Tailors targeting foreigners get internet savvy

A customer talks to the tailor’s receptionist about ordering clothes  

Having clothes tailor made has long been a demand from visitors to Vietnam.

Now they can have a suit shipped to them or ready for them when they get to Vietnam with a click of the mouse.

Location, location, location

“The demand from foreigners for having clothes made is not new. It has been common for over a decade. I used to show many tourists places where they could have their clothes made,” said Mr. Hien, a former receptionist at Novotel Hotel in HCMC.

Ten years back, a tailor shop called Huong’s Tailor on Pasteur Street in District 1 of HCMC was well known for making clothes ready in a day.

Huong’s Tailor had the advantage of being located on the way from the city center to Tan Son Nhat Airport.

In recent years, Miss Ao Dai on Nguyen Trung Ngan Street in District 1 has become well-known as a place to make clothes for foreign customers, with a mostly Japanese clientele.

There are also several shops with fashion designers on hand, such as Minh Hanh, Sy Hoang, Lien Huong and Ngo Nhat Huy.

They often receive orders from international clients.

Other tailor shops on the streets of Mac Thi Buoi, Le Loi and Pasteur tailor clothes for an upscale clientele.

These places are thorough and give detailed advice to customers.

One tailor shop owner said that customers who receive good quality clothes will tell their friends and relatives and spread the word to others, which will increase the business of the shop.

That is a very westernized business sense to go along with the owner’s western clientele.

The tailor shops said that 90% of the foreign customers have their clothes made in Vietnam because they think the prices are low.

An American customer at the Miss Ao Dai shop made the comparison that, “A beautifully-made suit of good quality material is about US$150 while the price is two times that in the US”.

Japanese customers who care about details and can be pretty hard to please, admit that clothes made in Vietnam look good.

Kataniea, a Japanese customer, said, “I like Vietnamese silk products. They are very expensive in Japan. Vietnamese tailors are very skillful.”

Many women from around the world who visit Vietnam like to have a traditional ao dai made to take home and show their friends.

Made with a click of the mouse

Several tailor shops are now offering to have customer’s orders ready in a short amount of time.

In one day customers can have their suits ready, although they may have to pay a bit extra.

For example, it costs $40 to have an ao dai made in three days, yet for a 30 percent surcharge the customer can have it within a few hours.

Some customers are willing to pay the additional price for the convenience.

The newest feature is that some tailors are starting to allow customers to places their orders online.

The customer can fill in information about their measurements, the style and materials.

The shops confirm the details, create the clothes, package the finished product and send it to the customers.

Customers are able to pay by credit card.

Miss Ao Dai and other shops now have this kind of service.

One shop owner who provides this service said, “Although we pro-vide the service via the Internet, we must guarantee the product quality. If customers are not satisfied with something, they can send the products back to us and let us know what is wrong. We will correct it or even make a new one and we will pay for the transport. Customers don’t have to pay any more money.”

Vietnamese painter’s book published in America


Two thousand copies of “Vision of War and Peace,” which features 87 paintings and sketches by a Vietnamese former soldier and visual artist, are released simultaneously in America and in Vietnam this September.

Huynh Phuong Dong’s 175-page book, which costs US$40, comprises of 109 pictures showing portraits of soldiers and guerrillas, scenes of battles and hard lives of soldiers during Vietnam War, between 1945 and 1975, and the period following peace.

Dong’s “Visions of War and Peace” is sponsored by American NGO Indochina Arts Partnership. This is the organization’s first book project to be published in America.

Dong is known for his extensive body of works: over 17,000 sketches, silk, gouache, and oil paintings, as well as wood, plaster, and bronze sculptures.

Source: Tuoi Tre – Translated by Ngoc Anh

Is Hollywood Giving Asian Men More Love?

By: Philip W. Chung, Oct 22, 2007

Tags: Reel Stories, Arts & Entertainment |


I caught the second episode of NBC’s revamped The Bionic Woman on Wednesday night, and Korean American actor Will Yun Lee plays Jae Kim, one bad ass mofo. He gets to kick ass, has an interesting back-story, is clearly an American character so no accent or other FOB characteristics and, rarest of all, gets to play a fully realized sexual being.

Kim pines for his ex-wife, played by blond Battlestar Galactica hottie Katee Sackhoff, who also happens to be the original evil bionic woman whom Kim had to “kill.” In the episode I saw, the two even got their own love scene.

