Asian Culinary Arts Institute

New York City


"Chef Wan, I prepared a common Korean dish of beef bulgogi, served on top of jasmine rice with a side of fresh kimchi."

Thomas "Tam" Scott could feel the beads of perspiration on his forehead. He hoped Chef Phillip Wan enjoyed the meal that he made. As the top student in the class, Thomas or Tom, as he preferred to be called by his nickname, wanted to maintain his position and possibly secure a permanent spot as one of Chef Wan's sous-chefs for one of his many fine dining establishments. Its sure beats being a kitchen prep cook for minimum wage.

Chef Wan savored the meal and grinned. "Very good, Scott. Well done." Tom smiled in relief as he watched him go down the line of cooking students, who eagerly awaited feedback from the instructor. They too also looked nervous.

Once the dishes were tasted and Chef Wan gave his reviews, the teacher addressed the students.

"Many of you have done very well," he began, gesturing to Tom. The he turned to a couple down the line. "A few of you still need improvement. Hopefully, this will motivate you for your final project next month. Your final exam will consist of a five-course meal, Asian style, which must include an appetizer, main entrée of your choosing, and dessert. You will be graded on ingredients, flavor profile, and presentation. The person with the highest points will win a coveted sou-chef position at one of my restaurants. Think about it." He teased. "You'll be working while finishing up school."

Whispers and murmurs drifted through the class. Typically cooking internships were unpaid voluntary services, but to already be given a high-ranking job at a Michelin Five-Star restaurant seemed like a dream. All of them wanted the coveted spot.

"I would suggest that you start thinking about your recipes," Chef Wan announced. "Class dismissed." Excited, the cooking students emptied out of the kitchen classroom. Tom began packing up his things before the instructor called out his name. "Thomas Scott? Can I speak to you in private?"

Gently setting down his backpack filled with notes and recipes, he approached Chef Wan at his desk.

"Yes Chef?" The twenty-five-year-old greeted his teacher. "You wanted to see me?"

"Have a seat," the instructor pointed to a stool nearby. Tom grabbed it and sat down. "Tell me about yourself, Thomas." Chef Wan prodded, folding his arms while leaning against the desk.

Tom gulped, not anticipating this to be an interview. He gained his composure and spoke up. "Well, my name is Thomas Scott, but I go by Tom. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia."

"That certainly explains the dialect," Chef Wan remarked. "You certainly don't look a southerner."

Tom's appearance gave it away. Despite his prominent Eurasian features, there was no denying the dark eyes, black hair and light tan skin. He certainly could not pass as a good ol' southern boy. There was no mistaken that he had Asian blood in him. A conflict that Tom had since he was little, especially from the ignorance of his peers and community. He always felt torn between the two worlds. Thank goodness, he decided to go to school outside the state and move as far away as possible.

"Pardon my rudeness, but what is your background?"

His question took Tom by surprise. He never had a professional ask him such a sensitive question, but he realized he had to play the game. He inhaled. "If you're asking about my ethnicity. I'm American on my father's side and Vietnamese from my biological mother. My father was a G. I. during the Vietnam War, where he met my mother and married her. She died when I was born. When the fall of Saigon happened, my father took me to America with him and we settled in Atlanta, Georgia. I've lived there ever since."

"Interesting," Chef Wan tapped his chin. "What led to you to specialize in Asian cooking?"

Tom nervously shrugged. "I don't know. I went to NYU for business and got my bachelors, but I spent one semester studying abroad in Seoul and fell in love with the culture and the food. I guess that inspired me to want to try cooking school for my career path."

The instructor grinned. "I can understand that. I grew up in San Francisco and didn't know what I wanted to do in life. One trip to Taiwan inspired me to travel the world and learn about Asian dishes and now look at me! I own ten five-star Asian restaurants in New York!"

"I'll be lucky if I ever get to open one," Tom remarked.

"That is why I want to help you!" Chef Wan grinned, giving him some reassurance. "You have potential, Tom Scott. I see it in you, compared to the other students in my class who seem to burn boiling water. You have skills and the talent to be a great sous-chef but you're wasting your time peeling potatoes and prepping vegetables at my restaurant!"

"You know I work for you?" Tom's eyes widened in surprise.

"Of course, I do," Chef Wan laughed. "I know all about my employees in all my restaurants, even the bad ones. You can't be successful in the restaurant industry without being involved in the daily workings." He nodded to Tom. "I see you working hard in my kitchen and going to school here at the institute trying to fulfill your dreams of being a chef, but you lack one thing."

