|  Charlie Don’t Surf
Exhibition: April 9 – May 21, 2005
Dinh Q. LE
NGUYEN Tan Hoang
TRAN T. Kim-Trang

Opening: Saturday, April 9, 8pm (artists in attendance)
Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 6pm

Curated by Viet LE

80 page full colour catalogue

“Charlie Don’t Surf: Art, the Politics of Identity, and the Vietnam War”
Sunday, April 10, 2 – 5 pm, Vancouver Art Gallery, room 403 ADMISSION FREE.

Dinh Q. L↑ (artist; Ho Chi Minh/Los Angeles)
Viet Le (artist/curator; PhD candidate, USC, Los Angeles)
Nguyen Tan Hoang (filmmaker/artist; PhD candidate, UC, Berkeley)
Nhan Duc Nguyen (artist; Vancouver)
Ann Phong (artist; Los Angeles)
Moira Roth (art historian and critic; Mills College, Oakland, CA)
MODERATOR: Alice Ming Wai Jim (curator; Centre A)

Thirty years after The Fall of Saigon in Vietnam, and a decade after the flowering and subsequent proclaimed failure of multiculturalism and identity politics in the United States, this exhibition highlights contemporary Vietnamese American visual artists whose work and subjectivity is affected by these socio-political intersections. Through experimental video, abstract painting, and photography, these multi-generational artists’ seemingly disparate practices explore memory, failure, sexuality, trauma, and the ambivalent politics of cultural difference.

Referring to Antonio Gramsci’s notion of the war of position (as opposed to the war of maneuver), which situates cultural production as an active site of resistance and a space to question hegemonic structures, the exhibition raises a number of critical questions. How has the legacy of the Vietnam War affected these multiply diasporic artists’ work (or has it)? How do these artists embrace, challenge and engage issues of representation, authenticity, and validation? Do they address—or problematize—the burden of representation? In short, how do these artists subvert and/or exploit standard expectations and assumptions of Vietnamese American/ Asian American subjectivity?

The exhibition is accompanied by a colour catalogue (32 illns;106pp), edited by Viet Le and Alice Ming Wai Jim, with essays by Linda Thinh Võ, Mariam Beevi Lam, Moira Roth, and others. * SPECIAL PRICE ON OPENING NIGHT.

Centre A gratefully acknowledges the generous support of its patrons, sponsors, members, partners, private foundations, and government funding agencies, including the Canada Council for the Arts, the British Columbia Arts Council, and the City of Vancouver through the Office of Cultural Affairs. Charlie Don’t Surf: 4 Vietnamese American Artists is also supported, in part, by SEATRiP (“Southeast Asia: Text, Ritual, Performance” Research Program), University of California at Riverside; the Long March Foundation; the VAWA Fest (Vietnamese American Women Artists Festival); the Vancouver Art Gallery; the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA); and individual patrons Dawn Akemi Nakaya, Hong Hoa Thi Ho, and Catherine Hong Le. Additional support for related education programs for the exhibition has been provided by a Diversities Initiatives grant from the City of Vancouver.

Presented in affiliation with Asian Heritage Month

Artist and Curator Biographies

Dinh Q. LE uses photo weavings to examine trauma and representation in Cambodia, Vietnam and the United States. The large, lush photo montages, using a traditional grass mat weaving technique, combine disparate images culled from popular culture (particularly American film and newspaper representations of the Vietnam War) into tapestries that conceal and reveal half-truths, media constructions, providing a visual analogy of the processes of memory and historical trauma: fragments are obscured, recovered, it is a process of ongoing articulation and negotiation—to remember is to forget, the viewer struggles to form a mental image, must take time with what is before her to make sense of the disconcerting, haunting splinters—a face, a body, machines of war. In his latest work, the images have multiplied, a dizzying array of references, an onslaught of images of violence, flesh, and terror re-imagined as spectacle by the Hollywood machine. Lê’s work has been exhibited in numerous international solo and group exhibitions, most recently at the Venice Biennale.

Viet LE is an interdisciplinary artist, creative and critical writer, and curator. He has received creative fellowships from the Banff Centre (Canada), the Fine Arts Work Center (MA), and PEN Center USA (CA). His artwork has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, most recently at the Laguna Art Museum (CA) and the Cape Museum of Fine Arts (MA). His work has been published in Asia Pacific American Journal, Amerasia Journal, So Luminous the Wildflowers: An Anthology of California Poets (Vols. I & II: Tebot Bach 2003, 2005), Corpus, among others. His latest curatorial project was a performance series premiering in Los Angeles and Orange Counties entitled Miss Saigon with the Wind, featuring work by Vietnamese American female performance artists (www.missaigonwiththewind.com). Le obtained his M.F.A. from the University of California, Irvine, where he has also taught; and is currently pursuing his doctoral studies at the University of Southern California.

