Monday, September 4, 2017

Labor Day 2017: Jobs, Beliefs, and Values.

copyright © Kim Roberts

"If your job requires you to compromise your beliefs or values, you're in a wrong job." My sister Nhu Anh told me in 1970.

Saigon 1970. I was 19, with Baccalaureate I and II in Philosophy, starting my first job as an executive secretary at the Ministry of Defense while going to the law school in the early morning. My short, fat, bald headed supervisor, Mr. Dang, soon realized I could not take dictation, type, or neatly stamp documents. But I could review ledgers and take phone calls. I was so sure he was going to fire me. Then a middle-aged businessman in an elegant suit, Mr. Thanh, came to see Mr. Dang with respect to several government contracts he was awarded. And Mr. Dang called me in later for a talk.

 I was prepared for the bad news. To my surprise, he told me the whole office would go out for a party at the most lavish restaurant in Cholon. "It's your job to order the food. Be nice to your colleague and me, order the most expensive dishes. Make us happy." I was in shock. We had the fanciest party I'd ever been to with food I had never tasted before, hosted by Mr. Thanh who never took his eyes off me. The next day, my boss told me he would have someone to do all my work and I was free to study if I went out on dates with Mr Thanh, the "biggest government contractor" who had been around for two decades and controlled the government contract market, including "American Trash Contracts at MACV" in Saigon.

I talked to my Buddhist nun sister Nhu Anh that night. The next day, I turned in my resignation letter. Mr. Dang stared at me with his glasses sliding down to the tip of his nose, "You're the first." He didn't know I had a sister who insisted that I would never compromise my beliefs and values for anything, not even for my first job.
1974. with my Supervisor at the Literary and Artistic Awards Commission 
and one colleague Tinh and friends working next door
After crying for two days, I searched, found, and tried a series of other jobs until an opportunity of a lifetime fell on my lap. I was working at the Presidential Literary and Artistic Awards Commission, a job I really wanted as I worked directly under a kindly supervisor who reported to Vice President Tran Van Huong and I held the job until I graduated from the Law School and to the last day of Saigon.

January 1977, after I had arrived in the U.S., I began my undergrad study in Political Science at CSUH. To support myself, I took work-study and loans. "We only pay $2.68/hour. You can go outside and make more money," The financial advisor advised me. I replied, "I have. I was offered a job in a cocktail lounge, which pays, with tips, about 3 times of this. But I know this is an environment where I am free from harassment and I can keep my dignity and values. I am happy to get less." The advisor shook her head. She had no idea that when you are a newly arrived and empty-handed refugee, you have no material possession and nothing of market value. So the only thing you have are self-respect, beliefs, and values. And I was protective of mine.

September 3, 2017. One day before the American Labor Day. Today is Tam's birthday. She's my girl, a straight shooter whose goal is serving her office with transparency and earning the public trust. Unfortunately, instead of having a joyous birthday today, a few days ago, her racing partner was struck with a stroke plus Staph infection in the brain and throughout other organs and now bleakly waiting for an open-heart surgery. I've never expected a racer who conquers half and full marathons as comfortable as I run on a treadmill would become a candle in the wind just in the blink of an eye. And that's what life is. Perhaps, that's the reason why we all should cherish and hold on to what we consider the most important things in life: love, beliefs, or values.

Since tomorrow, September 4, 2017 is the official American Labor Day, I am reprinting a Blog I wrote last year for Labor Day. It's all about working.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

© Kim Roberts

September 5th, 2016 is an American Labor Day, a holiday that always brings back memories of hundreds of stories of American working class—stories which I’ve learned and experienced through my work with several federal agencies over four decades. And I remember them well.
January 2010. Lily Ha, the Vietnamese-American witness sitting next to me on the witness stand, nervously laid her shaken left hand on her expensive black silk dress that covered her unusually skinny thighs. “He started by pushing me down and choking me…,” said Lily, in a trembling voice, describing to the 12 jurors her job, a sex act with her former customer, the 41 years old African American male defendant who was sitting by his attorney at the defense table. I glanced at a glassy streak of tear on Lily’s cheek and put my right hand on her hand and, with my left hand, tucked a tissue under her well-manicured fingers with long, red fingernails.  She immediately dabbed her cheeks with the tissue.  

