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Vietnamese Americans find career, home, identity in motherland



It is not uncommon for Vietnamese Americans to return to Vietnam to start a business in their twenties or thirties. For many, this return to the motherland is more than just a chance at a new career, it is a chance to find the true meaning in life.

Tony Ngo and Don Le are known for founding Everest Education, an institute in Ho Chi Minh City which offers math and English enrichment courses, test preparation, college admissions consulting, and private tutoring to students from grades 1 to 12.

Born and raised in California, with an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from Stanford University, Tony’s first visit to Vietnam was in the summer of 2007 for an internship at TPG Capital.

“After graduating, I had many questions about the culture, the market, and the transformation happening in Vietnam. I wondered if I could contribute anything,” Tony shared during a phone interview with Tuoi Tre News.

“Seven years later, I decided that if I didn’t do a summer internship in Vietnam, I would never do.”

Tony Ngo is seen in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News.

Tony Ngo is seen in a photo he provided Tuoi Tre News.

Tony’s business partner, Don Le, also a graduate of Stanford University, worked in management consulting in the U.S. for a few years before he started looking for “something different.”

Don met Tony who asked what the former thought about moving to Vietnam, and that encounter became a turning point in Don’s life.

“There were a lot of different reasons [why I moved to Vietnam]. I am a Vietnamese-American and I knew very little about being Vietnamese, and frankly, I didn’t grow up around a lot of Vietnamese people,” he explained.

“A part of my decision to come to Vietnam was the fact that I had never lived abroad, and that was something that I had always wanted to do as a Vietnamese American.

“From a professional standpoint, it seemed like a great opportunity as well, so I figured out I would try it out for one or two years.

“The worst thing that could have happened was that I would have to go back to the U.S. and find another job.”

In 2007, at the age of 26, Don decided to visit Vietnam as a “test” of stepping out of his comfort zone.

Meanwhile, from 2008 to 2015, Tony began investing strongly in Vietnam and other Asian markets.

While working in China, Tony noticed how much opportunity there was in the education industry for companies focused on learning quality and academic models that were not yet available in Vietnam. 

He then flew from Beijing to Ho Chi Minh City to meet with Don in a café on Le Loi Street in District 1. It was there that the duo decided to launch their own education center.

In the summer of 2011, Tony and Don rented a small room in District 1 and began running free weekend classes for their friend’s children.

Those small weekend classes eventually developed into Everest Education, which now boasts four centers across the southern metropolis.

Don still vividly remembers the moment he decided he would stay in Vietnam forever.

It was after he had lived in the country for nearly five years and returned home to the U.S. to visit family.

Upon his return to Vietnam, he saw the country from the plane’s window and thought to himself, “I’m home.”

According to Don, the best thing about Ho Chi Minh City is the dynamism, change, and constant improvement. It gives him the desire to improve himself each and every day.

He said that part of his success is owed to the many good people he met when he first arrived in Vietnam, many of whom “allowed” him to make mistakes because they understood that he came here with good intentions.

After 15 years of living in his homeland, Don said Vietnam has given him a deeper understanding of his own identity.

‘I am John and Hung’

John Hung Tran made the decision to spend his life in Vietnam after participating in a cultural exchange program at Hanoi University in 2010.

During his 10 years in Vietnam, he has worked as a TV presenter, English instructor, and journalist.

Now, at 33 years old, he serves as the general director of a corporation that invests in start-ups and technology, as well as connects investors with foreign businesses.

A decade ago, John was in his last year as a psychology major in the U.S. when he decided to make his first visit to Vietnam.

“My mother used to translate stories my grandmother would tell us about Vietnam and about Vietnamese people loving and helping each other in wartime,” he recalled.

“Those stories touched me and left a serious impression.”

Born and raised in the U.S., John grew up not being able to speak Vietnamese. In fact, he could not even point to the country on the world map.

After the exchange program in Hanoi, he returned to America to prepare for a job in finance, but before officially starting work he decided to come to Vietnam once more to visit friends.

That trip was a turning point in his life.

During his holiday in Vietnam, John was asked to host a travel experience TV show. He chose to take the job and stay in Vietnam.  

Just a year into his time in the Southeast Asian country, he realized he found a clearer connection with the country.

“Someone told me that I was born and raised in a foreign country, so no matter how long I lived, I would never be a real Vietnamese,” he recalled.

