Trích đoạn hồi ký của GS Trần Long
Anh chị, em thân mến,
Sau khi chúng tôi phổ biến rộng rãi bản dịch của anh Hoàng Thịnh về một đoạn trong hồi ký của GS Trần Long, GS Trần Long đã tỏ ra rất cảm kích và biết ơn anh Hoàng Thịnh đã góp phần không nhỏ vào việc phổ biến một số hoạt động của những giáo sư đi tiên phong trong quá trình hình thành và phát triển Trường Đại Học Chánh Trị Kinh Doanh Dalat.
Để các thế hệ tiếp theo tại hải ngoại có thể tham khảo dễ dàng hơn, GS vừa chuyển đến cho tôi bản Anh ngữ sau đây. Xin chân thành cám ơn Gíáo sư và mong mõi bài viết này sẽ được phổ biến trong các thế hệ Thụ Nhân C, D …
Huỳnh Trung Trực (CTKD 1)
In early 1964 I was Inspector of Foreign Aid in the office of Dr. Nguyen ton Hoan, Deputy Prime Minister for Pacification. I was just back from a trip to Malaysia to study its counter-insurgency program, when I received a letter from Fr. Simon Nguyen van Lap, President of the Catholic University of Dalat. He asked me to meet with three of my friends to discuss a serious matter concerning the university.
The following weekend we met for several hours at my friend Bui xuan Bao’s apartment on Hongthaptu Street in Saigon. The other two friends were Pho ba Long and Vu quoc Thuc. I knew Bao in Paris back in 1950 when he was studying at the Sorbonne’s Faculty of Letters. In 1964 he was a professor at the University of Saigon’s Faculty of Letters, and also a lecturer at the University of Dalat’s Faculty of Letters.
Pho ba Long and I met in Chicago in the summer of 1955 when he came with his siblings to attend the annual meeting of the Association of Vietnamese Catholic Students in North America. Toward the end of that three-day convention, he was elected president of the association to replace me after my two years as president. At that time Long had just finished the first half of his two-year MBA program at Harvard Business School. In 1964 he was an executive at the Esso-Standard Eastern Oil Company in Saigon.
In 1956 when I managed The Times of Vietnam weekly magazine, I interviewed Vu quoc Thuc, Governor of the Central Bank of South Vietnam, and wrote an article about the bank in my magazine. That’s how I came to know him and became his friend. He had a doctorate in economics from Paris Faculty of Law. In 1964 he was Dean and Professor at the University of Saigon’s Faculty of Law.
In this meeting, which Bui xuan Bao termed an exploratory session, we discussed the feasibility of establishing a new faculty of political science, economics, and business at the University of Dalat, located about two hundred miles north of Saigon. Any such new faculty had to be approved by the ministry of education. The politics at that time was not conducive to such an enterprise at a Catholic university. President Ngo dinh Diem, a Catholic, had just been overthrown and assassinated a few months earlier at the instigation of the United Buddhist Movement (UBM), and Prof. Bui tuong Huan was the current Minister of Education as a UBM candidate.
Gen. Nguyen Khanh, who ousted the Minh-Kim-Don junta in January 1964, was the strongman at the moment. However, his government was beset with innumerable problems, including frequent street demonstrations led by university students with demands for a civilian administration and more liberal policies toward opposition groups. Our approach was for Fr. Lap to present the proposed faculty as a way to alleviate the student turmoil in Saigon by attracting students to the peaceful setting of the resort city of Dalat. We learned later that Minister Huan did buy into this argument.
According to Bao, a close friend of Fr. Lap and his representative in this meeting, the new enterprise was already titled by Fr. Lap as Faculty of Economics, Political Science and Enterprise Administration. Prof. Thuc preferred to name it Faculty of Politics, Eco-nomics, and Business Management. As a graduate of American universities, I proposed the shorter name of School of Government and Business.
Though products of French universities, Bao and Thuc agreed that the new school should have an American flavor. They suggested that Pho ba Long and I propose a four-year curriculum to be discussed at our next meeting.
During the following week we pored over several American university catalogs to come up with subject matters and study courses, especially for the first two years of the curriculum. With a few modifications made at our next meeting, this was the curriculum incorporated in the proposal presented to Minister Huan. However, a snag arose. When he signed the ministerial order to approve the establishment of the new school, he named it Faculty of Economics and Enterprise Administration.
