By Doug Young
As the days Cindy and I had remaining in Việt Nam were winding down in the late spring of 2006; two students were regulars at our apartment. Tuan was a tall good-looking young man with a science degree and the desire to earn a PhD. Trang was an uncommonly outgoing young lady I’d first met in my American Culture class. She was an honors student who wrote a research paper in lieu of final exams during her final year. I was flattered when she asked me to be her academic advisor.
They came over to help us pack up for the trip home. Trang chatted amiably with Cindy as they wrapped carved wooden models of xích lô (pedicabs, similar to rickshaws), vases, embroideries and other gifts given to us by our Vietnamese friends. Tuan helped me cram things into a large wooden crate built to ship our new prizes home. Conversation drifted to what Tuan and Trang would do after graduation. Tuan looked into studying in the Netherlands, but really wanted to go to the US. Trang wanted a job for awhile, but she too eventually wanted to study in America. A glance between Cindy and me cemented that idea that we would do what was needed to get these kids into graduate school in America.
With a strange mix of feelings - eager to go home yet terribly reluctant to leave a city we knew well, with its coterie of friends and stimulating daily life - we left Việt Nam. Within seven months, I was back for my first visit. In fact, we made three trips back in 2007. Trang had moved to Sài Gòn where she worked for IBM. (Yes - the locals still call it Sài Gòn, despite the official name of Hồ Chí Minh City.) Tuan was back in school working on his Master’s degree at the University of Huế - and both kept talking about studying overseas, but neither could figure out how to do it.
In the fall of 2008, we were once again in Sài Gòn. Trang joined us for dinner, then the three of us headed off to the hotel room where Cindy and I were staying. It was time to put plans in action.
There is an indelible picture in my mind - a picture I wish I had taken with a camera. After Cindy and I laid out the details, Trang sat quietly in her chair, not saying a word. I had carefully laid out the plans that would have Trang work as a graduate assistant at a university. That would give her much lower tuition rates and she could pay for her own food and lodging. Cindy and I would pay her tuition and books.
But Trang sat there - very quiet. Cindy and I exchanged anxious glances.
“Are you alright, Trang?”
“Yes. I am okay.” But she still did not look up.
“Are you wondering why we are doing this? What conditions we have of you?”
And so we told her that we had one condition: that after she had completed all the education she wanted, she would return to Việt Nam. “America doesn’t need your brains, Trang - Việt Nam needs your brains.”
Our hopes were being fulfilled, but we found something unexpected happening to us as well. We found we had acquired a daughter - a daughter we never knew we needed. I already had a son - a good husband and father to his own family that I was very proud of, but having a daughter was different.
And I liked it.
Then the next year, Tuan came over. There wasn’t a PhD program for him at the local university, but there was the perfect program at a university just four hours north of us. Though he flew in to an airport far away from us, we were there to welcome him to America. With Trang in the car, we took the two on a trip through middle America before he settled in to his studies..
And Tuan took to calling Cindy “Mom”, though he had a perfectly wonderful Mom back in Huế. As time went by, more students came - Thanh, who had been Trang’s classmate, Ái Nhân (say Eye Nyun) had been my first year student, then finally Kien (say Kee unh), whom Ái Nhân married and brought back as her new husband and another grad student.
It was if we could no longer be in Việt Nam, so we brought Việt Nam to us.
There is something very strange in this story. Only the craftiest of fiction writers could have concocted a story where a wounded combat veteran returns to the land of his torment, only to fall in love with the country and its people. Stranger still that he would regard the former students who came to America as his gift! I suspect God had a big hand in the story plot, and I feel quite sure He has a smile on His face.
I try to convey that idea - the idea that Cindy and I have been very blessed by our experiences during Vietnam the war and in Việt Nam the country. In my book, I’ve written a story that is still unfolding - a story of redemption and love.
Thanks, God - I am blessed.