“However, I saw that each region of Vietnam has different cultural characteristics, so how could anyone truly know what makes a ‘real Vietnamese’?

“I decided to travel across Vietnam to find the answer and learn about my origins.”

A supplied photo shows John Hung Tran as he met with children at a free English class in the northern province of Thanh Hoa during his walking trip across Vietnam in 2012.

A supplied photo shows John Hung Tran as he met with children at a free English class in the northern province of Thanh Hoa during his walking trip across Vietnam in 2012.

In the summer of 2012, John embarked on a 90-day walk from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City as part of a mission to find his “Vietnamese self.” When he departed, he was penniless.

“I asked locals if I could stay at their houses. I worked with them, which often meant waking up at 4:00 am to harvest rice or heading out to sea at 5:00 am to fish with them,” he said.

He was impressed by the people he met during his journey.

“I was supported and helped by so many people. It reminded me of the stories my grandmother told me.

“I visited many houses and everyone was always willing to open their door for me, a stranger.

“They didn’t know anything about me. They didn’t know if I was a bad person.”

John documented his trip in a book titled “John Di Tim Hung (John Looks for Hung).”

The book helped him convince his parents and grandmother of his decision to live in Vietnam. 

“After 40 years, my grandmother eventually returned to Vietnam and felt very emotional when she finally reunited with her old acquaintances,” he said.

“Many elderly people have texted me to say that they were touched by my story and were inspired to return to Vietnam, their homeland.”

Now John, who decided to stay in Vietnam for a long time, said he is both John and Hung – both Vietnamese and American.

In an email exchange with Tuoi Tre News, Bintu Musa-Harry, the information attaché at the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, said Vietnam is an attractive destination for overseas Vietnamese who wish to visit the country for tourism or business.

According to her, in 2017 the American Center in Ho Chi Minh City organized a series titled “Saigon Dep Lam (Beautiful Saigon)” to create opportunities for Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American diplomats, educators, entrepreneurs, chefs, film directors, writers, artists, and lawyers to share about their journey to Vietnam and their perspective on the relationship between the two countries.

She also emphasized that efforts to reconcile and strengthen people-to-people exchanges between Vietnam and the United States have always been a priority for the U.S. government.

“We look forward to seeing stronger growth as the two countries work together in many fields,” she said.

Don Le is seen during his interview with Tuoi Tre News in Ho Chi Minh City in April 2022. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre News

Don Le is seen during his interview with Tuoi Tre News in Ho Chi Minh City in April 2022. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre News

According to Don Le, one of the reasons why more and more Vietnamese Americans are returning to Vietnam is that they see it as a land of opportunity.

“I think if somebody wants to do something different, Vietnam is a great place to go,” Don said.

“I think it is easier [to try something new in Vietnam] than the U.S. because the market isn’t growing as fast. Competition [in the U.S.] is incredibly high and the cost to do things is also very high.

“Here, there are many challenges, but if you fail, the cost of failure isn’t as high as it would be in the U.S..”

Don suggested Vietnam create a guidance center for people of Vietnamese origin who want to start a business in the country.

Such a center would guide them on how to open a business, open a bank account, or handle any other issues that arise.

“I think those are some of the things that Vietnam could do to make it easier for somebody that’s either interested in Vietnam or new to the country to help them get their academic grounding experience and stuff,” he said.

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Your Vietnam

Concert dedicated to Trịnh Công Sơn to take place at Hà Nội Opera House




Young singer Hoàng Trang performs at Trịnh Ca Club. Photo courtesy of Trịnh Ca

HÀ NỘI A live concert programme will take place in Hà Nội next month to commemorate 22 years since the day composer Trịnh Công Sơn passed away.

Giấc Mơ Trịnh (Trịnh’s Dream), is organised by artists and founders of the Trịnh Ca Club founded 15 years ago as a rendezvous for audiences and singers who love music composed by Trịnh Công Sơn.

Located in Cầu Giấy District, Trịnh Ca Club hosts music shows featuring Trịnh and other outstanding composers of Vietnamese love and romantic music. Weekly, the live shows are also live streamed on its Fanpage to serve audiences abroad. With its activities, Trịnh Ca plays an important role in the development of Vietnamese contemporary music.

To mark 15 years since its establishment, Trịnh Ca Club co-operated with Vàng Son Một Thuở Company to organise Trịnh’s Dream, under the direction of famous musician Nguyễn Quang who have directed many music shows nationwide. The concert shows will be held on April 1 and 2 at Hà Nội Opera House. 