"What is that?" Tom asked his teacher, listening to him intently.

"Passion," the chef replied bluntly. "You follow the basic ingredients, but your heart isn't in it. You don't cook with your entire being and that is why the soul is important to making, a successful delicious dish."

Tom exhaled. "Then what do you suggest?"

"I want you to get some training in your own culture's food," he suggested to the young man. "It'll give you sense of identity and reconnect you with your homeland. Though you're competent in Korean cooking, it is not where your heart is. It will be a great challenge for you, and I think it will benefit you in the end."

Tom flinched. "You want me to go to Vietnam?"

Chef Wan guffawed. "No, Tom Scott. Asian cuisine is changing the world in the way we see burgeoning flavors. In the next few years, we'll be seeing a boom in the mainstream public's perception to trying other Asian dishes than your average Chinese fried rice and egg rolls. Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Thai, Indian and soon Vietnam will be topping that list. I've been introducing these international dishes on my menu for years. Hence, that is why I'm successful. I want you to promote the appeal of Vietnamese cuisine."

"But I don't know anything about Vietnam or Vietnamese food!" The young man argued. "I don't know where to begin."

His teacher smiled. "That is why I'm pulling in a favor. Down in Little Saigon, there is a tiny restaurant called The Great Sacred Bird. The owner's name is Lien Minh Wilson. She is willing to give you a paid internship for one month to teach you some of her most basic and popular dishes. I want you to learn them and submit that as your final exam next month. Do you agree to do this?"

Apprehensive and unsure, Tom reluctantly agreed. "Sure, I guess."

"Then, it's settled." Chef Wan pulled out his wallet to retrieve a business card. He handed it to Tom. "Call her at that number and make the arrangements." Tucking his wallet back into his pocket, he stood up from the desk. "I think this experience, Thomas Scott, will be beneficial and advantageous for you!"

"I hope so," the twenty-five-year-old mumbled. He grabbed his backpack and headed out of the classroom.

Tom's Apartment

Brooklyn, New York

Renting an affordable apartment in New York City has always been an issue for most of its residents, but somehow his girlfriend and him managed to find one that was rent controlled and inexpensive, near the heart of Brooklyn. With its neighborhood charm of the local bodegas, retail stores, and food carts, the third-floor walkway of their tiny abode, served as the perfect home for the couple.

A smell of tomato sauce and garlic bread filled the room the moment Tom opened the front door.

"Penne pasta with Italian sausage!" His girlfriend, Keisha, announced from their kitchen. "Dinner will be ready soon! Go wash up, babe!"

Tom retreated to the bathroom to change out of his chef's uniform and into a t-shirt and jeans. After washing his hands, he sat down at the dining table as Keisha began placing the pasta, garlic bread, and salad in front of him. Pouring a bottle of red wine in each of their glasses, she sat down to join Tom and soon they began to enjoy their meal together.

"Delicious," he commented on her cooking. He dug his fork into the pasta and shoved it into his mouth.

Keisha sipped her wined. "Maybe not as good as your cooking, but I think I did okay." Still in her nursing scrubs, the twenty-three-year-old African American woman worked for New York Children's Hospital and usually worked the graveyard shift, but today she got lucky and was given morning duty. This gave her an opportunity to spend some quality time with her boyfriend.

"How was school?" She asked him, noticing something preoccupying his mind.

"I aced my assignment today," Tom revealed. "But Chef Wan is giving a me a special project for my final exam next month."

Keisha smiled. "That's great! You've been trying to get in good with Chef Wan so at least you're on his radar!"

Ever since they met at NYU, Keisha and Tom had been going strong for five years to the point that both their families made predictions of when they were going to tie the knot. So far, another year had gone by and still no engagement ring. To their defense, the couple argued they were still not ready. Both sides still held out hope.

"I know," Tom responded to his girlfriend's words of encouragement. He loved that about her even after he made the decision to forgo his master's degree in business and follow his dream to attend culinary school. She supported his decision even now.

"What does he want you to do?" She questioned him.

Tom exhaled. "He wants me to get in touch with my roots. He's offering a paid internship with a friend of his for a month to learn Vietnamese cuisine."

"Oh." Keisha touched her chest. She knew that his biological mother's Vietnamese heritage was a sore spot for him. He had completely erased any sense of his cultural identity and adapted to only being a red-blooded American citizen. This contradicted his beliefs when he began studying Asian cooking, namely, Korean food.

