Sunday, January 28, 2007
Mr. Christopher Gardner whose life story was made into a recently released movie entitled, "The Pursuit of Happyness" starring Will Smith, was at Webster University (St. Louis campus) on Monday, Jan. 29th. Approximately 1,800 people attended his presentation and waited in line for hours to get autograph for his book, "Rags-to-Riches Story: From Homelessness to Wall Street". My husband and I were turned away because the auditorium already reached its maximum accomodation. We were 15 minutes early prior to the scheduled of his appearance. We decided that we were too old to stand in lines (we were told it could be 2 hours) until Mr. Gardner finished speaking. It was too cold to be walking around the campus.
Perhaps in the future I could meet Mr. Gardner and share with him the story of my family coming to America and achieving a good life which is similar to Mr. Gardner's message of self-empowerment, beating the odds and breaking cycles. I read the amazing story of how unfortunate circumstances caused him to become homeless while trying to take care of his son. Upon learning that he was accepted into a training program at a brokerage firm, Mr. Gardner quit his job as a medical sales representative, only to be told that the program was terminated.
Without a job to go back and no money, Mr. Gardner did not give up the dream to create a better life for his son. While enrolling in the Dean Witter Reynolds training program, he and his son lived in a church shelter and getting their meals from soup kitchens. He worked hard from the start of the training, to passing the licensing exam, to becoming the top producer for the brokerage firm and finally achieved the high level of establishing in the business with his own company.
I would share with Mr. Gardner that my family too was homeless when we left Viet Nam and lived in the refugee camp for seven months. We were also people without a country. I would share with Mr. Gardner that my parents have the same love for our family as his love for his son that would not let him quit. That my parents turned down the opportunities to open a restaurant or a business so that my sister, brothers and I would be able to pursue higher education instead of working in a restaurant or a shop in Chinatown.
I would tell Mr. Gardner that have I great admiration and respect that he did not allow "racism" to define how he achieved success and always commited to his family. I know Mr. Gardner would agree that greatness comes from perseverance and inner strength, the same way coach Dungy led the Indianapolis Colts to the Superbowl championship. Mr. Gardner and coach Dungy are men of strong faith. Their spiritual life is the foundation helping them to overcame difficulties in life.
The greatest story is the story about anyone who dared to succeed in America without waiting for the government or someone else to validate their self worth. America is still the land of opportunity. Each of us is responsible for our own happiness and we determine the paths to achieve such "happyness".
Saturday, January 27, 2007
After we met and MC saw how dried my hands were, during lunch MC went out to purchase a bottle of hand lotion to give to me. That was the beginning of our friendship. I will always remember the little things MC did to help me. Instead of eating in her comfortable office, MC would bring her lunch to the breakroom. While we ate, MC would talk to me and encouraged me to share with her what I learned from English classes. She corrected my pronunciation, grammar and taught me American expressions. During the summer months, when we walked around the blocks at lunch time, MC would teach me about New York City, about America and about being a young woman (I was 19 years old). I laughed so hard the first time MC asked me whether I had been kissed by a boy and if I liked it. Perhaps because the subject of kissing was such a taboo in conversations in the Asian culture, I laughed to avoid giving MC an answer. As I became aware of my maturity as a young woman, I asked MC many questions that I would not dare to ask my own mother. These questions probably would make mother very uncomfortable and I had no business discussing the topics until I got married anyway.
MC became a good friend and later my godmother. MC gave me new clothing (with the price tags tore off) and never expected anything in returns. We continued to keep in touch by phone after I left MK Company. During my breaks from school, I would visit MC and her husband, JC at their home on the weekend. They would take me to real nice restaurants for dinners and a few day trips. When we encountered acquantainces, MC introduced me as such, "This is our daughter".
MC provided words of encouragement during my years of working full time and seeking a college education. We remained good friends when I moved to Michigan. MC visited me when JC came to St. Louis to attend a convention for World War II veterans. We have continued to keep in touch regularly by letters, phone calls and now by email.