According to Quang, Trịnh’s Dream shows do not delve into the biography of the late musician Trịnh Công Sơn or how the songs were born, but explore how the songs affect audiences and singers.

“Everybody will have a different perspective,” said Quang.

“The songs will follow each other to express each person’s dreams and thoughts. The message of the programme is to love each other and help each other build our dreams and aspirations. Everyone will discover themselves in it.”

Audiences will enjoy 20 famous songs that have a strong position in Vietnamese audiences’ hearts. However, these songs are remixed to bring a new feeling to audiences.

They are remixed in acoustic style and there will be 60 microphones arranged on the stage to amplify the sound. The director doesn’t use other digital and electronic equipment to preserve the modest and truthful sound from the voice of singers and the beat of instruments.

Singer Lê Tâm said that Trịnh Ca’s familiar artists and audiences will come to the music night as a pilgrimage to Trịnh’s realm. What connects listeners and singers is the empathy in those ideas and philosophies.

She said: “Some people say that the more Trịnh’s music is heard, the more absorbed you are, the more you understand and the more you love it. There are songs to listen to today, listen to tomorrow, but sometimes they take years to understand and take in.”

The concerts will feature generations of singers famed with Trịnh’s songs, including those born in the 1970s like Bích Ngọc, Mai Loan, Thanh Hương and also those born 1990s like Hoàng Trang or Trịnh Trí Anh. That continuation of generations is essential to maintain the goodness of Trịnh’s music and love that Trịnh Ca’s teahouse has pursued for many years. Among them, Hoàng Trang, 25, is a young singer who has become a phenomenon recently with new expressions of Trịnh’s famous songs.

A statue of composer Trịnh Công Sơn at Trịnh Ca Club. — Photo courtesy of Trịnh Ca

The night shows mark 22 years since the talented musician passed away, but the people who built Trịnh Ca expect to let his love and faith in the good things in life continue into a non-stop flow.

Through this, organisers once again affirm the great influence of Trịnh Công Sơn: “Although he has left the temporary realm for many years, his music always has a strong vitality.” VNS


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Your Vietnam

The green moss in Rớ Hamlet creates spectacular scenery




The green moss beach attracts many tourists to Phú Yên Province. VNA/VNS Photo Xuân Triệu

PHÚ YÊN — Lying on the south central coast of Việt Nam, Phú Yên Province is a peaceful and romantic environment that has attracted many visitors.

As well as popular places such as Ghềnh Đá Đĩa with overlapped rocky plates, Ô Loan Lagoon and Vũng Rô Bay offer deep blue water and romantic views. 

An embankment area full of green moss in Rớ Hamlet, Phú Đông Ward, Tuy Hòa City has recently become another attractive destination for tourists.

Tourists take photos on the green moss beach. — VNA/VNS Photo Xuân Triệu

The concrete blocks and stone slabs on the embankment against coastal erosion which are covered with green moss create beautiful scenery.

Visitors are recommended to arrive at the destination in early morning to be able to contemplate the charming and poetic scene. VNA/VNS Photo Xuân Triệu

Visitors are recommended to arrive at the destination from around 5 or 6am to be able to enjoy the charming and poetic scenery. At the crack of dawn, the water recedes, revealing layers of green moss shining under the first sunlight of the day.

Green moss makes concrete blocks look  a little different. — VNA/VNS Photo Xuân Triệu

The most beautiful time to visit Rớ Hamlet is from January to the end of April. This is when the moss carpets wake up to life after long summer and winter days.

As the hamlet is a famous tourist attraction in Phú Yên, the way to it is quite safe and easy to find. Tourists could either take a taxi or drive a motorbike themselves, following of Google Maps or asking hospitable locals along the way for directions.

The green moss in Rớ Hamlet has made it a must-visit destination in Phú Yên Province. -— VNA/VNS Photo Xuân Triệu

Tourists need to take caution stepping on the slippery and wet moss. They should not pick or trample on moss to preserve the inherent intact beauty of Rớ Hamlet. VNS



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Your Vietnam

Beyond skin deep: the impact of beauty standards on young women



Illustration by Trịnh Lập

 by Trương Khánh Linh

 “If you worry too much about your looks, how on earth will you be able to make time for other important things in life?” My grandmother’s words resonated with me as I stood in front of the mirror, scrutinising every part of my body that I deemed to be imperfect.

