Stealing Buddhas dinner

December 5, 2007

Stealing Buddhas dinner

Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2007 4:28 PM CDT
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When Bich (pronounced Bit) Nguyen escaped from Saigon with her family in 1975, she was only eight months old. She had to rely on the memories of her father, grandmother and uncles to tell her about the family’s journey to America. But Nguyen has very vivid memories of her childhood growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and her memoir, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, is a compelling account of a little girl’s desire to fit comfortably into her adopted country.

The Nguyen family sponsor provides the family a place to live for $100 monthly rent and a job for Nguyen’s father in one of Grand Rapids’ many furniture factories. The rental house on Baldwin Street is no castle, but Nguyen and her year older sister, Anh, play happily on the splintered wood floors with the toys donated by their sponsor’s church. The seven family members crammed into the house are grateful for a place to live, but frequently uneasy in their new home and jobs.

Nguyen and her sister grow to love all things American—Luden’s wild cherry flavored cough drops, Pringles, Hershey bars, Meijer’s Thrifty Acres, Wonder Woman, Sesame Street and music. But they don’t know the answer to the question they are eventually asked by others, “Where’s your mom?”


After two years in Grand Rapids, their father meets and eventually marries a Mexican-American woman, Rosa, who has a daughter, so the two Vietnamese girls now have a stepsister, new customs to learn and a new branch of family traditions to celebrate.

As they grow older, Nguyen and her sister lose their ability to speak Vietnamese and Nguyen longs to be more like the blonde girls with Dutch heritage she sees at school. Besides all their physical differences, many of her schoolmates are also staunch members of the Christian Reformed Church while Nguyen’s family is Buddhist.

The family expands with the arrival of Nguyen’s brother, Vinh, and they also move to a ranch style home in a nicer part of the city. Nguyen makes a nest for herself and her books on the top bunk in the bedroom she shares with her sister and stepsister.


As the two older girls move into adolescence Nguyen draws closer in many ways to her grandmother, Noi, and continues in her thwarted efforts to be the perfect American girl. Meanwhile her father is reluctant to give up the party lifestyle he pursued in Vietnam and his marriage to Rosa, a teacher and perpetual volunteer, falters as the family moves outside Grand Rapids to Ada.

Details about Nguyen’s biological mother remain a mystery until she is much older.

You would not want to read this memoir while hungry in a house with an ample supply of junk food. Nguyen’s book is in some ways an ode to American food of all kinds, as she longs for the foods in her classmates’ homes and visits the restaurants that have the most food for the least amount of money with her family.


I was drawn in part to this book by the locale. I spent my college years in Grand Rapids, leaving about a year before the Nguyen family arrived. Her descriptions of the Baldwin Street neighborhood, Woodland Mall and the stores on 28th Street were vivid reminders of my past, albeit a much different experience than Nguyen’s.

While the author’s struggle to fit in as a new American is in many ways unique, it also resonates with the feelings most of us experienced as we moved from childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood, finding a place in our family, our faith and the world around us.

University by the Sea, a new film, arts and educational festival which will take place on Sunday, October 28, 2007 on Pine Avenue in downtown Long Beach with an expected attendance of over 5,000. 


Criteria:  “All genres, subject matters and film lengths are welcome to participate in this festival as long as each film was either created by a foreign filmmakers or exhibits strong international theme.”  Please see the attachements for more information!


University by the Sea offers an Audience Choice Award of $1,000 cash prize, by the way!  : )


Hope you will submit your films!  I know the deadline has passed, but you should contact Roxanne at roxcorner@hotmail. com immediately if you’re interested!






Vietnamese American Arts & Letters Association (VAALA)

Vietnamese International Film Festival 2009 – ViFF www.VietFilmFest. com


B1-3bw-tinyurl.jpgBich Minh Nguyen’s first book, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner (Viking Penguin, February 2007), received the PEN/Jerard Award from the PEN American Center. Her work has also appeared in publications such as Gourmet magazine; Jane magazine; Dream Me Home Safely: Writers on Growing up in America; and Watermark: Vietnamese American Poetry and Prose. She also coedited three anthologies: 30/30: Thirty American Stories from the Last Thirty Years (Penguin Academic); Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: I & Eye (Longman); and The Contemporary American Short Story (Longman). She is currently at work on a novel, Short Girls.