Just a few years ago, it would have been hard to imagine a character like this on prime-time network TV. But along with characters played by Daniel Dae Kim of Lost (to be joined this season by The Sopranos’ Ken Leung); B.D. Wong of Law & Order: SVU; Kal Penn of House; Masi Oka, Sendhil Ramamurthy and James Kyson Lee of Heroes, and even Rex Lee of HBO’s Entourage, not only are there more Asian male faces, but also three-dimensional characters who are more than token window dressing.

Mainstream film may be slower in showing love to the brothers, but there are small signs of progress — Kal Penn and John Cho will return next year in the Harold and Kumar sequel, and director Justin Lin seems determined to single-handedly change Hollywood’s perception of Asian men with films like Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and his latest, Finishing the Game.

But is there a genuine shift taking place, or is this just a blip that will soon be forgotten?

Two decades ago, a young Vietnamese American actor named Dustin Nguyen burst onto the scene playing an undercover detective on the TV series 21 Jump Street. Nguyen’s character was just one of the guys and got to catch the baddies alongside his fellow heartthrobs, including a young Johnny Depp.

That experience has made Nguyen sensitive to how Hollywood has portrayed APA males over the years.

“Have things changed? Well, you can’t ignore shows like Lost or Heroes that have a very intelligent treatment of Asian males,” says Nguyen, who also stars in Finishing the Game. “But I wonder how much improvement in terms of quality there has been for Asian American males.”

Let’s not forget that in the 1960s Hollywood gave a shot to men like James Shigeta, who played the romantic lead in films like The Crimson Kimono and Flower Drum Song, and George Takei on Star Trek. However, those turned out to be just temporary blips on the road to business-as-usual.

But there are reasons why we might look at our current situation with guarded optimism.

If a genuine shift for the positive does occur, I think future historians will look at both Lost and Heroes as watershed moments. Not only were both shows major hits and pop culture phenomena, but their Asian male characters have become memorable, break-out presences who have made an impact on all viewers. I doubt NBC would have allowed The Bionic Woman’s producers to make Lee’s character an Asian American male had they not seen the success of similar characters on those previous shows. If these characters and shows continue to succeed, you can bet that the powers that be will be more open to do the same.

On the film front, I know of at least a dozen Hollywood projects in development featuring prominent Asian or APA male characters in non-stereotypical roles.

Whether these films ever get made and have an impact remains to be seen. But I think the best bets are our own Justin Lins. Just as Spike Lee almost single-handedly spawned a new wave of African American filmmakers and actors, all we need is that one guy to lead the way.

Philip W. Chung is a writer and co-artistic director of Lodestone Theatre Ensemble.


  1. I agree, we, API s are lacking the full representation in motion picture, music, entertainment, sport, media, publishing, politic/public sectors, etc.

    We must push to enter into the non-traditional roles and businesses. They are higher profit margin, higher respect, more power, and more attention. Why not?

    I don’t see any reason we should be reserved in this matter. Each of us must have that buring fire in our heart, to make things happen, to take back the glory, to steal back the marketshare now enjoyed by mainstream America and other minorities.

    We must have a vision, goals, and actions. No matter what you do in any profession. Take it to the top, give back, and share your wealth. You will last a long way. Don’t look back, don’t think traditional, but never imaged before!

    –EL on Oct 22, 2007


    Posted October 22, 2007 at 6:40 pm | Permalink


  2. Guys:
    I have serious doubts that things have really changed, other than the fact that Philip W. Chung is a distinct and solid addition to AsianWeek correspondents.
    It isn’t that the male Asian actors who have managed to get past the casting coucnes are wanting, or that the roles cited are less than valid.
    The sad fact is that the mass “audience” will never be there so long as the Great Unwashed continue to be regaled and regimented into the narrow confines of the stereotypical Pavlov-dog response to ANYthing.
    I refer you to the year Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor” made it onstage to the er, ah “Oscars.”
    Were they not “Asian,” both John Lone AND Joan Chen should have been “nominated” along with the director.
    Others as well.
    But this is Gollywood, and unless you can afford agent, press agent AND personal manager, rotsa ruck, kiddo.
    Mr. Chung has already reached the understanding that showbiz is ONE TOUGH NUT. Not only to “crack,”
    but, more importantly, to place in perspective.
    I note that James Franco? is involved with Justin Lin’s latest foray into tbe muddy trenches. Now, there’s a non-Asian actor to contemplate. His James Dean outfoxed the original.
    No, guys, the proof in this pudding is, likely, less than obvious and more than disregarded.
    Stick by your guns, do your damnedest, and damn the pufflicity torpedoes.
    And I hope you can make a living doing so.
    Frank Eng