Meanwhile due to irreconcilable differences, Deputy Prime Minister Hoan left Gen. Nguyen Khanh’s government in May 1964. Most of his associates in his Greater Vietnam Party (Dang Dai-Viet) also left Khanh’s government. I was at that time a low ranking reserve officer detached from military service to the office of Dr. Hoan. New papers were prepared for me to be transferred to the ministry of education and then specially assigned to the Catholic University of Dalat to help set up the new school.
In June 1964 I left Saigon for Dalat. My wife Danielle and our four children remained in Saigon. I spent the next hectic three months pulling together all the necessary resources to make the school ready for its first academic year. Gen. Khanh was ousted in August 1964 and replaced by a civilian government led by Dr. Phan huy Quat. The new minister of education, Dr. Nguyen tien Hy, not a UBM candidate, issued a ministerial order to rename the Faculty of Economics and Enterprise Administration as the School of Government and Business (SGB).
Originally we had thought of admitting six hundred freshmen for the new school year. We received almost fifteen hundred applications. In early September when we started SGB first class sessions, we had 1036 registered students. They came from all different parts of South Vietnam, with a majority from the urban areas of Saigon, Hue and Cantho, where the three existing public universities were located.
By sheer determination and with a positive attitude, Fr. Lap and I, along with a dedicated teaching faculty and administrative staff, succeeded in making SGB a vibrant institution, well known throughout the country by the end of the second year.
The first batch of almost four hundred graduates received their diplomas in 1968 and started serving South Vietnam in various capacities. And most of them served well.
In June 1964 when I left Saigon for Dalat to set up the School of Government and Business (SGB) at the University of Dalat, my title was director of studies.
When I received my bachelor of science degree in industrial administration from the University of Portland and my master of arts degree in economics and finance from Syracuse University, I never thought of one day becoming a university professor and managing a new college in South Vietnam. Now “the flag was in my hand and I had to wave it,” as went the Vietnamese saying, “Co den tay ai, nguoi ay phat.”
The ministry of education had approved our-year curriculum. My task was now to assemble the teaching staff for the twelve introductory courses listed in the curriculum for the freshman year. I was lucky to obtain the collaboration of five Dalat residents who had university degrees in law, economics, mathematics, and business. For the remaining courses, I had to depend on visiting lecturers who commuted from the University of Saigon or the National Institute of Administration located in Saigon.
For the course titled “Principles of Accounting -- Introductory,” I had a hard time locating a suitable person to teach the subject. After frustrating interviews with candidates who taught accounting at the National School of Commerce in Saigon, I took upon myself the task of teaching this course. Those who taught accounting in Saigon were schooled in France, not the type of accounting I wanted taught to my students.
During the next several years, therefore, I had to teach Principles of Accounting and other related accounting courses, though I had not majored in accounting. In order to teach these courses, I relied on the American textbooks authored by Finney, Noble, Niswonger, and Gohlke. On evenings and weekends, I spent my time with these textbooks and my Hermes manual typewriter, a Swiss portable model with Vietnamese keyboard. While rendering the American accounting concepts into Vietnamese, I cut the stencils by pounding hard on my light-weight typewriter. My stencils were turned over to the student co-op for mimeographing, so that copies of my teaching could be distributed to the students. Accounting being admittedly a dry subject, I interspersed it with funny animal names to call various companies, customers and suppliers.
For the course titled “Social Ethics,” I placed my trust on a Dominican priest, a reputedly eloquent preacher, who taught a philosophy course in another college of the university. I discussed with him the syllabus, my envisaged outline for this course of study, the notion of ethical behavior and of conflict of interest in public life or in a business environment. I later regretted my choice of instructor. Toward the end of the course, many students came to me complaining that, though this priest’s lectures were highly entertaining, the students did not get much out of the course and worried about the grade they would receive.
Well, I did not have control over everything. When I brought the complaint to Fr. Simon Nguyen van Lap, the university president, and discussed with him about the students’ worry of receiving even a passing grade for this course, he grinned and said he would talk with the priest. After the final exams, most of the students received a passing or higher grade for the Social Ethics course. In trying to entertain the students, the eloquent teacher had digressed so far from the syllabus and that students got lost in his numerous amusing anecdotes. I stored this situation in my mind and called it the E-eloquence, E standing for entertaining and empty.
