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.
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.
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.
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.
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.