    –Frank Eng on Oct 22, 2007


    Frank Eng
    Posted October 22, 2007 at 10:33 pm | Permalink


  3. Frank, always appreciate your insightful comments regarding my columns and elsewhere. Thanks for the feedback.

    –Phil Chung on Oct 23, 2007


    Phil Chung
    Posted October 23, 2007 at 12:13 am | Permalink


  4. It’s a fact that in every Anglo-Saxon society around the world, be it the U.S., Canada, the U.K., New Zealand, or Australia, Asian men are systematically placed at the bottom of the sexual totem pole.

    At the same time, black men are placed at the top of the ladder right below white men, in a desperate attempt to alleviate white guilt and appear “open-minded and tolerant.”

    So have we progressed?

    The answer is no if you compare it to the utter adolation and sacred cow status reserved for African-Americans in television and Hollywood vs. the scraps from the table thrown to guys like John Cho and Will Yun Lee.

    The problem goes far deeper than media casting. I believe an inherent bias instilled within Anglo-Saxon males to disrespect, malign, and assault the manhood of Asian men.

    –Gabe on Nov 15, 2007


    Posted November 15, 2007 at 12:53 pm | Permalink


  5. Enjoyed the insights of the article and comments, as an 18 year old asian male and a struggling actor there is no doubt that type casting will always be present, that is the nature of the beast!… has there been progression?, yes do i believe it will continue ? certainly! When it comes down to it the fact is that acting and show biz is a field where anything can happen, and thats the risk every actor takes. We all want to be hollywood and yearn for our faces to touch the silver screen. Secondly, I strongly believe that talent will get you places no matter the circumstance, wheter your asian, latino, black or white, talent can never be overlooked or neglected. Listen gentleman, the problem is present and theres no denying but actions speak louder than words. I hope I can play part to shifting this ridiculous notion and shine a positive light. One person can make a difference. So lets just do it; whoever you or wherever you are if you have this dream get it done don’t hold back let your face be known and carry a strong heart. Only time will tell.

    –Danny Hyon on Nov 24, 2007


    Danny Hyon
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 12:20 am | Permalink


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Man of the Town

December 6, 2007

John Tran
Council Member
City of Rosemead, CA 

Council Member John Tran is currently serving his first term on the Rosemead City Council.  He was elected on March 8, 2005 and is the first Asian-American elected to the city council.  He was born on November 20, 1975 in Vietnam and is one of six siblings.  He has lived in Rosemead for over 18 years and is proud of his two gems in his life, his sons, Joshua and Andre.

John has been involved in the real estate industry since 1994 as an agent and consultant.  He currently works with Coldwell Banker Real Estate Mart in San Gabriel.  Through his hard work and dedication, he won many prestigious awards for his sales and service to clients over the years.

John attended school as a student in the Garvey School District during his elementary and middle school years.  He graduated from Garvey Intermediate School and went on to graduate from Mark Keppel High School in what was then the Alhambra High School District in 1993.

John served his community as a member of the Garvey School District Board of Education from 1999-2005, serving as School Board President in 2002 and in 2003-2004, where he became the youngest member ever elected to the Garvey School Board at the age of 23.  During his tenure, he set high expectations for district administrators and staff and as a result, one school was awarded National Blue Ribbon Status, two schools were recognized as �California Distinguished Schools� and three schools were recognized as �California Title I Achieving Schools.  John was also instrumental in the development and approval of two joint-use agreements with the City of Rosemead to build two gymnasiums to be placed on each of our two intermediate school campuses.  As a School Board Member, John served on the Board of Directors for the California Latino School Board Members Association and as a Member of the California School Boards Association.

John was chair of the Garvey School District bond committee and successfully coordinated the work of staff and community to accomplish the passing of General Obligation Bond Q, a $30 million bond initiative, which will benefit the students of the Garvey School District by continuing modernization of the school sites.




Man of the Town




Nguoi Viet, News feature, Jami Farkas, Posted: Dec 05, 2007

John Tran isn’t one to let anything stop him.

