A shining star guided a fishing boat with Vietnamese refugees to safety, and ultimately led to a new dream

In1988, a shining star guided a fishing boat with Vietnamese refugees to safety, and ultimately led to a new dream.

Phuoc Nguyen and his family was one of several families who survived a dangerous escape attempt from Vietnam on a fishing boat. Phuoc was only 13 at the time when he fled Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, with his single mother and five siblings. Prior to boarding the fishing boat, children were not told the purpose of the trip and how it would change their lives forever. Along the way, the children learned the purpose of their journey. Hearing conversations of other refugees not surviving their escape and encountering pirates, the reality of the situation set in.

After several days of navigating through Vietnamese government patrolled water, Phuoc’s ship had lost its way. It was at that point the captain decided to “take a chance on following a bright shining star,” said Phuoc.

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70 year old Uncle cutting down coconuts for us from his back yard in Vietnam

70 Year Old Uncle Cutting Down Coconuts For Us From His Back Yard in Vietnam

IMG_3335My husband Steve went to Vietnam with me this year (2014). It was only his second time and the first time was 15 years ago. We were visiting some of my family south of Ho Chi Minh City what is known as the Delta Area. One day we were at my Aunt’s house and Steve wanted to go visit my uncle who only lived about a 10 minute walk away. My uncle’s house is tucked away off the main road and in this area there are mostly Cambodian people. My uncle is a former ARVN soldier from the Vietnam / American War. He is such a gentle good natured spirit. His wife is a hoot. She is always laughing and joking around. On my first trip back to Vietnam in 2o some years with my parents and sister (18 years ago), this uncle pulled out half of his American dollar that he and my father split in half when my parents left Vietnam the first time during the war. Unfortunately my father lost his! My uncle and his wife (mom’s second oldest sister) did not have a lot of possessions after the war, but amazingly he managed to save that half of an American dollar all these years.

Steve had a taste for a coconut so my uncle went to work in his backyard to get us some from his tree as you will see in the video clip below. While my uncle is chopping up the coconut it could make you cringe seeing how close his thumb was at times. However, no sweat! He has done this for years. On a previous trip, I’ve witnessed my uncle in his early 70’s climb up the trees for the coconuts.

It was great to see my husband make a genuine connection with my relatives once again. Steve didn’t even recognize the main provincial city. It has changed so much from 15 years ago, such as all of Vietnam. Living simply, being in the moment, authentic connections. Steve has already talked about going back………..and soon!

More pictures and reflections coming from our trip, including our meeting up with my parents and sister in Vietnam. It was only my parent’s second time back to Vietnam since the first trip 18 years ago. Check out clip below.

Helping the Cops Chase Down the Cowboys in Vietnam!

Helping the Cops Chase Down the Cowboys in Vietnam!

By Lego

Yes, it is very true. I and my younger Vietnamese friend, a tiny woman, helped the police one year capture members of a gang who were from a northern city in Vietnam called Vinh. They had traveled from Vinh down south to Dong Hoi to rob people for weeks. Well actually… that is until we helped put a stop to them-ha!

I’ll have to backtrack a little and help explain the term cowboy. When I mentioned the term recently to a few of my friends from Hanoi, they didn’t seem to be familiar with it. In other areas of Vietnam I’ve heard the term quite a bit. My aunts even joke around stating that sometimes I act a little wild just like a cowboy. Cowboy has been used to refer to people in Vietnam who are a little wild and or cause trouble especially a crime. I have no idea how this term came about, but this is what I’ve been told.

As many of you know I just returned from a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. The incident in capturing the cowboys took place on a previous trip. However, I wanted to wait until after I returned home to share this story with you once my husband knew I was actually home safe. So now I will tell you the story and how it all went down.

During this particular trip I had injured my foot quite severely while in Cambodia before heading back into Vietnam. I went directly to my friend’s house in Dong Hoi and unfortunately most of my time there was laid out on the couch trying to help my foot start to heal. After about a week I felt OK enough to get out of the house to have my friend show me around her town on her motorbike. It was my last day there before I would head to Danang.

At one point my friend wanted to stop at a jewelry store, as many Vietnamese do, to borrow money or do a currency exchange. My friend parked her bike while I decided to wait with my crutches. Next thing I know about six people including a woman came toward me and motioned me to move my legs to the other side of the bike. After doing so they then told me to move my legs again as they drew in even closer. I knew something was up. I looked down and saw the key in the ignition and thought they must want to steal the bike. I grabbed the keys and as quickly as I could I backed off the bike and moved backward toward the sidewalk and shops.  They saw me take the key, but did not pursue me. Instead they crowded around the bike even more to the point where I couldn’t even see it. I couldn’t tell what they were doing, but all of a sudden my friend yells out as she is running toward us- oh my god, do they have my wallet?