NGUYEN Tan Hoang is both an academic and an experimental film-maker whose creative work has been featured in festivals in the U.S., Canada, Hong Kong, and Europe. Nguyen’s artistic agenda is a political one: to create a popular culture for queer Asian Americans. Nguyen often uses appropriated film footage, combining pastiche, kitsch film and music references to speak of his queer positionality. Nguyen’s output of short videos includes Seven Steps to Sticky Heaven, a musing on the politicization process of becoming “sticky rice”—a gay Asian male who dates other GAM’s. Maybe Never (but I’m counting the days) is an exploration of loss, longing and queer colored subjectivity in the shadow of AIDS. Nguyen’s other work has included homages to supermodels (Forever Linda!); Dalena, a blue-eyed, blonde haired singing sensation within the Vietnamese American community (Cover Girl: A Gift from God); Hong Kong popstars (Forever Jimmy!); “bottoms” (Forever Bottom) and pirates (Pirated!). Through a nonlinear “pirated television” editing technique used in Pirated! (2003), Hoang speaks of the perilous journey of boat refugees, pirates, and his own homoerotic desire for pirates (manifest in swashbuckling films), as well as insights on “returning to the homeland” and its inherent contradictions.

Born in Saigon, Ann PHONG fled Vietnam in 1981 and spent a year living in refugee camps in Malaysia and the Philippines before coming to southern California. In 1995 she received her M.F.A. from California State University, Fullerton. Her work has been exhibited in more than 40 solo and group shows throughout California and in Japan. She currently teaches art at Cal State Fullerton, and Cal Poly Pomona. Phong’s abstracted paintings of boats reference the female body as a vessel, and also the plight of the Vietnamese refugee boat people. The surfaces are tactile, layers and layers of paint and text embedded; when lit properly, they glow from within. The images are abstracted—waves of translucent paint, an outline of an empty boat, a disembodied hand. Formal and visceral, she plays with extremes—tenebroso, if you will—areas contrast each other, light and dark. Her work often evokes painful individual and collective memories, expressing impotence, loss, wonder, rage. This is manifest in her paintings, the colors, the layers, the violent and gentle brush strokes.

TRAN T. Kim Trang was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the U.S. in 1975. She received her M.F.A. in 1993 from the California Institute of the Arts and her B.F.A. from the University of Iowa in 1989. In 1991, Tran T. Kim Trang commenced working on the Blindness Series, an eight-part experimental video project examining blindness and its metaphors. Stylistically and conceptually different, each video functions as a theoretical and visceral musing on different aspects of sightlessness. Alethia (1992) is the introduction to the series, weaving various categories together; operlucum (1993) deconstructs Western ideals of beauty and shows the artist visiting Beverly Hills cosmetic operations offices for consultations on blepharoplasty, or eyelid creasing surgery; kore (1994) muses on blindfolds, gender and sexuality, fear, and institutional blindspots (women, people of color, AIDS); ocularis: Eye Surrogates (1997) deals with surveillance; ekleipsis (1998) delves into the hysterical blindness of a group of Cambodian women residing in Long Beach; alexia (2000) is a musing on word blindness and metaphors. The penultimate installment of the series, amaurosis: a portrait of Nguyen Duc Dat (2003) is an experimental documentary about a blind guitarist residing in Little Saigon, CA.

Vancouver display will commemorate exodus of Vietnamese

Doug Ward, Vancouver Sun

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2007

One day in 1986, Khanh Vo, a middle-aged nurse and mother, clambered into a boat and fled her native Vietnam.

Her middle-class apartment had been expropriated by the Communist government and she barely earned enough to feed her family, despite her medical skills.

So she joined the wave of refugees that came to be known as the Vietnamese boat people.

Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong cling to a barbed wire fence while waiting in line for food outside a temporary holding area in 1989.View Larger Image View Larger Image

Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong cling to a barbed wire fence while waiting in line for food outside a temporary holding area in 1989.

Reuters, Files

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Her four-day journey to Malaysia was safe and happily uneventful — unlike the horrific experiences of many other Vietnamese refugees who drowned, were killed or raped by pirates, suffered long periods of hunger or languished in squalid refugee camps.

Vo eventually settled in Vancouver, where years later she was joined by the daughter she left behind in Vietnam.

This same daughter, Que-Tran Hoang, now 27, is organizing a display in Vancouver this weekend that commemorates the fall of Saigon to the Communists in April 1975 and the migration of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese boat people to other countries.

“We try to educate younger Vietnamese-Canadians about the Vietnam War,” said Hoang.

“We try to give them their parents’ point of view which is that South Vietnamese forces were fighting the North Vietnamese Communists to protect South Vietnam.”

Many older Vietnamese-Canadians, she added, are concerned that their children and grandchildren have been influenced by other perspectives on the Vietnam War, including the belief of many North Americans that South Vietnamese politicians and soldiers were puppets of the American military that pursued a tragic and unpopular war.

The key event in this weekend’s celebration is the display of the Vietnamese Freedom Boat in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Its purpose is to remind a younger generation of Vietnamese-Canadians of the ordeals endured by many of the so-called boat people, said Hoang.

The Freedom Boat was one of two motorized light fishing boats that left Vietnam on May 12, 1981.

The boats battled high waves for about a week before arriving on a beach in Bataan, Philippines.

Filipino police were shocked by the condition of the refugees, who had been so hungry they had actually eaten most of their clothes.

All of the 50 refugees miraculously survived.

Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos was so moved by their story that he had the smaller boat displayed at a site dedicated to the memory of the boat people called Freedom Plaza in Bataan.

The 10-metre-long boat became known as Freedom Boat. The vessel was recently given by the Filipino government to a Vietnamese cultural group in California, and is now on a tour of the U.S. and Canada.