Like his size. He’s just 5 foot 9, but because of his leaping ability, he played center on the high-school basketball team he captained — a position usually the domain of the big men.

Or like his age. He turned 32 just last week but is a veteran of Los Angeles County politics, first elected to public office at age 23.

Or like an attitude that just because something has never been done before, it can’t be done now.

He isn’t one to take no for an answer.

Tran, of Vietnamese and Chinese descent, is the mayor of Rosemead, Calif., a multiethnic city nestled in the San Gabriel Valley. Born in Saigon, he has lived here since age 10, growing up playing basketball on its courts and graduating from its schools. It’s a place dear to him, a place that he doesn’t think should be content to be just good enough.

He wants it to be the best it can be.

”We’re on our way,” he said.

As is he. He is the only elected official of Vietnamese descent serving in Los Angeles County and is part of a group of a dozen or so statewide that is becoming increasingly active. He is believed to be the only Vietnamese mayor in the nation.

He says he understands and embraces the responsibility.

”There’s a lot of expectations,” he noted. When he was named mayor in March—in Rosemead, it’s a post rotated among members of the City Council—”there were a lot of tears being that in Vietnam, mayors and politicians were appointed, and there was never an opportunity for democracy.”


Growing up, Tran didn’t have political aspirations, unless you include his election as sixth-grade treasurer.

”That was so far from my radar,” he remembered.

He married right out of high school at age 18 and thought he might be a basketball coach. Instead, he got into the real-estate business, still his profession. At 19, he was urged to run for the local Board of Realtors.

A few years later, in 1999, and with some knowledge of the political process, he decided to seek a seat on the board of the Garvey School District, which has 13 elementary and intermediate campuses. His reasoning was simple: better schools mean better property values. Plus, since he was a father by this time, he knew he wanted the tops for his children.

”Things were happening in the right place at the right time. The schools were really in need of modernization,” he said. ”My son was entering kindergarten, and I wanted the best experience for him.”

In turn, Tran gave Garvey his best.

Tran and the board started holding principals more accountable and encouraging parents to spend more time with their children on their homework. They held town-hall meetings to make sure the community was vested in district plans.

”We got more parents to be involved,” he said. ”That was the real key. … My philosophy is children’s education comes on the backbone of parents’ participation.”

His goals when he ran for the school board were to improve test scores, modernize campuses while boosting public safety. By the time he left, the scores had risen; the state and federal governments had bestowed California Distinguished School and National Blue-Ribbon labels on some of the local institutions. Voters approved a pair of school bonds that never had been passed before, and the district made emergency-preparedness plans with law-enforcement agencies, he said.

One of his proudest moments came when the district got funding for two intermediate-school gymnasiums—another of his goals when he first won the post—proving wrong the naysayers who told him the district never would get the money. When he left the school board to serve on the City Council, his former colleagues named one of those gyms the John Tran Pavilion.

He said he, more than anyone else, appreciated what those buildings would mean to the young people of Rosemead. When he was a child, he walked 20 minutes to a park to play basketball. He wanted kids to have the same chances a little closer to home.

”Between 3 o’clock and 6 o’clock, those are the key hours. You get juveniles who are out there walking the streets. They become Good Samaritans or troublemakers.”

Virginia Peterson, the superintendent of the Garvey district, said Tran was an ideal school-board member.

”He grasps new things very quickly, and he immediately moves to the big picture,” said Peterson, promoted to superintendent when Tran was the board president. ”That’s why it’s so exciting to work with him. He’s very motivating and motivated.”

He also saw what Garvey could become.

”Garvey is a low-income area, and many immigrant children come needing to learn English,” Peterson said. ”His vision was just because the children, they come and are poor, that doesn’t need to define who we are and what kind of programs we offer.”

”He has a vision of the very best for the children…. ‘We need to strive for this, we need to strive for that.”’


Eventually, Tran saw ways the city and its school districts †two elementary districts serve Rosemead—should be working together and he also had separate goals for his city. He decided to run for the council in the 2005 election and won.

”He’s always been the top vote getter. People were elected with 1,000 votes. He got 3,000 votes,” said John Nunez, Rosemead’s mayor pro tem who served on the school board with Tran. ”That tells you that people are hungry for someone like him.”

Especially in a community like Rosemead. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 55,000 residents live in the city. Tran said about 65 percent are Asian Americans and 28 percent Latino.

