Vietnamese woman who 20 years ago sent her son to the U.S. sets out — with little money and barely a clue — to find him before her visa expires or her cancer returns.

By Mai Tran and Christopher Goffard, Times Staff Writers
December 19, 2006

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SHE arrived in Los Angeles with $600 in borrowed cash, a failing heart and arthritis in both knees. She spoke no English. She had not seen her firstborn son, Tuan, in the 20 years since he fled Vietnam for the United States as a teenager.

Judging from the letters he sent home, he had prospered here. He was repairing watches, living in Santa Ana. Inexplicably, four years ago, his letters had stopped coming. Now, Hai Nguyen had crossed the ocean herself, hoping to find her son before she died.

She had one lead, the address in Santa Ana. She took a cab there from the airport. She went to the door to find that her son was long gone, leaving no clue behind. She shuffled away with her single suitcase, not knowing what to do next. He could be anywhere. She had no grasp of America’s immensity, though a friend who knew the country tried to warn her: It would be like finding a needle at the bottom of the sea.

Where would she start looking, in a country of 300 million strangers? Still, how could she go to her grave without trying?

So in September, a tiny 57-year-old woman began stubbornly pushing a pair of green, worn-out plastic flip-flops along the sidewalks and strip malls and alleys of Southern California, past street signs she couldn’t read and storefronts she couldn’t fathom. She didn’t have long — just a few months before her visa expired in January, maybe less before her legs buckled or her heart quit or her cancer returned. Or her money ran out.

She had a husky voice and thick, rough hands. Her skin was the deep brown of the Vietnamese poor who spend their lives in the sun. She printed fliers with Tuan’s face and stuffed them in the hands of street people and business owners and anyone who might listen.

She found her way to Little Saigon in Westminster, the country’s largest Vietnamese American enclave. There, people sympathized. They gave her couches to sleep on, bowls of soup. In their own flight from starvation and violence, many had said goodbye to their families in Vietnam, often forever. Parents cleft from children was one of the community’s defining stories. So was arrival in the States with little save hope.

But in other ways she was hardly familiar, this worn-looking woman who had single-mindedly chased hope 8,000 miles, knowing so little, and having no time to count the odds.


HE was 16 when she sent him to the boat. For his passage out of Vietnam, the price was two bars of gold that she spent a year buying on layaway. It was 1986, and Ho Chi Minh City was a desperate place. Everyone she knew was starving.

She knew Tuan’s escape would be risky. Once before, the scrawny, gap-toothed boy had tried to flee the country only to be seized by police and thrown into jail for six months, to return home even more haggard and emaciated than before.

Now, around midnight at a big marketplace, she handed him to the boat captain who would smuggle him away. She had packed her son a bag with three changes of clothes, sweet rice, moon cakes and lemon bars. She could tell him nothing about America — not what it looked like, not its language or customs, not its size or landmarks. She knew it only as a mythical country over the sea where people had opportunity and plump cheeks. America was, in one popular phrase, the Jungle of Money.

But it was inconceivably far, and many died on the way. She tried to hold her tears, not wanting to scare Tuan or make him hesitate. Existence had been a day-to-day struggle since 1973, when her husband, a Vietnamese army soldier, died fighting the Communists.

Orphaned of his father as a toddler, Tuan would now face life without his mother, a misfortune that a Vietnamese proverb found even more profound.

Lose your father, you can still eat a poor meal of rice with fish, the proverb went. Lose a mother, you lick the leaves littering the streets. It conjured the crumbs clinging to castoff leaves used to pack food.

But as she saw it, there was no choice. On the night they said goodbye, it was raining lightly. She kissed him and told him, I love you. Write. She watched him go. He seemed eager.

She did not know if she would see him again. She had two other children to take care of, a son and a daughter. To feed them, she peddled grain from her bicycle and fruit at the market. There was no money to send them away too, or she would have.


SOON Tuan’s letters started arriving. He wrote of many days at sea, of running out of food and water and then being rescued by a commercial fishing boat that took them to Malaysia. Of how he found his way to the United States, to Minnesota, which was so cold he moved on to Denver, then farther west, to Southern California.

His letters came steadily for years. He wrote that he was doing well, learning to repair watches. He said nothing to worry her. He sent a picture of himself, smiling. His muscles were thick. His cheeks were full. America had been good.

In Vietnam, where a mother’s worth is largely defined by the accomplishments of her kids, to say “I have a son in America” conferred instant pride and status. Everyone understood that fate had smiled on the family.

In 2001, doctors diagnosed Nguyen with ovarian cancer and gave her two months to live, a prediction she was able to defy with chemotherapy and surgery. Tuan sent $500 and spoke of visiting. Then his letters stopped coming. Twice, medical bills forced her to move to smaller quarters, so she thought perhaps his letters were getting lost.

A year passed without word from him, and another, then a third and a fourth. Her cancer seemed to be in remission, but her overall health was poor. She had developed a heart condition, osteoporosis, arthritis. She knew she was dying, and her final wish was to see him.

