Many people call America “The land of opportunity”; few truly understand the meaning the way I do.  Like many brave Vietnamese, I was one of the “boat people” who escaped from Vietnam in 1980 to seek freedom and opportunity.  Only twelve years old at the time, I was sent alone on a small boat along with fifty other people who were strangers to me.  They too had to leave their heritage and families behind with hope to build a new life in America.  I did not know that there was a high price to pay for freedom, and that you might die during the journey.  Many problems can come about like: the possibility of being attack by pirates (Thai fishermen became pirates), the engine die after three days and we were stranded in the middle of the ocean for seven days without food and water.  We were lucky to be rescued by a Japanese business ship and later re-united with our families in America. Unlike other less fortunate refugees were attacked by the pirates, the men were killed, the women were raped and sold to a village brothel (the Paradise Massage Parlour), and babies were thrown into the sea.   Going through all this helped me learn not to take things for granted, and to appreciate what America had to offer.

            I resided in Hong Kong’s refugee camp for almost two years and then finally came to the United States in 1982.  I had to learn to adapt to my new life in the U.S. at a young age.  My first three years in school were extremely difficult.  I did not speak one word of English, to make matters worse; people in Mississippi were looking at me like I was an alien.  I cried everyday for long periods of time, and then one day I came to realize that I left my country to seek freedom and opportunity, now that I was here I had to let go of the past, face the present, and look forward to the new future.  Over time, I trained my mind to ignore all the negativities and focus on learning English so I could catch up academically with my classmates.  I was an average student, despite the fact that I was limited in English vocabulary; I managed to pass all classes, graduated from high school and went on to college.  I dropped out of college after one year to start my first restaurant in 1995, in the heart of Little Saigon in Orange County, California.  Like in my wildest dreams, the business was an instant success and I got the first taste of living the American dream.

            After years of running a successful restaurant, I decided to open a second location in Santa Monica, California, near UCLA.  This location was set up as a prototype to be a franchise in the near future.  During the development of this location, I found difficulty finding vendors that would cater to Asian restaurants located outside their community, and that carried common ingredients used in the Asian cooking.  I contacted Sysco, which is the largest distributor in the food-service industry for help.  Sysco was able to supply my restaurant with the ingredients that I needed, but the price was outrageously expensive.  Seeing the need for National vendor, I started Food Network Online Incorporated, a search engine catering to the ninety five percent of small mom-and-pop restaurants that lacked access to resources and services.  FNO also provides an online ordering system that allowed restaurateurs to order their foods and supplies at any time during their busy schedules.   Unfortunately, I started FNO right before 9/11, and the business did not survive the tragedy and I was forced to close it in early 2003.  Regardless of what 9/11 did to my businesses and how it affected many other people, I decided to go back to school and obtain a new skill: Interior Design.

            Architecture and design has evolved spontaneously, with the focus in Sustainable Design.   I had the opportunity attended the GREENBUILDEXPO orchestrated by USGBC last November in phoenix Arizona with the purpose of educating myself further on sustainable matters.  I was overwhelmed with the information I received through the educational sessions.  Furthermore, I was excited with the exhibit hall flooded with new materials on the latest technology available today to help architects and designers to improve the landscape of their fields.  I am inspired by the industry to start a web database and search engine providing Green products, service providers, and education information to the end users, was born in March 2011.  Despite the current economic condition, I am undeterred in my resolution to stay focus on the thing that I can do vs. the thing I cannot control.  I am thirst for the opportunity to thrive in unpredictable and challenging economic time; like I had thirst for freedom under the communist control before I left my country. 

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Comment by cathyray on May 27, 2011 at 12:06pm
good luck to you, with an attitude like yours, you will be a success. You already are, in fact.
Comment by Tam Nguyen on May 27, 2011 at 12:29pm

Hello Cathyray, nice to meet you and thank you for your wish.  Beside sharing my experience with other people going through this rough time, I wanted to remind myself no matter how difficult things seem, I am still very lucky in so many way.



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