Nguyen was born in Saigon in 1974. On April 29, 1975, the night before the city fell, her family fled Viet Nam by ship. After staying in refugee camps in Guam and at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, they settled in the conservative, mostly white town of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In Stealing Buddha’s Dinner Nguyen writes about growing up in a Vietnamese household in an “All-American” city in the deep 1980s.

She received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan and currently teaches creative nonfiction, fiction, and Asian American Literature at Purdue University. She lives in Chicago and West Lafayette, Indiana with her husband Porter Shreve.

Nguyen’s first name, Bich, is pronounced like “Bit.” Nguyen, the Smith of Viet Nam, is pronounced something like Ngoo-ee-ehn (said quickly, as in one syllable), but most people tend to say “Win” or “New-in” instead.

Behind the Cover: Bich Minh Nguyen
Online Assistant Editor James Grasselli

Bich Min Nguyen plans to read from her PEN/Jerard award-winning memoir, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the JC Gold Room. Want more? Take a look at her website. Not enough? Here’s a Behind the Cover look at the writer behind the memoir.

What inspired you to start writing Stealing Buddha’s Dinner?

Before I even had the thought to write a memoir, I had written a few essays
about childhood, immigration, and Asian American identity. Eventually it
dawned on me that those essays, when reworked, could become part of a
larger, book-length manuscript about growing up in a multicultural

You talk very little about your birth mother in Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, what prompted that decision?

When I was growing up much of the world seemed steeped in mystery. The minor mysteries–how exactly did Pringles get their shape?–weighed almost as much as the major mysteries, like the question of what had happened to my mother. The subject of her life was shrouded in secrecy–no one in the family wanted, or dared, to talk about her–and in my book I try to recreate that sense of silence. The structure of the book mirrors my experience of not knowing, and not even really allowing myself to think, about her. She was an off-limits subject, and I not only bowed to that, I was a part of that pact. It sounds awful, but the reality was that I had never known her; I didn’t know anything about her. And since I had a mother, Rosa, in my life, and my grandmother Noi, I wasn¹t lacking maternal figures. When I fantasized about having the perfect family, I dreamed of mothers I could not have, like Marmee March or Maria Von Trapp; they represented, or so I often thought, lives of perfection. In Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, the truth about my mother is not revealed until the near end–again, the narrative structure reflecting my experience–when, no longer a child, I face the mother I had all along feared to know.

behind the cover
Check back daily for more Behind the Cover coverage.

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Behind the Scenes of Fall for the Book

A large portion of “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner” is about your obsession with American snacks and foods, are you still as fascinated by non-Vietnamese cuisine as you were then?

The food theme emerged as soon as I started the project, since food truly was a literal and figurative marker of my childhood. I planned my hours around what I would get and hope to eat. I thought of food as something wonderful and transformative. I also thought: if I could eat what normal Americans were eating then I could be one of them. In the book, that desire
is meant to be seen as both comical and sad.

I still love all kinds of candy, from fancy chocolates to Nerds. But the other processed foods of my youth–all that Chef Boyardee–appeal to me now only in a campy, nostalgic way. They have become symbols and ideas, signposts of a previous self, a past-tense time, place, and identity. Such foods, for me, are inextricable from their context, their role in my 80s childhood.

Do you have a favorite food these days, American or otherwise?

I love all kinds of food! I’m basically guided by cravings: one day it might be steak frites, the next, mapo tofu. I¹m always on the lookout for the perfect cherry pie, the perfect potato chips… the list is endless.

How did you end up working as an editor on three anthologies?

The anthologies emerged and evolved from coursepack ideas. We (my husband Porter Shreve and I–we coedit the anthologies) also wanted to put together anthologies that were as diverse and wide-ranging as possible.

Do you have any short stories, fictional or non-fictional, that will be appearing in magazines or anthologies in the near future?

I’m working on a couple of new essays as well as my novel, Short Girls.

Your next book, Short Girls, is fictional. Why the genre shift?

Fiction was the first genre I started writing in so, in a way, nonfiction seems like more of a shift for me!

Writing fiction after writing nonfiction has been very freeing. I keep thinking: I get to make stuff up! I¹ve always enjoyed working in more than one genre and thinking about places where one genre bends toward another. I have found, for myself, that subject matter is the primary element that decides which genre a work is going to veer toward. Short Girls does draw on
what I know in that it’s partly set in Michigan, and depicts characters who are Vietnamese American, but that’s pretty much where the autobiographical involvement ends. Well, except for the title.

