From Vietnam to Aspen, salon owner lives his American dream | AspenTimes.com

From Vietnam to Aspen, salon owner lives his American dream

Ask Aspen’s Ultimate Nail Salon owner Michael Kim when he was born, and he’ll ask which answer you are looking for: the actual year of his birth, or the year according to his Vietnamese birth certificate.

“On legal paper, the year of birth is 1957,” Kim said. “But my parents say I was born in 1955.”

Born in Bien Hoa, Vietnam, Kim explained that in his home country, newborns are delivered at home, and that it is not a priority for families who reside “far from the authorities” to travel to the nearest city and acquire a birth certificate for their child.

Though Kim quickly made clear that Bien Hoa is in fact a “big and important” Vietnamese city, he said he is not sure why his parents didn’t apply for his birth certificate earlier.

He’s also unsure as to the cause of his sister’s death, and Kim said it is “very normal” for young children to die due to “lack of medical support.”

“One time, I heard,” Kim paused. “It was chicken pox, I think, maybe. That’s very common. She was very young, maybe 1, between 1 and 2. … It’s not very clear to me.”

The second-oldest child among five females, Kim describes his childhood as “very fun” and “poor but peaceful.”

Peaceful and fun are an interesting choice of words given all Kim has endured in his 58 – or 60, rather — years of life.

The year before Kim was born, his parents moved to South Vietnam with their only daughter at the time in an effort to “escape the communists in the North,” Kim said.

When Kim was a child, the family lived back and forth between the Bien Hoa, the city in which he was born, and the Mekong Delta River, which Kim describes as “the farm area” in South Vietnam.

Kim attended middle and high school in Bien Hoa because the education system was better in the city, Kim said, and moved to Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, to pursue law school.

Then, on April 30, 1975, the North Vietnamese communists invaded the South Vietnamese government, Kim said, “and the Vietnam War ended that day.”

“At first, we were scared,” he recalled. “I ran away from the city and went back to the Mekong Delta River to see my parents.”

At home in the Mekong Delta, Kim reconnected with his two cousins he calls “big brothers,” who were officers in the South Vietnamese government at the time.

Referring to his rural hometown, Kim said, “We decided we can’t live in the village like that, and we have to go back to the big city. … We planned to settle there, but it was not easy for us. You had to be registered with the communistic government.”

After his application to join the government’s agricultural department was denied, Kim decided it was time to flee his home country.

He purchased an old, rundown, 33-foot long, 10 foot-wide, 4-foot deep fishing boat, and spent about 18 months “totally renovating” its every square inch.

A year and a half later, Kim and 38 others — half of whom he said were member of his family — escaped Vietnam and sailed to Indonesia.

They reached shore in a small Indonesian fishing village, where they spent 53 days in an Indonesian refugee camp.

The group eventually left Indonesia and sailed their old fishing boat to shore in San Francisco.

After “updating his legal status” in San Francisco, Kim flew to Arlington, Texas, two days before Thanksgiving to begin his new life in America.

“This is why Thanksgiving is a very important holiday for me, … not only because it is a tradition here in the United States, but also because I feel it is God rescuing me, at that time.”

When Kim reached Arlington, he enrolled in the University of Texas at Arlington, where he studied mechanical engineering and the business of finance.

In Arlington, Kim earned his first job working as a housekeeper at Arlington Memorial Hospital.

He also became a master in Taekwondo and martial arts instruction, manufactured women’s clothing and campaigned for both George H. W. Bush and John McCain.

Though despite Kim’s many accomplishments and successes, he said he is most proud of his housekeeping job at Arlington Memorial.

“It really helped me with owning my own business,” he said.

Ultimate Nail Salon is Kim’s most recent business, which he opened upon settling in Aspen 11 years ago. Local resident Heather Leck said the business is “cherished” by the community.

“Michael works so, so hard, and is so warm and caring towards his customers,” said Leck, who has been a customer of Kim’s for more than five years.

