When a typhoon all but destroyed a small dock in Vung Tau, Vietnam, six months ago, a Tacoma couple heard about it from family and friends there.
“It was about a block from my old home there,” Tuan Ngo said.
“I played on that dock as a child,” said his wife, Cici.
Tuan Ngo — pronounced “No” — came to the United States in 1984, when he was adopted by a Kansas couple through a church organization. He grew up there, went to college, became an architect.
He never forgot the small neighborhood of 5,000 in the much larger city where he was born, which is a few hours south of Ho Chi Minh City.
“My grandparents live there, and when I went back for a visit in college, I saw Cici,” Ngo said. “She’d grown up as one of my neighbors, but now she was a beautiful woman, cutting hair in her own shop.”
Cici had earned that shop.
“I started doing manicures and pedicures by carrying a bowl and going door to door,” she said. “I learned how to cut hair and eventually I saved enough to open my own shop.”
Fast forward a few decades, and the Ngos now are a family of five, with three young sons and a Tacoma business — the La Bella Nail Spa in Tacoma’s Stadium District. Open nearly six years, it has a wide and loyal customer base.
“We started with five employees and now have 13 — 15 if you count Cici and me,” said Ngo, who designed the interior. “We went to a party recently and she said we had 131/2 employees. I asked, ‘Who is the one half?’ and she said, ‘You!’”
The Ngos believe in giving back to their communities — here and in Vietnam — and last year, Ngo said, their small business donated more than $20,000 to a variety of causes. When they heard about the dock in their hometown, both wanted to do something.
Ngo created plans for a new dock, with covered benches at the end of two sections — and he and Cici began a campaign to raise the $9,000 necessary to fund the project. When customers responded, the Ngos came up with another idea.
“We put up a list to see if anyone would like to fly to Vietnam with us in January and see the dock as part of a two-week visit,” Ngo said. “Twelve people are coming with us.”
A dozen people, most who’d never been to Vietnam, paying their way to visit a city few had heard of with a couple they all cared for. On Oct. 9, all the day’s proceeds at La Bella will go into the dock fund.
“Everyone who donates, whether it’s $1 or $100, will have their name engraved on a stone at the dock,” Ngo said.
And if they don’t raise $9,000 to start the construction on Nov. 1?
“We’ll make up the difference,” he said. “My grandparents are the oldest people in that Vung Tau neighborhood. I designed the dock to have two gazebos. I’d like someone to take them down there each day, let them drink coffee and tell the younger folks what the city was like.”
Along with sons Andy, Tommy and Dillon, the Ngos say their customers are part of the family. In December, for instance, each customer coming in gets a Christmas gift. The other 11 months of the year, nearly everyone gets a hug from Cici.
“I work here seven days a week,” she said. “I love the people who come in here. I’m lucky.”
Tuan Ngo might be the lucky one of the two. On that trip to Vung Tau years ago, he fell in love with Cici the moment he saw her. It wasn’t quite the same for her, he said.
“I saw her cutting hair and went in for a haircut and asked her out,” he recalled. “She said, ‘No.’ I kept going back to the shop all that day, getting another haircut, asking her out again. My hair was getting very short and she still said, ‘No.’ Finally, I asked her why.
“She said there were two reasons: I was too short and not good looking enough.”
Somehow, he talked her into dinner. The rest is sweet history spread across two countries.Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 email@example.com