What drew you to George Mason’s Fall for the Book?

It’s a terrific celebration of books. So many writers I admire have participated in the event.

At Fall for the Book you’ll be reading from Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, do you already have a selection planned and what, if any, interaction will you have with the audience before/during/after the reading (i.e. Q&A time)?

I will be reading a section from Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, with a Q&A after
the reading. After that, I will be signing books if anyone wants one signed.

Best danged chef in the whole US is Vietnamese




Huynh Hung, 29, an ethnic Vietnamese chef championed the “Top Chef 3 Miami” contest held by U.S. Bravo! TV.

The final round Wednesday – Thursday morning, (Indochina Time) was a cook-off between Hung and two other contestants, Texan Casey Thompson, 29, and Dale Levitski, 34, of Illinois.Each chef had to prepare three original dishes and one compulsory dish.

The final round was captivating right up to the final seconds in which the winner was declared, reported Reality TV.

Hung won the final round with a scrumptious-looking duck dish. Now a resident of Las Vegas, Huynh Hung was born 1978 in Ho Chi Minh City.

“I want to boost Vietnamese cuisine abroad,” declared Hung in his acceptance speech, “I want the world to know where I’m from.”

Hung also teased his competitors and audiences alike with a supposed revelation of his culinary “secret weapons.”

“Fish sauce and all kinds of salted fish direct from Vietnam,” he wryly ventured.

Reported by Nguyen Quan

Exclusive Interview: Hung Huynh of ‘Top Chef’

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October 3, 2007Tonight, Bravo will air the finale of Top Chef where Casey Thompson, Dale Levitski, and Hung Huynh will compete for the grand prize in Aspen.  Though he is considered to be the strongest chef technically, Hung has only won one elimination challenge.  He has, however, pulled off four wins in the quickfire challenges.  He has been criticized by the judges for not showing enough of himself in his food.  He feels that he has been passionate about his work and is clearly the strongest chef there.  Surprised to be in the finale with Casey and Dale, Hung promises that, tonight, he’ll show his best work to date.  Today, he took a few minutes before the live finale to talk to BuddyTV.

Below, you will find the complete transcript and mp3 of the interview.

Hey everybody, this is Gina and I’m talking to one of the finalists on Bravo’s Top Chef, Hung. How ya doin’?

Fine, thank you.

It was really interesting when Tom started asking you guys why you were so passionate about being in the competition. You talked a lot about your family and growing up around food … can you talk a little bit about your background and your family?

Yeah, well,  after the war in Vietnam everyone was starving to death and my dad was in the army, so he had to escape a re-education camp or be locked up for life. So he had to escape when I was a couple months old, along with two of my brothers and my uncles and all that stuff. One of my other brothers had escaped with my other cousins and they went to Australia, so that leaves one of my other brothers and I and my mom back in Vietnam. We were left behind, and my whole family was separated the whole time … for like nine or ten years. I didn’t meet my other brothers and my dad until I was 9 years old, like 8 or 9 years old.

My dad and my brothers came to America with nothing, nothing. Not even welfare. And now I’m given this opportunity to live in this country and I’m going to take full advantage of the opportunity that it has to offer, that’s what really drives me. Really, you only get a total of one hour of me with all the shows combined total and they think they know me, they think they know my life, they don’t! They don’t know what drives me and I’m glad I have a chance to talk about it now, you know?

Yea, your family must be so proud of you because you really are living the American dream. What’s your family’s reaction been since they’ve been seeing you on the show?

They’re really proud. They’re really happy that I didn’t make a fool out of myself. I do really have a deep, deep passion and I’m glad they get a chance to see what I really do, meaning, professionally. Working for french chefs … and that’s why I’m sacrificing myself all this time. I’ve been out of my house since I was like 16 or 17 years old, still going to high school, but still holding like two jobs at like really prestigious places. That’s how passionate I am about what I do and that’s how much I want to compete. I mean, you’re given one gift if you’re lucky in this world and I’m gifted with this talent and I want to use it to the full experience.

Prior to being on the show, how long had you been cooking in Vegas?

Well, I left just 7 years ago, and I thought I would never, ever, ever come back to Las Vegas but 7 years later, here I am. there was a position open for Guy Savoy and I’ve been here for a year and a half almost.

There’s a lot of chefs who have been on the show from Vegas.  What is it about the food there that makes it really stand out?