"What do you think?" Her boyfriend prodded, looking for advice. "Do you think I should do it?"

She tilted her head to think. "I think you should do it. I know you deny that part of yourself because you blame her for abandoning you when she died. I think it will help you understand who she was and where she came from. It'll give you that sense of closure."

Leaning back in his chair, he sighed. "You're right. It's not fair to fault her for dying in childbirth. My dad took me to America for a better life. I grew up with an amazing stepmother who became my mom and a younger half-sister who loves me. I shouldn't complain. Maybe, this will be a good learning experience for me."

"I think it will," Keisha responded, giving a positive spin on the situation. Suddenly, the phone rang. Getting out of her seat, she went to the wall phone and picked it up. "Hello?" Panicked words echoed in her ear. "Hold on a minute." She turned to Tom with a worried look on her face. "It's your sister, Julie!"

Tom got up from his chair and took the phone from Keisha. He answered nervously. "Julie? What's the matter?"

"It's Mom," his sibling said on the other line. "She's been hurt! You need to come home to Atlanta now!"

Quickly, finishing his conversation with his sibling, he hung up the phone and explained his family emergency to Keisha. His girlfriend agreed that he needed to go and pulled out the phone book to make a last-minute flight reservation to Atlanta, Georgia. Luckily, he booked a one-way ticket. Packing a quick bag, he kissed Keisha goodbye and headed for the airport.

Atlanta, Georgia

The nonstop one-way flight took about two hours. Upon leaving Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, he rented a car and drove to Alpharetta. It was late in the evening but despite being tired and exhausted, got to his neighborhood to see the porch lights on of his family home.

He rang the doorbell, only to see the pale face of his sister, Julie, looking worried and scared. She hugged him the moment she answered the door.

"I'm so glad you came!" She said, her eyes looking tense. She let him inside and folded her hands in front of him. At twenty, the pretty blonde college student usually was bubbly and outgoing. It helped at that she was going to a university in California where she enjoyed the nice sunny weather and beautiful beaches. Now this person facing him, appeared concerned and distressed, traits that he had not seen in her for a while.

"Where's Mom?" Tom asked his sibling.

"In her bedroom," Julie whispered. "I have to warn you. She doesn't look good."

Tom put his overnight bag down on the floor and started for the hallway. Julie touched his arm to warn him before entering.

"Just don't lose your cool," his sister warned. "Be sensitive. Please, Tom stay calm."

Unsure of what to expect and afraid for their mother, he nodded and knocked on the bedroom door.

"Come in." A meek voice answered.

Slowly opening the door, he noticed the area fully dark. A figure in a robe sat on the bed, shadowed by the blackness of the room. He could hear sobbing. Quickly he switched on the light nearby.

There sat his mother, Ellen Scott, weeping with a gnarled tissue in her hand while she looked away from him. Dabbing the tears from her hands, she finally turned to face him. What he saw shocked him to the core. Her right eye displayed a huge purple bruise, while a large red mark appeared on her left cheek. Underneath both wounds, she sported a cut on her bottom lip as her top mouth started to puff up. Seeing her son noticing her face, she began to cover it with her hands.

"Mom!" Tom gasped, attempting repress the anger inside of himself. "Did Dad do this?"

He took a seat on the bed next to her and put his arm around her. She cried into his shoulder, wetting the tears on his shirt.

"He's been drinking heavily this time," she sobbed. "The nightmares are getting progressively worse when he does. He hit me and pushed me down!"

Hearing this, Tom bit his lip. "Has he ever hit you before?"

Ellen shook her head. "He usually goes through his tantrums when he rages and throws things, but he's never hit me or touched me! This is the first time! I don't know what to do!"

Tom didn't either. The aftermath of the Vietnam War affected many veterans, resulting in psychological and emotional issues that made it difficult for former soldiers to adapt to civilian life. The original term for it was shell shock, but it was later diagnosed with an even larger term, PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Sergeant Christopher Scott was among the many military patients who suffered from this epidemic and even though treatments like therapy and medication were available, his father refused to seek help. Instead, he spent his days finding answers at the bottom of a bottle.

Not a day went by in his childhood where he didn't witness his father's alcoholic rages. Though his mother shielded him and his younger sister, Julie, from Chris's tantrums, the former soldier never once turned violent and turned his anxieties and aggression on him, his sister, or his mother, until today.