By nature, I have never been a worrier. With the above situation as well as some other episodes, however, I was concerned, concerned about the educational values imparted to our younger generations. I tried my best to obtain from the teaching staff the lecture notes for the various courses of study. These notes were to be mimeographed and distributed to the students at nominal cost. Most professors cooperated. The few who did not turn in their lecture notes were not invited to teach the following year.
The whole generation born since 1945 knew nothing but war. The freshmen at our School of Government and Business in 1964 had heard of World War II that ended in 1945, and of the French-Vietnamese War that ended in 1954. Now they were in the middle of the war between North and South Vietnam. Almost all families in our nation had been adversely affected by these wars in one way or another.
Uppermost in the mind of the young men of that freshman class was the military draft. To continue to receive draft deferment, a male freshman had to do well in the exams and obtain an overall passing grade to advance to the sophomore year. This deferment policy, imposed by governmental and military authorities, placed an unnecessary burden on the conscience of all university professors.
Outside the lecture halls, our students had little contact with their professors. The lecture notes and the university library were the next best things to help the students acquire knowledge in the various courses listed in the curriculum. I managed SGB within many constraints and under many pressures.
My memory of the first four years at SGB is vague. Perhaps seventy percent of the freshmen advanced to the second year; eighty percent of the sophomores to the third year, and eighty percent of the juniors to the fourth year. By the end of the 1967-68 year, the first batch of almost four hundred graduates received their diplomas. We had started the freshman year with 1036 students. What happened to the remaining six-hundred-plus students who did not graduate? I often wondered.
Since the loss of South Vietnam to the communists in April 1975, I have attended reunions of my former students in Los Angeles, San Jose, Seattle, Houston, Dallas, and Washington, D. C. Many of them expressed lavish gratitude and I have been asking myself whether I deserve it. I hope I do, at least to some extent.
Final examinations at the new School of Government and Business (SGB) were a very serious matter. Male students had to succeed in these finals and receive an overall passing grade in order to qualify for military draft deferment. As dean of SGB in 1965, I wanted to conduct these finals with the utmost care, impartiality and integrity.
About a month before the examination week, I gathered all the exam questions for the various courses of study from the professors and lecturers in charge. I reviewed these questions to make sure they were clearly phrased and to clarify any ambiguities with the professors. At night I personally cut the stencils, placed them in envelopes, and stored them away for safekeeping in a locked drawer. No one was aware of my actions.
Almost one thousand freshmen took these finals at the end of the 1964-65 school year. Seating arrangement had to be thought out. I also assigned a code number and a particular seat to each student. To prevent cheating, students seated next to each other did not receive the same set of exam questions.
For proctoring I mobilized all available staff members. These proctors supervised at the various exam halls to maintain order, distribute printed exam questions, prevent cheating, and collect the completed exam papers.
The night before any particular exam took place, I pulled those related stencils out of the locked drawer and reviewed them for the final time to ensure accuracy. I did not know how to operate the mimeographing machine. Anyway it could be a messy and inky operation. Fortunately, Fr. Ngo duy Linh, Assistant President and Director of Male Student Boarding, was an expert. I enlisted his assistance to produce the necessary copies of exam questions. All this was done in complete secrecy.
Yes, secrecy was the key. The worst situation was “leaked exam questions (lo de thi).” This would have compromised everything and placed SGB’s integrity in jeopardy.
I thought out every detail and anticipated every potential problem related to that exam week of late June 1965. Luckily, not a single incident happened. The whole week passed smoothly. A big hurdle was overcome.
The conduct of that exam week, with a few improvements added later, became the standard operating procedure for SGB during the six-year term of my deanship. I was blessed throughout that six-year period. No “leaked exam questions” in all that time.
On Wednesday, December 10, 1997, Fr. Linh and I met again in Dallas, Texas, after twenty-nine years of separation. We were thankful for the happy reunion. And we reminisced about those nights spent together mimeographing the exam questions.
The curriculum of the fourth year at Dalat University’s School of Government and Business (SGB) reserved a large block of hours for the seniors to do group research and present group reports.
