"In October, 2017, former Pham Ngu Lao House street-boy To Thanh Trung, a.k.a., Bi, now a successful farmer, came to visit us in NYC - five decades after he first joined our Shoeshine Boys Project [1968-76] in Saigon. Bi travelled upstate to visit some farms, including environmentally-conscious developer Douglas Durst's McEnroe organic farm and Bijan Mahmoodi's "Circle Museum" sculpture park en route [see photos]. Bi dropped in on my daughter & her family, including granddaughter Anina whom he taught a Vietnamese "Yo!" dinner cheer to. Later, Bi went on to CA and back to VN. While in Los Angeles Bi donated one-thousand-dollars to Loose Cannons,Inc. for our work on Agent Orange.Bi's incredible life story is chronicled below."
- Dick Hughes [11/07/18] Anina: "Yo!"
Farmer Bi's Life Story
I plan to visit New York on October 12 and will come to my son-in-laws family at California on October 18. Afterwards, I will visit Minh Ha. We can arrange to meet up in either Los Angeles or somewhere in California.
Dick told me to provide a brief self-introduction & have it translated into English. A summary that I can think of right now:
My name is To Thanh Trung (nickname Bi), born in 1953.
My father moved to get enlisted in the North when I was one year old (1954). My mom brought me to Ben Tre, where I lived until I was six (1959). She then sent me to my grandparents in Dong Thap province who would raise me and put me to school, while she got remarried. When I turned 8, mom came back to my grandparents house to take me with her and her husband. Being a construction worker, my stepfather travelled very often (to Saigon, Vinh Long, Tra Vinhâ The entire family followed him anywhere he went, so my studies got disrupted. I only finished the first semester of fourth grade.
When I was 11, I returned to Ben Tre. The family wasn't doing well so I gave up schooling to work as a house servant and take care of my 3 younger siblings. When I turned 12 (1965), my family came to Saigon and I continued to work like that. One year later, my mom passed away. I escaped the house and officially became a "bui doi." I sold newspapers, shone shoes at Tu Do Street (Dong Khoi), Nguyen Hue, Le Loi, Le Thanh Tonâ I did shoeshining during the day while sleeping on the street at night, and got caught by the police many times (more than 40 times). I was also taken to the relief camps twice.
At 16 (1969), I moved to 195 Pham Ngu Lao (as part of Shoeshine Boys Project - humanitarian program helping street children). This turned out to be my true family at those early years. Another "bui doi" friend took me to a jewelry carving class, so I studied during the day, worked at night, and went back to Pham Ngu Lao to sleep and hang out with other brothers and friends (especially Dick).
At 18, I got enlisted in Saigon and whenever I had time off, I always came back to Pham Ngu Lao family. By the end of the war in 1975, I already had a family with a 1 year old daughter. I stayed with my wifes family and made a living by selling secondhand stuff. In October 1975, I was forced into a reeducation program for having sold bicycles illegally and remained in prison until July 31, 1977. In October 1977, I reunited with my dad. In November 1977, dad sent me to a school in Tien Giang pro-vince. I graduated from high school in May 1980, got into the University of Agriculture in July 1980, graduated in May 1985, went to work in a state-owned seed company in July 1985, and resigned in January 1993. From January 1993 to July 1997, I worked as a farmer because I was unable to obtain a business license. In August 1997, I opened a seed manufacturing company in Binh Duong province. In October 2002, I officially founded Trung Nong company in Ho Chi Minh city, which has been in operation until today. To date, Trung Nong is a member of the Asia and Pacific Seed Association (APSA) and the Vietnam Seed Trade Association (VSA).
Too winding and complicated, right? Let me know of any suggestions & I will be happy to discuss further. Em Bi