It was a thought that had crossed my mind many times before, but for some reason, her words hit me differently this time. It made me wonder where this obsession with beauty came from and what impact it had on women.

When I asked my 71-year-old grandmother about her thoughts on the beauty standard in today’s world, she shared her own experiences with me. She explained that when she was younger, beauty standards were much less rigid and there was less pressure to conform to a certain look. However, she has noticed that in recent years, there seems to be a lot more emphasis on physical appearance.

“I worry that women are spending too much time and money on trying to look a certain way, instead of focusing on more important things in life. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look nice, but when it becomes an obsession that takes away from other aspects of your life, that’s when it becomes a problem,” she said.

To gain a better understanding, I reached out to young women in their 20s to discuss their perception of beauty and their insecurities.

Phạm Hương Giang, a 22-year-old college student, shared her struggles with acne: “I feel like I’m constantly hiding behind makeup. I’ve tried tons of skincare products and spent every dime I made to get rid of my acne, but nothing seems to work.”

She is currently saving up money to get better treatment. The pressure mostly comes from people around her like her friends and family. Their unsolicited comments on her appearance pressure her to change herself.

Nguyễn Thị Thu Hà, a 21-year-old student, said: “When I was younger, I felt great about my body, but as I got older, I began to feel like I didn’t measure up to the beauty standards that society set for women. Thinness and ‘perfection’ seemed to be the only acceptable ways of looking, and I felt like I had to be thin and conventionally attractive to be valued or accepted.”

I bet that all women my age are familiar with the infamous “IU’s diet”, named after a popular South Korean singer and actress. The diet is said to be one of the most effective ways to lose weight but involves eating only an apple for breakfast, a sweet potato for lunch, and a protein shake for dinner. This extreme diet is just one example of the pressure women face to conform to narrow beauty standards. On top of that, countless workout videos on YouTube promote getting rid of natural body features such as hip dips and the lack of a thigh gap. No wonder women of this generation are super self-conscious and highly critical of their bodies.

I, in fact, have witnessed plenty of women, even teenagers, try these insane methods. My 15-year-old sister once told me: “I have to be skinny or else I will die.” I was so shocked after hearing the sentiment.  

Despite the negative impact, there are positive developments in the form of body positivity and body neutrality movements. These movements aim to challenge societal beauty standards and promote inclusivity and diversity.

One prominent voice in the body positivity movement is Lê Thụy, a Vietnamese TikTok influencer. Thụy is known for her confidence and her effortlessly funny videos, where she shows her bare face with acne and even displays her armpit hair, which is often considered taboo for women. When first posting TikTok videos, she received a lot of criticism from the viewers. However, despite a lot of negativity, she continues to rise above it and make people fall in love with her wonderful personality.

Speaking from my personal experience, as someone who has struggled with body image issues in the past, the concept of body neutrality has been incredibly helpful for me. For years, I felt like my worth was entirely tied to my appearance, and I spent a lot of time and energy trying to meet society’s narrow beauty standards.

When I first heard about body neutrality, I was sceptical. It seemed counterintuitive to focus on something other than appearance when it came to body image. But as I learned more about the movement, I began to see its benefits. By shifting my focus away from appearance and towards my body’s functionality, I was able to start appreciating it for what it could do rather than how it looked. I started to view my body as a tool that allowed me to run, dance, and explore the world, rather than simply as something to be judged based on appearance.

Another positive development is the increasing availability of cosmetic surgery. While many criticise the cosmetic surgery trend, I believe it has given women the freedom to make choices about their appearance.

However, it’s important to recognise that cosmetic surgery is not a panacea. While it can help women feel more confident, it does not address the root cause of societal beauty standards that perpetuate negative stereotypes about women’s appearance.

As a woman myself, I’ve felt the pressure to conform to certain beauty standards, whether it’s through social media, cultural expectations, or the availability of cosmetic surgery.

But I’m heartened to see positive developments on the horizon. It’s important to remember that beauty is subjective and comes in all shapes and sizes and that we should be promoting inclusivity and diversity rather than adhering to narrow, unattainable standards. After all, every woman deserves to feel beautiful and confident in her own skin, regardless of whether she fits into someone else’s idea of what is “beautiful”. VNS 



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