĩnh Thái Yến Nhi Trần, MPA

Now that I am firmly established and successful in both my professional and personal lives, I am even more aware of my responsibilities to others, a value that my parents have also instilled in me as a child. My father, Nguyễn Kê Nhơn, had made a difference in so many people’s lives in his lifetime, and with his passing, I am even more motivated to continue his legacy of helping others. I have been very fortunate in life. I came to this country with so little but now have been so blessed. Due to work ethics and values instilled in me by my family and the support of many benefactors and mentors, I am now able to realize my passion to give back to the community, both local and overseas. I will continue to live and preach the message that when you sincerely contribute to the wellbeing of others, you too will succeed. To find out more about living your dreams, go to

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 61 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5


Thanh-Bình Trysteen Trần, M.A.T


Trysteen is an English Professor who teaches at various colleges across the state and is co-Instructor of Green River College’s award-winning journal, Espial. You can find her collaborating with fellow community leaders on philanthropic projects or fixing up semisweet treats via Lion-O’s Perch: a Bakery of Decadence. Her personal philosophy is to provide service to others so as to make some difference that she has lived a selfless, purposeful life of contribution.

Originating from humble beginnings, his entrepreneurial spirit and tenacity supported him in pioneering the vision of his marketing company: LIMEGARC!A. Emil can be found collaborating with like-minded entrepreneurs in the community to empower others toward their aspirations. Invariably, he provides value as a consultant for advice, information, insight, and client leads. Emil García Design Director

Huy Cao was born in Quang Tri, Vietnam and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design from Iowa State University. Seeking better food and a more prominent design community, he moved to Seattle after college and is currently the Senior Designer at a small design studio.

Dr. Tâm Đinh is the Director of Field Education and is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Saint Martin’s University. She is committed to promoting and fostering the fundamental values of social work: service to others, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, integrity, importance of human relationships, and competence through her teaching and research. Tâm Đinh, Ph.D

Huy Cao

Senior Editor

Design Director

Chi Hoàng

Chi Hoàng works in the built environment industry of the greater Seattle area. She has a big appetite for noodle soups, a big curiosity to explore how cities form and function, and a big heart for working with kids and serving grassroots communities. She also enjoys observing how the designs of life unfold and piece together in humorous, meaningful, and beautiful ways--often from behind the windows of a car, the sliding screens of moving pictures, or simply, a good story.

Phong Thế Đặng

Editor, Designer

Juliet Đặng , Ph.D., M.S., R.D.H.


Phong is Vietnamese-American, a son to a widow Mother (Thuy), and is the eldest son of three boys (Phu and Nam). He is a Real Estate professional serving the greater Seattle area and loves to be part of an atmosphere where he can contribute his passion and skills, especially if there is great food and music involved. His favorite quote is “We can all be of value.” He can be contacted at

Media Manager

Juliet Đặng is originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and says “hey” instead of “eh.” She is an Oral Health Sciences PhD student in her final year at UW. Her thesis is focused on human papillomaviruses (HPVs) and oral cancers. Juliet has been a registered dental hygienist since 2006, and on the other end of the spectrum, she acts and models professionally. After graduation, she wishes to start her own HPV detection lab and write a few books.

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

Tính Vũ Managing Contributor

- 62 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Tính serves as a comprehensive financial planner, helping businesses and families in reducing taxation, risk management, debt strategies, capital preservation, growth opportunities, and much more. He is also the chief Vovinam instructor at the Vietnamese Martyr Church, Tukwila. He enjoys outdoor activities and music composition. His passion is to share the Vietnamese culture, values, customs and folktales to the younger generations. He can be reached at

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 63 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5



Connecting the Vietnamese culture to ourselves and to the world


Providing a platform to enrich the community and to inspire dialogue

XIN CHA O m a ga zin e

- 64 -

S P RI NG 2 0 1 5

Xin Chào 2nd Edition  
Xin Chào 2nd Edition