Vietnamese refugee opens Paris nail salon

September 6, 2006

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Friday, September 1,2006

PARIS – After surviving the privations of a refugee camp and a precarious escape from his home country on rough seas, Andy Tran can now sink back in a leather chair to assess the polished gleam of his nail salon and several women whiling away a few relaxed moments getting manicures.

Tran opened his salon, Perfect Nail, on Route 117 this summer. A 34-year-old from Vietnam who is single, he is not exactly the kind of entrepreneur one typically expects in rural Maine.

“During the time I was in Portland, I see this location is nice and the people are very nice,” Tran said, speaking in his salon recently. “I’m coming here, I like it, that’s why I come up here.”

Drawn to the area after driving through on weekends to fish, he began scouting a location for a salon here two years ago.

Tran still lives in Portland, where he owned a nail salon for two years called Nail Cafe on Brighton Avenue. But he said he soon plans to buy a home in Paris or Norway. His staff of two, both Vietnamese, also commute to the salon from Portland.

Tran left Vietnam 10 years ago, first settling in California. There, he enrolled in a one-year beautification school called Hayward Beauty College after a friend in the business introduced him to the trade. To help pay for school, he worked for a flea market.

The United States wasn’t the first country Tran fled to. He and his brother left South Vietnam and its communist regime in 1989 for a refugee camp in Malaysia.

After spending a week at sea with 29 others on a 30-foot-long boat with no roof, they arrived at Malaysia dazed but intact.

“We don’t think we are still alive,” Tran said, describing the sea journey. “We looked like an ant on the sea.”

Conditions didn’t get much easier at the refugee camp, where he lived for seven years. “I am so skinny, you would not believe,” he said. “I sit down and I stand up and I am so dizzy.”

In 1996, he returned to Vietnam where he acquired a visa to come to the United States.

After receiving his beauty certificate, Tran worked in a mall in Pennsylvania then moved to Maine three years ago after a friend told him he should come. The rest of his family – a brother, sister and mother – live in California.

During a recent morning, several women seeking manicures and pedicures stopped into his salon, a bright, sparkling space sharp with the smell of nail polish.

Candace Rogers of Woodstock works as a nursing assistant at Stephens Memorial Hospital. “All of the girls from the hospital come here,” she said, draping her arm across a small table to get her nails filed.

“Business so far is so good,” Tran said. “I’m very happy.”

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