People

Happy Birthday, Dad! by Admin

Today, I want to wish my dad a happy birthday. It's easy to remember the date of my dad's birthday because it's October third. But when he told me this as a kid, it sounded like October "turd".  Now, you'll always remember my dad's birthday as well ;)

Growing up, I remember feeling like every other kid I knew, was living that perfect movie like family life.  You know, where that dad would be playing catch with his kids in the yard? Where the dad would be cheering his kids on as they were playing soccer? I didn't really experience too much of that. My dad never had the time, and was usually working odd hours.  

I remember feeling angry about the whole experience growing up.  I was upset that my dad wasn't there participating like other dad's, and also for being super strict and never letting me do too much.  However, as I grew older, I understood why, and I just want to thank him for everything.

It took me awhile, but I had to put myself in my dad's shoes. My dad grew up without a mother, as she died when he was pretty young.  He grew up in Vietnam during the war, and had to learn to survive. As he courageously was able to escape Vietnam after the war as one of the many Vietnamese boat people, he ended up in America and had to learn how to survive once again.


Imagine coming to a completely new country, without knowing the language at all.  What about the culture and customs of that new country? And even the food? This was all new to him. I actually made a video once, where my dad hilariously recalls his first American meal, "Salagna". You can watch it below.

While my dad didn't get to play catch with me, and other things, he showed me his love by doing only the things he knew, which was to provide for me and the rest of the family.  He didn't have time to pursue an education, but worked hard at his job.  He rarely let me go out with friends, as that was his way of keeping me safe, and making sure that I was focusing on school.  He wanted to make sure I worked hard in school, get a college education, and also a great job. A great job not to only be able to provide myself, but to be able to fulfill his advice to me, which was "No Money, No Hunny." (I hope you said that in your head with my dad's broken accent)

And one of the biggest lessons he taught me with his strict discipline was respect.  Respect for your elders and respect for anyone who has helped you along the way. And for this, I want to thank my dad. I love you, Ba!

I hope this post will make you think of the sacrifices that our parents have made for us.  Give them a call, and let them know how much you appreciate them. 

How life brings people into our lives. by Admin

When I think about the lives that we live, I find it fascinating how fate brings people together. I often ponder if there is a predetermined path that aligns complete strangers together. This question came across my mind again on a recent visit home.

At my parents house, there is a wall that displays photos of family members who have passed away. This wall has remained the same for quite some time (thankfully), however this time I noticed a new photo.

 Grandma Sholly

Grandma Sholly

I stood staring at this photo trying to figure out who it was.  It was pretty easy to be baffled, as the rest of the photos on the wall were of my Vietnamese ancestry.  Who was this fashionably chic white lady in this sepia toned photo? I asked my mom, and found it was my American grandma, Ruth Sholly.

Flashback time. In 1975, my mom, uncle, and brother fled Vietnam at the end of the war and somehow ended up in good ole Lebanon, Pennsylvania.  There wasn't too much to do in Lebanon, but one of my mom's favorite pastimes, and still is, was bingo. Whenever my mom went, she took my brother along too. At the bingo hall is where fate brings Grandma Sholly into the lives of our family. 

My brother was probably 3 or 4 years old at that time, and Grandma Sholly found my brother to be super cute (Debatable. JK Jeff!). She would often sit next to my mom and brother, and overtime, they slowly got to know each other.  My mom said that at the time, Grandma Sholly recently lost her husband, and with my mom who was new to the country, was missing parental figures in her life, since they were still in Vietnam. And at that space and time, life brought a Vietnamese family and an American woman together. It was a perfect match.

As the years passed by, Grandma Sholly was a part of our family. She had children and grandchildren of her own, but somehow always managed to have time for us as well. From my birth, to family from Vietnam coming over, she was there for it all. Every family member I've talked to have all said the same thing, which was that she was the sweetest woman and that she was so good to us.

 One of my fondest memories of her is that she remembered everyone's birthday. I was always so amazed, especially till this day, as I still rely on Facebook for birthday reminders.