Between 1975 and 1989, 600,000 Vietnamese “boat people” resettled abroad.

Many of them spent time in refugee camps set up by the United Nations to cope with the humanitarian crisis.

About 145,000 came to Canada, the majority between 1975 and 1984.

Hoang, who is now constituency assistant to Vancouver-Kingsway NDP MLA Adrian Dix, said there are about 27,000 Vietnamese in B.C. — about half of them refugees.

The boat people phenomenon came to a halt in 1989 when the United Nations placed greater restrictions on Vietnamese refugee claims.


DOUG WARD, Vancouver Sun

Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The migration of Vietnamese refugees to Canada in the ‘70s following the end of the Vietnam War will be marked this weekend with the display in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery of a boat used by some refugees.
The so-called Freedom Boat carried 15 refugees in 1981 from Vietnam to the Philippines.
In the years following the fall of the South Vietnamese regime in Saigon to the Communist forces on April 30, 1975, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese fled the country.
The Freedom Boat was given by the Filipino government to a non-profit Vietnamese cultural group in California. The vessel is now on a tour of the U.S. and Canada.

Nearly 45% of nail salons in the U.S. are either Vietnamese- owned or employ Vietnamese technicians, according to bimonthly magazine VietSALON.

Publisher Cyndy Drummey attributes the growth of the industry for Vietnamese Americans to two main factors: accessibility and community.

“Fifteen years ago, the nail business was still new to Vietnamese Americans. But it made sense. The educational requirements were reasonable. You didn’t have to speak English. There wasn’t a lot of start-up money required, and so you could have a quick start and be able to make a small living,” explained Drummey.

Baby Boom: A father stops to tie his shoe at the Asian Garden Mall in Westminster, Calif., while his son enjoys a drink. While immigration from Vietnam is expected to level off, the community is expected to continue to grow with the addition of American-born Vietnamese. Photo by David Kawashima

By Bert Eljera

It exudes the serene dignity of a Buddhist temple-green, pagoda-style tile roof, gleaming white pillars, and fiery red wood trims that seem to glow in the morning sun.

A landscaped courtyard with brilliant flowers, sculpted trees, and a gushing fountain is dotted with tables and benches often filled with people chatting, playing Chinese checkers, or reading newspapers.

On a concrete pedestal near the entrance of the two-story building, a statue of a Happy Buddha extends its arms in warm welcome. Behind it are stone statues of the gods of Longevity, Prosperity, and Fortune.

The Asian Garden Mall is a mall like no other. While it projects spirituality outside, it’s also a monument to commerce, housing gift shops, hair salons, and some of the largest jewelry stores in Southern California.

Built in 1987, it’s the center of Little Saigon-a slice of Vietnam that Vietnamese immigrants and refugees now consider their cultural home in affluent and conservative Orange County.

“Old Saigon is no more, the Communists have seen to that,” said Tony Lam, a member of the Westminster City Council and one of the first Vietnamese Americans to open a business in Little Saigon. “We wanted to create something here in America that will remind us of who we are.”

The Communists changed the name of Saigon, the former capital of South Vietnam, to Ho Chi Minh City when they took over in 1975.

But Saigon, once known as the Paris of the Orient, is, in a sense, thriving here in Westminster.

Its soul is reflected in the Chinese architecture and French Colonial designs of the new buildings and structures along Bolsa Avenue. An aroma reminiscent of old Saigon wafts through the hundreds of restaurants which offer the best cuisine from North, Central, and South Vietnam.

Vietnamese music blares from records stores and shops. In the evening, Vietnamese Americans, mostly young people, flock to karaoke bars, where they sing along to popular Vietnamese ballads.

Along a one-mile stretch of Bolsa Avenue, from Ward to Magnolia streets, thousands of businesses-shops, cafes, restaurants, supermarkets, and professional offices-cater to Orange County’s 150,000 Vietnamese residents, the largest population outside Vietnam.

Little Saigon, which started with a few stores in 1975, now covers roughly four city-blocks, reaching the edges of nearby Garden Grove and Santa Ana.

The district pumps about $500,000 a year in sales and property taxes to Westminster, city officials say.

About 300,000 visitors, mostly Vietnamese Americans from throughout the United States, visit Little Saigon each year, according to Lam and other city officials.

In business: Con Huynh, owner of the Hoa Phung jewelry store at the Asian Garden Mall, says business has been up and down the past three years but is picking up again as summer nears. Vietnamese, Filipinos, Koreans, Chinese, and Thais are his biggest customers. Photo by David Kawashima

Now, a $4.5-million project is under way to promote Little Saigon as a tourist destination, and position it as part of a triangle that includes Disneyland in Anaheim and Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park, both less than five miles away.

The ambitious project includes a pedestrian bridge over Bolsa Avenue that will connect Asian Garden Mall with the Asian Village Center; a new, mini-mall; a temple; and a plaza with kiosks, fountains, benches, and walking and jogging paths.

An artist’s rendering shows the bridge, which will be 30-feet-wide and 500-feet-long, with a pagoda-style roof and decorated with calligraphy and murals reflecting Vietnamese culture. The sign says: Welcome to Little Saigon, Westminster.