The SGB group study was designed to achieve, among many goals, the following:
Each study group was formed in this manner. At the start of the third year, the juniors were to opt for government studies (GS) or business studies (BS). After the third-year finals, the successful candidates entering the senior year were ranked according to their grade point average (GPA). There were enough GS seniors to form 36 groups. According to my scheme, the first group or Alpha Group consisted of six students ranked 1, 37, 73, 109, 145, and 181. The GS groups received Greek-alphabet names as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and so on; and the BS groups, Hebrew-alphabet names as Aleph, Beth, Gimel, and so on. Most groups seemed proud of their names.
Using my prerogative as dean of the school and basing my selection on their three-year cumulative GPA, I threw five or six students together into a group. They were required to cooperate in their research project, to develop leadership and followership, and to apply their previously-learned skills in public speaking and report writing. Each group met throughout the senior year under the guidance of a government or business leader, whom I titled “Guiding Professor.”
With the assistance of the teaching staff, I drew up a list of research projects and a roster of guiding professors. Some of these professors were lawyers, judges, engineers, public administrators, or physician residing in the vicinity of the university. Most of the others were government officials or prominent business people residing in Saigon, about two hundred miles south of Dalat. The study groups were allowed to propose research projects and guiding professors other than those listed on my roster, as long as they met certain criteria. In this way, the number of potential research projects increased to enrich the university’s central library and the roster of guiding professors expanded to enlarge the university’s circle of friends and patrons.
The last two months of the senior year were hectic. I had too many variables to coordinate in scheduling for various groups to present their reports:
On several days during those two months, various groups presented their reports at the same time in different classrooms or study halls. On more than one occasion, I had to find substitutes for panel members. A hectic two months, indeed.
After the oral presentation, each group had to turn in a written report of no more than sixty double-spaced pages. The guiding professor then had two weeks to read it and assign a grade to the whole group. However, many professors did not abide by the two-week limit. More than once, I had to resort to phone calls or even personal visits to obtain grades from these busy people, who had been gracious enough to collaborate with the university.
In retrospect, GBS and its students derived several benefits from this group-study initiative. This system and the case-study technique were available for the first time in the country. A few years later other universities also made use of this system and technique.
Each graduating class left behind many good research papers, both for the form and content, at the university library to help succeeding classes in their study.
By enlisting the cooperation of government and business leaders, SGB tapped a pool of highly intellectual and successful people to act as role models and advisors to our graduating students. Otherwise, these prominent persons, being too busy, would not have become friends and patrons of the university.
After serving as advisors or mentors to our students, many of these leaders either hired our graduates for their organizations or helped place them in other institutions throughout the country. Indeed, had South Vietnam continued to exist beyond April 1975, many SGB graduates would have become prominent leaders on their own right.
At the start of the 1967-68 school year, the 200-plus “government studies” seniors of Dalat University’s School of Government and Business (SGB) were assigned into 36 six-member study groups to do research projects and present group reports.
Duong thanh Suong had the third highest cumulative grade point average (GPA) and was appointed leader of the Gamma of ‘68 study group. If I had followed strictly my scheme of picking those five others ranked 39, 75, 111, 147, and 183, this group would have been all male. I switched one of the boys for a next-ranking coed, because I wanted each group to have one or two girls for good human chemistry.
Under Suong’s leadership, the Gamma group coalesced quickly. Within the first month his group had come up with a research project in the field of Vietnamese diplomacy and the name of a professor to give them guidance. This “guiding professor” was none other than my friend Tran chanh Thanh, who taught a semester course titled “Current Events.”
Suong was an eager student. He had an insatiable hunger for learning. When he wanted to know more about report writing technique, I had him check out an American textbook on that subject from the university’s central library. On several subsequent occasions he came to me with questions related to difficult terms, glossaries, footnotes, and bibliographies.
When Thanh accepted to be the guiding professor for the Gamma group, he was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, residing in Saigon. By the time for study groups to do oral presentation of their research projects, he had become Minister of Foreign Affairs and could not come up to Dalat to chair the exam panel for the Gamma group. I was in luck. My friend Lam le Trinh, a lawyer and former ambassador, present for another group’s presentation, was willing to sit in as a substitute professor.
Upon receiving Gamma group’s written report, I quickly forwarded it to Minister Thanh with a standard cover letter stating the two-week limit for reading and grading the report. Six weeks passed by without a grade turned in. Suong and his group came to me and voiced their concern. About leaving for Saigon on other university affairs, I asked for another copy of their report and told them that I would try to see Prof. Thanh and get a grade for them.