It was MC who listened for hours when I went through the painful struggle with my marriage in 2005. MC listened without judging or questioning my plan for a separation. MC continued to encourage me to be more assertive at my current workplace by listing my name and title in the Association's newsletter. "Why should anyone receive credits for your hard work?" MC commented after I sent her copy of the newsletter.
I felt so blessed to have such wonderful friends like MC and her husband. The kindness they extended to me and my family over the last 27 years has lessen some of the difficulties on my journey being a refugee in the new land. Very often in life, kindness of strangers is the thing we most likely depend on. Thanks, MC for all your support and encouragement.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
I don't remember whether I said anything else or just left her office, picked up my coat in the employee breakroom and walked the two blocks to catch the subway home. I don't remember whether I ate my lunch or could not eat because I was too nervous about my decision to quit. I don't remember whether I stopped by the bank to cash my check so I could give mother my weekly contribution. I do remember that the gross pay was $150 per week and my take home was $117. I kept $17 for tokens and gave mother $100. That was my first lesson about the prilvilege of having a job and paying income taxes. All the way home, I was calm and felt strangely relief. I did not regret quitting and Ms. MK's angry words did not scare me.
It was my first job in America arranged thru the social worker at the refugee agency. (More about BL, the social worker from hell in future entries.) I started to work at MK Company one month after we arrived in America, from early February thru mid-October of 1980. The company imported fashion jewelries from the Far East. The job did not require language skills. My work was limited to opening the containers after they were delivered, putting the boxes on the shelves according to their categories (bracelets, belts, scarves etc.) and by assigned product numbers. My other duties included gathering the merchandise off the shelves to fill the orders, again by product numbers, putting the shipping labels on the boxes to be picked up by United Parcel Services.
After work, Monday thru Thursday evenings, I walked from MK Company on 31st Street & Lexington to a school on 33rd Street & Park Avenue to attend English classes. I walked because the distance was so close to waste a subway token and it probablly would take too long waiting for the train during rush hours. Prior to leaving Viet Nam, I received English lessons with a private teacher who did a good job at stressing the important of grammar. He explained that we should not learn to speak the language without the benefits of formal education such as writing complete sentences and using correct tense of present, past or past participle.
After a few months working at MK, I was blessed to have two wonderful friends, MC who worked in the show room and a bookkeeper named EK. (I will share details of the kindness MC and EK extended to me in future entries) During my unpaid lunch time (I don't remember if it was half hour or one full hour.) I would eat my sandwiches quickly so I could help MC or EK in their offices. I made copies, filed correspondence and listened to their conversation with customers. When Ms. MK questioned why I did not confine myself in the employee breakroom, I explained that I wanted to improve my English and to explore different job opportunities. Ms. MK told me that I should be happy where I was and that she did not pay me to learn or be anything beyond a stock clerk!
Ms. MK had a dog named Chichi. It loved to jump on people and only consumed certain kind of brand name dog food. I was not the only employee who did not care for Chichi. A month after I started working, Ms. MK asked me to take Chichi for a walk and I told her I was not comfortable with dogs. She made a comment (I don't remember her exact words) but it implied that for a lowly Vietnamese refugee, I should not be uncomfortable performing any kind of work when instructed to do so.
As the #7 train approaching and then stopped at Elmhurst Avenue station, I got off, slowly walked down the stairs, continued towards the apartment building, I began to get nervous. What would I tell mother that this week I only have $85 to contribute to the family income? After I explained that I left the job at MK, mother was not supportive. I understood her worry about how the family would survive with the only income from my father's job as a dishwasher.
Looking back at what happened, I admit that Ms. MK was the unlikely cheerleader and her words, though cruel and brutal, had strengthen my determination to reach for higher platforms both in employment and educational opportunities. In 1983, the stock clerk earned an Associate Degree attending classes at LaGuardia Community College while working at a night job as data entry operator. In 1988, the data entry operator earned a Bachelor Degree majoring in communication and political science from Hunter College, attending classes at night after a full day of work as an insurance premium collection clerk. Finally, in 1999, Saint Louis University awarded full scholarship and a graduate degree to the premium collection clerk.