Wallet? What wallet? I didn’t know, although it was locked up, that she had left a wallet with me on the bike. I realized in that moment that when they had crowded earlier around the bike, they were cutting the seat open to get to her wallet. I yelled out to my friend that they definitely had her wallet.  Shortly after a woman who was part of the gang walked past me and smacked me in the arm while mumbling curse words under her breath. She jumped on a bike and two other men jumped on the same bike with her, while a couple of others were able to get away on another bike.

My friend was able to catch up to the second bike before they could take off. She grabbed the guy sitting on the back of the seat, yelling at and punching him. It was difficult for them to get away with three people sitting tightly together on the bike. The driver managed to take off anyway, but the guy sitting on the very back fell off. He was able to get loose of my friend’s grip and stole another person’s bike from them. He was in such a panic that he ended up crashing right into another woman on her bike coming from the other direction. There was a cop across the street who was looking toward our direction when this incident started. He seem to wonder along with everyone else what all the fuss was about. However, he just thought people were in an argument. He had no idea someone was being robbed.

After a while the regular citizens figured out what was going on not only in our current situation, but also started to realize these were the same people who had been robbing them for weeks! The word seem to spread quickly from there and all kinds of people from various directions came running out to try to help us catch the one guy after he had crashed on the bike. The same officer from earlier also figured out that it was way more than just an argument and tried to help capture the guy as well. In fact, when the police officer was first able to grab ahold of the robber, the guy threatened the officer telling him he would beat him up. He ended up getting loose from the officer, but the community members charged toward the guy and were able to finally help capture him.

The robber was brought into the police station which was across the street from where the incident first took place. We were asked to come in and fill out a report. While we were doing so, there were at least another 5-8 people who came in to fill out reports and left them in the office we were sitting in. A few of the people filling out the reports came from a block or two over from where all the commotion had started. This is how fast the word got out about the incident.

The police ended up finding 30 wallets just on the guy they had captured. I’m not sure if they ever caught up with the other gang members. The community was really relieved to finally have this case solved. The police officer even stated that he thought it was fate that my friend and I were a part of this situation and were able to help bring these guys down. Too funny- us gals, younger than what we look, not very big people to begin with, were the very ones who were able to help take down these cowboys-ha! Truth- they actually didn’t know who they were dealing with in my friend and me. A person should never judge by outward appearances. The two of us are known, by the people who actually do know us, as being quite spunky. Some may say feisty-ha!

So I just came from Cambodia with a major injury, an injury that was serious enough to cause me to have a seizure. I start to recuperate a bit and then this incident takes place. After this incident while visiting my family, my cousin and I almost crashed on her bike! The year this all took place was around Tet, the major New Year celebration. It happened to be the year of the cat. I joke that this is what must have carried me through. A cat has nine lives you know. I used up more than half on these three incidents alone and had just enough left to finally get me home safely.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Next posts coming will be from this 2014 trip.

Travels to Vietnam- The everyday People

*Here are some reflections from a previous trip, but I will be heading to Vietnam and Cambodia this Tuesday and will be traveling all throughout the country. You can sign-up for this blog and Veteran Outreach Blog to follow me on this year’s trip.

Dalat- I didn’t spend too much time there, but this is what little I can tell you for now. It’s a mountainous area and what most people would say is cold. I actually had to put on socks. Of course I just laugh to myself because they don’t know cold unless they were to go to the U.S. where I’m from. It was perfect weather to me and gave some relief from the heat of Ho Chi Minh City. People are friendly and helpful like I’ve found everywhere in Vietnam. Many people including the Vietnamese take a mini-retreat here to cool down. One thing Dalat is known for is all its flowers they grow. I met a Russian man doing research in Nha Trang and he says Dalat is his favorite place in Vietnam and called it the heart of Vietnam.


While I was in Dalat I went with some University students who visited an orphanage they were putting on a Christmas party for.  The young people I have to say they did a very good job. One woman, a little bit older in the bunch, was  quite funny utilizing many opportunities to make us all laugh. The kids at the center were a minority group in this area. There was one girl in particular that stood out to me. She was about 16 or 17, but could pass for a little younger (look wise). She was like the little mother or big sister to all the other kids. She was quite mature yet was able to maintain a youthfulness about her. I watched her quite often and I could see she was truly a strength to the workers there. She reminded me of me. She could be loving and sentimental, but she was also quite spunky and could hold her own-lol! Perfect combination!

If I could, I would have taken her back to the U.S. with me. At the same time, I wondered if the other kids would be lost without her presence.

Nha Trang is a combination between expats and many Vietnamese traveling here for mini-vacations. The weather is perfect, for me anyway. Not too hot and not too cold. I’ve gone on nice walks and have met all kinds of people. I love that part the best or even simply the people watching. There are many Australians including some Veterans living here. You can find Vietnamese, Western, and other types of international food. The city has an upbeat exciting atmosphere to it without, in my opinion anyway, being too much. Of course you can go to the coast and hang out at the beach. There are also one day boat trips to the island to lay back and relax or do some of the several water sports that are available.

