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. 

Hong Kong & Vietnam, I miss you. by Thomas Nguyen

I recently came back from one of the best trips ever. And I absolutely miss it. It all started over a year ago, when my friends Christy & Mantik got engaged.  They were having a wedding in the US, but also in Hong Kong since their family still lives there. The DC family (That's what we call our circe of friends here in DC) decided we wanted to attend and be there for such a special moment. We also decided to make a fun Asia trip out of it.  Some decided to go to Korea or China first, but we all met up in Hong Kong and then eventually made our way to Vietnam as well.

Hong Kong

Christy & Mantik's Wedding In Hong Kong!

In Hong Kong, we were blessed to have Christy's parent take so much care of us.  They are some of the nicest people I've ever met.  They housed us, fed us, and we were all fat and happy.  No seriously, we ate so much food while we were there!  Christy & Mantik also did an amazing job being our tour guides.  The things that I'll remember most about Hong Kong is the fun city life, riding the subway everywhere, seeing all the markets & shops, and of course the food!  And of course, the best memories were being with friends as we were a part of a magical day for Christy & Mantik!


A merchant working hard and still smiling in the market

The last time I was in Vietnam was 11 years ago.  It was my first time there and also the first time I got to meet my Dad's side of the family. Originally I was suppose to be there for a month, but I think I was only there for 2 weeks.  My dad's side of the family lives in the country side, a couple of hours south of Saigon.  No matter how much insect reppellent I put on, I absolutely got owned by mosquitos.  I told my dad that if I counted 100 mosquito bites, I had to leave.  And unfortunately... I counted 100.  Which was interesting because no one else got bit except me.  I joked that it was due to my hamburger meat.  Thanks, McDonalds!

So much has changed since I've been there. But one thing that hasn't changed, is the connection I felt when I was there.  Growing up, you hear stories of people being so poor, not having jobs, how hard and difficult it is to live in Vietnam.  Which most of it is true.  And after hearing this all the time, you get this picture in your head that everyone must be just miserable in Vietnam.  

However, on my first trip to Vietnam, there was a zen moment for me.  I just visited my cousins in Saigon and was with them at their box company.  It's this small little thing in District 1, right by the Nha Tho Du Ba (Saigon's Notre Dame).  Customers will come to them looking for boxes, and if they need a custom one, they'll make it to the customer's specifications. At the end of the work day, we all sat out on the sidewalk right in front of the store on a beautiful night in Saigon.  We ate food, drank some beers, laughed, talked, and I just remember looking at all of my family members and seeing the smiles on their faces.  And then it hit me.

It doesn't matter where you are, even if you are poor, don't have the best opportunities, etc, you can be happy as long as you are surrounded by wonderful people.  That whole picture I had in my head growing up was completely shattered.  And I felt so in touch with not just my family, but with all of humanity.  No matter what background a person has, you can connect with them on a deeper, yet simple level.

At the end of the night, I crawled upstairs through a small ladder above the box company to where my family lived and slept for the night.  I remember before heading to bed, I was just smiling as I fell asleep to the sounds of Saigon.


This time around, when I finally got to visit again, I climbed up those same steps of that ladder with my buddy Dan.  Reading about it, hearing about it, is no where near the experience you get when you finally reach the top and see this small little room that has a wide open window looking down on the streets of Saigon. I wanted Dan to experience it too, and I hope he did. For me,  I felt that connection again, and it's something I'll always cherish.  

Upstairs of the box company.

As I got to spend more time with my family and friends during that trip, that zen moment kept replaying in my mind.  I hope that one day others too, will experience that same feeling.