There’s a lot of great chefs out here and good restaurants out here. I think the biggest is it has the most variety of restaurants outside of New York. A lot of talent out here. A lot of people with passion, you know, and good restaurants.

As you watch the episodes of the show, how do you think that you did in the competition throughout?

I think I had a lot of fun, first of all, and some challenges didn’t really let me shine as a professional chef. People that are home cooks or just mediocre cooks or caterers can do those challenges really well, but me … I was thinking about things professionally so I think I didn’t do as well as I wanted to I guess. When I came back for the Finale, I was much more calm, much more calm. I’m a calm person, and then I could really focus on what I wanted to do and in the finale I was able to let my food shine.

Yeah, you’re in the finale with Casey and Dale, are those the two people you expected to be with at the end?

Oh no. No no no no no. It was Tre and then maybe Lia. Other than that, no, I didn’t expect any of them. But Casey you know, she’s good you know, I was surprised. People were judging me way to hard. Chef Tom saying I’m technically the best chef but I don’t have soul. Lets think about this: technique is what’s involved in cooking as a craft …to make a good craft, you need to have good technique. It’s the way of doing something. What does Chef Tom make a million dollars off of? Craft. So I don’t know how people are criticizing me for having great technique. You know, how to get where I am today takes passion. When’s the last time anybody went to a restaurant and said ‘Oh, the food sucks, but I taste the soul in it.’

Now you get to go to Aspen for the finale or you did go to Aspen, had you ever been there before?

No, I hadn’t. It was a beautiful place.

You were able to take your own things with you to help you cook for the finale, right?


What did you end up bringing with you?

I brought things that I like to eat, a lot of Asian ingredients.

So the judges were on your case saying that you didn’t make enough Asian food or they didn’t see you in the food that you made, will we get to see more Asian food in the finale?

Yes. You’re going to get to see pork, wonton soup … I mean c’mon!

The Finale of Bravo’s Top Chef airs tonight at 10 o’clock and I just wanted to wish you good luck.

Thank you very much.

– Gina Scarpa, BuddyTV Staff Writer

Communications Student Worker


The Communications Student Worker is a part-time (20-hour per week) assistant to the Director of Communications and the Communications Coordinator for the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. The communications section of the Arts Commission deals with the public relations and marketing of all the commission’s programs.


The Arts Commission provides leadership and staffing to support the regional blueprint for arts education, Arts for All; administers a grants program that funds more than 250 nonprofit arts organizations annually; oversees the County’s Civic Art Program for capital projects, funds the largest arts internship program in the country in conjunction with the Getty Foundation, programs the John Anson Ford Theatres and supports the Los Angeles County Cultural Calendar on ExperienceLA. com. The Commission also produces free community programs, including the L.A. Holiday Celebration broadcast nationally, and a year-round music program that funds more than 40 free concerts each year in public sites. The Arts Commission offices are located in downtown Los Angeles at 1055 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 800 , Los Angeles , CA 90017 . For more information about the Arts Commission, visit www.lacountyarts. org


This position offers an opportunity to work closely with experienced public relations/marketing professionals and add significant experience to your resume.


Duties include:

  • Updating Ford and Arts Commission web sites and My Space sites
  • Writing copy for press materials, web sites, publications, e-mail blasts and electronic message board
  • Liaising with Ford Theatres and Holiday Celebration artists
  • Assisting in handling press inquiries, press comps lists
  • Updating press lists and press clipping files (tearsheets and electronic archives)
  • Assisting in targeted marketing projects
  • Inventorying and distributing of printed materials
  • Scanning and resizing images for web and printed materials
  • Proofreading and organizing files


Skills/Requirements: Desirable qualifications include interest in the performing and visual arts; ability to write; familiarity with web sites, html, Photoshop, Dreamweaver and In Design; background in journalism/communic ations/music/ dance/visual arts/information technology; good with detail; good on the phone; facility with Microsoft Word, Excel, Power Point, Access, Outlook and Explorer. Fluency in oral and written Spanish a plus. Reliable transportation is preferred for those occasions when errands are necessary but the Arts Commission offices are served by Wilshire Blvd. bus lines and Downtown Dash Route A and are located one-half mile from the 7th St. Metro station.



Students must be currently enrolled as an undergraduate or graduate student in a community college, four-year college or university graduate program.