I had a restaurant that I ate at quite regularly. Good food, clean, and great service. I also like what they have done for the community in Nha Trang. They take in youth, many who are from families in need, and train them in their restaurant for free. They teach them everything from cooking, customer service, and other basics to prepare them to move on to work in 5 star hotels.

The owner is Vietnamese and her husband is Australian. Their manager Thao (young Vietnamese woman) is so great. She is so sweet and on the ball. She is very helpful and speaks English fairly well. She actually bought me a present for Christmas with a little note. She said that she saw I was spending Christmas alone and didn’t have any presents to open. Wow- what a sweetheart! I should’ve have been the one to buy her a present.

I eat quite well in Vietnam. Doesn’t matter how much I eat because I also walk quite a bit including up eight flights of stairs when the elevator wasn’t working from time to time. That’s worse than the last hotel which was only five-lol! However, that’s Vietnam. You got to be tough and expect the unexpected; and know how to go with the flow. I travel on a budget and rarely do I spend money on a luxurious hotel, but if you want them they are here! 2-3 star hotels can be quite nice, comfortable, and clean. Just have to shop around.

At least it’s easier to cross the street here compared to Ho Chi Minh City although I have that down pat now. It always takes me the first day or two to get used to that again, but then I’m actually doing just as good, if not better that everyone else. Driving in Ho Chi Minh is a different story and I applaud the brave souls who do.

Personal time with travel

I take this time when I first wake up and right before going to bed. I also take this time during meals to relax and reflect. I’ve eaten some of the best food. I not only eat Vietnamese food, but have also been eating french fries and some of the best pizza! Pizza that has even tasted better than honestly some pizza I’ve had in the U.S. I’ve also discovered that I like eating the french fries with chili sauce over here much better than ketchup. I will now do this at home.

I’ve already been invited by two people in such a short time to run around Dalat with them. However, I passed on the one because he appeared a little more than on the general friendly side. I didn’t want to assume at first, but then it was confirmed when he gave me his email and it had dep trai written in it. I could not help, but laugh. Dep trai means handsome. So I think it is safe to say that my gut instinct was right and it was best that I did not, no matter how dep trai he was-lol. Besides, my hubby is my dep trai.

People watching in Ho Chi Minh City

One day I was sitting in Ho Chi Minh City and was people watching. I saw these two American Vets and their wives walking together. I wondered what their conversation was like, especially between the wives. I was glad to see they had joined their husbands on the trip. It may have been very healing for them as well to do so. I wondered was this their first trip, second, third? There are also those who return to live either part or full-time.

As I’m wondering about the two couples and what their conversation might be, I am also watching all of the people around them laughing, smiling, and going about their business. Many of them are young. Many of them do not even remember the war or were not even born yet. All of this taking place right around these two Vets and their wives.

I came across live music and dancing. I sat on the curbside with the people watching a local young dance group perform. I only know some Vietnamese and no one really spoke English in this crowd. However, we had a great time laughing and enjoying the music together, and in our own way communicating.

This dance group completed two performances. One was a more modern hip-hop dance to a song by Lady Gaga and  their second performance was an Indian style dance.  Mostly everyone here asks me if I am from India.


There is nothing wrong with appreciating and enjoying some of the beautiful restaurants and points of interest in Vietnam. I love interacting with the people the best, especially in the delta. On a previous trip I took here with two Veterans, I asked the two Vets what they wanted most on the trip.  They stated on several occasions that they just wanted to be with the people- the everyday people. I was really proud of them for that.

*These were some reelections from a previous trip, but I will be heading to Vietnam and Cambodia this Tuesday and will be traveling all throughout the country. You can sign-up for this blog and Veteran Outreach Blog to follow me on this year’s trip.

Miss Saigon Protests- Mixed Views not only on the play, but the Vietnam War

stereotyping-660x450I was at the protest to observe and report. I agree with some of the protestors statements on stereotypes and racism in general and needing other narratives. I also believe that history, including American history, isn’t always told completely or truthfully. This happens everywhere. I believe citizens in every country can and have been naive to their governments and the misleading “patriotic” sentiments.

Although I agreed with some of the points that were shared by the protestors, I did not agree with them entirely. What I found in the make-up of the protestors were mostly non-Vietnamese and missing were Amerasians and their mothers or Vietnam Veteran’s voices represented. I was able to find a couple of Vietnamese voices, but they were not directly connected to the Vietnam War Era. Majority of the protestors were not even Vietnamese or didn’t even see the play to begin with.

Below is a clip from the actual protest that took place in late 2014 at the opening of the play in MN. Here is also a link to my reflections on the whole controversy / debate. You should read the piece at this link along with watching the clip to get a full understanding of this debate / controversy from more than one perspective. I am Vietnamese Amerasian who has worked with Vietnam Veterans and Vietnamese Amerasians for 14 years. What I have found from many in the Vietnamese, Amerasian, and Veteran community is an entirely different take on this play. Of course I can’t speak for everyone, neither should the protestors.

Here is also a link to my reflections on the whole controversy / debate. –You should read the piece at this link along with watching the clip to get a full understanding of this debate / controversy.