American labor law and labor union groups protect the mainstream American workforce by preventing employers from denying them minimum wage, overtime pay, or prevailing wages when applicable, or other work-related issues. But many workers, mostly from diverse cultural backgrounds, working in traditional or non-traditional professions, have been abused and exploited, without getting much attention from mainstream American media. In 1982, Studs Terkel’s “Working” piqued my interest and curiosity in the meaning of work that American workers, mired down in their quotidian, mundane details at work, still had. Labor Day in America, first observed in 1882, nearly 100 years before I became an American citizen, means more to me than just a day dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. Through my employment, I have become a recipient of many incredible stories told by workers I interviewed. Labor Day has become a day to remember their stories of suffering, abuse, and mistreatment at work—unlike stories in Studs Terkel’s “Working.”

Although Lily, the above witness on stand, looked beautiful and delicate, she was not a female. A transgender prostitute living and working in the Tenderloin neighborhood in SF, she was on the stand at the SF Superior Court, testifying as a witness on a case against a suspect who was accused of killing another transgender prostitute from Nicaragua, Ordenana, in 2007 after the perpetrator raped and strangled her, then left her dead, naked body by the freeway in Potreo Hill. DNA tied him to more attacks on transgender prostitutes. Lily herself suffered the same rape and brutal attacks. Luckily, she survived after she was choked, beaten, stripped naked, and thrown out of the perpetrator’s truck. And she lived to testify against him. In one of my freelance jobs, I was interpreting for her on the stand. I was intrigued by the details of the case, which I took an oath to keep confidential until the trial was over and its details became public. I was also fascinated by other court cases in which working people became crime victims although the personal stories behind each case were my focus, not the crimes.

Lily testified that she needed money for meth. Despite the pain and humiliation, she enjoyed good moments when she had money, sat in a coffee shop, or out for “pho” (soup), or “banh mi” (sandwich), with her co-workers or friends. As we were alone, she talked about planning trips to her hometown in Vietnam and dreaming of home with her people, familiar food, and even the heat. I knew for fact that working people like herself were the most generous ones in donating money to causes or showing care for, and assistance to, those who needed her help back home even though she had become an American.

I came to know endless stories of working class in America, especially those with diverse ethnic backgrounds. In the 1980s and 1990s, during our annual federal law enforcement (MSPA) trips to farming areas in Gilroy, Monterey, and Napa, I witnessed how Mexican farm workers sacrificed for their families by living in inadequate, substandard housing while working up to 12 hours a day, saving money to send home in Mexico. Once I surveyed and uncovered extremely primitive housing conditions in Gilroy where a group of 10 Mexican workers lived together in one room, cooked on a broken old stove, bathed in a creek, and went to the bathroom in abandoned chicken coops. And each paid the Farm Labor Contractor $50 a month for that living arrangement.

However, mainstream American workers also had their share of mistreatment. The bulk of my investigative work was in the area of government contracts. In one case, a group of former police officers reported to me a situation at a former Air Force Base where they worked.  Through my investigation, I discovered that the USDOD, in solving the security situation at a federal housing airbase with some 5,000 individual homes and no MPs (Military Police) due to the base closure, had hired retired police officers, paid them security guard rates, dressed them as DOD police, and assigned them duties belonged to the former Military Police classification, minus the arrest power—a classification that required higher pay. The problem was corrected and I gave credits to the workers who testified.