Construction is scheduled to begin sometime this summer and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

“In the eyes of people, this is basically a business district now,” said Frank Jao, who is the owner of Bridgecreek Group Inc. and also considered the builder of Little Saigon. His company owns the Asian Garden Mall and Asian Village Center.

“We want to see more of a cultural style and flavor,” Jao said. “In order to attract tourists, you need that atmosphere. They don’t come just to shop.”

That Jao, Lam, and other Westminster city officials now talk of Little Saigon as a tourist destination underscores the tremendous changes the area has seen over the past 25 years.

Back in 1975, the area now known as Little Saigon was a cluster of run-down strip malls, machine shops, auto repair shops, strawberry fields, and aging mobile home parks.

In more than two decades, Vietnamese immigrants and refugees have transformed it into an ever-growing business center with the potential of becoming the capital in the expanding trade arena with Vietnam, Hong Kong, and other Pacific Rim countries.

“It literally exploded,” said Westminster Mayor Chuck Smith. “The development there was just unbelievable. It’s been very positive for the city.”

The first wave of Vietnamese refugees-about 130,000-arrived in 1975, shortly after the fall of Saigon. Most of the new arrivals were placed at a refugee camp in Camp Pendleton, a Marine base in El Toro in south Orange County, where they were processed for resettlement.

Among the refugees were Lam and Jao, who both fled Vietnam with their families. Lam, 59, an official in South Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture, became the camp manager at Camp Pendleton, an experience that would later thrust him into politics.

In 1992, he became the first Vietnamese to be elected to public office in the United States when he won a two-year seat on the Westminster City Council. He won re-election in 1994. Lam said most of the Vietnamese refugees decided to stay in Orange County, attracted to the weather and to the abundance of jobs in the defense industry as a result of the Cold War-era military buildup.

Lam, who now owns a restaurant in Garden Grove, got his financial start with a job as an insurance agent and opened an office on Bolsa Avenue. The area’s low rent and potential for expansion made it an attractive location for other potential business owners as well. A jewelry store and a food market opened shortly thereafter. Eventually, a pharmacy, a doctor’s office, and the first big supermarket-Ho Binh market-opened as more businesses started to sprout along the Bolsa corridor.

But it was not until the arrival of Jao, who was born to Chinese parents in Hai Phong, North Vietnam, that the construction of Little Saigon began in earnest.

After his brief stay at the Camp Pendleton resettlement camp, Jao got a job selling Kirby vacuum cleaners, hawking his merchandise door-to-door in Garden Grove.

A business graduate in Vietnam, Jao was determined to establish his own business and began studying real estate. He got his license in 1976.

Two years later, he founded Bridgecreek Realty, earning $40,000 in commissions his first year. Not content just brokering deals, he began buying properties and, in 1978, formed Bridgecreek Group Inc. with the help of friends and Chinese investors.

His first big break came in 1980 when he bought a rundown shopping center on Bolsa Avenue and renovated it. By 1986, he owned three shopping centers and, in 1987, built the jewel of his growing empire-the 150,000-square-foot Asian Garden Mall.

Today, Bridgecreek Group Inc. owns eight shopping centers and an office building, valued at more than $300 million and constituting at least one-third of Little Saigon, according to the latest estimates.

All this is quite an accomplishment for someone who arrived in this country with $50 in his pocket. “I believe destiny controls what we do,” said Jao, 45. “Everyone should do whatever they can to be a success. After that, it’s in God’s hands.”

But Jao, who changed his last name from “Trieu” to “Jao,” the Chinese version, has his critics within the Vietnamese community, which has been beset by deep divisions despite the business successes of some of its members.

Where We Are

The first boatloads of South Vietnamese political refugees arrived in the U.S. during the mid-1960s at the start of the Vietnamese conflict and, by 1970, 3,788 had settled in the U.S.

Immigration rose drastically during the conflict and in its aftermath. By 1980, the Vietnamese American population was recorded at 245,025 and, by 1990, the cumulative immigrant and native-born Vietnamese American population totaled 614,547.

Vietnamese Americans currently make up 8.6 percent of all Asian Americans and tend to live in concentrated areas in California and the West. The top 12 areas based on ethnic Vietnamese population are:

Metropolitan Area Japanese Pop. % of Total.
Anaheim-Santa Ana 71,822 3.0
Los Angeles-Long Beach 62,594 0.7
San Jose 54,212 3.6
Houston 33,035 1.0
Washington 23,408 0.6
San Diego 21,118 0.9
Oakland 16,732 0.8
Seattle 12,617 0.8
San Francisco 12,451 0.8
Dallas 11,522 0.5
New Orleans 11,419 0.9
Riverside-San Bernardino 11,315 0.4

Some former business associates have called Jao “greedy” and some have even started their own businesses after relations with Jao soured.

Others have recognized Jao for his contributions to the Vietnamese community. Kathy Buchoz, who served four years on the Westminster council in the 1980s, including one year as mayor, thinks Jao is an astute businessman who has done a lot for Vietnamese Americans.

She said Jao had the vision to see the opportunities for an emerging community and had the courage to follow through. “He made all these things happen,” Buchoz said. She now works for Jao as vice president of Bridgecreek Realty, which manages the Jao properties.

But business jealousies pale in comparison to the strong political dissension within the Vietnamese community over the issue of how to deal with the Communist government in Vietnam.

For years, the community was divided into factions: those who favored some economic and political ties with the Communists and those who refused any contact with them at all.

