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Thiên Trang

TT seated 2007Bùi Thị Thiên Trang and I have had an odd relationship over the last dozen years. I responded to her posts on Xanga back when it was my preferred spot for writing and interaction.  She was a student at the University in HCM majoring in English and was quite good with it. She did, however write with some archaisms and some clich́es that jarred. I took it upon myself to correct solecisms and suggest better ways of saying things. We argued, sometimes vehemently, but she saw where her education was somewhat dated in places and modified her writing and showed me some things, too.   Trang supported her education and her parents by tutoring the progeny of the wealthier folks in HCM in English and she worked part time for Cleverlearn, an American English teaching company.

In 2007 I wrote to her that I was coming back to Việt Nam with my daughter, Lilith, who, at 26 was the same age as Trang. She said she wanted to meet me and arranged for us to do that at a restaurant  with her parents.

Trang’s father had been an ARVN fighter pilot in the war and looked like a 1950s Hollywood version of fighter pilot, quite a handsome man in a Clark Gable sort of way. Her mother was pleasant but left the conversation to her husband. Trang and Lilith got on well.

Trang had graduated and was working full time for Cleverlearn and was starting to take on the tension of her approach to work. I didn’t see it then but in hindsight I recognized it later.  She was totally focused on her work.

In 2011 I went back again and Trang insisted she had to meet me again. She was totally buried in her work at Cleverlearn and making time was difficult. She finally asked me to meet her for lunch when I had returned to HCM at the end of my trip. I took Nguyet with me so that she could meet a successful business woman. Cleverlearn had been failing and the American woman who had the franchise for Việt Nam wanted to close it down. Trang interested some men with assets to buy the franchise with Trang as the nominal CEO. The parent company was reluctant to let her keep the company name but she talked them into it.

When Nguyệt and I met with her she was showing the signs of long term tension. She was spending her annual vacations in the hospital. It was apparent that she was the whole company. She is the sort of person who can’t delegate tasks and was doing everything herself including all the details that should have been given to subordinates. She was headed for burnout and maybe an early heart attack. I was very concerned and I told her she should meditate. She is Buddhist and knows about such things. I said if she was unsure, to go to a pagoda and seek help from the tu sĩ- the master. She protested that she had not time to meditate. I answered that when one has no time for it then it is the time that one absolutely must meditate. She didn’t say anything  and I left it at that.

In 2014 we met again. She said again she had no time but to come to the company building and she would try to make time.  When I  got word to her that I was there she abruptly left the meeting she was presiding at and flew down the stairs to meet me. She said we should go around the corner to a small café there.

Trang looked physically healthy but her eyes still looked harassed. I asked her if she meditated. She said she determined to do that after I had left the last time and had kept up at least half an hour a day since. She took her vacations  in Singapore and  California. But she felt like she was up against a wall. She wanted to quit and perhaps go back to the University to teach. Her partners, the money men,  were telling her that if she quit she would be a failure and would never do anything successfully again. She worried that it was true.  I had looked at the map that was on the wall in the Cleverlearn building and had seen that there were now 6 locations around the country instead of the one failing S̀ai Ǵon operation of 7 years before. There were  notices on the wall about partnerships with universities in England and the USA.  She was already a business success and I told her that.  She, in her hands on everything approach had accomplished all that. The backers were passive and did not pay her much at all. She had the salary of a clerk while she built a highly profitable company for her backers. When Nguyệt and I rose to leave she hugged me and said she knew I would come back because she knew she would come up against that wall again and that is when I would appear.

This year I met her for dinner at her house in a nice neighborhood in Thủ Đức where she had prepared a formal dinner for me, Nguyệt and several visiting internet friends from Australia, California, and Taiwan. She has a  freestanding house now that she shares with her parents and her younger sister. Her parents actually prepared the dinner. Her father has not changed visibly since 2007. I was gratified at the deserved affluence. She had, indeed, quit Cleverlearn and had gone to work for a Korean English teaching company that recognized her talents and pays her accordingly.They provide her with assistants to take on the repetitive tasks and the details. I guess they don’t want an early burnout for such a valuable asset.  There are no walls around Thiên Trang now.

The Australian and the California lass were typical children of wealth who  travel about and do a term or a year at the University in London then wander a bit and pass another term  at the Sorbonne or in Madrid. Jenna was taking a few months to work for Trang’s company before heading for London for a term at Oxford. The two Taiwanese were less affluent and worked for what they had. They saved their money sufficiently to travel for a year and would graduate as engineers.

I felt very good. I watched Thiên Trang go from hard working  student to CEO and then to some affluence and  perhaps I have  helped along the way. She  thinks so.  She said once I  always show up when she needs a lifeline. It does seem to be that way. I don’t tell her what she should do to change her situation. I have helped her to  see that things are not as they seem, that the walls  that confront her are illusion.

I  think she is past all that now.

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