"His PTSD is getting worse," said Julie standing in the doorway of their mother's bedroom. "Dad refuses to seek help. I threatened to call the police the moment he punched Mom. He got into his car, completely drunk, and took off."

Ellen wept again, lifting her face to stand look and herself in the mirror. Back in her day, she was a pretty, blonde woman with intelligence who matched wits with her male counterparts while working in a male dominated field of corporate accounting. That is probably what attracted Chris Scott to her. He finally met someone who challenged him and didn't take his nonsense. Now middle aged with wrinkles and streaks of gray in her blonde hair, she resided to be an ordinary housewife raising two kids and while trying to support an alcoholic husband with mental health issues. How far had she fallen?

Tom placed both hands to her shoulders to comfort her.

"It's not your fault," he told her, still angry at his father. "Dad has lost all sense of reality."

Ellen wiped her eyes and inhaled. "I know, but I tried everything to be supportive. I guess his demons are way too strong." She placed her hands to both sides of Tom's face. "I want you to know something, Thomas!" Tears filled her eyes. "I don't blame you! I never hated you! When your mother died and your Dad took you to America, I had to get over all my jealousies because you needed me. You needed a mother! The moment I held you in my arms, I knew you were mine! You were my child! I love you and nothing is going to change that!"

Her sobs drenched his shoulder as he held her close.

"I know, Mom." He whispered to her. "I love you, too." He grabbed a tissue on the nightstand and handed it to her. She wiped her bruised face as he gently spoke to her. "Mom, I need for you to stay with me and Keisha for a few weeks in New York. Then, we can figure out things from there."

"I can't," his mother shook her head. "What about Julie, your father? I can't leave your father alone when he's like this!"

"Dad can fend for himself," Tom emphasized, still suppressing the rage. "Right now, I don't care what happens to him. My concern is you!"

Julie jumped in. "Don't worry, Mom. I have friends in town I can stay with for the week. My spring break will be over soon, and I'll be flying back to California for school."

"Pack a bag," Tom instructed his mother. "We'll take a flight out tomorrow."

Helpless and confused, Ellen needed assistance with gathering things for her suitcase. Julie helped their mother with the essentials that she'll need for New York, while Tom scrambled for flights on the kitchen telephone. He successfully booked pair of one-way tickets. Soon they would be flying out of Atlanta and out of the wrath of Christopher Scott.

Tom's Apartment

Brooklyn, New York

"Thank you for putting me up," Ellen hugged Keisha. She removed her sunglasses to reveal the bruises and cuts on her face, making Tom's girlfriend very sympathetic to her plight.

"It's no trouble," Keisha smiled. "You'll stay in our room while Tom and I take the sofa." She helped her with her bags as she led Ellen inside the bedroom. "Let me know if there is anything you need." She told Ellen, leaving Tom's mother alone to unpack.

Tom stared out the window of their apartment to look at the busy people below, simply living their lives. He wondered about the families being abused, the mothers and children being hurt, while the world turns a blind eye and continues with their mundane existence. He exhaled.

From behind him, Keisha wrapped her arms around his chest and grinned. "You did a good thing. Bringing your mother here and keeping her safe. That is what a good son does."

Tom inhaled, shifted his face to kiss her cheek. "A good son also tries to save his family. Namely, his father."

He released himself from his girlfriend's embrace and walked away from the window.

Keisha put her hands to her hips. "You can't feel guilty for your father's mistakes. Your family has tried to help him with his PTSD and his alcoholism, and he refuses treatment for both. You can't save someone who doesn't want to be saved!"

"I know," her boyfriend whispered. "But I still hold hope that he's worth trying for."

The wall phone rang. Tom paused his conversation with Keisha to answer it. "Hello?"

"Tom, this is your Uncle John." The other caller greeted. John Thomas, a former African American G. I. and close friend of the family, retired from the military and began working for a non-profit organization to help locate abandoned children left behind by their American fathers in Vietnam. He and the Scotts have been close friends for years.

"What's going on Uncle John," Tom answered politely.

"It's your Dad," John sighed. "He's not doing good. He got picked up for a DUI and got put in jail. I just bailed him out this morning. He keeps asking where Ellen is. He wants to talk to her. Julie refuses to see him and you're the only one that might know where she is."

Anger bubbled up inside him. He now couldn't control himself. "Tell him, I don't! And let him know the next time he wants to screw up a family by beating up his wife, then he should stay in jail!" He angrily slammed down the phone.

