Vietnam Comes to Milwaukee

Our first translator, Huong Le, came to visit us in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the first time during the holidays in 2008. She was going to a small school in Missouri for her degree in hospitality, so was able to take a bus to our city. Unfortunately, it was the coldest time of the year, and the day she arrived it was significantly below zero, and I’m sure the coldest weather by a long shot that she had ever experienced. I gave her about five blankets for sleeping, and when I peeked in the next morning, she was under all of them.

As a violinist, one thing I must surrender to each holiday season is several performances of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker”, and this year was no exception. Our son Galen had just arrived from Emerson College in Boston, and he and Huong used my complimentary tickets to attend and get to know each other while I played in the pit orchestra. They appeared at the lip of the pit during intermission to wave, and seemed to be getting along famously.

After the performance, driving home, with the heat on full blast for Huong, she and I planned our food preparation. Food is paramount in most Vietnamese thinking, and with Huong it is always at the forefront of her priorities. So, a trip to the Asian grocery store was necessary; I always learned a lot from Huong’s visits on how to make Nem, Spring Rolls, and a special Vietnamese kind of sushi roll.

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Huong is not a morning person, so after a lot of sleeping in, we got busy planning menus and gathering food items. As I would teach violin in the late afternoon and early evening, she would be busy in the kitchen, and the most tantalizing smells would begin to emanate from there to my living room where I taught right next to the kitchen. She would always give drooling parents and students a sample if they were willing.

Huong and Aubrey
Aubrey and Huong

By that time, our older son Aubrey had also arrived home for the holidays, and being a foodie, he was in heaven. We all benefited from Huong’s enthusiastic cooking, and she took on the role of little sister to our two sons. Our cat Rosa adopted her immediately, and they spent hours hanging out together.

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Rosa owning Huong

Usually after dinner, we would gather around in the kitchen and trade funny videos on our laptops. Huong had a gift for finding these, and always had a wealth of hilarity to share. “Oh my god,” she would say, “wait til you see this!”  She was more American than our two sons, or any other American young people we knew, in the sense that she lived, breathed and ate the lifestyle.

Pam and Huong at computer
After dinner video sharing

Huong moved to New York City to work and continue her hospitality training, and we visited her at her Astoria apartment once. She seemed perfectly at home in New York, and even though we thought we knew the city pretty well, introduced us to the High Line walkway in Chelsea, as well as some wonderful eateries.

She eventually returned home to Vietnam, where she lives in Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City, or HCMC) with her father and his wife and son. Her stepmom turns out to be an amazing cook, and every time we have visited, we are plied with delicious dishes that she has concocted on her own. (Huong’s own mother was an executive who had worked much of the time in Japan. They are a somewhat rare Vietnamese family; both parents have high level positions and are quite ambitious for themselves and their children. And divorce, something they went through when Huong was much younger, is still fairly rare. But those things are changing and becoming more common.)

As of 2017, she is planning to return to the U.S. and get a masters degree in marketing in Los Angeles, and she also plans to stay. She has dabbled in running a clothing factory in Ho Chi Minh City with two other young women entrepreneurs, something they all do part time. She will eventually figure out her destiny and be a great success – we have no doubts about that. (She gave us a whole tutorial on how to market ourselves on social networks, something we thought we knew a lot about. However, compared to Huong, we’re lightweights, and we picked up some valuable pointers from her far-ranging knowledge base.)

Bottom line is, we always end up talking about the bottom line with her: how can we create income streams using what we know? This fascinates Huong, and we often get pulled into large ranging conversations that fantasize about how to make lots of money materialize with a minimum of effort. Being artists, this kind of talk is unfamiliar, but exhilarating, and we enjoy being pulled along by Huong’s energy and enthusiasm.

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Author: Pamela Foard

Teaching and playing professionally since the age of 19, Pamela Foard was appointed a teaching assistant position at her alma mater, Indiana University, while earning a Master’s Degree in Violin Performance. Once graduated, she further honed her teaching skills at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee, and opened her private violin and viola studio in 1978 in Brookfield, Wisconsin, which was active until her move to Los Angeles in 2014. While at IU, Pamela studied with Italian violinist Franco Gulli and Polish violinist Tadeusz Wronski. She has also studied with Gerald Horner of The Fine Arts Quartet, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Dr. Gerald Fischbach, Edward Mumm, former Concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Piotr Janowski of the New Arts Trio in Milwaukee, and Vartan Menoogian of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A transplant from the East coast to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Pamela was barely out of her teens, when her talents as a freelance musician led rapidly to positions as assistant-concertmaster of the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra, the Wisconsin Philharmonic, and concertmaster of the Green Lake Festival Orchestra (Sir David Willcocks conducting), violinist with Skylight Opera Theater, and under Music Directors Kenneth Schermerhorn and Lukas Foss, the number one substitute violinist and violist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra from 1970 to 1986. Pamela founded an all string, unconducted orchestra, Sinfonia Concertante, in Milwaukee in 1979, and was the Artistic Director and Administrative Director for four years, where she also served on the board of directors. She was also the Managing Director for Milwaukee’s contemporary music ensemble, Present Music, from 1996-99. In 2006, she and her husband were invited to be artists-in-residence in Hanoi, Vietnam for a three month program, where they collaborated with Vietnamese artists. She commissioned a tuba concerto for her son Aubrey (currently a professional musician in the Charlotte Symphony and head of the low brass department at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music) in 2008 from Wisconsin composer Mark Petering. In a series of fundraisers for various levels of sponsorship of the concerto, she solicited from donors over $20,000. Pamela has published two books: "Wedding Music Essentials" and " In Concert: The Freelance Musician's Keys to Financial Success”. Presently, Pamela continues to freelance and resides in Marina del Rey, California with her husband, the fine art photographer Lawrence D’Attilio, and their cat Dasher.

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