A blended identity through education

Photo by David Le

Photo by David Le

He drives through the congested streets of Saigon toward one of his favorite noodle restaurants, Pho Nho, which makes the dish in the northern style he prefers. Trung Duc Tran drifts through the honking traffic in his silver five-series BMW, a luxury he once dreamed of. The road to his dream car and dream life began over a decade ago when his pursuit for a higher education brought him to Cal State Fullerton.

“Vietnam considers education very important,” said Tran “In every family, they think the same way too… (it’s) an investment for children.”

This value for education was instilled in Tran at a young age as well as the desire to make his family proud. He attended school and worked in his free time, including weekends. He never gave himself a break because of his desire to do well in school. His hard work eventually paid off when he passed the mandatory tests that are required to attend a university in Vietnam.

After he received his bachelor’s degree in Vietnam, Tran’s life took various turns that eventually steered him to Cal State Fullerton. He moved through the business school’s MBA program and learned a lot in the process. He gained family, friends and communication skills that he uses to this day, but most importantly his education and his desire to continue growing as a person.

Now at 40-years-old and back in Vietnam he is a regional sales director for Dell. Tran frequently talks to students and encourages them to make the same steps that he did, crediting his experience in business school for much of his success.

His family life, with his 2-year-old son Jeff and wife Anh, and his career with Dell could have been very different had he continued down his original path.

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Living In The Shadows Of Saigon: A family’s desperate attempt to survive

Photo by David Le

Photo by David Le

On the littered, crowded streets of Saigon, between the Ha Hien Hotel, where I am staying, and a high-end swimsuit shop sits an alley. Street vendors clutter the mouth of the alley with their small makeshift stoves perched across the sidewalk.

The open fires and com tam (broken rice) dishes invite glances from passersby and entice them to purchase a meal. For any one of these vendors, a sale can mean the difference between buying milk and paying the monthly electric and water bills.

Every sale helps them survive.

At this particular corner, high-end stores and nice hotels starkly contrast the beggars and the homeless — who’ve been long forgotten by the government of Vietnam. The downtown city lifestyle of Saigon grows daily. Every day the common people and street vendors try to survive beneath the shadow of Vietnam’s growing economy.

My` Lam is one of these people.

Photo by David Le

Photo by David Le

She spends most of her days sitting at the mouth of the alley on a red plastic chair meant for a toddler. Her younger sister, who share a cramped home with My`, runs one of the roadside eateries. They, along with My`’s daughter, share the monthly expenses.

My` sits with the street vendors perhaps to show her support, but also because it helps pass time during the days; at least, at the curb there is room to move around.

Photo by David Le

Photo by David Le

“We don’t want to have to be poor, but we have to persevere. If there was somebody to help, it wouldn’t be so hard,” says My`.

My`’s 10-month-old grandson, Xu Bin, wiggles in her arms and smiles at everything. My’ cares for Xu Bin and his four siblings while their mother tries to earn money by selling gum and lottery tickets on the streets of Saigon.

At 69 years old, My`’s arthritic hands show a life of hardship. Swollen and bent fingers clutch at her young grandson who wiggles in her lap. Xu Bin is the youngest of My`’s grandchildren.

Photo by David Le

Photo by David Le

The oldest is a 13-year-old boy. He is also the only one in the family who is able to attend school; it would be too expensive for the family to send the others for an education. As the oldest male, he has taken on a patriarchal role within the family. When his brothers and sisters try to play with the tripod and video equipment we have, he taps them on the head to let them know it is not OK.

As the oldest, it is now his responsibility to watch, scold and simply keep his brothers and sisters safe. Motorbikes buzz past their stoop every 30 seconds, just a few feet from the children. The children’s father is no longer in the picture. He left the family several months before, and out of either shame or embarrassment, the situation is not discussed with us further.

The other children, who range in age from 10-months-old to 8-years-old, spend their days in the alley instead of in school.
My` spends a few hours talking about her grandchildren, her small home (although small is an understatement) and how difficult it is for the family to survive day to day.

Walking down the alley made me think of a side yard where a family keeps the junk they are getting ready to throw away. But family belongings clutter the fences and walls here, not trash.

Photo by David Le

Photo by David Le

Clothes hang on fences while bowls and dishes sit on the stoop half a foot above the dirty gutter, and cots rest in a corner until they are pulled out for the night to soften the sidewalk.

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Celebrate summer with these alternative events

It happens year after year. Summer comes as quickly as it left and students are once again planning their concerts, trips and Fourth of July celebrations.

More often than not, the customary summer vacation is planned with an over-hyped trip to Las Vegas, where the young crowd will typically drink in excess, lose money at the blackjack tables or commit a worse offense that isn’t even worth mentioning.

But it definitely involves the infamous slogan, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

If a gritty, smoky weekend in Vegas doesn’t appeal to you, or if you are just looking for a new, unique affair to attend this summer then rest easy, here are some alternative summer events to help those who want a little less Vegas, and perhaps a little more art, music and live entertainment.


After the success of the 2003 Long Beach Tattoo Convention on the Queen Mary, the Ink-n-Iron Kustom Culture Festival was born. Since its launch, the event has only grown in attractions, attendees and overall excitement.

Hot-rods, live music and pin-up contests are among the few things to expect at the convention.

With dolled-up rockabilly girls roaming around and burlesque shows, there’s no shortage of people watching.

But the most popular item on the menu isn’t the pin-up pageant or the shopping; it’s actually the tattoo convention.

Tattoo artists and their booths take up the entirety of the Queen Mary’s inner three floors.

Artists from 30 states and 25 countries will be in attendance for this year’s festival.

Art and tattoo competitions will also ensue over the three-day event.

In addition to the art and hot-rod aspect of the event, attendees can also see live music at any of the five stages placed throughout the grounds.

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Beauty tips and tricks from a pin-up

Photo by Ray Gutierrez

Photo by Ray Gutierrez

The sun is finally a constant sight, the weather is warm and outdoor activities are at their all-time peak. Summer is here and ladies can consequently showcase some their favorite looks and styles.

From flirty summer dresses to more casual looks, women want their hair and makeup to complement their wardrobe. But with the heat, humidity and outdoor breezes that may inhabit the air, beauty maintenance can be arduous for those hot outdoor activities.

Pin-up model and YouTube sensation Cherry Dollface gives helpful tips and tricks on the how-to’s of summer hair and makeup.

Cherokee “Cherry Dollface” Meade, is a film production coordinator in her day-to-day life, but she is better known as a model, YouTube beauty guru and role-model for young women.

Although her unique style is more commonly connected to the rockabilly culture, Cherry Dollface offers tutorials on hair and makeup that can be useful to everyone from pin-up enthusiasts to the girls next door.

With summer rapidly approaching, Cherry Dollface discusses her style strategies for coping with summertime in L.A.

“I don’t live in a very humid region, thank goodness,” said Meade. “But I do work on Warped Tour so I have some tips and tricks for heat and sweat.”

She suggests using powder for shine control or blotting paper and avoiding heavy foundation or concealer “because it will cake.” Powder and blotting paper will help absorb natural oils without adding another product to the face.

“Stick with the basics—if you are a really sweaty person avoid makeup that will bleed (liquid eyeliner, non waterproof mascara, cream blush),” Meade added. “Summer is a good time to go natural anyway!”

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A break down on the Becker


Mekong River Delta Cruise

Markets in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh), Vietnam