Leaders, such as Lam, who advocated some form of dialogue with the Communist leaders in Vietnam were branded Communist sympathizers.

Sometimes, the consequences of such advocacy were serious, perhaps even deadly.

Nine years ago, publisher Tap Van Pham was killed in an arson fire after his magazine published ads which some interpreted to favor the Communist government. His killers have not been identified.

Others, including the owners of Little Saigon Television and Radio-the largest Vietnamese media company in Southern California-have received death or bomb threats.

Trang Nguyen said she and her staff received death threats after her company began broadcasting interviews of Vietnamese leaders by the British Broadcasting Corp.

A contract with the BBC that was established two years ago allows her company to transmit BBC broadcasts in Vietnamese, which are then relayed to Little Saigon’s affiliate stations in Houston and other cities.

“They said we were being used by the Communists,” said Nguyen, a graduate of San Diego State, who said some Vietnamese immigrants have a distorted view of the media. “We were just doing our job, which is to inform the public.”

The protests were not limited to the media. Dr. Co Pham, president of the Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce and owner of a medical building in Little Saigon, drew the ire of some Vietnamese immigrants when he hosted a reception for a visiting Vietnamese official three years ago.

In 1994, when he proposed a trade delegation to Vietnam, his office was repeatedly picketed. “It’s an emotional issue, and I don’t blame them,” Co said at the time. “Many of them were victims. But it’s important to forget the past and look to the future and rebuild Vietnam.”

Lam said that some so-called community leaders were exploiting the pain of those who suffered in the hands of the Communists to promote their own agenda.

After the first wave of Vietnamese refugees in 1975, a second wave came in the 1980s, comprised mostly of “boat people” who fled Vietnam in small, dangerous boats. Many have spent time in resettlement camps in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines before eventually being resettled in the United States.

Unlike most of the first wave who were educated, well-off Vietnamese with ties to the Americans, the second wave were ordinary folks with limited English-language skills.

Welcome To Little Saigon: A 500 foot bridge connecting the Asian Garden Maill with the Asian Village Center is the centerpiece of a new effort to attract visitors. Illustration by Vincent Dinh

In the late 1980s, about 39,000 Amerasians-children of American fathers and Vietnamese mothers-were admitted into the U.S. After an agreement was forged with the Vietnamese government, former prisoners of Communist labor camps were also allowed an orderly entry into the U.S.

It was this latter group of Vietnamese-elderly, sickly and some horribly tortured by the Communists-who were most adamant about forging relations with Vietnam, Lam said.

But the polarization in the Vietnamese community has eased with the lifting of the U.S. trade embargo against Vietnam two years ago, according to Yen Do, publisher of the Nguoi Viet Daily News, the largest daily newspaper in Little Saigon.

“The situation is better, people are less into politics,” said Do, 56, a respected Saigon journalist before he left Vietnam in 1975. “To have relations with Vietnam is no longer against the law, and many people welcome that.”

He said that as more young people-who have no memory about the Vietnam war and its aftermath-take over Vietnamese American businesses, trade with Vietnam is inevitable.

Two weeks ago, the observance of the Southeast Asia Genocide Remembrance Week, which in the past has been used to protest abuses of the Vietnamese government, attracted few participants. Do said that this is an indication that political fervor is waning.

This less political, more business-oriented environment is just fine for Tinh Dinh and Martin Tran, both former soldiers in the South Vietnamese Army, who now are more concerned with trying to make a living in their adopted country. This week, Dinh and Tran were relaxing at the Asian Garden Mall, sipping coffee and reminiscing about Vietnam.

“I come here almost everyday,” said Dinh, 40, who works on the night shift at a plating company in Westminster. “I like it here in America. There is freedom. I’m human.”

Dinh spent four years in a Communist labor camp, and came to the U.S. five years ago.

Tran lost his right eye in battle during the Vietnam war, and was jailed by the Communists from 1975 to 1980. He arrived in the U.S. in 1982, leaving his wife and five children in Vietnam.

Tran has been out of work for several years now, unable to bring his family over. “I live alone. I’m lonely and very sick,” he said. He added that he finds comfort in his daily trips to Little Saigon, where he can meet his friends.

Little Saigon at a Glance

A Westminster City Council resolution in 1988 designated the area along Bolsa Avenue, between Ward and Magnolia streets, as Little Saigon.

Located in this area of less than one-square-mile are five banks, six major shopping centers, eight bakeries, and thousands of shops, cafes, restaurants, jewelry stores, hair salons, and professional offices in what is considered the largest Vietnamese business enclave outside of Vietnam.

About 300,000 Vietnamese Americans visit the area each year, and plans are now under way to convert Little Saigon into a tourist destination.

The plans include building a bridge connecting two of the largest shopping centers-Asian Garden Mall and Asian Village Center-plus a mini-mall, a temple, and a landscaped courtyard.

A hotel, a cultural center, a French Quarter with sidewalk cafes, and Asian-style lamps are among the future plans, as Little Saigon merchants try to lure tourists visiting nearby Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm.

Little Saigon now covers roughly four city-blocks in Westminster and is continuing to expand into nearby Garden Grove and Santa Ana, where a majority of Orange County’s estimated 150,000 Vietnamese immigrants live.