Keisha embraced him to comfort him. Tom could feel the tears welling up in his eyes. How could their idyllic American family become so messed up?

Ellen quietly came out her son's bedroom. "I heard. I guess your father is looking for me." She said sadly.

Tom wiped his eyes. "I honestly don't care, Mom! He's not going anywhere near you!"

Keisha decided to jump in and lift everyone's spirits. "Look, let's not dwell on all this gloom and doom. Your mom's in New York. I have the day off tomorrow. I say we make it a girl's day out. We can go see the sites, eat some food, maybe take in a Broadway show?"

His mother managed to pull up a smile. "I'd like that."

"Then it's settled," Keisha clapped her hands. "Girls' Day Out tomorrow!"

Ellen looked at her son. "What are you going to do?"

"I'm setting up a paid internship at a restaurant," he explained. "I could use the distraction."

"That's wonderful, honey," his mother grinned, kissing his cheek. "I think this chef's career is truly what you need to be doing. I'm happy that you're following your dream."

"Me too, Mom," said Tom. "Me too."

The Great Sacred Bird

Little Saigon, New York

Tom took the subway down and made his way to Little Saigon. Busy with Asian customers and locals, Vietnamese he assumed, he located the establishment. From the outside, the restaurant looked a bit run down from its faded architecture and dirty sign, he had to double check the business card to ensure he had the right address.

"Allez, allez, allez!" A greasy, short balding man waved at him from the front entrance. He appeared to be in his late sixties, wearing a dirty button-down shirt, and worn out old slacks. "You want smoke? I got carton here!" He took a box from behind the waistband of his pants. "Only ten dollar!"

Tom shook his head. "No, but I'm wondering if this is the right place. The Great Sacred Bird?"

"Le Ingenieur! Don't bother customer! Take trash to dumpster now!"

The greasy man angrily stomped his feet and went back inside the entrance. An older woman, in her late fifties appeared. Zoftig in appearance, her distinguished wrinkles once showcased an exotic beauty, but years of hardship showed through her now graying, black hair and shallow eyes. She smiled and greeted the young man.

"Can I help you? Do you want table?"

"Actually," Tom began. "I've been told to meet the owner. Lien Minh Wilson?"

"Ah!" The older woman clapped her hands. "That me! You be Thomas Scott?"

"Yes," Tom extended his hand to which the owner happily shook it.

Lien Minh pulled him by the hand and dragged him inside. "Come in. Busy. Many customer!"

To Tom's surprise, she was right. For a simple hole in the wall, the place was packed with patrons. He looked around to see some dusty cultural décor from Buddha figures, old Vietnamese paintings, and even a bamboo screen against the wall. The place certainly was no five-star fine dining. Lien Minh lured to the back passed a wall of old photographs to see a busy kitchen.

"You prep?" She asked him.

"I'm sorry?" Tom asked her confused by her question.

"You know prep?" Lien Minh asked again. "Know like cut vegetable and stuff?"

Tom finally began to comprehend her request. "Yeah, I know how to prep."

"Good," smiled Lien Minh. "Go wash hand, wear apron and cut vegetable." She instructed. "I show you and learn."

Tom shrugged, grabbed an apron, put it on, and washed his hands. Soon, he was chopping away on parsley and onions. Lien Minh watched him like a hawk.

"No!" She shouted. "Onion, too small! Cut big. Customer like!"

The young man changed this technique as another cook took away his pile and began adding to the soups on the stove. Tom pointed to the boiling pots. "Are those stews?"

Lien Minh nodded. "Yeah. You learn later. First learn cut." She dropped a batch of mint. "These for soup. Pull apart." She inhaled the aroma. "Mint add good smell to soup." She waved it in front of Tom's face. The scene was quite lovely. The freshness of the vegetable gave it an appealing herbal quality. She retreated to the walk-in refrigerator to pull a bowl of bean sprouts. The pile of long, white root was placed in front of him. "Know how clean?"

"Are you asking me if I know how to prepare sprouts?" he questioned the older woman, trying to decipher her thick accent.

She nodded.

"Yes," he answered. Grabbing a large colander, he dropped the sprouts inside the container, went to the sink to run through the water before returning to his station. Meticulously, he pulled part the long tail end of the root plant and transferred the cleaned sprouts into a new bowl nearby. Lien Minh appeared extremely impressed.