Thanh was very busy; still, he saw me one early morning for about fifteen minutes. I handed him the extra copy of the report and he promised to have the report graded by six p.m. that same day. I returned before six and got what I was after. He had left the graded report with his private secretary before leaving for a conference elsewhere. A man of his word.
Upon graduation, Suong was drafted and sent to the Thuduc Officer Candidate School (OCS). After a year’s absence, he suddenly appeared at my office door, grinning. He was recently married, a happy man. After his OCS training, he was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to Dalat Political Warfare School as an instructor. Before leaving, he promised to bring his wife to see me in the near future.
The near future never came. Sad news came, instead. One night in April 1970, the communist guerrilla raided the compound of Suong’s military school. Suong was struck by a bullet in the chest. I heard the news the next morning and rushed to the military school compound. His soul had departed. Left behind was his body, lying as if in peace. I touched his cold forehead and wept. He was only twenty-four. I mourned for him, for his young wife, for his family, and for our country.Tran chanh Thanh and I first met in 1956 when I managed The Times of Vietnam and he headed the ministry of information. In 1958, as public relations manager at the Standard-Vacuum (Stanvac) Oil Company, I organized the Stanvac Calendar Paintings Exhibition. I invited him to cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony. Afterwards, I guided him through the exhibition hall. I found him personable. We became loyal friends.
Later he accepted my invitation to teach a course of political science at SGB and to act as the guiding professor for the Gamma study group. In July 1970 I was appointed general administrator of Dalat University Foundation (DUF) and left Dalat for Saigon to manage DUF’s income-producing properties, all located in Saigon. During the five-year period before the collapse of South Vietnam, I saw him on several occasions.
Early in 1971, when our family moved into our new apartment on the second floor of the Catinat Building in downtown Saigon, Thanh came twice to see us. He had a studio on the fifth floor of the same building. He even gave me a dead-bolt lock for our entrance door for additional security.
One night in 1972 he had a group of friends to dinner at his villa on Juytan Street. Fr. Le van Ly, president of Dalat University, and I were among the guests. A linguistics scholar, Fr. Ly and I had a lively debate about how to improve on the Vietnamese script. We had different views and Thanh offered a compromise. Such a diplomat.
I last saw him in the afternoon of April 29, 1975, on the street in front of our 26 Gialong building. By sheer luck, my family escaped in U.S. Marine helicopters that landed on a U.S. warship. For some reason he was stranded. Rather than submitting himself to communist atrocities, he chose poison to end his life. He was only fifty-eight. I mourned for him and for South Vietnam.
In reminiscing about the Gamma study group, I am paying tribute to the lives of my good friends Duong thanh Suong and Tran chanh Thanh. May they rest in peace.
Ngo dinh Long, Pho ba Long, and Tran Long taught at the School of Government and Business (SGB), University of Dalat, for many years. SGB students jocularly referred to them respectively as Tall Long, Fat Long, and Short Long. For easy reference, I’ll call them Tally, Fatty, and Shorty. This could be a long, long, long story; but I’ll try to make it short.
All three were born and grew up in Vietnam. Shorty first saw light in 1928, year of the Dragon, at Phatjiem-Ninhbinh, the southernmost part of North Vietnam. Fatty was born six years earlier in the capital city of Hanoi whose former historic name means Ascending Dragon. Tally, four years younger than Shorty, hailed from the imperial city of Hue, capital of Central Vietnam. His birthyear was that of the Gorilla. In Vietnamese, Long means Dragon. That’s why, I surmise, Fatty’s and Shorty’s parents gave them that personal name. I don’t know the reason for Tally to be thus named.
All three came to the United States as foreign students in the early fifties. Shorty was the first to come in 1950. He studied business and economics at the University of Portland and Syracuse University. Next came Tally in late 1952 to the University of Wisconsin. He majored in electrical engineering. Last came Fatty in 1954 to Harvard Business School and enrolled in its MBA program.
All three served as president of the Vietnamese Catholic Students Association in North America: first, Shorty for two terms, Fatty for the next term, then Tally for the following term, before he turned the presidency over to Ngo dinh Tuan. Mind you, both these Ngo dinh’s were not related to the regretted President Ngo dinh Diem of South Vietnam. Ngo dinh Tuan later married one of Fatty’s younger sisters.
