|Phi-Phi and her father during their first winter |
in the U.S.—late 1981 or early 1982.
At last they boarded a plane headed for America. One flight attendant thought Phi-Phi was so cute, she bumped them up to First Class. Phi-Phi and her father soared above the clouds, headed to the western hemisphere. It was July of 1981 when they landed in San Francisco, welcomed to our borders. Again, someone overcome by the sight of little Phi-Phi bought her ice cream in the San Francisco airport.
Phi-Phi and her father were transferred to Washington, D.C. They first stayed in a house in Virginia—which they shared with multiple families. There they received their first gifts from the United States: A brick of government cheese and a loaf of Wonder Bread. (To this day, even though she knows it’s terrible for you, Phi-Phi loves the taste of Wonder Bread.)
A couple of days after her arrival in Virginia, Phi-Phi remembers watching the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, which was all over the television at the time, and being stunned by so much luxury and opulence, having just come from a refugee camp.
Two days later Phi-Phi’s dad got a job in Crystal City and they got a little apartment of their own in Arlington, Virginia. Phi-Phi entered fourth grade, first as an ESL student, then mainstreamed after the first semester. She had fabulous, caring teachers and Phi-Phi worked very hard to take full advantage of the educational opportunities she was offered. Even at her young age she was very grateful and made up her mind to apply herself so she could give back someday.
In the fourth grade (1981) she met a lovely friend, Christy Denslow Tyner. Christy’s dad had served in the Vietnam war and met her mother there, so Christy was half caucasian, half Vietnamese. Christy was Phi-Phi’s first friend in the U. S., and they’ve been good friends ever since. Thirty years later, they are still in touch, seeing each other at least once or twice a year.
|Phi-Phi's father in December 1983, not long after|
they joined the Mormon church.
During 8th grade they moved to a basement apartment in McLean, a more privileged area, and Phi-Phi rode the bus with children whose parents were CEOs, diplomats, politicians, professional athletes, etc. There she had her first crush—and boyfriend—who was the son of a powerful U.S. politician. "He was a sweet and super nice young man," she says. Phi-Phi found still more good friends at school and at church, and wonderful Young Women leaders who would love and mentor her.
Phi-Phi says of her life at this point: "I only want others to know how blessed I am by Heavenly Father. How He gave me life through my mother in Vietnam, how He gave me life when I had the opportunity to come to the United States and how He gave me life again when the missionaries taught me the gospel."
And yet misfortune was lurking right around the corner....
Read Part 6 here.