 Grandma Sholly at my 9th birthday party.

Grandma Sholly at my 9th birthday party.

After seeing the photo, I dug up some old VHS tapes which had my birthdays recorded on them, just to catch a glimpse of how I remembered her. The last time I saw her, was when I was 11 before she passed away. She was my first encounter with a death in the family.  I remember being an alter boy at her funeral, and crying like a baby.  As the video played, water came to my eyes once again.

 Remembering Grandma Sholly

Remembering Grandma Sholly

Tears didn't just come because of how much I missed her, but also of how grateful I was that she came into our lives. How did a family from Vietnam and an American woman, who were originally 8908.8 miles apart, meet and become intertwined in each other's lives? Was this fate? Perhaps with the next stranger you might meet, who knows what kind of positive impact you might have in their life. 

Learning From A World Champion by Admin

 Tybie Thall Sommer.

Tybie Thall Sommer.

One of the things I enjoy most is learning about people, especially elders. I love listening and imagining their stories as if I was there to witness it. At the current 2012 US Nationals Table Tennis Championships, I got the chance to sit down and talk with Tybie Thall Sommer.

At the tournament, I was taking some photos and noticed Tybie sitting down. All I knew about Tybie was that she was a two time world champion and a member of the USA Table Tennis Hall Of Fame. I decided to take a seat and introduce myself and to learn more about her. I was ready for some great stories about her past experiences in table tennis, but was surprised with the life lessons she taught me through those stories.

1. Attitude

One of the first things she talked about was attitude. When it comes down to it, sometimes you can't rely on others to accomplish the task before you. This was in reference to so many kids relying on their parents in the sport. When you're out on that court, it's up to you and only you, to have the right mindset and do the best you can. She's witnessed so many kids lose because they had a poor attitude even before going into the match. You need to stay positive and go out and give it your all right from the start. This translates to everything we do in life.

2. Take it one point at a time.

Often times, we think ahead too much and make ourselves worried, anxious, or nervous. "I just need 3 more points to win this game!" We think about the final outcome, and we forget that we actually need to concentrate just on the point that we are about to play and start losing points. It's good to think about long term plans, but don't let that hinder your focus on the task that is before you.

3. Adapt

Tybie noticed that many players continue their game plan even if they are losing the match.  She recited a story of when nothing was working for her and knew that the current game plan would lead to her defeat.  In her mind, she was going to lose anyways, so why not take the risk to change it up and try new tactics? If anything, it helps you learn and improve new things you haven't tried. Luckily for her, the new game plan was working and her opponent didn't adapt to Tybie's new adaptation. So when things aren't working in life, learn to adapt and don't be afraid to try something new.    

I only got a limited time to talk to Tybie, but the time was quite valuable. She took a photo with me and told me wear her world championship medal. It made me feel like a world champion for a brief second. I'm looking forward to learning more about her and her experiences because, as Bruce Lee once stated, "Life is a constant process of relating". 

A pick me up by Thomas Nguyen

As I was coming home from a late night out in the city, I noticed the gentleman sitting across from me on the metro. He was well dressed and his facial expressions made it seem as if he had gone through a rough day. At some point, he unzipped his bag and pulled out a piece of paper. I could see through it and noticed a colorful drawing that was most likely done from a child. His sleepy eyes opened up and a big hearty smile emerged from him. That smile lasted the remainder of my time on the train. It made me smile just witnessing that. Thanks to whoever made that drawing for him. Not only did it bring a smile to his face and uplift his spirit, it did the same to me. #itsthelittlethingsthatcount

 

Impromptu Ninja by Thomas Nguyen

Colton & Adrienne from Thomas Nguyen on Vimeo.

An impromptu dinner led to an impromptu mission to film a proposal for a new friend.

