Tia was only 12-years old, when she saw the North Vietnamese, communist soldiers blow off her father's legs, and murder her pregnant mother. The year was 1967. Her heart was broken that day, but she made a vow...She would come to the United States of America. She worked for 13 years to save $4,000 so that she and her little brother could leave the brutal country that killed the joy within her heart. She worked in the rice paddy's and had the tanned, weathered, look of a peasant. She told me it was easier to avert the eyes of the soldiers who would be watching her, when she made her escape. The soldiers watched city people very closely, especially those who were sypathetic to the Americans. She got on a boat which was 20 feet long, along with 50 other South Vietnamese expatriates. They started their journey on faith, and little bread and water.
Tia cried as she frantically searched the vessel for her brother, but alas, he was gone. She never found out what happened to him. She was adrift for 6 days without food or water, and kept dreaming strange dreams about ghosts from the spirit world. She was 25-years old, and knew that she was dying. She told her girlfriend to eat her remains, when her soul left her body, so that she, at least, could stay alive.
Tia then started praying to the Buddha to release her soul.
Amazingly, an American ship...a non-military contractor's commercial vessel, happened by, to give them milk, water, and food. All the Vietnamese boat people were begging the Americans, to be rescued. This was not allowed by governments. It was against International Law. Tia saw the shoreline of Indonesia...She dived in and took a chance. All the dirt on her body, and blood from her menstruation, were washed off, after her heroic swim to shore. She told me she did whatever she had to do, once in Indonesia, to save the money to make it to America. She was somehow re-united with her brother. When she arrived in America, she only had the clothes on her back and a few pennies in her pocket. She begged the Marriot hotel chain for a job, through a referrel from the Catholic Charities Organization. At first, the interveiwer did'nt want to hire her, because she was so skinny, she couldn't push the maids cart.
Tia promised the interviewer, that she would push the cart, and clean more rooms than any other maid of her shift...and she did. Tia also went to night school, to learn to speak fluent English, and get a college degree. She saved her money, and with the resolve of a saint, ended up with an executive position in the hotel chain. This was not her vision. It was a means to an end...She knew the Buddha, wanted her to open a restuarant.
She went to the bank with little more, than a great business plan. She was asked what she was going to put up for collateral..."Nothing", she said. She pitched her business plan, and the bankers were impressed. It was a well-thought-out, idea. However, not willing to take a gamble, the bankers did not give her a loan. Tia did not give up. She received a business loan from the government. She designed her restuarant from the ground floor, on up...did all the leg work...advertising, menu, flower arrangements, hiring, and promotions.
On opening night, Boston's elite lined the streets to enjoy her magnificent restuarant. She was an immediate success. She opened another restuarant in Orlando, Florida. She put 4 nieces through college, 2 of them through medical school, and sent money to her father and his new wife in South Vietnam.
Tia eventually brought her father, and his new wife to America. She pays for all his medical bills. Tia works 7 days a week, as she has all her life. She is 55 years old, but looks half her age. She offers fresh fruit, and burns incense to a little statue of the Buddha, in the front vestibule of her restuarant, every morning...She prays and meditates twice a day. She told me that she never had the time to marry. I was amazed by her. She is one of the most lovely women, I have ever seen in my life, both physically and spiritually. She took more than an hour from her busy schedule, to speak with this humble writer.
As she told me her story, tears ran down both our cheeks. We held hands through the whole meeting. I gave her my business card, and she promised to write me. As I left, I asked her what her plans were for the future. She told me she would someday return to South Viet-Nam, to set up a charitable foundation for young girls. Tia changed my life on this fine day last week. I hope this story, changes your life. Sometimes, it's worth a thousand mile journey, to hear one story. I will never be the same, because of a skinny little girl, from South Viet Nam.