She gathered her savings, which had been meant to buy her burial plot. Her younger son, who worked as an ambulance driver, and her daughter, who sold clothes out of a small shop, scraped together loans. Finally she had $1,400, enough for a ticket to California. It was her first time on a plane outside the country. Crossing the ocean, she couldn’t eat or sleep.


SHE was not in America long before her money ran out. She had covered mile after mile on foot, stuffed fliers into hundreds of hands, and still there was no sign of him. At wit’s end, she pleaded with Nguoi Viet, the country’s largest Vietnamese-language paper, based in Little Saigon. It published her story and a 5-year-old picture of Tuan, the one of him smiling with full cheeks. Soon, local radio picked it up. Donations started pouring in, as well as tips.

One led her to the Westminster Police Department, where she learned two things that shocked her, upending her image of the solid, prosperous life Tuan had lived in the States. At some point, she learned, her son had been incarcerated for robbery. At another point, he had stayed at the Los Angeles Mission. That meant he had been homeless, the orphaned beggar from the proverb.

The possibility of a plummet so extreme had not occurred to her. The Vietnamese had flourished in the United States, and the community had a reputation for taking care of its own. What had happened to her son?

She took a cab to the mission, but he wasn’t there. She printed and distributed more fliers, this time offering a $1,000 reward. It was money she didn’t have, but she was desperate.

She got word that a man who looked like her son dug up recyclables in the trashcans at John Wayne Airport. For a week, she went there every day, waiting. No luck.

She had reconciled herself to the possibility that she would find him dead. But even that, she reasoned, would be some consolation, better than not knowing.

Chasing every lead, she took cabs to the Asian Garden Mall and Chinatown and across the San Gabriel Valley. She searched homeless shelters and alleys, parks and strip malls. All through the land of promise, to her astonishment, the concrete was littered with human shapes crouched under reeking blankets.

She went from shape to shape, slowly lifting the blankets off ragged, hollow-eyed faces that smelled of beer, off men with tangled hair and dirty hands. They cursed in words she couldn’t understand and yanked their blankets back, many of them, sinking back into their covers. Some just looked at her in bewilderment. She looked into dozens of hopeless faces. There were other mothers’ sons, but not hers.

Sorry, she said, over and over. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. It was one of the few English words she had learned.

She shuffled forward long after her knees burned with pain and her breath came short. When it got too bad, she would sit down on a bus bench and rest. She thought of giving up, taking a plane home to die without him. Then she would get up and keep walking.

Finally, in November, there came an improbable call from a restaurateur in San Jose, a woman named Huong Le who had seen Nguyen’s story on Vietnamese-language television. She said Tuan had been living behind her restaurant for the last couple of months at the Lion Plaza shopping center on King Boulevard. He slept on the sidewalk on a patch of cardboard.

On Nov. 19, a woman moved by her story offered her a ride from Orange County to San Jose. It was about noon when she found the restaurant. Her son wasn’t there, but restaurant employees said they had been taking care of him. When he was hungry, he’d knock lightly on the rear kitchen door and they would pass him beef noodles and rice, bread and pork. He rarely spoke, they said, and often stood completely immobile. But they found him polite, unthreatening.

Look for his blanket, they told Nguyen. It’s blue and yellow fleece. We gave it to him.

After three hours of searching, there in a parking lot across the street, she spotted the blanket. It was just another filthy shape, curled upon a sheet of blue vinyl against some bushes, beside castoff rolls of iron fencing and rusted steel bars. From the blanket protruded one shoe with a gashed sole. On the ground were takeout containers filled with rotting Vietnamese food.

She had been searching in the United States for three months, lifting blankets off men and women who had somehow fallen into its sewers. Now she knelt and lifted one more.


RIGHT away she knew it was him, even through his thick, tangled beard and his long, unkempt hair. He was sleeping, curled in a fetal position, and she startled him awake. She knelt, looking closer. She recognized his overbite, his eyes that were so much like his father’s, the scar on his left brow he got as a kid, jumping on a bed with his brother.

She was shaking. Looking at him, she couldn’t speak. When words came, she told him through her tears who she was and that she had come across the world to find him.

You have the wrong person, he said. You’re not my mother. My mother is sick in Vietnam and ready to die.

She begged him to let her hug him, but he refused. His only possessions were his blanket, a windbreaker, a pocketknife, and 69 cents.

Why would you want to hug a homeless man? he said. Wouldn’t you be ashamed?

She planted herself on the pavement, refusing to budge. Afraid he would run away, she grabbed his collar and held him. He kept saying, Let go of me, woman. But she had not flown 8,000 miles and walked for three months to go home without him.

She talked the restaurant into calling the police, hoping they would hold him.

They took him to the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center for observation in the psychiatric unit. They shaved him and cleaned him and gave him a room.

She came every day, to sit with him. He said little. Mostly he sat slouched forward, staring at the floor, his hands folded in his lap. He seemed to recognize her but would not acknowledge it. Perhaps he just could not grasp the improbability of a poor woman from Vietnam coming to find him in a land so large.