But while Little Saigon seems to offer nearly everything for people like Dinh and Tran-food, clothes, jewelry and other merchandise-there’s very little for young people.

There are no bowling alleys, skating rinks, movie houses, or McDonald’s, said Tracie Mai, 21, who lives in nearby Santa Ana.

“There’s nothing there for us,” Mai said. “It’s a place for older people. It’s not a fun place to hang out. We go there by necessity, to eat or buy groceries.”

Tracie and her sisters, Stacy, 18, and Samantha, 15, along with a friend, Trang To, 15, were enjoying a late lunch of noodle soup, shrimp, egg roll, and salad at Lam’s Garden Grove restaurant.

Stacy Mai, a senior at Santa Ana’s Valley High School, said there is a perception that young people who hang out in Little Saigon are gang members.

“A lot of Vietnamese teenagers are into gangs,” she said. “They think it’s the cool and macho thing to do.”

Lt. Andrew Hall of the Westminster Police Department said some of the coffee houses in Little Saigon have become the hangouts of gang members.

After several gang-related incidents this year, the Westminster council passed an ordinance requiring coffee shops to install more lighting, limit the number of video games, and close at midnight.

Owners are also required to have special permits for karaoke, send patrons under 18 home at 10 p.m., and ban smoking. Coffee owners have complained, but the council adopted the ordinance with little discussion.

Police have identified five Vietnamese gangs in Westminster, with a membership of about 500 people. This has raised some concern among residents, particularly with the elderly in mobile home parks near Little Saigon.

In an effort to reach out to the Vietnamese community, the Westminster Police Department has hired four Vietnamese officers, and once maintained a police substation in Little Saigon.

Budget cuts forced the substation to close, but a police service officer now works several times a week to help residents and businesses in Little Saigon.

Jenny Truong, a mother of two, was hired three years ago as police service officer. Her job includes translating for Vietnamese immigrants with limited English-language skills.

“There is a perception that the police are out to get people,” Truong said. “It’s part of my job to explain that we’re not. We’re here to help.”

In addition, Westminster has initiated some innovative programs to help the Vietnamese community, which makes up about 14 percent of the city’s 83,000 residents. One such program pairs a grandmother or grandfather with an elementary school pupil in an after-school tutoring program.

Often the grandparent is white or Latino and the child is Vietnamese. The tutoring program is conducted at the senior center.

“We have to provide a safe place for kids to go after school,” said Marge Shellington, former president of the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster. “We have to open our hearts. Each of us has come from somewhere and these [Vietnamese] kids need our help.”

Shellington said the city’s predominantly white residents have learned to accept the new immigrants.

“There will always be people who hate everybody but themselves,” Shellington said. “But, I think, overall, people have accepted the reality that the new immigrants enrich our community.”

Shellington is running for one of two city council seats at stake in the November election, and has actively sought the support of Vietnamese American leaders.

From refugees 25 years ago, Vietnamese Americans are now considered key political and economic players in Orange County, the state, and the nation.

Every major Republican candidate-from Sen. Bob Dole to Gov. Pete Wilson-has made the pilgrimage to Little Saigon to court Asian votes and contributions. They stroked the belly of the Happy Buddha at the entrance of the Asian Garden Mall for good luck, and toasted the Vietnamese immigrants for their entrepreneurial spirit.

The bridge in Little Saigon will serve a practical as well as symbolic purpose: to give shoppers better access to the stores and to provide a cultural link to Vietnam’s past. “We want to create something unique,” said architect Vincent Dinh. “We want it to be the centerpiece of Little Saigon. We want people to say, when they see it, “Yes, this is Little Saigon.”

“Capitals of Asian America” is AsianWeek’s series on cultural centers around the country. This month, we explore five major capitals representing different ethnic groups in celebration of Asian Pacific Heritage Month.May 3: Daly City, Calif.: Filipinos At Home in America

Last week: Los Angeles: Return to Little Tokyo

This Week: Building Little Saigon

Next week: Monterey Park, Calif.: Little Taipei

May 31: San Francisco: The Chinatown Legacy

©1998 AsianWeek. The information you receive on-line from AsianWeek is protected by the copyright laws of the United States. The copyright laws prohibit any copying, redistributing, retransmitting, or repurposing of any copyright-protected material.


HCM CITY — The Vietnamese action thriller The Rebel will make its world premiere today at the third biennial Vietnamese International Film Festival (ViFF) in Los Angeles, California.

Set in the early 20th century, the film follows young Cuong, who returns to Viet Nam after studying in France. He is employed by the French colonial army to carry out a secret mission, but in the process he meets and falls in love with Thuy, a female intelligence agent for the Vietnamese resistance army.

The Rebel stars renowned Vietnamese actor Nguyen Chanh Tin and his nephew, Johnny Tri Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American stuntman known for his acrobatic work in Spider Man 1 and 2.

Young model Ngo Thanh Van, the star of several action films, plays the intelligence agent.

The US$1.5 million film was produced last year by Chanh Phuong Film Studio, a private company in HCM City.

Organised by the Vietnamese-American Arts & Letters Association and the Vietnamese Language and Culture Centre at the University of California, Los Angeles, the 2007 ViFF will run from today to Sunday and April 19 to 27.

The festival will screen 13 features and 38 short films entered by filmmakers of Vietnamese descent from around the world.