”As mayor, you are the face of the city,” Tran said. ”You are the chair of the meetings. A lot of the Vietnamese, a lot of the Asians, a lot of the Chinese are very proud that they do have a leader of their color. It’s a good feeling to know they are very proud of me.”

But he is more than just an Asian mayor, his supporters say. He is Rosemead’s heartbeat.

”At first political people used to look at him and say, ‘Who’s this?’ ”Nunez said. But when they get to know Tran, Nunez said, their position changes to, ”This guy’s got a lot of strengths.”

”He brings a lot of energy to the city,” Nunez said. ”A lot of enthusiasm. He has a great smile. He makes you feel good about the city. He gets people to work hard. He has a lot of innovative ideas. He wants to do things quickly. He doesn’t want to start a committee to figure it out. His committees are working committees.”

Peterson said that under Tran’s leadership, she has begun regular meetings with the city manager to partner the schools with the city. She said Tran knows that if you want people to move into the city, they must offer good schools, and that he’s brought the same vision to the other facets of Rosemead.

”I see a great future in Rosemead that frankly maybe I hadn’t seen. It’s a city getting some good attention now,” Peterson said.

Tran said many of his goals he’s already met. The city has initiated a number of events, such as a July 4 parade, to instill community involvement. Rosemead now has a Web site to better inform residents. Its leaders are working to bring in a nationally known supermarket to supplement the ethnic markets and to boost revenues and keep residents inside city boundaries when shopping.


While Tran accepts the responsibilities of being Rosemead’s mayor, he also embraces his place as a Vietnamese American politician. He said he regularly confers with some of the Orange County Vietnamese leaders and San Jose councilmember Madison Nguyen to share ideas.

”They do come and visit. We do share a lot of our experiences,” Tran said. ”I look to (Assemblyman) Van Tran (R-Costa Mesa). …He’s done great things in Orange County. I’m a Democrat but share in the same philosophy. We’re here to serve. He’s been a great role model.”

He’s also becoming a role model to some of the newer —at his youthful age, they aren’t necessarily younger †elected officials.

”Being Asian Americans, our first instinct is to run a business. My family has always done that. A lot of Asians do that. When they get to politics, they are always afraid. Finally, we have a group of us willing to do that and be the voice of the community,” Tran said. ”There are not that many of us. We need to band together and encourage more Asian Americans to run for office.”

The others in this select group recognize his contributions.

”Don’t judge John by his age,” said Lan Quoc Nguyen, president of the Garden Grove Unified School District’s board of education. ”He’s one of the youngest, but he’s more politically experienced than most of us. He knows how to make use of the political vehicles to affect the changes that he envisions. He’s not shy about taking drastic actions such as replacing the most senior staff members or changing the leadership team if that’s needed. He has a strong passion as a community leader, and he’s willing to take the strong medicine to accomplish what he needs to do for the community.”

Tran said he will run for reelection in 2009 to continue the city’s progress. If he’s decided to seek higher office at some point, he isn’t eager to reveal that.

”With term limits, there will be vacancies,” he said. ”I’ve been asked. I’m still considering it. There’s a lot of options, and it’s very tempting.”

Until then, he’s happy to be the face of Rosemead, especially when his constituents approach him on the streets or at one of his sons’ sporting events.

”They say, ‘You’re doing a great job.’

And that’s a great feeling.”

Birthplace: Saigon
Family: Fiancée Nikkie Cam. Children Joshua John, 13; Andre Dominic, 8; and Jack Dylan, 3 months
Education: 1993 graduate of Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, Calif.
Currently enrolled at Rio Hondo Community College in Whittier, Calif.
Last political book read: ”The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama.
Favorite hangout in his city: The Rosemead Park basketball courts, where he first learned how to play the game.
The No. 1 reason that constituents call: ”Residents call me constantly to voice their desire for enhanced economic development and improved public safety services.”
Who, in his mind, are accomplished speakers: Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, eBay’s CEO Meg Whitman and Barack Obama.
His thoughts for the 2008 election: ”I absolutely believe this country is ready for either a woman or a minority to serve as our president.”

Stealing Buddhas dinner

December 5, 2007

Stealing Buddhas dinner

Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2007 4:28 PM CDT
E-mail this story | Print this page

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)  www.vaala.org

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.

Related Interviews:
Chris Baty
Jennifer Egan
Davy Rothbart
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. ..one 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 rchang@ocregister.com


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