When he did speak, he told of having been chased by men who meant to harm him. She did not know what it meant, whether it was a real memory or part of what doctors called his mental illness. They had diagnosed him with an unspecific psychotic disorder.

There were details of his time in the United States that she didn’t ask about. So she would not learn that in 1995, he and several other men had burst into an Arcadia home and used a rope to tie up a man and his wife before making off with their cash and jewelry. That police had labeled him a gang member. That a judge had sentenced him to 10 years in state prison, though he was released in five. That he went to prison three more times on parole violations, finally going free in January.

I’m nobody, he kept saying. You don’t want anything to do with me.

Hoping to break through, she brought him photos of his brother and sister back in Vietnam, of aunts and nieces and nephews. She spoke of taking him home to Vietnam. She did not dwell on whether such a trip was even possible. She had to return in January, when her visa expired. It was not clear whether authorities would let him go too.

For now, though, she had arranged a place for them to stay, at the Cao Dai Temple in San Jose, when the hospital released him.

She ran her hand up and down his back and promised she wouldn’t leave him. She would take care of him from now on. She told him that it didn’t matter to her, whatever had happened, whatever he’d done. She blamed herself for sending him across the world with no one to watch over him.

Five days had passed since she rescued him from the streets, and all he would call her is “aunt,” a generic Vietnamese term for an older woman, not necessarily of blood relation. Now, he spoke a word she had not heard him utter in 20 years.




Vietnamese victims of dioxin poisoning, code-named ‘agent orange’, lie in their cribs at the Peace Village in Ho Chi Minh City  

The Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) Tuesday admitted two Americans as honorable members, bringing its foreign and overseas Vietnamese members to six.

The new members are Merle Ratner and her husband Ngo Thanh Nhan, a Vietnamese American, both founders and coordinators of the US-based “Relief campaign and responsibility towards Vietnamese Agent Orange victims” organization, which was set up in February 2005.

The couple has spared no effort in calling for worldwide support for Agent Orange victims in Vietnam over the past years.

The relief organization plans to support VAVA members’ trip to the US to attend an appeals case involving AO victims against US chemical producers, slated for April, 2007.


HA NOI — Vietnam Airlines plans to establish routes to the United States next year to satisfy projected blistering demand following recently-strengthened trade ties between the two countries and Viet Nam’s accession to the WTO.

The airline will submit a plan for direct US flights to the Prime Minister in two weeks, said the deputy director of the national carrier, Pham Ngoc Minh.

Officials expect the routes could play a significant role in strengthening political, social and economic ties between the countries.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung asked the company to accelerate the process and have routes established by the end of 2007, said Minh.

Last November, Vietnam Airlines sent a delegation to the US to examine possible flights to San Francisco or Los Angeles.

One hurdle Asian carriers will have to overcome in gaining a foothold in the lucrative American market is Westerners’ preference for domestic airlines. US carriers have, on average, around 12 million dedicated customers, according to the deputy director. Frequent customers of US carriers enjoy many benefits, including discounts at shopping malls, entertainment centres and restaurants, both at home and abroad, said Minh.

To overcome the initial stumbling blocks, Vietnam Airlines is looking to partner with American Airlines. In addition, the airline will likely seek a stop-over hub in another country.

Recently released trade figures have buoyed the hopes of the travel sector. According to the Viet Nam National Administration of Tourism, some 352,000 Americans visited Viet Nam in the first 11 months of this year, up 15 per cent from 2005.

That figure is expected to double next year on the back of the repatriation of 1.3 million overseas Vietnamese from the US and an increasing push by American investors into Viet Nam.

Bilateral trade revenues are projected at US$11-12 billion this year, 50 per cent higher than last year.

Vietnam Airlines transported more than 5.1 million passengers in the first nine months of 2006, an increase of 17.5 per cent over last year. Of these, 2.3 million were foreign travellers. — VNS

Nguyen Duc (L) and wife Thanh Tuyen at their wedding
Over 500 people attended the wedding Saturday of Nguyen Duc, one of the best known victims of Agent Orange, the defoliant sprayed by the US army in Ho Chi Minh City.

Duc, 25, was born conjoined, sharing two legs, until he was separated from his brother in 1988 in one of the world’s 18 successful operations to separate Siamese twins.

A medical expert said Duc was the first of the 18 pairs to get married.

His brother, Nguyen Viet, has been bedridden since the surgery at Tu Du Hospital where they were born and raised.

Duc said he had met his wife Nguyen Thi Thanh Tuyen in April 2004 when they were both doing charitable work for the Red Cross to raise money for other victims of Agent Orange.

Duc is an IT worker at Tu Du Hospital while Tuyen helps her mother with her business at a small market stand.

US forces sprayed an estimated 20 million gallons of herbicides, including Agent Orange, in Vietnam between 1962 and 1971. Decades later, the chemicals still remain in the water and soil.

Agent Orange, named after the color of its containers, is blamed for nightmarish birth defects in Vietnam where babies sometimes have two heads or do not have eyes or arms.

US veterans of the war have complained for years of a variety of health problems from exposure to the herbicides.