It was a Friday night, and I really had no plans before my trip to Vegas on Sunday.  My coworker, Jonathan, invited me to eat with him and his friends, whom I've met only one of them once before.  His name is Colton, and he is a pretty funny guy.  It turned out, the plans for that night was to eat dinner and to help Colton scope out a place to propose to his girlfriend, Adrienne.  Adrienne, lives in California and was flying into town the next day.

As we were talking about potential locations, somehow the conversation led to the talks of somehow being able to secretly record the whole thing.  DING!  That's when a light bulb magically turned on.  I had access to the gear to make it all happen! DSLR's, different lenses, a wireless mic, Glidetrack!  I knew right there that we definitely had to make it happen.  I teamed up with one of the other fellow bro's, David Beh and we planned it all out.  

All of the us guys went around DC to help Colton scope out a place that would be special for him.  We went to the National Tree, the ice rink at the Sculpture Garden, and eventually we decided that the FDR Memorial was the spot.  The waterfalls were a great setting (but also posed some annoying traits as you will read later)

We headed back to my office and got a wireless mic that we usually use for interviews.  I gave Colton the transmitter, and I kept the the receiver of course. He was to hide the mic on him somewhere, and when they got close, turn it on and it was go time! I was siked to be apart of this mission.

Operation Circus Tent

The next day, David and Colton started texting each other in code.  Operation Circus Tent as they called it, and we even had code names.  I think my name was Tango November or something like that haha.  It was quite funny reading the texts.  The goal was to head down there and capture the proposal right around the sunset. Dave was a little late to pick me up, but we made it right in time.

David's role was to get the wide angle shots, and I was suppose to get the zoomed in footage.  I hooked up Dave with a Canon 5D Mark II, and a 24-70mm 2.8 lens.  I took down a tripod with a glidetrack and had a Canon 5D Mark II with a 70-200mm 2.8 IS USM II lens.  I set it up and had the camera pointing at the right spot, had the wireless mic receiver plugged in with an earpiece ready to go once I heard something.

So you might be wondering.... how was she not going to notice us recording?  Well, it was simple, we used our fake touristy powers.  I'm asian, so it was easy enough for me to pretend that I'm just a tourist haha.  So, I dubbed myself a Ninja for the day haha.  Dave, who Adrienne has met once before, put on his big jacket and snow hat and just pretended to be taking some shots of the waterfall.  Everything was in place!

Go Time

Soon after we were setup, all of a sudden... *crackle... crackle... sssss*.  I heard the static in my earpiece and knew it was game time!  I signaled David and we started to record.  Colton and Adrienne walked by and right to the designated spot.  We started our filming and it was great!  EXCEPT... for one thing.

The sound!  Colton clipped the wireless mic onto his shirt and tried to hide it at the same time.  I could hear how the mic would rub up against his jacket.  The other thing was that because they were standing right next to the waterfall, I totally could hear it as well.  Their voices were a little muffled due to everything.  As he proposed.. I couldn't completely hear everything.. and when he got down on one knee.. I was afraid!  I didn't know if she accepted or not!  However, the next thing I knew, she was hugging him and kissing him.  Operation Circus Tent was a success.  As they walked away, I pretended to be on my cell phone to continue my cover and Dave yelled a great line to them to continue his cover... "HEY! YOU'RE IN MY SHOT!"

I had a nice little laugh.  Afterwards, we filmed some B-Roll footage for the video.  It was then.. a done deal. My day of being a impromptu Ninja turned out very well.  That night, before I left to Vegas, I made a quick draft of the video.  I hope you guys enjoy!  (BTW, the cat is out of the bag.  Colton did eventually tell Adrienne about the filming.)

The music is by Clara C - Offbeat.  I didn't have enough time to give her credit in the first draft.  I'll definitely do it in the final draft!  Check her out at http://www.youtube.com/claracmusic

 

 

Thanks for helping me fall in love with the game. RIP Mike by Thomas Nguyen

This is an old post that I just wanted to have records of.