Twenty seven years later, the stock clerk from MK Company has achieved the American dream working as a director at a trade association, a homeowner, a civic-minded citizen and an active volunteer in the community. Here is to Ms. MK, "I found another job and I did not have to confine myself to the stock room."
Monday, January 22, 2007
The headlines the last two weeks were about Smith and Dungy being the first black head coaches to meet in the NFL's biggest game. I don't know neither coach and I am sure they have no idea who I am and that I am writing about them. Though our paths never crossed, I have admired coach Smith and was sincerely happy when he left the position of defensive coordinator to St. Louis Rams and became the head coach for the Chicago Bears. I shared the sorrows and the pains coach Dungy and his family experienced when his son unexpected took his own life in 2005. I have great respect for coach Dungy for his faith and his commitments to community services.
In a small, very small way, I have something in common with the coaches - making history as the first Asian American woman to break through the racial barriers. Back in 1993, I was selected as Outstanding Career Woman of the Year by the Professional Women Network of Western Michigan. I went on to represent the local chapter in the Statewide selection. The selection included group activity, individual presentation and in-depth interview. I was not chosen to go onto the next level which was to represent the State of Michigan for the national award. Ironically, the national convention that year was to be in St. Louis, Missouri where my husband was promoted and transfered to a subsidiary the following year.
There are many times in my life when I was told because I speak English with an accent and being Asian American, I am not "management materials". In her book entitled, "Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling - Careers Strategies for Asians", Ms. Jane Hyun explains that Asian Americans are recognized for their work ethics, as a well educated workforce, however as supporting staff but not qualified leaders in executive positions.
Last year, the Board of Directors at my workplace conducted a special retreat to discuss long term strategic plan as the Association celebrated its 40th Anniversary. The plan includes 5-10 year expansion in labor contracts, additional membership programs and succession planning for when the executive director takes his retirement in 10 years. I was told many times that if something serious happened to the executive director, I would handle all matters until a decision was made by the Board of Directors.
Giving the history of labor union and specifically construction industry, I would be the first woman and the first Asian American ever to sit at the collective bargainings negotiation table. When I shared this thoughts with my husband, he commented, "I don't have any doubt of your ability. Unfortunately, no matter how good you are, the only thing going against you is you are a woman."
The NFL "Rooney Rule" requires that a team must interview at least one minority candidate when there are openings for coaching positions. Since then the process has generated opportunities for minority coordinators and resulted in the current seven black head coaches. I believe that coach Smith and coach Dungy would not want the focus to be about their race or the extensive coverage only because they are African Americans. The focus should be on their coaching abilities, and that they have worked hard to earn, and not given, the chance to reach the highest platform of NFL - the winning coach of the Superbowl championship.
I don't believe in preferential treatments. I will continue to work hard and prove that I am the best person for the job. There will always be roadblocks, prejudice, and limitations. I will create my own opportunities just like the way my family through our own strength and courage, created a new life in America.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
My sincere apology to all of my adoring fans who have been patiently awaiting for an update since my last entry about the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up. Because of my full-time job and evening commitments, I am unable to update my blog until the weekends. As you are aware that the last two weekends were filled with exciting NFL playoffs schedule.
A few years ago during a visit to NYC, while enjoying a NY Giants game, I yelled out, "They should go for a 2-point conversion to tie the game and try to win with a field goal". My brother L, without realizing that his eldest sister has become a football fanatic, made a comment, "She talked as if she knew all about the game."
Yes brother, I knew all about the game, the teams and the players and I love football. My love of sports began with going to soccer games with my Dad while growing up in Viet Nam. My fondest memories will always be the time my Dad and I yelling at the players and the referees during the deciding games. In junior high, I also enjoyed playing basketball and table tennis (ping-pong). My love of sports (soccer) transferred to ice hockey when I started watching the games with my husband in 1996. Under the legendary coach Scotty Bowman magical transformations, the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997 for the first time in 42 years. The next year in 1998, the Red Wings swept the Washington Capitals to keep the Stanley Cup in Motor City. After this back-to-back victory, the Red Wings won its 10th Stanley Cup in 2002, its third title in six years. Scotty Bowman decided to leave the ice rinks as the most winning coach with nine Stanley Cup rings.