Source: Tuoi Tre – Translated by The Vinh


by Duc Ngoc

Elementary school: An oil-on-canvas painting entitled Thieu Nu (Young Girl) is on display at Tuan’s exhibition.

Artist Thai Tuan, back from France and now living in Viet Nam, is displaying his latest paintings at the exhibition Ve Nguon (Return to the Source) in HCM City.

Tuan, 88, focuses on the beauty and gentleness of northern Vietnamese women of an earlier time.

The women include a noble young lady in an ao dai, a slender girl sitting quietly by a window, and a country girl carrying a basket of fruit while walking on a village road.

The 13 paintings look delicate and fragile, with soft colours like light yellow and moss green, which give a lyrical tone to his oil on canvas works.

“I like simplicity,” the Ha Noi native said. “I use few colours or lines.”

Tuan considers himself self-taught since he spent only one year at the Indochina Fine Arts College in Ha Noi, from 1939 to 1940.

Moving to Sai Gon in 1954 (now HCM City), Tuan began painting in 1957 and became one of the most well-known painters in the city in the 1970s.

In 1984, he left Viet Nam to live in Orleans, France, and later showed his work in Brazil, the US, Canada and France.

Besides his painting, he is an art critic whose book The Story of Art was re-published by the Van Nghe (Arts and Literature) Publishing Company for the third time this year.

Returning to live in Viet Nam in January, Tuan began to create one painting each month to prepare for Return to Source.

The exhibition can be seen at Tu Do Gallery, 53 Ho Tung Mau Street, District 1, until December 21. The gallery is open every day from 9am to 7pm. — VNS

Charming Vietnam

December 17, 2006

Three homegrown designers to inspire Charming Vietnam


A top Vietnamese designer and two young colleagues will dress up a bevy of beauties for Thanh Nien’s annual fashion and music bash scheduled for Dec. 30-31.


Kieu Viet Lien, the only Vietnamese to obtain certificates from Richard Ribinson’s Fashion School in Canada and Haute Couture-ESMOD in France, was nevertheless, nervous before the big event.

“Charming Vietnam is such a big name that all designers are anxious for our dresses to be distinctive.”

Her collection at the 16th Charming Vietnam would be her most carefully done and feature gemstones and crystals.

Her younger counterparts, Thuan Viet and Angel Phan, real name Phan Thi Phung, both around 25, were also nervous.

Thuan Viet, whose Ao dai (Vietnamese traditional costume) collection will feature for the second time at Charming Vietnam, said: “This is such a great opportunity and challenge that I am trying my best to make my dresses impressive.”

Viet, who worked under his senior Sy Hoang last year, was also, however, happy to come out of the shadow and put on his own display, titled Night sea paradise.

Phan, a newcomer to Charming Vietnam, said she had visited mountain town Sapa and some provinces in the north to pick up unusual materials for her collection, Wave.

A student beauty and model, Phan has become one of Vietnam’s most talented designers.

The three will use over 30 top models, including 2005 Miss Universe, Russia’s Natalie Glebova; Miss Thailand 2006, Charm Warin Osathmond; the current Miss Vietnam, Mai Phuong Thuy; and the two runners-up, Luu Bao Anh and Nguyen Thi Ngoc Lan.

As usual, the event will also feature popular local and overseas singers and performers.

Overseas Vietnamese composer and singer Duc Huy, and Vietnamese beauty queen and international magician Ngo My Uyen will host the show themed ‘Moon’.

Charming Vietnam (Duyen dang Viet Nam) was launched by Thanh Nien in 1990 to raise funds for the Nguyen Thai Binh Scholarship Fund for economically disadvantaged students.

Now the most watched show in the country, it has so far underwritten around 5,000 scholarships worth more than VND7 billion (US$436,000).

Last year it was held abroad for the first time – in Australia – to rave reviews.

This year it is scheduled to be held at the five-star Hon Ngoc Viet (Vinpearl) resort. 

Reported by Da Ly – Translated by Luu Thi Hong


A documentary on the war in Vietnam entitled ‘Chat Doc Da Cam’ (Agent Orange) produced by Japanese Masako Sakata is now on screen at the 28th Latin America New Film International Film Festival in La Habana, Cuba.

The film recalls events occurring in 1970s of the last century when Vietnam was in fierce war. During the war, the US sprayed defoliation which destroyed the environment and harmed Vietnamese people.

The film’s director Masako Sakata herself is a victim of the Agent Orange. Her husband, an American veteran who joined the Vietnam war, passed away a couple of years ago due to the aftermath of the Agent Orange.

The film also touches upon the misery of Vietnamese families whose members are in disease or deformed due to the Agent Orange.



Ten students from four universities in Vietnam have received the Honda Yes Award, a prize for talented engineers and young scientists conferred by the Honda Foundation and Honda Vietnam Co.

Each student received a US$3,000 scholarship and a VND14.9 million ($925.8) Wave RS motorbike made by Honda Vietnam.