“We are really blessed to have him in this town,” Leck said.

erobbie@aspentimes.com


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From Vietnam to Aspen, salon owner lives his American dream

Ask Aspen’s Ultimate Nail Salon owner Michael Kim when he was born, and he’ll ask which answer you are looking for: the actual year of his birth, or the year according to his Vietnamese birth certificate.

“On legal paper, the year of birth is 1957,” Kim said. “But my parents say I was born in 1955.”

Born in Bien Hoa, Vietnam, Kim explained that in his home country, newborns are delivered at home, and that it is not a priority for families who reside “far from the authorities” to travel to the nearest city and acquire a birth certificate for their child.

Though Kim quickly made clear that Bien Hoa is in fact a “big and important” Vietnamese city, he said he is not sure why his parents didn’t apply for his birth certificate earlier.

He’s also unsure as to the cause of his sister’s death, and Kim said it is “very normal” for young children to die due to “lack of medical support.”

“One time, I heard,” Kim paused. “It was chicken pox, I think, maybe. That’s very common. She was very young, maybe 1, between 1 and 2. … It’s not very clear to me.”

The second-oldest child among five females, Kim describes his childhood as “very fun” and “poor but peaceful.”

Peaceful and fun are an interesting choice of words given all Kim has endured in his 58 – or 60, rather — years of life.

The year before Kim was born, his parents moved to South Vietnam with their only daughter at the time in an effort to “escape the communists in the North,” Kim said.

When Kim was a child, the family lived back and forth between the Bien Hoa, the city in which he was born, and the Mekong Delta River, which Kim describes as “the farm area” in South Vietnam.

Kim attended middle and high school in Bien Hoa because the education system was better in the city, Kim said, and moved to Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, to pursue law school.

Then, on April 30, 1975, the North Vietnamese communists invaded the South Vietnamese government, Kim said, “and the Vietnam War ended that day.”

“At first, we were scared,” he recalled. “I ran away from the city and went back to the Mekong Delta River to see my parents.”

At home in the Mekong Delta, Kim reconnected with his two cousins he calls “big brothers,” who were officers in the South Vietnamese government at the time.

Referring to his rural hometown, Kim said, “We decided we can’t live in the village like that, and we have to go back to the big city. … We planned to settle there, but it was not easy for us. You had to be registered with the communistic government.”

After his application to join the government’s agricultural department was denied, Kim decided it was time to flee his home country.

He purchased an old, rundown, 33-foot long, 10 foot-wide, 4-foot deep fishing boat, and spent about 18 months “totally renovating” its every square inch.

A year and a half later, Kim and 38 others — half of whom he said were member of his family — escaped Vietnam and sailed to Indonesia.

They reached shore in a small Indonesian fishing village, where they spent 53 days in an Indonesian refugee camp.

The group eventually left Indonesia and sailed their old fishing boat to shore in San Francisco.

After “updating his legal status” in San Francisco, Kim flew to Arlington, Texas, two days before Thanksgiving to begin his new life in America.

“This is why Thanksgiving is a very important holiday for me, … not only because it is a tradition here in the United States, but also because I feel it is God rescuing me, at that time.”

When Kim reached Arlington, he enrolled in the University of Texas at Arlington, where he studied mechanical engineering and the business of finance.

In Arlington, Kim earned his first job working as a housekeeper at Arlington Memorial Hospital.

He also became a master in Taekwondo and martial arts instruction, manufactured women’s clothing and campaigned for both George H. W. Bush and John McCain.

Though despite Kim’s many accomplishments and successes, he said he is most proud of his housekeeping job at Arlington Memorial.

“It really helped me with owning my own business,” he said.

Ultimate Nail Salon is Kim’s most recent business, which he opened upon settling in Aspen 11 years ago. Local resident Heather Leck said the business is “cherished” by the community.

“Michael works so, so hard, and is so warm and caring towards his customers,” said Leck, who has been a customer of Kim’s for more than five years.

“We are really blessed to have him in this town,” Leck said.

erobbie@aspentimes.com


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.