Interestingly enough, other ethnic Americans often refused to speak up even for their benefits. In one case, a Romanian-American sub contractor working on a construction project under the Davis Bacon Act, at the Alameda NAS, would show in his book that he paid prevailing wage rates. But he had falsely reduced the actual hours worked otherwise the pay would be much less than the required rates, if using the correct number of hours. His workers, mostly Romanian-Americans would not testify, or provide me the facts. But I proved the violations nonetheless.

“How late did you and the crew work during the week of the October 17th, 1989?” I asked the Romanian-American contractor when I interviewed him in 1989. 

“It’s in the book. 4PM every day. We left work even before 4PM,” the contractor answered. I changed the subject and began to talk about the weather, the traffic, then suddenly asked, “Oh, on October 17th, did you feel the Loma Prieta earthquake?”

“Yes, we were shaken by the impact and immediately stopped working. I told the workers, ‘This is a big one. A real big one,” and then we had to go home,” the man said, describing his shocking reaction with raised shoulders, slacked-mouth, and eyes rolled skyward.

Slowly, I looked deep into his eyes, “Do you remember what time the earthquake took place? 5:04PM. How late did you guys plan to work that evening if the earthquake did not occur?” 

Still, I faced another allegation of workers at Your Black Muslim Bakery in Berkeley being abused. The employer, Yusef Bey, was from a cultural background of African American. The situation was brought to my attention through complaints after complaints filed by a non-Muslim employee at that Your Black Muslim Bakery. The complainant kept reporting that firearms being stored in the compound, foreigners being smuggled in, and employees being restrained, physically and sexually abused and intimidated. Yet there was no alleged government intervention to rescue the victims until after Bey’s death. Then, sometime around 2007, the Bakery went bankrupt and closed after the murder of a local journalist, Chauncey Bailey, who was investigating the allegations.

Over the years, I had become familiar with the way workers from different cultural backgrounds viewed their employment situations without taking consideration their legal and constitutional rights. As we investigated Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, or Korean sweatshops, or Asian supermarkets, employers stonewalled us while the workers gave us a cold shoulder as if saying, “Leave us alone. You’re not helping us for coming here. You cause troubles for our employer, the business will suffer, and we lose our jobs. We don’t need your help.”  
One day I sat down next to a young Chinese garment-shop worker who was making buttonholes on a piece of garment and told her, “Look, I am not here to help you. I am here to get your help for me to understand why the labor law is irrelevant here. You will do me a favor by telling me the truth and I won’t take it against you and your co-workers. Please help me.”

Without looking up, she continued to operate the buttonhole sewing machine while answering me, “You see how slow I am with these buttonholes? An experience seamstress can do twice faster. Look at the elderly lady with a clipper over there. All she does all day is clipping the loose ends of the threads in each garment. How much do you think the owner can afford to pay us? Whenever I receive a garment for sewing, I can’t read the instructions so the owner has to show me how to do it, and she corrects my mistakes. I am grateful to her. I can’t get another job because I don’t speak English and have no real skills. So don’t tell me about minimum wages. I don’t want the pay. I want a job and I want to belong to this shop and be with these workers.” Then she added, “Where I am from, we accept. We don’t make wave.”

My recollection of the conversation with that garment-shop worker reminded me of another tragic working condition, which I considered worse than slavery in Medieval Times.

In 2007, I had some freelance jobs with the US ICE (Immigration Control Enforcement). They were investigating a Sex Tourism case whereas an American from LA, who went to Cambodia, bought a house and several Asian girls ages 9 to 14 to work in his house and to service his needs. The girls’ parents sold them for $500 (US dollars) each. $200 went to the broker and $300 to the parents. The girls had no schooling. So they performed housework and did what they were required to do to survive. I remember teaching the investigators to understand the cultural aspects of their interviews with the girls. For their birthdates the kids would say, “I was born in the year of the snake, or the rooster, or the cat.”  They did not know the calendar year of their birth. To describe a major event, they would say, “It happened before or after the New Year.” Approximately, a Vietnamese New Year takes place in February whereas in Thailand or Cambodia, it would be in April. And they used a myriad of terminology not found in the dictionary. After the investigation, the perpetrator was convicted on all 7 counts in the U.S. Federal Courts.

