Lakeside Commons Kathy Vodinh journeys to The United States from Vietnam for secure job

By Almeda Girod
Resident Writer

Many Riderwood residents have received quiet, kind, and efficient service from Nguyet (Kathy) Vodinh in the Lakeside Commons salon over the past 11 1/2 years. Few know of her life journey which began when she was born in Saigon, Vietnam. In 1968 Kathy married South Vietnam Captain Ngoc Vodinh, whose mother is related to the last Vietnam King, Bao Dai. After the Communists overtook South Vietnam on April 30, 1975, her husband was ordered to the Re-Education Camp and from there he disappeared. Kathy had two daughters and was seven months pregnant with their son as she and her mother sought refuge. Kathy cried when a year later she received a highly censored letter advising her that Ngoc was imprisoned in North Vietnam. Over the next four and a half years she received only three to four letters before a family visit was allowed.

Kathy Vodinh works on a residents hair at the Lakeside Commons Salon
Kathy Vodinh, stylist at the Lakeside Commons salon, had an interesting journey to get where she is today.

After the Communists overtook South Vietnam on April 30, 1975, her husband was ordered to the Re-Education Camp and from there he disappeared. Kathy had two daughters and was seven months pregnant with their son as she and her mother sought refuge. Kathy cried when a year later she received a highly censored letter advising her that Ngoc was imprisoned in North Vietnam. Over the next four and a half years she received only three to four letters before a family visit was allowed. Kathy, with her mother and four-and-

Kathy, with her mother and four-and-a-half-year-old son, journeyed by train, bus, small boat, and finally a bicycle to visit Ngoc. She vividly remembers being separated from others when a bicycle tire blew and her fear of being left with a male guard. Eventually, she spotted a very thin Ngoc coming down a mountain after cutting lumber. Her son called out, “Daddy, where is your gun?” since he had seen photos of his father in uniform. He said, “No more guns, son.” Ngoc’s diet had been five small sweet potatoes a day and rice on special occasions. He was subjected to hard manual work that became easier when he was recognized for his carpentry skills. Ngoc, a Buddhist, prayed to be spared physical abuse. Kathy brought food and remembers one kind guard who helped her husband receive her gift. He was later transferred to the South where treatment improved and monthly visits were allowed. Ngoc recalls that stones were thrown at prisoners when they went North and food when they returned to the South. When Kathy arrived for a visit in January, 1982, she was informed Ngoc would be released after seven years of imprisonment.

Ngoc met discrimination because he had worked for the Southern government and was unable to secure work other than carpentry. Sponsored by family, the Vodinhs arrived in Knoxville, TN in 1990 with only $50.00. During the journey, they spent a precious $10.00 on food for the children while Ngoc and Kathy went hungry. The family decided to join other family members in 1993 in Silver Spring, Md, where there would be “more international folks.” Ngoc established Vodinh General Contractors and Kathy began work as a hair stylist having completed cosmetology college in 1990. Kathy comments “I love America and the freedom for my children to have good educations and jobs.”

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