The News Courier in Athens, Alabama


September 15, 2013

From ‘boat people’ to business owners: Vietnamese family strives for new life


Chien’s journey

After several attempts at leaving Vietnam, Chien finally embarked with three others in a four-person boat. With no navigation tools, the only advice he was given was to “follow the sun and go straight.”

This turned out to be faulty advice when the small boat was tossed about by hurricane-like winds and the Chinese people of Hainan Island that lay in their path, would not let them dock there to get out of the elements.

“We had to go around,” he said. “We got very near Hong Kong and the boat was blown around by the wind.”

A larger boat picked up him and his boat mates. He says he doesn’t know what became of his small craft. Once docked in Hong Kong he knew he’d have to earn money to be able to continue his journey.

Chien got a job in a garment factory cutting out T-shirts. He was to work 12 hours a day, six days a week for the next two years in Hong Kong before he could go to the Philippines to begin the paperwork to go to the U.S. He spent another eight months in the Philippines.

Denver was the Chien’s first stop in the U.S. He got a job in a hotel near the airport and bought a $1,000 Chevy. In time, the Chevy needed a new $1,000 flywheel.

“I just left it,” he said.

He eventually wound up in Decatur and Dao joined him in 2002. The couple owned and operated a nail salon in Decatur, but sold it and bought the salon in Athens.

“It got to be too much driving from Decatur every day,” said Dao. “So we moved to Athens two years ago.”

Their three daughters, Danica, 9,  and Kelli, 7, attend Athens Elementary School. Youngest daughter, Anna, 4, is still at home. Once Dao earned her citizenship, she was able to secure visas for her parents to come live with them.

Dao’s mother, Nhan, helps care for the children and has also learned to do pedicures at Modern Nails. Her father, Hue, works in Birmingham at a tire and lube shop and lives with friends during the week.

“People in Vietnam say we are rich,” said Dao. “They will ask me to send them $500. I tell them I can’t. I have three children. My husband also has two children and he must pay child support.

“I tell them I cannot afford to send money. They tell me to get a loan. I tell them I cannot do that. I must care for my family first. If they were hungry then I could get a loan, but I can’t get it to send   money.”

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