Dates: October 2007 through May 2008


Payment: The pay range is $9.10 to $11.00 per hour.


To Apply: Submit a cover letter, resume, writing sample and a minimum of 2 references (with telephone numbers). The application packet should be sent, preferably via email, to:


Arts Commission – Communications Student Worker Position
c/o Vivian Letran
vletran@arts. lacounty. gov

with “Communications Student Worker (candidate name)” in the subject line

Applications will be reviewed as received.


Application Deadline: October 15, 2007


Positions will remain open until filled.


For any questions: After reviewing the information on the web site, you may address inquiries by e-mail to: vletran@arts. lacounty. gov




Vietnamese International Film Festival (ViFF)Beyond Boundaries
www.VietFilmFest. com
The Club O’ Noodles ShowReinventing Entertainment. Vietnamese at a time
www.clubOnoodles. com
VAALA Enriching our communities since 1991 

21 Jump Street’ star Dustin Nguyen is back in action

The actor from Orange County, who blazed a trail in the 1980s, has roles in three new movies.

The Orange County Register

Comments 0 | Recommend 3

HE’S BACK: Actor Dustin Nguyen, who first gained attention in the TV show “21 Jump Street,” has become a busy actor in independent films, with three new releases.

Flash back to 1987. “21 Jump Street” was one of the hottest new shows on television, showcasing the talents of young heartthrobs Johnny Depp and Dustin Nguyen.

For Depp, already a rising star, it would be a launching pad for enormous big-screen success.

For Nguyen, who played Officer Harry Truman Ioki, it was rare opportunity in the national spotlight during a time when there were hardly any Asian Americans on television or in the movies.

Flash forward to 2003. Johnny Depp has become a household name, playing lead roles in quirky cult favorites and humungous Hollywood blockbusters. His swashbuckling turn as the irreverent Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean” catapults him to the rarefied air of billion-dollar superstardom.

Meanwhile, in 2003, Nguyen was struggling to get bit parts on low-rated TV shows. Bigger, meatier roles on film and television passed him by. He even dropped out of acting for a while. He was also dealing with a personal tragedy – the paralysis of his wife after a major car accident.

“From 2001 to 2004, I pretty much got out of the business,” said Nguyen, 45, during a recent visit to Orange County. Nguyen lived in Costa Mesa for a few years and attended Orange Coast College. His parents still live here.

“I literally stopped acting. In a lot of ways, I did disappear. … I was very disillusioned with the kind of roles that were out there available to people like me.”

Flash forward to fall 2007. Dustin Nguyen is back. He’s got significant roles in three current independent films, including one that hits Southern California theaters this weekend.

“Finishing the Game,” a comedy directed by Orange County’s Justin Lin (“Better Luck Tomorrow”), is about the fictional search for the next Bruce Lee.

In the mockumentary, Nguyen plays Troy Poon, a veteran Asian American actor who has seen his share of good and bad roles and refuses to accept a part as a stereotypical, Bruce Lee-wanna-be kung fu hustler. In many ways, the earnest Poon mirrors Nguyen’s own career. Over the years, he’s turned down his share of Oriental villain and Chinese takeout delivery boy parts.

“It’s the reality of the business that a lot of people don’t want to talk about,” said Nguyen, who was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1962 and moved to the U.S. when he was 11. “The availability of good work, and good, positive employment opportunities wasn’t out there. What was difficult for me, having done something like ’21 Jump Street,’ it was very difficult for me to do things that were beneath that standard that was set by that show. There just weren’t a lot of opportunities.”

But the doors have opened for him lately. In addition to “Finishing the Game,” Nguyen can be seen playing the powerful nemesis Sy in “The Rebel,” a Vietnamese-language martial arts drama directed by Buena Park’s Charlie Nguyen (no relation). He also portrays the lead Kim in “Saigon Eclipse,” a romantic drama directed by Othello Khanh.

In 2005, he starred alongside Cate Blanchett in “Little Fish,” a big hit in Australia. He just finished shooting “The Gauntlet,” a horror film scheduled for release next year.

Nguyen’s return to the silver screen could be construed as a comeback for the veteran actor, whose father was a longtime actor in Vietnam.

“I’m not sure what comeback means, but if it means that I’m in people’s consciousness, I guess that’s what it is for me,” he said. “I think I’m at a juncture in my career – I’m older now, the roles I’ve done have been in a different category now.”