The Rebel will debut in Ha Noi and HCM City on April 27.

Going global

According to sources from Chanh Phuong, the distribution rights of The Rebel were sold to the Weinstein Company in the US, making the picture the first Vietnamese-made film to be marketed globally.

The Weinstein Company, an independent film and distribution studio, has distributed many well-known films including Derailed, Transamerica and Pulse.

The Rebel is also the first Vietnamese film to appear on the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), the world’s largest cinematic database. — VNS

Coffee shop review

April 17, 2007

user photo

Juice C.

Written: 336

03/27/2007 5 stars

dude, this place totally gets 5 stars. and i dont even drink coffee! believe it or not, one of my coworkers introduced me to this place a few months ago. i was cross training at the client with him and for lunch he was like, “you wanna go to a cafe? ive taken the manager and the girls there are hot.” so im like, “ok sure”.

we get there and these girls are seriously wearing micro-skirts and in 6 inch heels and bikini tops. it was RIDiculous.

you walk in and you see all these scantily clad waitresses who are definitely hoochie hot. every inch of the walls are lined with plasma tvs. theyve got these weird looking asian video games. i think they even do some sort of keno.

they even allow smoking inside, people just ash on the ground, pretty disgusting. anyway, so theres like no menu either you just order. so my friend ordered us the avocado milk shake which was pretty damn good. they dont serve alcohol which is pretty surprising.

but yeah, they all serve this free ice tea. it was hilarious because my coworker was like downing his ice tea. id never seen anyone drink so much so fast. then after the waitress came by like for the 4th time in 15 minutes i finally understood what he was up to. the service was so good that everytime you need a refill they come prancing by and filling it up. RIDiculous!!!

so yeah, come here for the coffee and stay for the scenery. dont believe me? check out their myspace page. i think its one of the girls that work there.

remember, order the avocade shake so you can look like a regular. hes told me stories where hes been there and seen the girls sitting on dudes laps and totally macking with the regulars. he also says the rumor is that the owner pays for boob jobs for all the waitresses. you need to see for yourself.

Coffee culture

April 16, 2007

Palm Beach Post-Cox News Service

Thursday, April 05, 2007

“Do you want a coffee?” asked Alessandro, cocking his head in the direction of a stand-up coffee counter facing the street, where two baristas in black bow ties stood by watching a World Cup match on a wall-mounted TV.

We were in Venice, Italy, having just spent the past half-hour standing on cobblestones and screaming into cellphones as I canceled our overnight train to France and my friend Alessandro booked us a flight.


I was feeling overwhelmed by the frustration, the heat, the pigeon droppings, the beelining tourists, the remnants of black cuttlefish risotto in my stomach.

“Let’s get a coffee,” he persisted, leading me to the counter and ordering “due ristretti” — two short pulls of espresso so concentrated that the foamy crema on top of the cup overwhelmed the puddle of pitch below. We stirred in a little sugar and tipped the shots back.

Ah, those next few seconds. It was a moment I had grown fanatical about. Addicted to. Not just the shot of drug to the head, but also the temperature (never hot enough to burn), the viscosity (it sits on the tongue like cough syrup), the bitterness (you flinch at first, then as you relax new flavors rush forth). This moment in time, this alone, is the essence of coffee.

In my 20s, I returned from trips to Europe smoking a pack a day. In my 30s, I wanted a flask of wine with every lunch. Now, in my 40s, it’s a four-demitasse-a-day habit.

Great. The problem is that all the espresso on this side of the Atlantic rhymes with “ducks.”

Have you tried looking for good espresso here? In a fancy restaurant? You’ll get a lovely porcelain demitasse cup holding a brew so watery it can’t support a decent head of crema. At Starbucks? The espresso is so punishingly bitter I’d rather have cough syrup. At another coffee shop? Great, tell me where, because I’ve tried them all.

Coffee culture has changed markedly in this country over the past 20 years, mostly for the better. The Specialty Coffee Association of America estimates that we drank more than $11 billion worth of high-end, “gourmet” coffee in 2005 from cafes, boutique roasters, kiosks and carts. That is more than half of the estimated $19 billion U.S. coffee market.

In the process, we’ve developed quite the attitude. For starters, we’ve learned to look for 100 percent arabica coffee. Arabica coffee is the kind with the nuance, the character, the length on the palate. Coffee shops use it. Dunkin’ Donuts uses it. Even McDonald’s rolled out its Premium blend “made only with 100 percent arabica beans roasted to perfection.”

We vaguely know that the dark, easy, flat-tasting coffee that we can drink by the bucket in a diner is made with a blend of arabica and cheaper robusta beans. The 2-pound tins of pre-ground Folgers that our parents still buy is a blend of arabica and robusta, its flavor commensurate with its lower price. Robusta coffee has a soft, broad flavor that some people find muddy or musty. (Vietnamese iced coffee has a strong robusta flavor.)

So we prefer arabica to robusta. What else?

Well, thanks to coffee shops like Starbucks, we’ve also learned to love the charming ritual of the espresso machine. The hiss. The smell. The customization of each beverage, beans to cup, just for you.

We love the coffee drink as an indulgence. Three dollars. Sixteen ounces. Thirty minutes of peace. Foam on our lips. Yum.

