Ethnic Vietnamese keep flame burning in distant Guam

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Guam governor Eddie Baza Calvo (fifth from right), Vietnamese ambassador at large Jennifer Ada Mai Anh (third from left) with a visiting delegation from Thanh Nien newspaper in Guam

For most people Guam in the western Pacific Ocean conjures up images of brutal European colonization, World War II, and US military bases.

But this US territory is also home to a large Vietnamese community that keeps its native culture thriving.

"There are around 200 [ethnic] Vietnamese here, and as many as 25 Vietnamese restaurants, and each of them has pho," Jennifer Ada Mai Anh, Vietnamese ambassador at large in Guam, who helped arrange a visit to the island by a group of Thanh Nien reporters, said.

The island was quiet when the Thanh Nien delegation arrived at 4 a.m. after flying from Ho Chi Minh City to Taipei.

The visitors had lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant named Truong's, where pho was served with other Vietnamese noodle soups and fried spring rolls.

Trang, the restaurant owner, said her family moved to Guam dozens of years ago and has run the restaurant since.

"We used to earn US$3,000-4,000 a day, but it has since reduced."

She said many of the native people, foreign tourists, and US soldiers love her food.

The family grows all the herbs needed for the noodle soups since the soil is not much different from Vietnam's.

Vietnamese restaurants in Guam have formed a community and there is more support than competition, owners said.

Sang from Vietnam's southern province of Soc Trang, whose family runs a shop named "Pho," said the island has nearly 200,000 people and most of them like Vietnamese food.

Eddie Baza Calvo, Guam's governor, told the delegation that in fact Vietnamese food is often served to honored guests to the island.

 
A pho restaurant in Guam

But the most famous Vietnamese on the island is not a restaurant owner but a doctor, who says all Vietnamese on the island are his patients.

Nguyen Van Hoa of Nha Trang has been on the island since 1995.

His family left Vietnam before 1975 when he was very young, and he studied medicine in the US.

He started with a small clinic and then joined several other doctors to open a private hospital, which now gets 100 people or more every day.

Hoa plans to bring his wife and daughter to Vietnam next March to provide free treatment to poor people and help poor students.

Mai Anh, the ambassador, does her bit to keep Vietnamese culture alive in Guam.

Her family too left for the US before 1975, and came to Guam in 1987 and started a restaurant.

She is married into one of the richest families on the island, which owns major real estate groups and the Bank of Guam.

With a cousin-in-law being a former Guam governor, it was not hard for her to get the current Guam governor and US senator Madeleine Z.Bordallo to greet the Thanh Nien delegation.

She brought 80 life-size buffalos made of fiberglass from Vietnam, where it is an iconic animal, to decorate Guam's streets and offices.

"I wanted to add some Vietnamese spirit here," she explained.

She has recommended that the Guam government should have more potted plants and pottery products from Vietnam in public places.

Her own house has a garden with bamboo, a symbol of Vietnamese villages, and two fiberglass buffalos. It also has some dragon fruit trees, a typical central Vietnamese fruit.

Anh's contribution to Vietnam is not merely about decoration.

She said she has got many Japanese businesses to invest in Ho Chi Minh City since 2005, and has been doing her bit to improve Vietnam's trade relations with other countries, including Guam.

"I am persuading Madeleine Z.Bordallo and Eddie Baza Calvo to tell their authorities in Washington to waive visas for Vietnamese."

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