When Nguyen first appeared on “21 Jump Street,” he was 24 and a rarity – an Asian American on network TV, playing an undercover cop who, like Depp, could pass as a high school or college student. Through 1990, he played a Japanese American police officer who was later revealed to be Vietnamese American.

Since then, broadcast television has made some progress, but it’s still rare to see Asian Americans play significant characters in prime time.

“I remember growing up – you had Sulu from ‘Star Trek’ and Ioki from ’21 Jump Street,’ ” director Lin said. “He gets the business. I also feel like he’s got a lot of dignity. Someone with that kind of class – that’s very rare.”

Glen Mimura, professor of film and media studies at UC Irvine, said Nguyen’s character on “21 Jump Street” was multifaceted and could not be reduced to mere ethnicity.

“It was unique at that time,” Mimura said. “It was a role that simply presented an Asian American male as a nonstereotypical Asian, and a role that wasn’t emasculated. His career, by and large, has been one of roles that more or less defied stereotypes.”

Roger Fan, who stars as Breeze Loo, another Bruce Lee wanna-be in “Finishing the Game,” says Nguyen has served as a role model for younger Asian Americans trying to make it in a fickle business.

“He’s had a really amazing career,” Fan said. “He’s done something that no Asian American actor has been able to do. He’s played and been paired with normal, cool characters in mainstream productions. He may not necessarily have hit the brightest shining star ever, but his star shines pretty darn bright and it’s been shining for a long time.”

Nguyen acknowledges that his roles on “21 Jump Street” and later in the comedy series “V.I.P.” were rare and significant. But back in the late ’80s, he wasn’t really thinking about representing a race.

“The honest truth is, initially I never thought of the significance of it. I was just so happy to land that job. … There’s a certain sense of responsibility that was sort of thrust on me. I’m not a political animal. But as time goes by, I realize how rare it is to have an Asian American male on prime time television.”


In 2001, Nguyen’s fiancé, model Angela Rockwood, got into a serious car accident that left her paralyzed from the neck down.

Nguyen became her primary caregiver, and the two married soon after.

“Everything just completely changed because of that one incident,” the actor said. For a couple years, he put his career on hold as he took care of her.

Rockwood regained some movement in her upper body, but still cannot move her legs. In recent years, the two have become ambassadors for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, which is dedicated toward finding a cure for spinal cord injury and improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis.

“When you’re surrounded by people who are challenged in some way, whether it’s physical or mental, I think you learn a lot, in terms of what my role is, where I fit in this society and in this world,” Nguyen said. “You learn that there are other things more important than what movie you’re in, how people perceive you and your public image.”

The couple are part of the Reeve foundation’s minority outreach program, sharing information with Asian Americans affected by paralysis.

“The Asian community as a whole sort of views paralysis, or major illness, as something to be ashamed of, embarrassed by. They tend to keep it within their family and suffer silently.”

Nguyen said he aims to raise awareness of the foundation’s resource center, which provides information about rehabilitation, active living, rights and grants. The information is free and available in Vietnamese, Chinese and Korean.

“It’s not easy. I would never say that it is. But if you can be an instrument of hope and inspiration, it’s a lot more fulfilling. Don’t get me wrong. I love making movies and I love what I do. But (paralysis) gives you some perspective.”


Dustin returned to Vietnam for the first time in decades to shoot and later promote his film, “The Rebel.”

The Vietnamese press, which largely had ignored him for 20 years, applauded his gray-haired, villainous performance and treated him like a superstar.

“I was very surprised and I’ll tell you why,” he said. “Most Vietnamese in Vietnam have sort of negative connotations with overseas Vietnamese coming back, and I was one of them. Most Vietnamese Americans that come back, and I wasn’t the first one, they tend to be a bit on the arrogant side. So the amount of scrutiny initially was very high. We were all very nervous about how we were going to be perceived.”

Nguyen and his fellow castmates and filmmakers made a conscious effort to review their Vietnamese, conduct interviews in that language and avoid English. It was tough for Dustin, who described his vocabulary as being at a 10- or 11-year-old level.

He said the journalists realized he was trying hard to communicate in his mother tongue and cut him some slack. Plus, they genuinely liked the movie.

“When we got lucky and the film became a big hit there and people connected with it, it was a big relief for me. It was a big surprise.”

