Photography by Dennis Phan





I took a 14-day cruise from Hong Kong to Singapore onboard Norwegian Jewel Ship last March. It is a typical 10+ decks cruise ship with lots of food, entertainments and comfortable state rooms. I had a very safe and relax vacation. It wasn't like that when I took the reverse route from Quy Nhon to Hong Kong back in 1979. I was on a small wooden boat with limited food, water and safety equipments. To make it worse, there were 165 people onboard that tiny wooden boat!

On several nights during the cruise, I stood at the open deck and looked at the vast ocean in darkness and tried to imagine a small boat in it. Even in a peaceful and quiet ocean, I still had a chill feeling thinking about my situation in 1979. There was nothing in the ocean except our boat sailing in darkness. I could still hear the sound of the boat engine in my head. I was a brave young man back then. I was brave because I had to in order to find a brighter future for me and for my future generations. When my friends and I were talking about the trip we took in 1979, most of us said we would have a second thought before stepping on the boat if we have to do it all over again; however, given the circumstance at the time, I still think I would make the same decision had I gone back to the year of 1979. There was no room for fear. The only thing in my mind was getting out and that was it! I literally bet my life for my freedom. Despite an incredible odd, I won the bet! The 7-day journey from Quy Nhon to Hong Kong was a unique experience for me. I was hungry, tired, scared and confused during the trip. I was excited and happy when our boat arrived at Hong Kong Harbor. I wouldn't trade anything for that experience. The trip makes me value my life more than ever. I am lucky enough to come to the United States and I tell myself to make the most of what this country has to offer. Whenever I had a bad time for whatever reason, I always looked back at that journey and smiled. I survived the worst circumstance in my life, so far. Everything else is nothing compared to what I had gone through!

I occasionally bring up the point to my children whenever I have a chance. I want them not to take things for granted in this country and grab every opportunity available. My daughter joined Speech and Debate Team during her high school years. One of the events she participated was Original Oratory in which the participants chose and wrote their own subjects for their speeches. One of her topics was " The First World Problems" in which she talked about American kids complaining about their "problems" such as slow internet, dated smart phone, cold pizza, crowded classrooms, bad television shows, not so clean public restrooms etc without knowing people from other parts of the world would love to have those "problems". I was so happy to see my daughter presented that speech in her tournament. I guess my regular input about the issues finally sinks in her thoughts.

I consider myself to be extremely lucky to settle in this arguably the best country on the planet. I owe the American government and its people a big favor for letting me be a part of the USA. Thank you America for giving me a chance to be the best I can be.





Dennis Phan   潘家墉

Khai Minh, UCLA and Investools Alumni

Los Angeles, 16 Aug 2019












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