When did my love of sports turn to American football? I don't remember how it started, but in 2002 after watching Adam Vinatieri kicked the 45-yard field goal in a heavy snowfall with 27 seconds left in regulation to tie the game against the Oakland Raiders, my love for the New England Patriots and American football began. It was Vinateiri again in Superbowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams, with his 48-yard field goal giving the Patriots a 20-17 victory. Two years later, he did it again with a 41-yard field goal and only 4 seconds left to win over the Carolina Panthers. The new dynasty started.
That is why it was so hard to watch the matchup last Sunday between the Indianapolis Colts v. the New England Patriots. Vinatieri signed a 5-year deal with the Colts beginning with the 2006-2007 season. The previous weekend was fun because I did not have to split my cheering between two teams. It was also fun to watch Vinatieri helped the Colts to its victory with his five field goal kicks over the Baltimore Ravens without a touch down from Peyton Manning. The Colts won 15-6 over the Ravens.
The game between the Patriots and the San Diego Chargers was not as exciting because both teams made too many mistakes and the Patriots were sloppy including Tom Brady throwing three interceptions. The Patriots won 24-21 over the Chargers.
I was only half interested in the Chicago Bears v. the Seatle Seahawks game. The Bears won (27-24) advanced to the NFC title for the first time since 1988. We saw the Seahawks defeated by the Pittsburgh Steelers last year at the Superbowl XL in Detroit. Running back Deuce McAllister 134 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns and rookie Reggi Bush outstanding performance helped the New Orleans Saints defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 27-24. Last weekend, Bush's 88-yard touchdown catch and dash to the end-zone did not help the Saints as they were eliminated by the Bears 39-14.
I bravely went to work this morning to payoff a friendly wager to my co-workers for picking the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints as the teams advancing to the Superbowl XLI. The Colts defeated the Patriots 38-34 and the Bears defeated the Saints 39-14.
Here's to the better team to win the Superbowl XLI championship. If you ask me which team I personally will cheer for, my answer is, "the Vinatieri team"!
Sunday, January 14, 2007
With the St. Louis Cardinals winning the World Series last October, all admission tickets were sold out. An estimate of approximately 15,000 fans were expected to attend the Warm-Up. People braved the bad weather of ice storms. Many were out of towners. On Friday night, we saw people in line with their sleeping bags, blankets and lawn chairs, willing to wait more than 12 hours to purchase autograph tickets ranging from $10 for less well-known players to $125 for a signature by David Eckstein and $150 for a chance to meet Cardinals first baseman, Albert Pujols. Eckstein is St. Louis Cardinals shortstop and World Series MVP.
By 10:00 Saturday morning, we were informed that all autograph tickets were sold out. More than 1,000 people paid $125-$150 per ticket for autographs from Eckstein and Pujols. So it paid off for those who were willing to spend the night on the floor of the hotel lobby. Because we were not willing to wait in line overnight, we did not get autographs for our World Series baseball and Game 3 tickets.
The nice thing about the Warm-Up is that it is a family event. We saw many fathers and sons, friends, large groups of people having a good time talking about the winning games, their favorite players and discussing their purchases.
After having our photo taken with the World Series Trophy, we decided that we should go home. We plan to attend the Warm-Up next year. Perhaps we would have better luck at getting autographs. Hopefully the lines will not be as long and the costs will not be too high for autographs. What are the chances of the St. Louis Cardinals winning the World Series back-to-back?
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
We boarded a bus from the refugee camp to the airport. I don't really remember much of this trip or recall what went through my mind. I don't even remember boarding the airplane that took us first to Belgium. I remembered my Dad went to search for ice cream. We teased him that the plane would take off and he could have been left behind. He came back all smiling with the ice cream cone. Was it chocolate ice cream? I will remember to ask my mother who got to share the sweat treat. Probably my brother L since he is known to have a sweet tooth.
From Belgium, we boarded another plan to NYC. We finally arrived NYC in the evening. It was dark when we walked from the terminal to the parking lot where uncle P parked his car. A big snow storm came thru the day before. We were not prepared for the freezing cold and the snow piling high. We wore thin layers of clothes and worn sneakers. To this day, I still remembered the comical scene when my uncle tried to explain that it was safe and encouraged us to get on the escalator to the upper level to get to the parking lot. All six of us took the stairs even though we were so tired and hungry.
