Mornings spent in the silence of Tam Dao. Afternoons writing the next great novel. Evenings lounging beside a moonlit infinity pool. Life looks irresistibly clear for Duc Nguyen, but it seems that it wasn’t always so. The Vietnamese-born, multi-hyphen talent, has gone through a challenging road of ups and downs to get to his state of humbling success.
As a refugee from the Vietnam War, Duc, then 17, and his uncle fled to the United States in 1975. His mother stranded in Central Vietnam, his father being held prisoner in the North. Displaced. Confused. Misunderstood. Duc turned an unfortunately common sentiment as a refugee and channeled it into creativity, “If you’re displaced, art allows you new means to express yourself, to communicate and feel a sense of belonging and understanding…It’s by looking at Israeli paintings, or Lebanese songs, and reading books from Indian and Indonesian writers that I came to understand my own fate,” he says.
In 1984 Duc reunited with his parents in California. By then, he had already begun a budding career, having been a producer and writer for the likes of KALW-FM in San Francisco and a commentator for National Public Radio. Duc proceeded to write essays for papers like The Asian Wall Street Journal Weekly and The New York Times Magazine, and some 20 years and many successful stints later, he finally made his return to Vietnam in 2006.
Today, Duc has turned the challenges of his past into the peace of his current reality in his stunning home in Tam Dao. “I’ve always liked creating a good spot for myself, ever since I was a child,” he says. “In Tam Dao, I get absolute silence, a total isolation, days and days without talking to anyone – and absolute freedom to think and create.”
And occasionally, he even lets hopeful mentees come and spend time with him in this special space. In collaboration with VAWAA, Duc now hosts budding writers for studio sessions over 5 days in his internationally-recognized home. For Duc, “the idea behind the program is so brilliant and simple. It’s the one on one approach that is a perfect arrangement for the artist and the “vacationing” person.”
His first lucky VAWAA mentee was Colombian filmmaker Noé M. Obregón. Together, they worked on many facets of writing, “Noe was astonishing at how well he understood his own creative impulses, and how ready he was to abandon certain ideas to adopt new ones,” Duc says. The pair seemed to learn from each other, “He introduced me to a lot about his country, his culture, from music to film.”
It’s about more than discovering a culture for how it is known, but uncovering a culture for how it is lived. In understanding the way others think, create, and relate to others. More than a destination, VAWAA becomes a creative and cultural journey. An experience Duc describes as “inspired, valued, and humbled.”
“I look forward to seeing the end-product, a novel that has a lot of heart, and wonderful imagery to illustrate larger themes,” Duc reflects.
Written by Natalie Stoclet
Vacation with Duc in Hanoi, Vietnam.