184: As a child, Dung Duong fled Vietnam, lived in refugee camps, was jailed, and found himself homeless before immigrating to the United States and finding success as an entrepreneur and investor

January 1, 2021

Dung Duong

How did Dung Duong develop his positive attitude and ability to see life from the bright side? “I think in life, it is one of those things where having gone through the things that I’ve gone through, you build up a little bit of resiliency. You build up a little perseverance through any sort of obstacle, and when you have hard to go through so many obstacles, you don’t look at obstacles anymore. It is just another  part of life. In doing so, you always look forward and not try to think about all of the obstacles in front of you.”

On this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, we talk with Dung Duong, Entrepreneur and Author of Shifting Optics: Life in Perspective, about growing up in Vietnam under really difficult circumstances. “Communism took over, the war ended. Foreigners had to leave. Certainly there was April 30th, which was when you see all the footage of people climbing buildings and getting on the helicopters, and being flown out, and helicopters being pushed over of the decks of these ships, a big group of people. That was April. I was born in October.”

What You Will Learn:

Dung Duong talks about the family status that he came from before coming to the United States.  “My mom’s dad, her parents, were very rich, filthy rich in South Vietnam. So, the problem with that is that when Communism took over, being rich was not necessarily a good thing. When Communism took over, being rich was like, hey, you only amassed your wealth because you took advantage of poor people, and stuff like that. So, they were in an environment that was probably not very conducive to raising a child that has disabilities.”

Where were Dung Duong parents trying to get to with him when they left Vietnam? “I think the intent was to get to Thailand. It was either Thailand or to a neighboring, well, there is really nothing around Vietnam except for Thailand, which is the next neighbor and if you want to go further south, it is Indonesia. But the intent was to get out, get away from Vietnam.”

Dung Duong discussed having to go through a name change. “Being caught leaving was not a good thing. The U.S. has a lot of freedoms to move about. When you are in a tight regime, there is not that much freedom. So the first trip after we left, we actually saw land “We ended landing back in Vietnam and I remember my parents were drilling my sister to change their name, change her name to a different last name. With our family name, we were sort of known in South Vietnam. So, drilling into my sister, this is your last name.”

What was it like as a five-year-old for Dung Duong to be in jail? “Jail in South Vietnam is not quite like jail here. There is just bamboo sticks in a mound essentially. During the wet season, dry ground is not exactly easy either. Jail is jail. My memory of it, I don’t have that many memories of it. But certainly I remember that it was a difficult time for the family. Obviously, my dad was separated from myself and everyone involved. The good news was that my mom, myself, and my sister got out relatively early, within a month or a couple of months. My dad, I think he spent a little bit of a longer time there. After we made it to Saigon, my mom would take trips to visit my dad.”

How did Dung Duong ultimately get to the U.S.? “My uncle studied in the U.S. and became a fairly famous doctor in Virginia. We had another Uncle in Belgium and another Uncle in France. My dad’s sister also made it to the U.S. as well. SO, they helped us with the signing in process, and eventually we were granted permission in the U.S…We didn’t get to the United States until I was six, six and a half. In 1982 is when we got here.”

Adapting to America

What was it like for a young Dung Duong to adapt to life in the U.S.? “I was somewhat unique in that I got out of ESL in less than a year. Whereas, most people that go through the program take about three years. I always credit that to watching a lot of Three’s Company. But that is a different story…We flew to the United States. I think the first port was Oakland, then we moved to Chicago…My uncle lived in Northern Virginia, so we settled with him before moving out to other family in a different place. The thing about that is that we are living in essentially adjunct poverty at the time. My parents were working literally any job that they can.”

Words of Wisdom

During this episode of Finding Your Summit Podcast, Dung Duong talks about communicating the wisdom he has gained from the tough road to success that he endured to his children. “That is exactly why I wrote the book. It is really for my kids. That is exactly why my wife started the charity. We are trying to give my children a perspective on life that they may not get from their daily life, right? They are in a gated community. They are never going to struggle as I did, I hope.”

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