Of the winners, four from the Hanoi University of Technology, three from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology, two from the Technology College under the Hanoi National University, and one from the Danang University of Technology.

In addition to the award, they are eligible to apply for a $10,000 post-graduate scholarship in Japan.

Honda Vietnam said that Honda Yes Award is part of the $10 million Honda Social Fund for the 2006-2010 period.

The award aims to discover and foster young talents in science and technology.

Source: VNA

11:20′ 12/11/2006 (GMT+7)

Soạn: HA 953259 gi đến 996 để nhn ảnh này
Teacher Presley and students of the Hanoi University.

VietNamNet Bridge – The teacher stands with his face to the wall pretending to cry. Another teacher plays the part of an employer interviewing students. Teachers and students make pizza, research ancient poems, eat bun cha, drink sugarcane juice… together. Foreign lecturers are ‘conquering the hearts’ of Vietnamese students with their whole-heartedness and friendliness.


Everything in modern style


In the classroom of class 10A – 06, English Department, Hanoi University, in a corner, an American lecturer, Mr Presley McFadden, is facing the wall and crying while his Vietnamese students are laughing.


Nguyen Thi Hoa, a student, explained: “The teacher is giving an example of the form of punishment that parents often give to their children. His class is always interesting and joyful like this because he often performs hilarious dialogues or humourous actions like this to help us understand and remember the lesson”.


Most of the first-year students of the Korean Faculty of the Hanoi University worried because they would have to study with Korean teachers while they didn’t know one word of Korean. However, Ngoc Mai, a student from H2-06 class, said: “Ms Song, my Korean teacher, often sings a short song in Korean, and then she explains the meaning of all the words. Sometimes she gives us quizzes or crossword puzzles to teach us new words. After each class with Ms Song, our vocabulary has improved remarkably”.


Hanoi University currently has around 30 foreign lecturers from the US, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Spain, and China. The Hanoi Foreign Trade University also has five lecturers from Japan, Canada and the US. Some other universities like the Open University Institute and Thang Long People-founded University also cooperate with some foreign lecturers.


The classes of foreign teachers are often very joyful, interesting, but are also very serious. Students must study at the highest level to meet the requirements of foreign lecturers.


Pham Hoang Lan, a student of the Thang Long People-founded University in Hanoi, described a class on human deeds and social environment of an Australia teacher: “After teaching the theory on mobilising resources and building projects, Ms Pauline introduces sample circumstances and divides students into several groups to discuss and seek solutions. She plays the role of the authorities and we have to present our projects to convince the authorities to agree to invest in our project”.


After studying a subject on self control taught by a French teacher, Mr Feredric, Nguyen Huong Ly, K15, Thang Long People-founded University, said: “Mr Feredric has taught us the way to control our anger and to refresh ourselves to keep balance in a life full of pressure”.


At the Commercial English Language Faculty of the Hanoi Foreign Trade University, the teacher David, who is in charge of the import and export subject, asks his students to make market surveys and design import export projects.


Diem Anh, a student of K24 course, Hanoi Foreign Trade University, said: “Foreign lecturers not only impart professional knowledge to us but also skills necessary for our lives and jobs; for example, how to search for and process information on the Internet, skills to answer interviews and make presentations.”


For the unit on American culture, David asks his students to go around Hoan Kiem Lake in the centre of Hanoi to interview US tourists about their origins to learn about racial diversity in the US. Meanwhile, Ms Susan divides her students into groups to perform short plays in English to test their accents.


“Mr Peter often instructs us in how to write an impressive job application. He even plays the part of an employer to interview us; we play the roles of job applicants. Thanks to his instruction, we are now confident in our job application skills,” Diem Anh added.


At the end of each term, David also organises a contest in which students compete for an international business cup among classes. Each class appoints four students to attend each round of the contest. All questions are related to the knowledge that he taught during the term. The winning class receives a special prize – a cup full of chocolate. The contest is not only a chance for exchanges and studying among classes but also promotes healthy competition among students.


Foreign teachers + Vietnamese students = friends + families


Vietnamese students become friends and family to foreign teachers, who have come from far away to Vietnam, leaving their families and friends back home.


Many students are very surprised when foreign teachers remember the name of each student, even after several years.


“In the first class, the teacher Presley took a photo of each student and added them to an album, with their names and classes under the photo. In the following classes, he brought the album to class. After only several weeks, he knew the face and the name of all students,” said Thanh Hang, first-year student of the English Faculty, Hanoi University.


On Christmas day in 2003, two Santa Clauses appeared at the English Faculty of the Hanoi University. They held very big bags of presents, came to each class to present each student a red head and a candy box. They were a couple of teachers, Mr Bob and Mrs Ginny Morstay.


“We were first-year students at that time and as newcomers, we had never felt such warm sentiments between teachers and students like that. Mr Bob and Mrs Ginny Morstay also organised games for us. Our teacher Bob played guitar while Mrs Ginner sang. That was the most special Christmas for me,” said student Thuy Linh from 2A-02 class.


During their three years in Vietnam, Bob and Ginny paid attention to each of their students and understood their strengths and weaknesses as well.