Me & Mike - The Human Wall - 2006.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Last night, I was back in PA just for an evening. I got a chance to visit the first table tennis club I ever started at. The club that started it all. Berks Table Tennis Club. It was the friendliest club I ever played at. They not only taught me to have fun with the game, but to genuinely show kindness and interest in every person that walked into that door. That is something I try to continue with every new person I meet still. It was great to be back and reconnect with everyone there.

Unfortunately, I found out that one of my favorite members passed away, Mike. Thanks for hitting with me when I could hardly even keep the ball on the table. Thanks for all the fun jokes you had. Thanks for your kindness. Thank you for your enthusiasm and encouragement. I'll never forget ya. May you rest in peace.

Here is an excerpt from an old post I found on my Xanga. 

Saturday, 30 December 2006
Working in Table Tennis.. and other random stuff

Me & Old Mike

I've never felt so good about working in Table Tennis until I went back home for Xmas. During one of my days off, I went to visit the old club I attended back home, the Berks Table Tennis Club. It's where I first really learned to love and appreciate the game. The majority of the club members are elders, but I really enjoy that. I love learning their history and all their stories. What amazed me was their eagerness to teach me the wonderful game to a complete newbie like me. I just remember them always having to pick up the balls i would mishit, and never complaining. They worked with me until I got better, with no regrets of their back pain haha. 

Anyways, the picture above is Mike & I. Mike is the oldest member at the club. He's 80 years old and is only running on one lung (The other collapsed when he was young, due to tuberculosis). I always refer to him as the Human Wall. I remember when I first started out, I had no clue how he could block and return every ball. Even with his age and physical limitations, he is an amazing player. When I went back to the club during Xmas Break, I was catching up with him. I told him how I was working for North American Table Tennis. After I told him, I've never seen such a proud and amazed face at the same time. He kept repeating.. "You work for.. NORTH AMERICAN TABLE TENNIS??........ I've been in this game for so long, and it's shame that this beautiful game isn't more popular. I'm so glad you are working for table tennis. We need someone like you!" I told him about all the projects we are working on, and more about the company. He just kept on smiling. Before he left that night, he kept on going to the other members... "Did you know Tom works for North American Table Tennis?" That is definitely a memory I won't forget.

Meet Stan. by Thomas Nguyen

Stan is one of the Russian table tennis players  at Club JOOLA.  And even though he is Russian, I swear he eats even more Vietnamese food then I do.  I always see him at Pho Hoa Binh and have even joined him (as you can see in the photo)

Stan is a very personable guy and always fun to talk to.  He's local Jazz musician and plays the saxophone.  He use to play with the Naval Academy, but now has his own group, The DC Jazz Connect.  Currently he plays on Thursday nights at the Paper Moon in Georgetown.  However starting next year, he'll also be playing at some hotels as well.  I'll keep you posted.  But in the meantime, check him out when you get the chance!

Meet Stas. Sylvie's Bday! by Thomas Nguyen

 

So here's a little update!  So the Russian gentleman I was talking about before, his name is Stas.  Here is what I found out today through our hand signal conversation haha. He is 70 years old.  He started playing since he was a young child, and played competitively for over 20 years! I just wanted to let you guys know that most likely, you would get your butt kicked by him.  Don't let the age fool you, the man has skills!  He also taught me how to say thank you today.  This has been quite the fun adventure!

Sylvie emotional about her awesome kitchen gear!

The cous and I

Tonight was my cousin Sylvie's Bday.  If you don't know Sylvie, she's also known as ThriftyDCCook!  She's always blogging about amazing food, deals, and recipes that she has tried.  Pretty much I get hungry whenever I see her blog.  I would totally recommend visiting her blog sometime. I don't get to see her as often, but it was great seeing her tonight!  Her Bday was celebrated at Masa 14 by 14th & U St.  The place looks great and the food was quite delish!  One of the chef's is from ZenGo in Chinatown.  I had the Barbeque Salmon with spinach and bacon (Of course I had to have bacon) and it was quite delish.  I definitely recommend it.