I was a bit intimidated and perhaps not my usual self that day. After all, I was meeting a Vietnamese born 3-time Emmy Award winner for the first time in flesh and blood. Surely I knew of Leyna Nguyen and her work for years now, but there's something about meeting someone face-to-face that closes the loop on your perception of them. Our rendezvous was at a beautiful wedding reception of Viet pop singer Nguyen Hong Nhung in O.C. and we were both on the guest list. Leyna was seated at an adjacent table, and the restaurant was full of Viet celebs who all came dressed to kill - and she was no exception, all 'glam' in a little black dress. Normally, when meeting someone looking like that, I'd be a bit more adventurous and go for my usual kiss on the cheek and a hug -- but instead, I went over and offered up my hand for a diplomatic shake. Wrong move! She took one look at me and waved me off like a pro poker player wave-off a bluff attempt and said "Com' on, you can do better than that!" then motioned me in for a hug. Leyna = 1, me = zero. Oh! The humanity.....
Most of us Viets know Leyna through her emceeing role with Asia Entertainment and charity events. But Los Angelinos know her as an award-winning news anchor for KCAL9, a CBS station in one of the largest local markets in the country. With her looks and personality, she could probably make the passage of the health care bill sound hot, and the daily L.A. high-speed car chases sound like it's O.J. in his white Bronco all over again. Just a hunch.
What makes Leyna's story even more intriguing is that she chose to come back to work in the Viet community after already making it big in American television. I was scratching my head wondering why someone like Leyna, who's well-known and well-off, would still take the long drive from her home in L.A. to host charity events in Little Saigon on weekends instead of spending quality time with her loved ones at home. What bugs me is that some "critics" have opined that some people only do charities to be famous. Of course, in Leyna's case, it doesn't or couldn't apply because she is already famous. Nonetheless, for me, and maybe for all the charity recipients in the world, I say we could use more of those people. Who cares if folks want to be famous for doing charity works? The resulting benefit is still the same. The hungry doesn't care one iota if their hot bowl of noodle came from an anonymous donor or from someone who wants to be recognized for their good deeds. In the business world, you're a fool if you do something extraordinarily good but take no credit for it. In fact, I encourage my staff to keep a list of their accomplishments throughout the year and send them to me in a bulleted list at year-end when it comes to evaluation time so I can give them due credit. But that's just me.
Leyna and other Viet celebs band together to raise money for a burn victim (Photo by Jen Le)
Leyna Nguyen is a rare mixture of talent, beauty, and humanity all-in-one. Aside from her busy TV career and hosting entertainment and charity shows, she also heads a charity organization called Love Across The Ocean that helps the poor in Vietnam as well as helping Viet refugees in the US get back on their feet. Her www.loveacrosstheocean.org website is the only charity site that I know of that you can click to buy a live chicken, a pig, or even a water buffalo and drop them into your virtual shopping cart and pay for them in just a few clicks. Once your order/donation is accepted, you start a chain reaction that eventually takes those happy animals from your laptop to needy families in Vietnam to help provide nourishment, or in the case of the water buffalo, a powerful farming helping hand. I like the little piggy option for $60, affordable and cute!
A story behind the story
It all began in 1991, when a young and impressionable 21 year-old Leyna went back to Vietnam to visit relatives for the first time since she left to go to the U.S. at age 5. Once there, she encountered a major "culture shock" when she saw that her own relatives were living in poverty while she has so much in comparison back "home" in Minnesota. She realized that it could have been her in their shoes (or...flip-flops). Leyna believes this was a major defining moment for her. While there, she also visited a local school in the nearby village and soon discovered that the school did not even have a bathroom for its students. Most 21 year olds would go back to US and chalk that up as a learning experience and that would be about it. Not Leyna. She soon returned and helped rebuild that school, adding bathrooms, using her own money and donations she got from good friends and relatives. Leyna also credits her loving parents for the driving force behind her charity works. Fast forward to 1997, Leyna's own charitable foundation Love Across The Ocean was born. Its primary mission - help rebuild schools in Vietnam. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Leyna, award-winning CBS news anchor
Leyna, poker aficionado Leyna, catwoman
(photos courtesy of Leyna's Facebook album)
For me and a lot of other red-blooded Viet guys, we pay special attention to Leyna because of all the celebrity poker tournaments that she played in. Anyone who knows poker knows that poker is a game that is easy to learn, yet difficult to master. To survive in those tournaments, you need crazy skills coupled with brains and guts, and of course a lot of luck. Our heroine Leyna has made the final table at those tournaments before, which is no small feat. In a way, she is like the Danica Patrick of NASCAR to us -- meaning someone who's very pretty but can compete with the pros at our most challenging sport (Hey...poker is on ESPN is it not?)
Meanwhile, back at the wedding reception
It didn't take long before the left wing of the restaurant turned into a paparazzo heaven as the stars began snapping up pictures with friends for their Facebook albums. I followed suit and grabbed Leyna for a couple of intimate prom-style poses and she murmured something about looking forward to seeing those career-ending photos on the internet. I guess my reputation preceded me...kekeke. I switched subject and asked her about those celebrity poker tournaments that she played in...and in the midst of a very romantic wedding celebration, she managed to utter the three sexiest words a woman can say to a Viet man, "I love poker." Leyna=2, me=blushing.
A few shots of Remy Martin 1738 later, I got frisky and talked Leyna into joining our gang at a friendly poker game the next night and she accepted without hesitation, a true sign of a poker aficionado...or was it the cognac talking? It didn't matter - I had to see Leyna in action. The rest of the night was lots of fun as the famous guests took turn rocking out for the crowd and I ended up handing the car keys over to our designated driver since everyone else but me thought I was a bit tipsy...hummmm....whatever!
Leyna shares a smile with other Viet stars at the wedding reception
The little black dress
The following night, Leyna came over dressed in another sizzling little black dress, this one a tad more conservative as she came straight from hosting an event for Viet judges and lawyers. In my humble opinion, I think she got the little black dress market cornered. I asked to be seated next to her...
Once the game started, she demonstrated that she clearly knew her pot odds and position play. She appeared to be a tight and calculated player. But then again, maybe she was just feeling us out because she could only stay for 3 hours, due to the long drive home and she had another charity gig for Viet veterans to host the next day. The game ended in a draw for her, meaning she got her buy-in back. Before Leyna left, our gang made plans for future games, and she promised to return.
It was past 1 am so I volunteered to walk Leyna out to her car, and just as we got in the elevator, she turned on her journalistic instincts and asked me about the details of how I got to date the famous "so-and-so." I promptly recounted the story about how we met backstage at a concert, took some pictures together, exchanged email so I could send her those pictures, then things just took off from there. Leyna paused for a moment, now looking a little frantic, then turned to me and said "Oh my God! Is that WHY you asked me for my email at the wedding?" Leyna=2, me=1
Duy Hân is a columnist for kyduyenhouse and also works as a supervisor in the advertising department of a large financial organization. He earned his B.S. from the University of Maryland and is an MBA graduate. Duy Hân lives in the Washington DC area and has a beagle named Alaska that likes to take long walks on the beach. He can be reached at AskDuyHan@gmail.com.
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