All three married Vietnamese beauties. In 1956 Tally tied the knot with Mary Tram-Anh, a distant descendant of the last imperial dynasty, then a student at Madonna College in Indiana. Early in 1959 a nuptial mass was celebrated at St. Martin Chapel in downtown Saigon for Shorty and his bride Danielle Anh-Nguyet, a Reed College graduate who taught English at Gialong High School. Late in 1960 Fatty and Christiane Trung-Nghia, a Southern belle, exchanged their solemn vows of “high mountains and deep oceans.” At the time both were associated with the Esso-Standard Oil of Vietnam.
All three got the right size families they wanted. Tally’s family is the same size as LBJ’s or LBJ’s successor’s; so Tally could be famous or infamous or both. Shorty and his wife were as prolific as RFK and Ethel, and they refused to be downsized. Some of their children do, and some don’t, believe in the zero growth population theory. Shorty’s third generation counts seven members and is growing. As for Fatty, I believe his family size is comparable to FDR’s or George Bush’s. But I haven’t heard whether he owns any Fala- or Millie-like canines.
All three went back to Vietnam in the mid-fifties after completing their university education, while many others chose to remain permanently in the host country and become American citizens.
All three served their country from the day they returned until the collapse of the country in April 1975. They spent almost twenty years in their prime to help build a better nation, a better system, and a better society in Vietnam. Among themselves during this long period, they filled a host of positions in the private and public sectors, such as: managing editor of magazine, corporate assistant accounting manager, assistant sales manager, public relations manager, chairman of credit union, nuclear reactor specialist, reserve military officer, foreign aid inspector, director of nuclear reactor, corporate president and chief executive officer, minister of labor, college professor, assistant dean, dean of faculty, university administrator, and general administrator of foundation.
All three were associated with the Catholic University of Dalat in various capaci-ties. A renaissance man, Tally taught science courses, language studies, and business mathematics at different colleges within the university. A versatile sportsman, he served as its director of student affairs for many years. He was also SGB acting dean for the 1970-71 year. Beside teaching business economics, Shorty served first as director of studies and then dean of SGB from 1964 to 1970. He was general administrator of Dalat University Foundation from 1970 to 1975. Beside teaching management courses, Fatty served as SGB dean from 1971 to 1975. He also lectured at the Faculty of Pedagogy.
All three left Saigon suddenly in 1975. Shorty’s ten-member family was plucked off a building rooftop and ferried out by U.S. Marine helicopters to U.S. warships a few hours before the communist takeover of South Vietnam on April 30. Tally’s four-member family had escaped three days earlier. Fatty, his wife, and their children had left Saigon six days earlier. They all ended up in American refugee camps.
All three and their families resettled in the United States: Fatty in Virginia, near Washington, D.C.; Tally in California, first in the Bay Area and later in the Los Angeles megalopolis; and Shorty in Hillsboro, a suburb west of Portland, Oregon.
All three and their wives succeeded in helping all their children complete college education and become professionals in various fields: law, diplomacy, social work, high technology, engineering, business, finance, accountancy, medicine and pharmacy.
I know Shorty well because I have been living with him twenty-four hours a day. So most of the things I write about him and his family are probably true. However, I cannot vouch for the accuracy or veracity of what I record above about Fatty and Tally. It would be best that I consult with them before I add anything further.
I had better stop, before I put my foot into my mouth. See, I keep my promise. I make this long, long, long story, short.
South Vietnam fell into communist hands on April 30, 1975. As you know, my family of ten luckily escaped the previous night by U.S. Marine helicopters to U.S Seventh Fleet warships. Six weeks later, released from the Arkansas’s Fort Chaffee refugee camp, we flew to Portland, Oregon. We settled in Hillsboro, a suburb of Portland.
For the first six years, we kept very much to ourselves. In June 1981 we became American citizens. Less than a month later, during the Fourth of July holiday weekend, my wife and I attended the first reunion of faculty members and former students of Dalat University, Vietnam (DUV). Almost one hundred of us attended the two-day convention, organized in a suburb of Los Angeles, California. Lots of emotions surfaced.
Since then I have been to more than a dozen of these reunions at different cities -- Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, and Washington, D.C. I have found these meetings, especially the recent ones, full of emotions. Many DUV alums who had languished for years in communist reformation camps, were finally released and then allowed to emigrate to the United States under the HO label, HO meaning Humanitarian Operation. These people had gone through hell and survived with physical, mental, and emotional scars. After exchanging horror stories, we embraced in tears, thankful to see one another again.