Nguyen says he’s enjoying this period in his career. He’s got his own production company in Vietnam. He’s also traveling from city to city, promoting “Finishing the Game,” and interacting with hundreds of Asian American fans who recall and celebrate his breakthrough role as Officer Harry Ioki.

“Creatively, this is the most fulfilled I have ever felt in my career,” he said. “I think I made some conscious decisions about taking charge of my own creative destiny. I’m a little less concerned about being in the mainstream radar. Ironically, in the last two years, I have been in non-Hollywood films, and those are the best roles I’ve ever had in my career.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-6026 or

Last Night I Dreamed of Peace

Claire Scobie, reviewer
October 22, 2007


Last Night I Dreamed of PeaceLast Night I Dreamed of Peace

At the end of 1966, a young Vietnamese doctor shouldered a heavy backpack and joined a group of civilians heading south down the Ho Chi Minh trail. Dang Thuy Tram had taken up the call and volunteered to work in a Viet Cong battlefield hospital in central Vietnam. For the next three years, Thuy – as she was known – recorded her private thoughts, hopes and fears in a series of diaries, now translated into English.

Situated in a “liberation area”, a prime target for the American forces, those “blood thirsty devils”, Thuy’s thatched-roof clinic frequently came under violent assault. When a patient died under her hand – usually because of the appalling surgical conditions in which she had to operate – she blamed herself. This 25-year-old was no hardened veteran; she was the middle-class daughter of a Hanoi family of doctors. Beautiful, intelligent, with a fragile heart, Thuy describes herself as the “dreamy girl” and “Miss Stubborn, difficult to please”.

At school, “all the boys were a little in love” with her; at her makeshift hospital, the soldiers whom she treats become her admirers. Thuy had a great need for love – and to be loved – but her connection with these young revolutionaries, her “brothers”, was innocent. Borne out of the brutal crucible of war, it was “a miraculous love … that makes people forget themselves”. She captured the heart of many but Thuy had eyes for only one – a mysterious soldier called “M”, whom she had loved since her mid-teens. When he spurns her, she asks plaintively: “Why is a wound in the heart so hard to heal?”

This current of tenderness is in stark contrast to the backdrop of war – bombs raining down, planes screaming overhead and a jungle frazzled by Agent Orange. She stumbles across villages reduced to shells and, as the Americans advance, escapes death many times. Her medical training is rendered useless when a soldier, hit by a white phosphorous bomb, is admitted with “pieces of his skin falling off, curled up like crumbling sheets of rice cracker”. Under such circumstances, it’s extraordinary that Thuy manages to be lyrical.

But there’s much about this work that is remarkable – the intimacy of reading someone else’s private thoughts; the insight into a young physician who doubts, questions and chastises herself, especially when she falls short of being the selfless communist cadre. And then there’s the diary’s own journey to publication. Found in 1970 by an American intelligence officer, Fred Whitehurst – who, against regulations, took the diaries home – they sat in his filing cabinet for more than 20 years before Whitehurst’s brother, also a Vietnam vet, translated them.

In April 2005 they were returned to Thuy’s family and, even more improbable, when the two men arrived in Hanoi four months later, they were adopted as “sons” and “brothers” by Thuy’s surviving mother and sisters. By then the diaries had been published and become a runaway bestseller in Vietnam. Eighteen months later 430,000 copies had been sold.

It isn’t always an easy read. The footnotes ground the content but they hinder the flow of the narrative. The diaries themselves with their sentimental, unburdened style require a certain openness by the reader to meet Thuy in all her darkest – and brightest – places. There’s no holding back. By 1970 Thuy has matured and is prepared to die for her country and clinic. With the Americans pouring in from all sides, Thuy is forced to evacuate the wounded, constantly building new shelters in the jungle. When there is nowhere left to run, she waits, “searching for the enemy’s approach”.

This is an important and profoundly moving book, which redresses the one-sided macho and gun-toting coverage of the Vietnam War. For Whitehurst, it brought him relief after years of bitterness as a Vietnam vet. “Human to human [he] fell in love with her” – it’s not hard to see why.

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Holland to screen documentary about deaf Vietnamese dancers

A documentary film called Noi Den (The Destination) about a hearing impaired Vietnamese dance troupe will be introduced at the 2007 “Deaf In The Pictures” Film Festival next month in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Noi Den has already been filmed in America, the Philippines and Singapore, and will be shown in Britain in December.