Nguyen Thanh Thuy, a student in the talented bachelor class of English Faculty, Hanoi University, recalled: “Has leadership capacity, is good at communication and is brisk. These are the words that Bob said about me at the farewell ceremony. On that day, Mr Bob gave each student a poem and three groups of words describing exactly their personality. His advice will surely be valuable luggage for each student”.


Tuan Anh, a student in the German Faculty, Hanoi University, was very happy when teacher Berndt Dilp wrote a recommendation letter to help him attend a two-month course in Germany last summer.


Foreign teachers often invite students to their houses to cook for them or meet them. Students of the Hanoi Foreign Trade University sometimes visit their teacher Sherman’s house to participate in a poetry club, during which teachers and students read and analyse English and even Vietnamese poems together. After that they cook Vietnamese and western cuisine.


“I was very surprised and happy when students organised a birthday party for me at a small café near our university. Sometimes we go on a picnic together or visit the hometown of a student, where I can enjoy the rural life in Vietnam,” Presley said.


Ms Susan Lucasse, a teacher at the Hanoi Foreign Trade Univeristy, was also very happy when Vietnamese students made bun cha to celebrate her birthday.


“Many Vietnamese students come to me to talk about their love stories, their jobs, their lives and ask my advice. As the lifestyle and the way of thinking between Vietnamese and Americans is sometimes different I don’t always have really useful advice, but I always encourage my students to do what they think is right,” Ms Susan said.


I love Vietnam


Soạn: HA 953261 gi đến 996 để nhn ảnh này
Teachers Bob and Ginny sing for students of the Hanoi University during the Christmas.

The love for Vietnam is a common thing that foreign teachers have. Each of them comes to Vietnam for a different reason but they all have something in common: they love their Vietnamese students and this country.


Teacher Miyahara Akira of the Japanese Faculty, Hanoi Foreign Trade University, recalled: “On April 30, 1975, the day your country re-gained independence and unification, I was teaching at the Foreign University. Returning to Japan, I and many young Japanese people at that time admired the will and the spirit of Vietnamese people. So after 30 years, I’ve returned to this country to pursue my half-done job”.


As a Japanese lecturer for international students at big universities in Japan such as Nagasaki and Tokyo, Mr Miyahara has taught many foreign students. But he loves Vietnamese students for their simple style, obedience and assiduity.


Presley shared: “I came to HCM City on a tour in 2001. Attracted by the life and the people there I planned to return to Vietnam. Immediately when REI recruited volunteers to Vietnam to teach English, I registered, and so far, I’ve taught English in Vietnam for two years”.


He revealed that he has many times been surprised by the intelligent questions of Vietnamese students. They voiced issues that he had never thought of and to answer them, he had to read books and refer to documents, which in term helped him learn something more.


“But the most popular question is, do you have girlfriend? I’m asked this question every day. People in the US don’t ask such a question, but in Vietnam, it shows attention and love,” Mr Presley said.


To avoid such ‘culture shock’, apart from six months of training in pedagogical skills, foreign teachers coming to Vietnam have to study some Vietnamese words and something about Vietnamese culture and habits, said Truong Van Khoi, Head of the International Cooperation Department of Hanoi University.


Ms Susan immediately became addicted to ‘sugarcane juice, boiled snails and bun cha” when she came to Vietnam. Meanwhile, Mr Bob loves dog meat and Mr Miyahara likes fried rice.


Presley read a 600-page book on President Ho Chi Minh. “When visiting Uncle Ho’s mausoleum with us, we were very surprised because Mr Presley told us stories about President Ho that we had never heard before,” said Khanh Linh, a student in the talented bachelor class, English Faculty, Hanoi University.


Lan Huong




BN Magazine, News Report, MT Lite, Posted: Dec 06, 2006

“Tuyet” works in a hair salon. She is pretty, with well-manicured finger nails and a trendy, short layered hair style. She can be easily mistaken for someone in her late-20s even though Tuyet is actually in her late-40s. Tuyet grew up in a home environment in rural Viet Nam where she married her current abuser in her late-teens, and even back then, her in-law family and her own family would beat her and not defend her against her abusive husband.

I located Tuyet because each week, she attends an Asian women’s support group offered at My Sister’s House (a non-profit organization based in Sacramento, California that provides support and shelter to Asian American women in the Central Valley) to mentally cope with her sad but unchanging situation.

Tuyet has been beaten by her husband, a man in his early-50s, at least three times severely. On the third time, Tuyet suffered broken fingers that she explained to her co-workers and doctor as arising from a car accident. Married to an alcoholic who is also a diabetic with high blood pressure, Tuyet is afraid to leave him because she feels bound by honor and duty to take care of him. Our interview transpired in Vietnamese at a Starbuck’s cafe. She lamented with brows furrowed and arms thrown up in fatalistic concession: “I’m afraid that he’s sick and nobody would take care of him if I left or divorced him. And if he died or committed suicide, I would feel like it was my fault … I don’t want to leave him after 31 years of marriage. He doesn’t [typically] go to the hospital because he’s a man, so I have to take days off to accompany him to the hospital. I’m afraid of going to Hell or having bad karma if he dies.”