Many success stories also have been exchanged at these meetings. Late January 1997, Danielle and I attended the Lunar New Year reunion in San Jose and met with forty-plus DUV alums and friends. To some of them, I mentioned casually that I was looking for a used and inexpensive computer, mainly as a tool for my memoir writing. About a month later, I was presented with a whole system, including a large-screen color monitor to help my poor eyesight. How thoughtful of my former students!
On Friday, December 5, 1997, I was a guest at a Christmas dinner party organized in San Jose by two former students, currently president and vice-president of a mortgage brokerage company. They told me that 1997 was their best year in both volume and net profit since they had started the company seven years earlier. Beside running a profitable business, they have been helping other former fellow students in this field.
The next day I flew to Dallas to spend the holiday season with my fourth daughter, her husband, and their month-old first-born daughter. I called Nguyen si Dau, a former DUV student and now a successful businessman, who had been settled in the Dallas area with his family for the last seventeen years. He later drove me forty miles to see Fr. Ngo juy Linh, once a director of DUV Student Housing. Fr. Linh and I were thankful for the reunion after twenty-nine years without seeing each other.
Dau knew of ten former DUV students in the Dallas area and invited them to a reunion on Saturday, 20 December 1997. The gathering was held at his residence in Garland, that Saturday evening from five to eleven p.m. About forty persons attended this affair, with several coming from Houston and Austin, and also from Oklahoma. We had a great time. The four items on our agenda included a discussion about what we could do as a group. The consensus was to increase the assistance to those unfortunate schoolmates still stranded in Vietnam or recently immigrated to the United States.
Through Dau’s arrangement, he and I flew from Dallas to Houston on Friday, the day after Christmas. We had small reunions, less than twenty persons each time, that night and the following morning, before flying back to Dallas. At all these meetings, I have received expression of love, respect, and gratitude, far beyond my expectation.
Years ago, when I was asked to say a few words at one reunion, I expressed my gratitude to these former students. Yes, thanks to those who came and enrolled at DUV’s School of Government and Business, I had to brush up on my knowledge of such business subjects as accounting and auditing in order to teach them properly. Thus in 1975 when I was suddenly uprooted from Saigon and transplanted in a suburb of Portland, Oregon, at age 47, I was qualified to be hired as an internal auditor by a savings bank. This steady employment and my wife Danielle’s business activities have helped us raise our eight children and put them through college.
At the Garland reunion on December 20, the students asked me to lecture once more on an accounting subject. Well, a lecture is defined as either an informative talk or a lengthy scolding. My impromptu speech was neither, and it lasted less than five minutes. I reminded them that, on the asset side, we had all kinds of Receivable -- Accounts, Notes, Loans, and Mortgages; and on the liability side, all kinds of Payable -- Accounts, Notes, Loans, and Mortgages. Back in the sixties when I taught them at DUV, they might have thought they owed me something, a debt, a payable item. But truly if I had been aware of any receivable item they owed, I had written it off long ago. All that was left was the mutual debt of love and respect, a balanced account. Throughout my life I have received much from many benefactors. I can never repay them. In turn, I have tried to help others without expecting to be repaid. My former students are now doing the same thing by assisting those unfortunate schoolmates still stranded in Vietnam or recently emigrated to this country. I salute them.
On the plane flying to Houston the morning after Christmas, I read the article “Do-gooders of the future majoring in philanthropy” in The Dallas Morning News, page 17A. More than 75 American graduate schools now offer advanced degrees in philanthropy. The students in this general science are learning to be professional do-gooders.
“Get Rich, Then Do Good,” is a free translation of the Vietnamese “Phu/quy/ Sinh L^e~nghia~.” I used this adage to tell the entering freshmen of the School of Govern-ment and Business that they were being taught to “Get Rich, Then Do Good.” Now I know that many of my students have learned that lesson well.
My wife Danielle and I spent the ‘97 yearend holiday season with our daughter Tina’s family in Dallas, Texas. She and Juan and their one-month-old daughter, Eliana, have just moved into their new home in Coppell, a suburb of Dallas.