The documentary, directed by British filmmaker Paul Zetters under the sponsor-ship of the British Embassy in Vietnam, gives insight into the lives and professions of the Noi Den dance troupe in Hanoi.

The troupe was founded in 2002 by choreographer Le Vu Long and his wife, dancer Luu Thi Thu Lan.

Its members consist of ten deaf dancers who have overcome their disability to pursue the art of contemporary dance.

Noi Den toured Vietnam’s biggest cities in 2005 and 2006 and has been invited to perform in America.

This will be the second time the “Deaf In The Pictures” Film Festival has taken place. The first was also held in Amsterdam in 2003.

Reported by Lan Anh


“Owl and the Sparrow” is Stephane Gauger’s first feature film and won a Best Narative Award in San Francisco’s International Asian American Film Festival.

Film tech knows good storytelling, too

Once upon a time, a little but big-hearted orphan girl ran away from her mean uncle and tried to find her way through life in the big city …

If “Owl and the Sparrow” had a narrator, that’s how this contemporary fairy tale would begin. And if one film were chosen as the audience favorite at this year’s Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival, it should be this one.

“Owl and the Sparrow”

Screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and 12:30 p.m. Friday at Dole Cannery multiplex, as part of the Hawaii International Film Festival Go to for ticket info

This endearing feature shot in Vietnam is part of the festival’s American Immigrant Filmmaker on Profile showcase, the filmmaker in question being Stephane Gauger, born in Vietnam and raised in Southern California. Trained in film lighting by cinematographer and former festival guest Matthew Libatique, Gauger has a background not only in film tech work, but has also written and directed short narrative and documentary films. “Owl and the Sparrow” is his first feature — Gauger wrote, directed and did the bulk of the camerawork — and it’s an absolute gem. (The film has already won a Best Narrative Award at this year’s San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.)

Clearly familiar with the urban hustle and bustle of Saigon, Gauger brings a cinematic sensibility akin to the French new wave of the 1960s, shooting totally on location with a hand-held camera and live sound. It’s this sense of naturalistic immediacy and total immersion into Saigon city life that gives his film its edge. The visuals also work in contrast to the meditative and minimalist guitar-and-electronics soundtrack by Pete Nguyen.

But all the adept technical work wouldn’t have amounted to much if Gauger didn’t have an excellent cast, and he gets involving performances from his main actors, in particular the remarkable Pham Thi Han. It’s her wholehearted portrayal of the willful and imaginative Thuy that gets the audience to believe in her mission of creating a loving family for herself.

Over the course of a week selling flowers on the street, Thuy meets and befriends two lonely people — flight attendant Lan (Cat Ly) and zoo keeper Hai (Le The Lu) — both of whom are suffering from matters of the heart. But Thuy’s matchmaking goes awry when Uncle Minh (Nguyen Hau) shows up searching for his runaway niece, finding her in a city orphanage.

The three adults play their characters well, with Cat Ly particularly fine as the single woman.

Gauger does a great job balancing the fanciful and realistic elements of his story. And, yes, there is the requisite happy ending, but it doesn’t feel forced, and ends on a lovely scene that promises a future filled with love.

No More Wedding Banquets In Vietnamese Province Due To Diarrhea Outbreak

November 8, 2007 12:48 p.m. EST


John Concepcion – AHN News Writer

Hanoi, Vietnam (AHN) – Due to a nationwide outbreak of cholera and other food-borne diseases like diarrhea, health officials on Thursday said a northern Vietnamese province has banned wedding banquets in restaurants and hotels.

Nguyen Trong Quynh, chief of the provincial People’s Committee, said Thanh Hoa province had imposed a temporary ban on serving food at wedding parties and funerals.

Quynh said, “People can still organize parties with wine, tea, cakes and candies.”

“This is aimed at preventing the acute diarrhea outbreak in the province.”

Diarrhea has reportedly downed some 24 people in Thanh Hoa province, located some 70 miles south of the capital of Hanoi, with seven patients testing positive for cholera.

Aside from Thanh Hoa, ten other provinces and cities made it to the cholera epidemic list and they are: Hanoi, Ha Tay, Hai Phong, Vinh Phuc, Thai Binh, Phu Tho, Hung Yen, Bac Ninh and Hai Duong.

Diarrhea and cholera can be acquired through contaminated drinking water and food. About 1,000 diarrhea cases nationwide have been reported, with 15 percent positive for the cholera virus.