These cases are the exception not the norm. For the most parts, mainstream American workers have the option to exercise their rights under the law and/or through Union’s intervention. As the society evolves, some of the abuses have become things of the past. Sometime in 1990s, I trained a bright grad student from UC Berkeley, Dante, to be an investigator. My focus was changing the situations by changing people’s perceptions. After the training, Dante repeatedly told others the story how I had trained him—a story that made me blushed.

Dante would say, “At the Final Conference, I told the couple employers that they owed their employees nearly $20,000. They practically told me to bust off because they had no money to pay. I threatened to send the case to the Solicitors to no avail. I then asked Kim to intervene. She came in, sat down, leaned back, hands steepling showing a large, flashy rock on her ring finger, then told the couple, ‘Look, your employees have given you their time, energy, sweat, and a piece of their life. It’s only fair that you pay them. After all, it’s only money.’ The couple looked at each other. Then the wife told her husband, ‘She’s right, it’s only money.’ And they agreed to pay.”

Perhaps I was lucky.

END    © K. N. Roberts 

P.S.  I touched three most sensitive subjects in my working life when I first mentioned in the above blog the trial of the murderer of a SF transgender prostitute, Ordenana, a trial that hit the SF transgender community very hard. Then I talked about the murder of one of the best Bay Area journalists at heart, Chauncey Bailey, who was murdered to stop his story of Your Black Muslim Bakery. Lastly, I wrote about my work with US ICE in which the perpetrator who went to Cambodia and purchased little girls to service him and he was convicted and sentenced to 210 years in prison.  I wish to express condolences to the victims. I hope the reader would think of them and show them some respect. These are the links to these true stories:  


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Gold, Love, and Power Struggles: The Caper PART 3

August 8, 2017. Gold, Love, and Power Struggles: An Inside Story of "The Caper." copyright © Kim Roberts

For over forty years I've accustomed myself to American way of being open, rational, and straightforward. But, in Vietnamese culture, it's not flattering for one to be forthright. So to be tasteful, we often imply. The Vietnamese implication is not about beating around the bush. It is intended to make the subject listener feel and act in certain way. Impacting the psyche of the listener is the point. Not only the Vietnamese don't directly say what we mean, we often don't even make our intention known. It's a cultural trait. And that is not only in speaking manner, it's also in our way of thinking, behaving, strategizing, and living our lives. If I could draw the way the Vietnamese rationalize, it would look like a maze, not according to any law of logic, or any rule of commonsense.  

That pattern of thinking has led us to our way of social interactions and formation of various segments in the community. Back to my hometown Sadec, since 1975, the socialist local authorities have had a tremendous power over the lives of the locals. Yet the authorities also know that there is another force they have to reckon with: The native belief in the power of the Village Deity and of the elders. As we Vietnamese would say, Phép vua thua lệ làng,” or "facing the village's customs, the king's rules must leave in a lurch." Then there is a powerful religious group, the pro-government Buddhist Association, which comprises about one-half of Buddhist Temples that have gained supports and recognition from the local authorities. Explicitly, these groups don't fight each other for territorial controls. Implicitly, they try exert power over each other and the locals. The village people get used to dealing with these implicit power struggles. Even when it's unbearable, we Vietnamese know how to "cố đấm ăn xôi," or "take the punches to earn the sweet rice reward." 

With respect to my story, "The Caper," after I came to America in 1975, I never mentioned to others of my mother and the deep, binding love I had for her as well as her influence upon my life. Quietly and faithfully, I sent her support money on a regular basis. After her death in 2000, I let my Buddhist nun sister Nhu Chieu sell the house and land that Mother had willed to me. My sister bought .999 pure gold bars with the proceeds. Then I continued to send her money. For each $100 I sent and unused she purchased a .999 pure gold ring until she collected hundreds of gold rings. I am a fool for love, I knew they never needed that much money but I wanted to pamper them.