Each day, she lives in fear that he would lash out against her, and sleeps with him to fulfill her wifely duties (though she did make it clear that she got no pleasure from this). In order to meet with me at 9 p.m. in secret for this clandestine interview, she had to reassure him that dinner was ready and that she had to work late for her nail salon clients. Unfortunately, Tuyet is just one of the many Vietnamese American women who experience physical as well as verbal abuse from her partner. Moreover, her situation is made more complicated by the cultural tug of war she goes through mentally and daily in her sense of obligation to stay with a batterer due to these deeply ingrained Confucian values.

Intimate partner violence

Domestic violence in the Vietnamese American population is as much of a public health concern as cervical cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and post traumatic stress disorder and, in many ways, has a broader social impact. The Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization’s Cluster on Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health, Dr. Catherine Le Gales-Camus, was quoted in the World Report on Violence and Health (2002) elaborating upon the broader social consequences of violence: “Beyond the very personal human tragedies associated with each and every case of violence … In economic terms … responding to violence diverts billions of dollars away from education, social security, housing and recreation, into the essential but seemingly never-ending tasks of providing care for victims and criminal justice interventions for perpetrators.”

Intimate partner violence is a form of domestic violence and it is both a local and global problem. It is defined by the Center for Disease Control as any behavior purposely inflicted by one person against another within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm. Most often, the violent person is a husband, former husband, boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend. Sometimes the abuser is female.

If it’s so bad, why doesn’t she leave?

There’s an old Vietnamese proverb “Den nha ai nay rang” that means, loosely, “Shine the light only in one’s own home [and not on others’].” This approach illustrates part of the problem of why violence against wives and girlfriends may sometimes occur when neighbors and acquaintances turn a blind eye. In Vietnamese culture, when domestic violence is talked about (if at all), it is often referred to as an private dispute and a family matter to be resolved internally. It is not understood as having multiple driving forces in society. It is a belief reinforced by cultural practices and economic circumstances, and hence, requiring participation from many sectors of our society to be prevented and treated. Many of the reasons why Vietnamese women do not leave—apart from the lack of English language skills, a stable income, or forgiving the aggressor because of the children—are cultural factors such as the perceived need to honor, love, and duty felt at the individual level, while at the community level, the discourse surrounding intimate partner violence becomes submerged into an internal dispute that is portrayed as strictly a private family matter, not a community or societal threat.

Please don’t arrest him

Dr. Hoan Bui, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and author of In the Adopted Land: Abused Vietnamese Immigrant Women and the Criminal Justice System (Greenwood Press, 2004), found that Vietnamese American women were much less likely than their American counterparts to call the police when domestic violence occurred. This estimate is four or five times less likely than the general population of American women to report domestic violence incidents to the police. In many Vietnamese cases, when the police are actually called, the woman does not really want her husband to be incarcerated.

The second time that Tuyet’s husband beat her on the head with a blunt object that left a bruise three weeks later, she called the police. However when they arrived, she begged them not to take him away. The police, instead, reprimanded him according to her request and said that they would arrest him the next time that the Sacramento Police Department was called. This tendency is supported by a survey in 2000 of approximately 440 Vietnamese women in four cities. The survey asked the women about their attitude toward the various approaches to criminal justice interventions. In this study, Dr. Bui found that interventions such as court-mandated counseling received the highest support, followed by fines and probation, while prosecution and imprisonment received the lowest support. For immigrants with limited English proficiency, the language itself poses a great hardship in contacts with government officials and constrains their willingness to participate in the criminal justice process. In extreme reported cases, police untrained to deal in this matter have asked the offending husband to translate for the victim. This reflects as well as reinforces the Vietnamese refugee community’s broader mistrust of the US criminal justice system.

Underreported and understudied

According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women, one in three women will suffer some form of violence in her lifetime, becoming a part of an epidemic that devastates lives, fractures communities, and stalls development. Unfortunately, there is a lack of nationwide representative data capture the extent of domestic violence amongst Vietnamese Americans, but some regional studies can help paint a conservative estimate. The most comprehensive study by the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence in Boston found that the prevalence of domestic violence was 39 percent in the Vietnamese American respondents. Dr. Tuyen Nguyen, a researcher and professor based at the California State University, Fullerton, found in a 2003 survey of 200 immigrant Vietnamese men in Houston, Texas that partner abuse of some type occurred in 31 percent of the respondents’ cases.

However, Dr. Nguyen told BN that this may be an underestimate. He believes that “the figures are higher because in cases where abuse is occurring, these people are not as socially connected as [others] in the larger Vietnamese community.” He furthermore believes that this number will increase: “As the Vietnamese American population grows through immigration, the problem will leak out more to authorities and reporting will also be on the rise.” When asking Dr. Nguyen about his current research on domestic violence in Viet Nam compare with its incidence among Vietnamese Americans, he stated that “in this country, even though there are a lot of struggles, the men here know the law, so the prevalence of partner abuse in Viet Nam is actually much higher than here in the US as immigrants become more acculturated.”

