What motivated you to share your life story?
First, I have an interesting and eventful life. Also, I have some experience to share and a story to tell. My memoir described the ups and downs of a tough and difficult life, the tales of personal survival and ultimate triumph, the moments of failure and the joy of success, as well as my hard-earned wisdom. Second, I want to show my gratitude to the United States of America, the country that I adopted and that adopted me and to all the people who helped me along the way. Third, I‘d like to assure the young people of America and the future generations of the immigrant community that “the American Dream is alive and well.” With hard work, determination, and some luck, anyone can get a better life and live the American Dream.
What is your favorite book written in English? What is your favorite book written in Vietnamese?
My favorite book written in English is “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway. In the story, Hemingway describes the human spirit of an aging fisherman, Santiago. He ventures far from land, endures great hardship, hooks and fights a giant marlin longer than his boat for three days, and finally reels it in and lashes it to his boat. However, it was ironic that Santiago’s giant marlin was all eaten by sharks, leaving only its skeleton by the time he reaches the port. Santiago’s determination to overcome all challenges and difficulties and ultimately triumph is indeed admirable and an invaluable lesson.
My favorite book written in Vietnamese is Truyen Kieu or The Tale of Kieu (English) by Nguyen Du. It is an epic poem written in the 18 th century. The poem recounts the life of Thuy Kieu, a beautiful and talented young woman in a period of social and political upheavals. To save her father and brother from prison, Kieu, who has already promised to marry her lover, unknowingly sells herself into a marriage with a middle-aged man, who is a pimp and forces Kieu into prostitution. Then Kieu suffers fifteen years of numerous ups and downs, trials and tribulations, including working in brothels, being a slave and becoming a Buddhist nun. She also has multiple marriages and many attempted suicides. At long last, Kieu is reunited with her first love but she just wants to be friends and refuses to be romantically connected to him because she considers herself no longer worthy.
What would surprise most people to learn about you?
Most people place disproportionate value on appearance. I’m only five foot three and weigh about 105 pounds. I speak English with an accent. People who don’t know me often think I’m naive, weak, or uninformed. Therefore, most people were surprised when I was very well-prepared, studied, analyzed subjects thoroughly, and had strong negotiation skills. They are also surprised to learn that I graduated from one of the most prestigious universities in the US, worked for a big international oil company and was featured on the cover of a professional magazine… Even some of my friends were surprised to read a local newspaper story describing me as “he worked his way from penniless refugee to successful businessman to university benefactor.”
Who is your hero?
My hero is Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. At a young age, she was forced to flee Czechoslovakia as a refugee and eventually settled in the US and became a US citizen. She attended top universities and received advanced degrees. She taught college and won a “Teacher of the Year” award. She served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of States. She tirelessly championed human rights, gender equality, and promoted American ideals of justice and freedom around the world.
After leaving public service, she continued to serve on various public and private boards, write memoirs and books, and stay active in current affairs.
If a movie were made of your life story, do you have any opinions about who should play you in the movie?
This is an interesting question. I’d like to offer the names of 3 American male actors of Asian descent:
- Mason Lee, 29 year-old (son of filmmaker Ang Lee) and best known for his role in The Hangover Part II.
- Kenny Ridwan, 20-year-old who has played in The Goldbergs
- Brandon Soo Hoo, 24-year-old who acted in Tropic Thunder (2008)