In 2006, my Buddhist nun sister Nhu Chieu died of a sudden heart attack and left two bags of gold. A dozen of powerful figures in the community, including Buddhist nuns, relatives, and law enforcement witnessed the gold and did an inventory of it. They called to my home in America and needed my decision on how to distribute the gold. They spoke as if they recognized I was the rightful heir to the gold but implicitly, I should not or could not claim the gold for myself. I knew immediately, each one at the scene of my sister's death implied that the gold should go to them. Off the top of my head, I suggested a gold custodian, my cousin Thanh My, living in downtown Sadec near the police headquarters, although I had no contact with her for over forty years. I knew for sure the people and groups present at the temple where sister died would keep an eye on the gold until, as they suggested, I returned to Sadec to officially gift it to them. No one, no group, not even my cousin, would dare to touch the gold. 

In Sadec we say, "Đi với bụt mặc áo cà sa, đi với ma mặc áo giấy." Literally, it means "going with a monk, wear a saffron robe, going with a ghost, wear a paper outfit." Or as we say in America, "Pay a man back in the same coin." No one knew that I selected my cousin because she was a mother of three who would unlikely skip town with the gold while I was exploring my options.

I knew without any doubt that the moment I claimed my right to the gold or hired an attorney to fight for it through the legal system, the gold would mysteriously disappear within seconds. However, if I returned and distributed the gold as I promised the people there, I could endanger my life as I would not please everyone. Worse, I would subject myself to unwanted pressure and forces. I could jeopardize my safety as the local authorities could arrest me without a cause. Once, my brother in law, a Vietnamese American, was arrested and thrown in jail because he took a video of a government building near Sadec even from street. My third option was walking away. And I knew that was their intention for me to do. The fact that the gold was intact in my cousin's safe for weeks until I returned indicated that the risk of any attempt to take or tamper with it was extremely high.

Walking away was never my intention. So "The Caper" operation took place. That wasn't for the value of the gold as I later gave the gold money away to charities. I had to do that for my self-respect. No one should underestimate the intensity of my love and the fire in my determination when it comes to the matters of the heart. The gold was a loving gift I gave my mother and sister and no one else.

With that, I dedicate this piece to my late mother and my late Buddhist nun sister Nhu Chieu. Their spirits were with me throughout my adventure. The force of my love for them made The Caper a successful experience.

END.   copyright © Kim Roberts

(For the full story, please click the following link)

The Caper PART 3--Retrieving Two Bags of Gold from...: copyright © Kim Roberts

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Independence Day 2017, Part II: American Capitalism and Freedom Win At Last

copyright © Kim Roberts

Freedom and the Meaning of Life are often being taken for granted by people in a capitalist society where materialism is predominant. They are two different concepts. Yet different degrees of freedom may lead to different levels of meaning in one's life. Without freedom, one is not afforded with opportunities to make life's meaningful choices. However, for some people, the call for meaning of life is so imperative that under any circumstance, with or without freedom, it is impossible to give up the search for life's meaning.
"Creative works always give me gratification, comfort, and a sense of substance," said my father sometime in 1960 when he pointed to me the most beautiful topiary rose bush he planted and shaped.

"Why?" I asked.

"When you cannot control life's insurmountable circumstances, or do not have sufficient material things for your personal comfort, or when you are not free to decide future directions that fit your needs, you still have the meaning of life. You can still find it through your creative works," said Father. Then he added, "When you don't have much, meaning maybe the only thing. With freedom, you have choices. Without freedom, creativity gives you options to escape from reality. I am happy that you can paint and draw. That's your gift and your means for an escape if you ever need it. Don't ever lose it."