Community advocates, such as Chic Dabby, Director of the Asian and Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence in San Francisco, cites the fact that Asian women on the whole are overrepresented in victims’ profiles. For instance, in Santa Clara County last year, where the diverse population is 17 percent Asian, 35 percent of the reported cases of victims of homicide from domestic violence were identified as Asian. As a benchmark for understanding the prevalence of domestic violence in the US population as a whole, the National Violence Against Women Survey indicates that one out of four women has been physically assaulted or raped by an intimate partner and one out of 14 men reported such experiences. These statistics, however, do not show how domestic violence cuts across socioeconomic status lines—anecdotal stories of white collar women such as doctors and professors being battered shows that this was not just a poor immigrant female problem.

Immigrant Status—“bao lanh”

Other circumstances that were named for why women sometimes do not leave an abusive relationship had to do with immigrantion status—sometimes a woman is sponsored as a fianceùe or wife to the US and is abused by the husband, but is afraid of leaving out of fear that she will get sent back. Le Minh Hai, a partner at Robert Mullins International, an immigration consulting firm, told BN that there are roughly 12,500 cases or more of marriage partner sponsorships per year from Viet Nam to the US. Though Le was unable at the time of the interview to give concrete examples of green card marriages that ended due to intimate partner abuse (to which Le reassured me that few cases which end are due to domestic violence), a Vietnamese language advocate at My Sister’s House, who requested to be anonymous for safety reasons, cited this as a huge concern when it came to the Vietnamese American community. Others in the Sacramento Vietnamese American community, such as Nancy Minh Thi Tran of TNT Radio, agreed that apart from the other issue of abuse and violence originating from the global problem of human sex trafficking (see the article “Not for Sale” by Tom Vu, BN July 2006), many immigrant Vietnamese women who recently arrived and were sponsored by their overseas Vietnamese husbands would be too scared to report their case to the authorities for fear of deportation.

Services and prevention

There are many solutions at the aggregate and individual level to help reduce intimate partner violence against Vietnamese women and women in general. My Sister’s House pioneered the successful Women at Work program which focuses on helping domestic violence survivors “get back on their feet so they can get on with their lives.” The Women at Work program helps participants from multicultural backgrounds overcome the trauma of abuse and transition more effectively to emotional and economic independence. The executive director, Nilda Valmores, stated that, “If prevention was totally successful, no shelters would be needed. But in the meantime, the shelter is critical. Clothing donations are nice but they don’t pay the bills. The community needs to value the work enough to keep the shelter going.”

Other program and service providers that have received praise among researchers and advocates is the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence in Boston. Started in 1987, the organization offers a 24-hour multilingual hotline, an emergency shelter in New England, individual counseling and support groups, and help with legal issues, healthcare, housing and public benefits, English tutoring, parenting classes, and children’s advocacy. Information about job and education opportunities are also provided.

There is a need for greater coordination of services and cooperation between various public, private, and non-profit agencies that are trained to deal with Asian domestic violence. An example of such a network is the Filipina Women’s Network. This is a partnership of domestic violence agencies, the Domestic Violence Consortium, the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women, local government, the Philippine consulate, professional women’s associations, faith-based organizations and for-profit corporations to draw attention to the problem of domestic violence in the Filipino community of San Francisco.

Nancy Minh Thi Tran told BN that “we need to increase education via the media, schools, and church groups … We need our communities’ volunteers to interpret with the police, a network to hold workshops, and to have people [come forward to] tell the truth.”

On the legislative side, at the time of this writing, the US Senate and House of Representatives were trying to agree on one version of the stalled reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, passed unanimously in 2005. This reauthorization called for a coordinated community response to domestic violence.

Leaving is hard

“What should I do? Do you think I should leave him?” Tuyet asked as I dropped her off back at her car in the parking lot of My Sister’s House, close to 10:30 p.m. I was by this point very concerned that she would get in trouble for staying out so late, given her husband’s possessive nature. During the interview several times, Tuyet had told me that she just could not afford to move out and that she had no close friends or confidants, so I told her to keep calling My Sister’s House to help her through this difficult time. At the time of the interview, Tuyet was still living with her batterer and did not have any close friends nearby or supportive family. “Thank you for sharing my story,” she told me and drove off.


For further information, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233). In Sacramento, the My Sister’s House crisis hotline is ( 916) 428-3271.

Am I A Victim? Signs of Abuse

Below is a partial list of behaviors that are seen in people who physically abuse another person. The last four signs are almost always seen only if the person is a batterer.

• Jealousy
• Controlling behaviors
• Quick involvement and escalation of the relationship
• Unrealistic expectations
• Isolation
• Blames others for his problems
• Cruelty to animals or children
• “Playful” use of force in sex
• Verbal abuse
• Rigid sex roles
• Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde/mood swings
• Past battering
• Threats of violence
• Breaking or striking objects
• Any force during an argument

Courtesy of My Sister’s House webpage (