"You do good," she complimented him. "Move on. Next vegetable." She picked a long cucumber, carrots, a jalapeno, and a radish and ordered to slice it. "Make thin like toothpick. Important for dish."

Unsure what she meant; Tom used careful precision to slice each of the vegetables. Once each one was slender enough to her liking, he waited as she pulled several bowls of different meats, a container of chopped parsley, and several bottles of liquid. Finally, she grabbed a French baguette and placed it on his station.

"Take bowl and mix sauce." She went through the ingredients as Tom followed her words exactly to a tee. "Quarter cup water. Half cup rice vinegar. Quarter cup white sugar. Put salt, pepper, garlic salt. Mix!" Tom furiously whisked the ingredients into a liquid. "This dressing."

"For a salad?" Tom asked.

"No, something else." She answered.

Directing him toward the stove, she grabbed a pot and poured the contents inside along with the sliced cucumbers, radish, carrots, and jalapenos. She boiled the liquid and allowed some time for the vegetables to marinade and create a pickling effect.

"Are we pickling?" He inquired.

"Yes." Lien Minh responded. "You eat pickle vegetable?'

"I've made kimchi for Korean dishes." Tom explained to her.

The older woman cocked her head. "Kimchi good. Korean good. But Vietnamese good too! You see!"

Pulling the baguette, she sliced the bread halfway through. Letting the pickling effect cool on the vegetables, she slathered regular mayonnaise on the bread as she placed the pickled items on the bottom while layering the top with a ham from one of the bowls. Adding parsley in between, she finished the sandwich as she continued making more sandwiches down the line with different meats from pork, chicken, beef, to barbecued proteins from meatballs to patties to the exotic varieties like headcheese and even sardines.

"Try!" She ordered Tom eat one.

Slicing the sandwich in half, he took a bite. The splendor of flavors burst inside his mouth from the sourness of the pickled vegetables to the sweetness of the meat. Savory experiences danced across his tongue from the spice of the jalapeno to the tanginess of the dressing. Adding to the wonderous sensations was the toasted crunchiness of the bread. It was a perfect merging.

"Wow!" Tom exclaimed. "That was delicious! What do you call this?

"Bahn Mi!" Lien Minh declared. "It Vietnamese sandwich. Not American sandwich like hamburger, but better." She disappeared into an office in the back and returned with an envelope. "This pay for today! You done good! See you this week?"

"Count on it!" Tom smiled, accepting the cash and giving her the thumbs up. This internship certain was going to be a pleasure.

"Before go," said Lien Minh. "What you Nam' name?"

"My Nam' name?" He asked, unsure what she was requesting.

"Your Vietnam name," she corrected.

"I don't have one," he answered. "My last name is Scott."

Lien Minh shook her head. "No, you Bui Doi! You have American father! What name in Nam'?"

Tom attempted to answer her question but was unsure of what she was asking. Then it dawned on him concerning his middle name.

"Tam." He said quietly.

"Tam Scott. Tam Scott. Tam Scott." She repeated to herself. Lien Minh's eyes widened as an almost small tear started to form in her eye. Stopping herself, she wiped her eye and looked at him. "I see you this week. You done good." Retreated to her office, she shut the door behind her.

Before heading out, Tom looked at the wall of photographs plastered near the kitchen wall. Almost like a mosaic, he saw old pictures taken in Saigon during the Vietnam War. American soldiers stood in posed positions next to an exotic, beautiful woman dressed in a provocative tight dress or in a bikini. His eyes noticed one particular picture of the same woman in lingerie, a military jacket and cap.

"Like what you see?"

Tom turned around to see the greasy, old man carrying a mop.

"No buy cigarettes?"

Tom shook his head. Something about his demeanor disgusted him.

"Your name Tam, huh?" The old man probed him.

"No, it's Tom." He answered. "Tom Scott."

"No, it Tam." The old man pushed. "You Bui-Doi. You have American father. I call you Tam."

"And who are you?" Tom asked him, trying to avoid this conversation.

"Tran Van Dinh." The old man replied. "Some call me Engineer."

"Call yourself whatever you want," the young man rolled his eyes. "Just stay out my way!" He threatened.

Tran Van Dinh cowardly crouched. "Okay, but you want to know lady? Her name Gigi Van Tranh."

Tom rolled his eyes. "Whatever. It's none of my business." He shoved the Engineer with his shoulder and exited the restaurant.