After Father's death in 1965, I remembered his words and understood that material things, however valuable, come and go but meaning, like freedom, is a concept that doesn't leave one's heart and mind. Once it is chosen to be the guiding light in one's life, nothing else can overshadow that principle.

Ten years later, in September 1975, I was in America, land of the free. Excited and hopeful, I euphorically thought I was in heaven. I remembered my sister Nhu Anh whose hope for me was to find my ultimate freedom, or on her scale from zero to ten degrees, the number tenth freedom. With that in mind, despite the prospect of facing a new life alone with much difficulty, I turned down a relationship proposal by a young, handsome blue-eyed radio announcer in Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas, named Benjamin. Ben gave me a necklace with a silver star pendant centered by a small diamond--a gesture of his feelings and seriousness. I was touched but I had to choose the experience of designing, planning, and building my new life on my own. That was my first act of being a free person in a country that offers its people safety, security, and a sense of permanency.

However, like gaining freedom from external forces that has a price tag, holding on to that freedom also has hidden costs for which no one can be prepared. I soon faced a reality of no job, no education, no money, inadequate language skill, and no future directions. Worse, America was so divided after the Vietnam War that I had no idea where I would fit in. It seems America needed healing even more than I did. Many Americans welcomed me with open arms but others looked at me as a reminder of a shame, a mistake by the U.S. government for engaging in an unpopular war that took many American lives and tore America apart. And the sign of the KKK with robes and hoods on streets of Castro Valley reminded me the history of prejudice in America. I was confused, lost.
Vietnam suffered the same dilemma. Winning the war and gaining independence did not mean the country could see the end of struggles. There was a cost to maintain the newfound peace and freedom. Since 1975, Vietnam suffered failed economic policies, a high military budget because of the war with Cambodia, and according to on-line information, Vietnam had a poverty level up to 75%. Globally, Vietnam was considered among the poorest countries.

With respect to life in Vietnam after the war, a friend I met in 1978, Nhung, told me, "When I escaped from Vietnam by boat, several other boats were sunk or being pirated. Your sister's former classmate, Thi, and her family of five were missing at sea. I was one of the lucky ones. Before my escape, I lived a few years under the communist control so I know how starving we were in Vietnam, no food, no clothes, shoddy housing conditions, and inadequate healthcare. In America, if you work, you do make money, however little. At home, in a socialist society, you practically work for free." Consequently, Nhung found her purpose in America as a moneymaking machine--not for herself but for her family of 12 in Vietnam. She sent 80% of her earnings home.

At the beginning of my life in America, I remembered what my father said about my painting skill. Immediately, when I arrived in Kentucky in 1975, I began to paint to ease the sufferings, loneliness, and sadness. After moving to California, I continued to paint but soon realized that escaping into a world of arts wasn't enough. I needed more.

"The deeper meaning of life comes from your heart and soul when you want something so bad that you would take the most difficult measures to get it," said Father. And I never forgot what my Buddhist sister Nhu Anh said about America and freedom from war. "In America, you can make long term choices that you can look back and be proud of yourself later. Do crazy things if you want to but do that for you. Don't compromise. Don't be afraid," she said.

With that in mind, in 1976, I refused to compromise my integrity by turning down financial assistance from two wealthy individuals I knew in SF and humbly earned a living doing paintings with a group of Southeast Asian artists. That did not work out well. A Christian couple I just met, Dan and Elaine Jew, invited me to stay with their family in Castro Valley until I found jobs or study. I adored Dan and Elaine and their children. Their loving kindness was unprecedented. Then during my first semester at CSUH in January 1977, I applied for work-study. The lady I met at the Accounting department wore thick glasses, a brown scarf, and heavy diamonds on her finger. She told me I only got $2.68/hour, or 80% of the minimum wage unless I applied for work outside campus.