This coffee interlude bears no resemblance to knocking back a quick ristretto at an Italian coffee bar. That’s the problem.

The espresso brewed in America gets away with being so sharp because its sole function is to give backbone to a leisurely cup of sweetened, super-hot foamed milk.

Still, we use Italian machines. We use Italian coffee. Why does the espresso invariably come out so bitter?

There are at least two reasons. Many machines aren’t set to a high enough pressure as they force steam through the coffee grounds. Steam is inversely proportionate to temperature, so the water gets too hot and overextracts the grounds.

The other reason lies in our aversion to using robusta coffee. The typical Italian coffee shop may not make a big deal about sourcing Kenya AA or Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee. No, they use a blend, which always includes a small amount of robusta.

This unsophisticated bean not only provides a sturdy platform for the more complex flavors of arabica coffee, it helps build the luscious head of crema that in itself tames the bitter edge.

I once brought up this issue with food writer Corby Kummer, who has written extensively about coffee. He agreed that educating Americans about the value of robusta coffee was the most important step toward getting better espresso here. I asked him if it was like the way bordeaux producers blend grapes.

“I hate it when people use a wine analogy for coffee,” Kummer snorted, thereby ending the conversation.

Maybe the better analogy is music. When I stream a song from my laptop to my family room speakers, it sounds good. When I stream the song and also activate the speakers on the laptop, then the music resonates with a fullness I hadn’t heard before.

It is that quadraphonic fullness that makes the few seconds you spend with a cup of espresso such a welcome moment in time. It is a drink that flirts with every possible unpleasantness and yet manages to fill your palate with a cascading harmony of flavors. Let me repeat, this is coffee.

Sunday, May. 01, 2005

Vietnam’s relentless modernization means there are increasingly fewer opportunities to step back into the country’s past. But the splendid Café Tung is an exception. With its retro skai-covered sofas and Jacques Brel posters, it looks more like a 1960s Parisian cellar than a coffee shop in the present-day Central Highlands town of Dalat. Not that there are any complaints from the clientele, who comprise a fair slice of Dalat’s artists and intellectuals (the town is Vietnam’s pre-eminent bohemian enclave).

From early morning, they gather to read the papers and suck down potent glasses of ca phe sua da — espresso served over ice and sweetened with condensed milk — while listening to music coming out of antiquated speakers (it might be by the Ronettes, the Rolling Stones or Khan Ly, Vietnam’s most celebrated diva and a Café Tung regular in the 1960s). “I’m keeping it this way because it has worked for nearly 50 years,” says proprietor Tung Dinh Tran, who opened the café in 1959 but has now handed over the management of it to his son. With a bit of luck, it will work for the next 50, too. tel: (84-63) 821 390

Associated Press
Jan. 29, 2007 01:05 PM

TUKWILA, Wash. – Coffee-stand owner John Cambroto couldn’t compete against the beautiful bikini-clad women selling espresso up the road.

“We had a much better atmosphere, good coffee. Unfortunately, they ran around half-naked and we didn’t,” said Cambroto, who finally threw in the towel last spring and sold his business to his rival, the operator of six Cowgirls Espresso stands in the Seattle suburbs.

The naughty baristas of Cowgirls Espresso represent a new trend in and around Seattle – perhaps the most caffeinated city in America – and illustrate how cutthroat the competition can be in the hometown of Starbucks, which has multiple coffee shops competing on the same block.


Among the other coffee stands that are showing some skin: Moka Girls in Auburn, The Sweet Spot Cafe in Shoreline, Bikini Espresso in Renton and Natte Latte in Port Orchard.

One recent afternoon, there was a long line of cars at the tiny, black-and-white, cow-painted Cowgirls stand in front of a Tukwila casino.

Candice Law, leaning provocatively out the drive-through window in a black bra that didn’t quite cover her shiny purple pasties, and Toni Morgan, wearing a skimpy halter top, see-through red lace panties and chaps, seemed to know every customer.

Most of the customers declined to give their names or be interviewed – “Nobody wants to admit to their wives that they’re here,” Law said. One who did, a 25-year-old diesel mechanic named Mike West, said he comes every day for the coffee.

“I could care less what they wear,” he said.

Lori Bowden, the owner of Cowgirls Espresso, opened her first stand, by the entrance to the Silver Dollar Casino, four years ago. Law and other employees suggested doing “Bikini Wednesdays.” Bowden approved, and her stand immediately doubled the amount of money it was taking in – from $200 to $400 – on Wednesdays.

“Fantasy Fridays,” “School Girl Thursdays,” “Cowgirl Tuesdays” and “Military Mondays” soon followed. The stand now rakes in about $800 a day, Bowden said. The girls make minimum wage, plus $80 to $150 a day in tips.

Steve McDaniel, chief operating officer at the casino, saw the line of vehicles and knew there was money to be made. He opened Moka Girls last summer. Like Cowgirls, it features theme days and racy lingerie.

“Most guys like to see pretty girls when they get their mochas,” said Sarah Araujo, who opened The Sweet Spot two years ago. “We just figured we’d be honest about it.”

As long as the employees’ breasts and buttocks are covered, they aren’t breaking the law. And the owners of the stands say they get few complaints.

Bowden said the baristas at one Cowgirls stand stopped signing the paper coffee cups “XOXO” after the wife of one customer complained, but that’s been about it.

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