When he knew I was coming, my friend Dau, or Nguy^en~si~D^au) in Vietnam-ese, was very solicitous in finding out my free time for visiting and playing host. Dau and his wife Kim-Tr^am were my students in 1966-70 at Dalat University, Vietnam (DUV). They escaped by boat a few years after the communist takeover of South Vietnam, and settled in the Dallas area seventeen years ago.
Dau went out of his way to play the perfect host. He drove us around the Dallas metropolitan area for sightseeing, for good food at Oriental restaurants, and for visiting with other mutual friends living in the area. He also initiated three get-togethers of DUV former students to give me the chance to meet with as many friends as possible. I was indeed in good hands. I thank him and his wife for their hospitality.
In our first phone conversation, Dau asked me to write about my eleven-year service at DUV, especially the six-year experience at DUV School of Government and Business. Thus, during this holiday season, I spent some time retracing those eleven years, which I consider to be among the best years of my life. At Dau’s request, I wrote this section of my memoir in both English and Vietnamese. However, since Tina and Juan’s computer did not have a Vietnamese-script software program, I created my own Vietnamese E-mail script. I borrow a short poem from H^o\xu^an Hu”ong, famous lady poet and social satirist of the 19th century, to showcase my invented script:
Cai Quat Cai/Quat*
Muoi bay hay la muoi tam day, Muoi’\ bay> hay la\ muo’i\ tam/ day^,
Cho ta yeu jau chang roi tay. Cho ta yeu^z^au^/ chang’> roi’\ tay.
Mong day chung ay, chanh ba goc, Mong> zay\ chung’\ ay^/, chanh\ ba goc/,
Rong hep duong nao, cam mot cay. Rong^* hep* zuong’\ nao\, cam’/ mot^* cay.
Cang nong bao nhieu thoi cang mat, Cang\ nong/ bao nhieu^ thoi’\ cang\ mat/,
Yeu dem chua phi lai yeu ngay. Yeu^ dem^ chua’ phi> lai* yeu^ ngay\.
Hong hong ma phan duyen vi cay, Hong^\ hong^\ ma/ phan^/ zuyen^ vi\ cay^*,
Chua dau vua yeu mot cai nay. Chua/ jau^/ vua yeu^ mot^* cai/ nay\.
Sorry for those who do not read Vietnamese. This poem, like most of her poems, is full of double-entendres, which cannot be translated into English or any other language without losing most of its risque’ meaning. Suffice it to say that the poem describes a paper-and-bamboo foldable fan which looks like a stick, but when unfolded has the shape of a triangle. Clever, eh. I thoroughly enjoyed my Dallas ’97 holiday season.
“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Does this paradox apply to my life? I taught business subjects at Dalat University School of Government and Business (SGB), for many years in the sixties and seventies, even though I was not financially rich and have not spent much time in pursuit of financial wealth.
In September 1961 my career as a business executive at Stanvac (Standard-Vacuum Oil Company for Vietnam-Cambodia), ended abruptly, when I was drafted into military service. My military pay amounted to about one-fifth of my former salary. Stanvac had a provision for me to rejoin the company within a year after my eventual release from military service.
Late in 1964 when I was released from military service, I was in charge of SGB and enjoyed my work very much. Though the university paid me less than one-third of the salary I would receive from Stanvac if I rejoined, I just could not walk away from my responsibility as dean of the new school. My wife Danielle agreed with me, I was blessed. I stayed on as dean for six years, until July 1970. Those six years were the highlight of my life with many memorable events and enjoyable moments of sharing experience and knowledge with my students. Financially though, we barely made ends meet.
In July 1970 the Board of Regents of Dalat University appointed me General Administrator to manage all its income-producing properties located in downtown Saigon. During the five years prior to the collapse of South Vietnam, I succeeded in producing sizable income to the university. But my own personal income did not improve much. I was making perhaps less than half of what I would receive if I had rejoined Stanvac. However, my wife and I were quite happy for our contribution to this Catholic institution of higher learning, however, and to this day we have had no regrets.
Once in a while during those five years I was approached by this or that person who claimed to have my interest at heart. Then he proposed some deal that, he asserted, would benefit the university, me, and him: a win-win-win situation. I listened, saying nothing. Something inside me told me not to take advantage of my position. I refused the deal. The person then called me an Oriental sage.
Looking back to those years, I have no regrets. Had I amassed more possessions than what we had on the day of South Vietnam’s collapse, we still had to walk away from them anyway. On that April 30, 1975, we had a clean getaway. It was for the best.