When we arrived at uncle P house, his wife was so kind to have dinner ready for us. I remembered looking at the bowl of soup with big chunks of meat and not sure if I was dreaming. After seven months of canned sardines, ready-to-eat noodles and steamed rice, we shamelessly ate all the food put in front of us. Of course, my parents had to be polite, control their hunger and instead of eating, keeping the conversation with uncle P and his wife.
After the feast, we all went to sleep in the basement. The next day, we went to the refugee agency to fill out the paperwork. We were provided a bag of decent winter clothing and $200, and that was the beginning of our new life in America 27 years ago.
Along the way, we overcame the language barriers, adapted to the new culture and became productive citizens. Our American dreams were realized thru hard work, earning college degrees, professionals employment and home ownerships. I am so proud of my sister and brothers. I only wish my father was still living so he could enjoy the fruit of his labor.
To my family, Happy Anniversary, we have done good!
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Again thanks to L, I learned that TIME magazine named all the people who after a long day of work or a tough week of hard work, instead of watching popular television shows, enjoying their weekend activities, spending time on their computers, updating their webblogs, MySpace, YouTube etc. - PERSON OF THE YEAR in the special issue of December 25, 2006-January 1, 2007.
I probably will not be well known like the Book Reviews Lady or the Korean housewife turned citizen reporter or earned more than a few dollars from AdSense. I recognize that I would not be the most widely read blogger and I don't really have solutions to offer to solve problems in the world. Somebody wrote in the Wall Street Journal that "blogs are written by fools to be read by inbeciles". Just to be sure, I look up in the dictionary to find the definition for imbeciles (stupid person). As the character Sam in the movie, "Ghost", once said, "The Wall Street Journal is a frustrated old man" and I add, "who could not accept what he could not understand".
Blogging has changed my life. Writing blog entries has allowed me to have a voice. I enjoy writing and blogging has helped me putting together the story of my life. I enjoy reading and blogging gives me an outlet to share my brief version of book reviews. Most importantly, reading my brother's blog has re-established the connections between us. Living more than 600 miles away, with work, family and other commitments, we don't have the luxury to share what's going on in our lives. I look forward to reading L regular entries. I felt close to my brother. I appreciate what he is doing for our family, at his work and through his volunteer activities.
I have learned a lot about the vocabulary of blogging. For example, the word "moblog" is combination of "mobile" and "webblog" to mean blogging through mobile devices such as cell phones etc. It has nothing to do with mobsters or the Godfather! And the behind-the-scenes network tool called "ping" that notify search engine or directories that the blog has been updated. I don't write about heavy subjects because I don't want to be one of the bloggerheads who are in heated disagreements.
Andrea J. Lee, an author and consultant shared her advice on how to create a self-imposed deadline of writing a book without going insane - get a blog. The blog structure allowed Lee to write each post as a chapter and to receive comments through blog environment without the stress of writing in the traditional route. After thirty posts, the birth of a book was born. Lee's blog is at www.andreajlee.com.
For now, I am a happy blogger, putting my thoughts into words, seeing my writing published, knowing that at least one person - my brother L - is reading my blog, is good enough for me and that is what matters. Is it what life is about? Happy Blogging to all the good bloggers!
Monday, January 01, 2007
I thought the first entry of 2007 should be light and just the facts. So here is interesting information I found on Fax Times.
The first annual Times Square New Year Eve was celebrated in 1904. Not until 1907 that the tradition of Ball Lowering was used. Waterford Crystal company designed the current New Year Eve's Ball, weighing at 1,070 pounds.
According to the Times Square Alliance, 2,000 pounds of confetti are dropped every year. This event has become a universal symbol of welcoming in the New Year.
If you wish to see the lowering of the ball and cann't wait until New Year Eve, then head towards the United States Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. Everyday at noon, a time-ball descends from a flagpole at the Observatory.
A good year to all and to all a good year!