As I was searching for my identification inside my wallet, the color of a bluish check struck my eyes. I could feel a shockwave radiating from my brain throughout my body. It was a blank check signed by Elaine. I remembered she said she was concerned that I would need money in an emergency situation so she gave me a blank check. Elaine hardly knew me when she signed the check. In return, I had no intention of using it so I had forgotten about it. But the sudden jolt, created by a reminder that a stranger had trusted me that much and I was strong enough not to abuse her trust, shook me to the core. I realized then it didn't matter whether I made $2.68 per hour or $5 an hour, I felt so good about America and Americans that I could accept anything as long as it was a pure, honest, and trust-worthy endeavor. America was not all about materialism. Americans had heart. Elaine had restored my faith in human kindness and gave me the meaning of life I needed.

Nowadays, Both Dan and Elaine are over 80 years old. We met for lunch not long ago. When I recalled the impact of her blank check, we had a chuckle.

In June 1978, along with my best friend Som, I graduated with a BA degree. The Library Congress did an evaluation of my two Baccalaureate degrees and a law degree from Saigon but could not give me equivalent certificates. I was fine with that as I enjoyed learning everything anew. The American Officer, who was instrumental in helping me move to the Bay Area, was at my graduation. He said to me, " When I met you in Vietnam, I didn't know you're an iconoclast. And, of all the academic majors that can help you find good paying jobs, you chose a tough and impractical degree, Political Science. Why?"

"Because I can. Because I wanted to," said I. Deep down inside, I thought of the indomitable spirits of my sister and father and wanted to keep that alive by doing what I felt were the right things, not the least challenging tasks. 
Gradually, the economic conditions in Vietnam improved by the overseas remittance, which arrived in Vietnam in the billions. As time went by, the World Bank's statistics indicated the poverty level began to drop as Vietnam initiated a socialist-oriented market economy in 1986.  In September 1989, under heavy diplomatic and economic pressure from the international community, Vietnam withdrew over 100,000 Vietnamese troops that had occupied Cambodia (Kampuchea) since 1979. The U. S. established normal relationship with Vietnam on July 11, 1995. The Vietnamese government then implemented a series of economic and foreign policy reforms and the country became flourished.

In 2000, my beloved mother passed away and willed her house and land to me. I let my last sister in Vietnam, another Buddhist nun, exceptionally beautiful but very shy, sell them and trade the money for gold bars. Then she moved into a Buddhist Temple. I continued to support her by sending money and communicating with her regularly. In February 2006, I planned on going to Vietnam to spend time with her. I always wanted to start a small library for children in my village because that was my childhood dream. Unfortunately, my sister Nhu Chieu, suffered a heart attack and passed away three weeks before my visit. The authorities in the city of Sadec somehow found and confiscated two bags of gold from her possession. I was asked to return to Sadec to give legitimacy to the distribution of the gold to different temples and local authorities.

I cried for days for my loss of my sister Nhu Chieu and for my pain and anger due to the insensitivity, blatantly disrespect, and intention of the local authorities to strip me of my inheritance.  They took more than gold, they took a piece of my heart. The following month, April 2006, I masterminded a most daring operation to return to Sadec and snatch two bags of gold that were securely kept there. That was the origin of my blog series under the name "The Caper: Retrieving Two Bags of Gold from Sadec and Zen and the Art of Gold Robbery)," published on 4/8/16, 4/23/16, 5/12/16, and 5/20/16.

Through the years, Vietnam is still a socialist society but the Vietnamese have arrived in the U.S. to gain experience in education, training, and IT. They also seem to enjoy material things and services that a capitalist country offers. In my experience, at least one Vietnamese came for IVF (in vitro fertilization) technology. Others came for advance treatments of illness. Some simply to purchase fashion clothing new products or to send home such expensive food as Kobe beef, lobsters, or abalone. Needless to say, materialism and capitalism have superseded socialism.

I am proud to be an American. This country has allowed me to be who I am and do what I need to do. And that is: it's not enough to fight for freedom, it's also important to fight for principles and for love. I have found the meaning of life.

END of Part II of 2 parts.   copyright © Kim Roberts